jncsdad217

Red Crate Records #001-004

In 1970s, 1970s soul, British pop, Curtis Mayfield, record collecting, Red Crate Records, Rich's House of Vinyl on March 1, 2015 at 10:22 pm

DSC02006 (2)

The concept here is relatively simple, so won’t belabor it. However, here is a brief explanation:

I use a pair of 20-sided dice to choose records from my collection to play. Once I listen to them, I place them together in a red crate and eventually make a few mix CDs/playlists from whatever is in the red crate at that time. Starting now, I’m also going to write something about each record. Once I’ve written about four records, I’ll post an entry here.

Here’s the first entry. Red Crate Records #001-004.

Red Crate Record #001:
Music for Cooking with Gas
Harry Fields, His Piano and Orchestra
circa early 1960s

This album was made by the Caloric Corporation, a fine oven manufacturer. The front cover of this LP states “a la carte—music that’s rare and well done!”. I would imagine Music for Cooking with Gas was either given away when Caloric customers bought an oven or were able to buy the album cheap—say for $1.99—at a Caloric showroom. Or both.

No matter what led to its creation, a copy of Music for Cooking with Gas has been hanging around my record collection for years—maybe decades—and I’ve only just listened to it, at least as far as I can remember. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s a pretty good lite piano jazz album. It’s not going to take your brain through all kinds of crazy twists and turns like a Thelonious Monk record. Nor is it going to lead to some introspective place a la Bill Evans. And it brought won’t stir nostalgic Christmas memories the way Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas music does.

But twisty-turny is for Monk, introspection is for Evans and Christmas is for Guaraldi. Harry Fields was simply a very good musician who graduated from Julliard, built up some symphonic bona fides and learned his jazz chops from Art Tatum. Fields ultimately became a piano teacher to the stars—Mickey Rooney! Mae West! Judy Canova! Many more!—in Los Angeles. He may have made other records, but I don’t think recording was necessarily his first priority.

Caloric made Harry Fields a sponsorship offer too good to refuse. Whatever kind of deal went down that lead to Music for Cooking with Gas, the result is a thoroughly entertaining record that’s got some serious music behind it. And, yes, it probably does make an entrancing soundtrack for cooking in your Caloric oven.

Red Crate Record #002:
Bad Axe
Son Seals
1984
Alligator Records

Son Seals is a name I’d probably heard before, maybe via the Saturday Night blues show on WXPN that my father used to listen to, but I had never consciously heard any of his music. At some point in the last few years, this 1984 album fell into my collection. It might have come from one of the boxes of records that my friend Blanko Dave has passed on to me in recent years, though I can’t be 100% sure of that. But I know I didn’t buy this record.

I’m glad to have Bad Axe though. Listening to it for a second time now—the first time being during a dishwashing marathon the other night—I’m enjoying it immensely and thinking about how much Dad would have liked it. He liked a good blues record, and that’s precisely what Bad Axe is.

Generally speaking, I’m not sure if blues recorded in the 1980s has a very good reputation. There might be an assumption that blues from that oversized decade might be too big generic-sounding or too influenced by the rock that it initially inspired to be any good.

But none of that applies to Bad Axe. It is quite simply a solid blues record made by a solid blues guy for a solid blues label in the very solid blues town of Chicago, Illinois. Sure, the song about going back home where women have some meat on their bones might not be politically correct in some universe, but thank God that’s not my universe.

I read up on Son Seals and learned that he had a pretty tough life, though it sounded like he certainly did have some fun along the way. He also uncorked some heavy blues guitar solos, like the one I just heard in “Just About to Lose Your Clown,” along the way. A tough life, but well-lived, hopefully.

Red Crate Record #003:
No Dice
Badfinger
1970
Apple Records

Red Crate Record #004:
Superfly
Curtis Mayfield
1972
Curtom Records

Badfinger’s No Dice and Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to the movie Superfly will always be linked together in my mind. As well, they should be: my grandmother introduced me to them, together, back on a Christmas Eve in the mid-1970s. This is that story.

I did not use the aforementioned dice to pick these albums, which is appropriate considering the Badfinger album title. I consciously decided to make go with No Dice because I just bought a copy of the record today. This is the first time I’ve had a copy of No Dice in probably 30+ years.

Let’s say it was Christmas Eve 1973, though it could have been ’74 or ’75. Hell, it possibly could have been ’76, though it certainly wasn’t later than that. Among her presents to me, Grandma gave me two music cassettes (as she would have pronounced the word, CASSettes). One of them was No Dice, the other, Superfly.

I was already into music at the time and must have recently gotten some kind of cassette player/recorder, so cassettes would have been a logical present for Grandma to give me. What I have never understood was her choice of tapes.

I might have heard the big hit from No Dice, “No Matter What,” on the radio, but even if I did, I didn’t know it was performed by a band called Badfinger. No Dice was not something I would have thought to ask for, as it was something that I didn’t even know existed. But when I opened and Superfly, I do remember being suddenly curious, wondering what these tapes would sound like. From a very young age, I remember being open-minded about music and I was very fortunate to have family members who were happy to feed this open mind with excellent tunes.

I don’t know if Grandma made the choices or if she farmed that duty out to one of my young aunts who might have been hip to what I’d like. Maybe one of those aunts already had these tapes and was tired of them, though I’m pretty certain they did come to me new and shrinkwrapped.

However it was that these No Dice and Superfly tapes came to me, I listened to them enough that they left an impression that grew over time. Seeds were planted in the brain. My musical taste was being formed and power pop, as exemplified by “No Matter What,” one of the greatest pop songs ever, was going to part of the firm foundation of that taste. My appreciation for 1970s soul was certainly amplified by Mayfield’s masterful Superfly. Listening to these tapes put me on a road that would lead to many other albums and songs, some of which I’m still discovering. All thanks to Grandma, who may or may not have known who Curtis Mayfield or Badfinger were. Come to think of it though, if Mayfield or Badfinger appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, Grandma would have known about them.

Over the years, both of the cassettes Grandma gave me disappeared, probably at the point when I decided tapes weren’t so cool anymore. Eventually, I found a used vinyl copy of Superfly and I’ve had that LP for decades; I never followed up on No Dice, though in recent years I’ve been wanting to track down a copy.

Finally, at a newly-opened record store nearby called The Vinyl Closet, I bought No Dice on LP. I took in a whole stack of records that I didn’t need any more to get store credit. I came out with six records, a fraction of the number that I walked in with, but I was a happy guy. I finally had No Dice.

As for the music on these albums: wow! Still 40+ years later, “No Matter What” sparkles as a pop song and much of No Dice is nearly as enjoyable. Superfly is still enormous, a gritty slice of ‘70s soul that cuts deep with some serious social commentary that is probably still as relevant today as it was in 1972.

I’m not sure that Grandma French intended to introduce to me one of the first great post-Beatles pop albums and a landmark of ‘70s soul that Christmas Eve so many years ago. Why she picked these two tapes will always be an enigma to me and she’s not here to answer my questions about it anymore. But I think Grandma would be pleased to know that 40 years later, I listened to No Dice and Superfly one evening, loved them both and thought of her.

Thanks, Grandma.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: