I’ve always been the kid who hung around the record player. My first memories of vinyl LPs were some scratchy K-Tel type Christmas records that my mom dusted off during the holidays. Not much older than a toddler, I could work the tone arm and I would spin those records over and over. Likewise, at my parents’ small town Baptist church, the child care room for Sunday night services had a turntable. Many Sunday evenings I was the only child there (or one of only a few) and the lady who kept the nursery let me have free reign of the records—mostly Southern gospel stuff but a few soulful black gospel records too (one by Andre Crouch that I wore out). When I was in elementary school, my dad (a school teacher) made some extra money in the summers repairing televisions and radios at Estes TV & Appliance on Broad Street in my little hometown of Decatur, Mississippi. Mr. Estes also installed and serviced several juke boxes at bars and restaurants in the surrounding counties, so he always had boxes and boxes of 45s just lying around. Often he would let me rummage through the boxes he’d culled and let me take whatever I wanted. Most of those records I don’t remember and have long since been sold at one of mom’s garage sales—most of them, undoubtedly, pretty terrible and forgettable to have ended up in Mr. Estes’ “free for Steve” pile. But one of those 45s I vividly remember, and wish desperately I could get back. It was the first rock and roll record I ever really fell in love with—“Turn On Your Love Light” (b/w “Fun to be Neat and Clean”) by The Human Beinz. The initial hook was in pretty good.
Now, countless musicians a little older than I am, talk of the life-changing experience of seeing the The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My road to Damascus experience, though, came at Fred’s Dollar Store, back in the days when that chain sold records. I had heard talk around the playground of this thing called KISS, so I was on the hunt for my first KISS LP. And there in the bins under the fluorescent lights, I first saw the cover of the KISS Alive album and begged my reticent (perhaps frightened) mother to buy it for me. She did! I had the shrinkwrap off before we got to the car, and on the ten minute ride home, I pored over the concert photos of blood, sweat, and fire. Back in my bedroom, on my little turntable with the fold out speakers, I dropped the needle on “You wanted the best, you got the best . . .” and then wham!—here came the opening riff of “Deuce.”
In junior high and into high school, I had the good fortune of an older brother who spent his yard mowing money on hi-fi gear and records, and eventually he landed a job at Hooper Sound in Meridian (a locally owned hi-fi dealer). I’m sure my brother got tired of me taking over his bedroom system and record collection—Zeppelin, U2, Steely Dan, The Tubes, Loverboy, Queen, Styx, AC/DC . . . it was heaven! And top it off with the messages coming from the local pulpits that all these records were of the devil! That’s pretty heady (and scary) stuff for an adolescent boy full of hormones!
(Here is a song by Buffalo Nickel about the tragic glory of these times. I love the line: “With music all around me, and I feel that I can use it.”)
So, yeah, I’m a romantic. A true believer, when it comes to rock and roll, tube guitar amps, VU meters, gatefold LP covers, and shiny black, grooved wax. So it’s hard for me to get excited about iTunes, even when the download comes with a PDF of the album art work. Somehow scrolling through the digital images on my iPad while listening to compressed audio from the earbud jack of that same device, pales in comparison to the cardboard album cover, the spinning LP, the glow of the tube amp (or graphic eq spectrum analyzer), and the big ass Cerwin Vega D9s in my brother’s bedroom.
But I’m coming around . . . and here’s why:
After getting a guitar and starting a band in high school, the holy grail has always been “making a record.” Unfortunately, most bands came along in the era that was moving from vinyl to CD—the manufacture of either, though, was out of reach for most indie bands. The machinery of manufacturing, duplication, distribution, publicity, and radio and MTV promotion was astronomically expensive and, as always, controlled by a chosen few. So most indie bands hobbled along making homemade cassette tapes and pedaling them out of the back of the van in the parking lot of whatever stale-piss hole in the wall that dared book them. So, in short, there were always these sentry guards and gatekeepers between the artist and you who sought out new and interesting music.
What I am learning is that the digital age is breaking down many of these barriers. With a little ingenuity, the artist can make a record and find you—the listener seeking new music. In the blogs, internet radio chat rooms, Facebook groups, Bandcamp pages, and Twitter feeds, the artist mingles with the listener and with other artists. The big label gatekeepers are struggling to figure out this new paradigm, but indie artists are used to being creative in finding a market.
So we plow forward with experience and hope, and we are so happy to be finding more and more of you music lovers every day. We thank you for sticking it to the Man by seeking out music beyond the pre-programmed machinery of the music industry.
No longer do artists have to move 500,000 copies and spend millions of dollars for radio and press to find an audience. We and you are now connected. So here is the message: Bands are gonna be making records, both digital and physical, and they hope YOU will cue it up on your digital device, or even better, drop a needle on the opening track. It is a new day.