Larry Fast: Digital, Experimental

Tip of the hat to my old tennis partner and high school music rival. Ed Goldstein [he was in The Head Band with future “Smooth” songwriter, Itaal Shur, and one-time-bassist-for-Sleepy-Labeef-turned-sociology-professor, Adam Moskowitz, while I was in The Max, formerly Max & the Bluegills], who recently paid tribute to Peter Gabriel and late-70s Genesis as pivotal influences on his approach to percussion, with “Games Without Frontiers” leading the way as his favorite Gabriel track.

As music entered the ’80s, I remember how things got increasingly and disconcertedly digital — MIDI, disk drives, drum machines and the like — putting some of us analog-minded folks off, at least initially.  Not Ed, though, who helped serve as a bridge to fearful, reactionary types like me, whose old school heart will always yearn for analog-only devices, such as a Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker, or a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (my college roommate had one), or an Echoplex tape delay effects unit (sax man & friend, Bruce Batté, once had one), without which dub reggae would almost certainly have never been born.

                  Hammond B-3                                   red Walnut Leslie Speaker Cabinet

Hammond B-3Leslie speaker

Moog Taurus II Bass Pedal Synth                 Echoplex – Complete with Case

Moog Taurus Bass PedalsEchoplex - vintage

“Games Without Frontiers,” unsurprisingly, would be cited in a fun historical romp – “Ghosts in the Machine:  The Most Important Drum Machines in Music History” – which begins in 1959 with Wurlitzer’s built-in percussion sidekick, the Side Man.  Peter Gabriel, as it turns out, utilized a Linn Drum predecessor I was not aware of until now – PAiA – that enjoys the distinction of being the “first programmable drum machine in history,” having been introduced to the marketplace in 1975.

Frustratingly, that information is not spelled out in the otherwise detailed credits captured on Discogs for the UK edition of Peter Gabriel’s third album from 1978.   Did Gabriel himself do the drum programming vs. Jerry Marotta & Phil Collins, the drummers listed on the track?  We do know, however, that Gabriel and Larry Fast both did some programming with respect to synthesizers, such as “Games Without Frontiers,” on which both musicians programmed synth bass lines (one of which I initially assumed to be Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick).

Larry Fast LPSoon after playing bagpipes on the album’s concluding track “Biko,” Larry Fast — under the name Synergy — would issue his fourth long-playing release Games, an “all electronic production” that, like his three previous efforts, would be produced, engineered and programmed by Fast himself.   Released in 1979, Games is an instrumental song cycle that some might deem “experimental, ambient” (Discogs) and challenging at times but is hard to categorize given the dynamics and dramatic shifts in mood and intensity, as demonstrated on six-minute composition “Delta Four:

“Delta Four”     Synergy     1979

From the liner notes courtesy of Discogs:

Digital synthesis realized using the digital synthesizer at Bell Laboratories – Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Mixed at House of Music June and July 1979 by Larry Fast except Delta One which was mixed by Charlie Conrad & Larry Fast.  Mastered by Robert Ludwig, Masterdisk, NYC.

Digital synthesizer computer programming by Greg Sims.  Equipment used on this production manufactured by — Moog Music Inc.; Oberheim Electronics; Sequential Circuits; Paia Electronics; 360 Systems; Musitronics; MXR; DBX; MCI; Eventide Clockworks; Sony; Teac-Tascam; EMT; The Synergy System; Apple Computer Corp.; Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer; Deltalab Research.

Soundcheck:  “Delta 3” [parts A-F] developed from themes written during soundchecks on the August to December 1978 Peter Gabriel Tour.  “Delta Two” themes are remnants of 1974’s electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra writing sessions.  “Delta Four” is a surviving digital synthesizer sequencer program experiment combined with some advanced tape loops.  “Delta One” is an experiment fusing the pop and electronic vocabularies of turn of the decade composition.

Electronic music pioneer & Occasional Bagpipist – Larry Fast

Larry FastIn a 2004 interview, Larry Fast would have a lot to say about the experience of the album:

“Games was the first encounter on a Synergy album with digital synthesis and to some degree, digital recording.  It was done under laboratory conditions at Bell Labs, which was then the crown jewel of the AT&T Research Lab.  It’s still there [or is it?], but it’s now part of the crown jewels of Lucent.  AT&T was the telephone company—Ma Bell—back then and had lots of wonderful “blue sky” research going on in computers, audio and various other technologies.  They would fund these things thinking—and rightfully so—that at some point, something would surface out of these free thinking projects that might be beneficial to the phone company.  They don’t do that so much anymore.  At that time, there wasn’t any real competition in the phone business.  Now, it’s very cutthroat.  However, at that time, one of their great, shining lights was Max Matthews, one of the pioneers of computer music and electronic music, at the academic and theoretical level. One of his departments was speech and synthesis.  They were exploring several areas of synthesizers, speech and vocals, which could be made into singing.  He had worked on one project as early as 1976 that incorporated aspects of that.

By 1978, they had some of the very earliest digital synthesizers, running essentially as software, with some concurrent specialized hardware they had built on minicomputers.  They were just mind-boggling to me after struggling to extract sounds from the Moog, Oberheim and related instruments I had been working with in the analog world.  This was positively world changing.  Again, like any technology at the beginning, it was a little tedious and difficult to control. I was just getting my feet wet, but there were a few passages recorded at Bell Labs that found their way onto the Games record.  The passages were enhanced with some of the analog synthesizers to flesh out the arrangements.  It was a very eye opening experience.  It set part of the tone for the album.  The other aspect of Games it that I was on the road a lot with the Peter Gabriel band and recording with them as well.  It meant that some of the writing was done on the road, captured on small cassette recorders and lots of scribbled-down notes.  It was the first album where I hadn’t set aside a block of time in my composer’s studio to write.  It was a different approach.”

Is it ironic that this digital work was issued on 8 TRACK?

Larry Fast 8 trackEd Goldstein’s current percussion philosophies are being carried out through Big Car Jack.

Big Car Jack-xThis piece, by the way, is not Zero to 180’s first reference to bagpipes in popular music — sorry Ed, I’m not referring to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but rather “Reggae Bagpipes“!

Abstract Interjection!  This is the 4th Zero to 180 piece tagged as “Experimental Pop

Subverting Depression in Song, in their April, 2015 piece entitled “Songs About Depression,” reminds us Beatles fans that the song “Every Night” from Paul McCartney’s debut solo album — recorded while still legally a Beatle — was created while the bassist was battling depression.

How nice to see Richie Havens take this song and imbue it with his own very upful feeling:

“Every Night”     Richie Havens    1980

Elektra would release “Every Night” b/w “Here’s a Song” as a single.  “Every Night” would also find itself in the enviable position of side one, track two on Havens’ Connections LP, released in 1980.

Richie Havens:  Vocals & Rhythm Guitar
Ann Lang & Gail Wynters:  Backing Vocals
Andy Newmark:  Drums
Chuck Rainey:  Bass
Montego Joe:  Congas & Tambourine
Elliot Randall, Jeffrey Baxter:  Electric Guitar
Jack Waldman:  Keyboards

Richie Havens 45Note:  you have until Halloween to bid on a sealed 8-track of Richie Havens’ Connections.

Richie Havens 8-trackWhen Were 8-Track Tapes Officially Put Out to Pasture?

1980 sounds a little late for 8-track tapes possibly — makes me wonder when production finally ceased for that lowly country mouse of audio playback formats (created by Bill Lear of celebrity jet fame).  According to technology-and-society blog, For the First Time (or the Last Time):

“There is a debate about the last commercially released 8-track by a major label, but many agree it was Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits in November 1988.  Some 8-track titles were still available through record clubs until 1989.  Many of these late-period releases are highly collectible due to the low numbers that were produced.  Among the most rare is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood.  The record club-only 8-track cartridge that seems to sell for the highest amount is The Police’s The Singles, which has sold for over $200 for a single copy. Another highly sought-after title among collectors has been The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, which has sold for over $100 for an open copy in average condition.”

Perrey & Kingsley’s Secret Ondioline

Jean Jacques Perrey & Gershon Kingsley – originators of funny & futuristic-sounding 60s instrumental music with massive kid appeal – found common cause intermittently as a recording act that produced a total of three full-length albums and two single releases.  Perrey & Kingsley’s appearance on an episode of I’ve Got a Secret (this video claims) is the duo’s sole live performance.  Perrey, was originally hired by the ondioline’s inventor, Georges Jenny, to demonstrate the electronic instrument’s unusual expressiveness and ability to emulate other musical instruments as shown here in charming fashion:

Jean Jacques Perrey & Gershon Kingsley     “Spooks in Space”     1966

LP Releases by Jean-Jacques Perrey and/or Gershon Kingsley

Perrey & Kingsley LP-1Perrey & Kingsley LP-2Perrey LP-aaKingsley LP-aaPerrey LP-bbKingsley LP-bb

The ondioline would give birth to the clavioline (the instrument behind that peppy 1960 UK instrumental “M1” profiled earlier), which would then give birth to the (heavily-modifed) “Musitron” – the distinctive keyboard sound behind Del Shannon’s “Runaway” from 1961.

OndiolineSy Mann (the creative force behind the Switched On Santa Moog album, as well as 1971’s Shaft as arranged by “Soul” Mann & the Bros.) would get in on the ondioline game with a 1966 7-inch single released in Germany “Der Fröhliche Radfahrer” b/w “Fahrt In’s Glück”:

“Der Fröhliche Radfahrer”     Sy & Bob Mann and the ondioline band     1966

45Cat reveals that The Ondioline Band would release a 7-inch “Last Bicycle to Brussels” b/w “The Lovers of Cologne” in the UK in 1966.

More individual LP Releases by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley

Perrey LP-ccKingsley LP-ccPerrey LP-ddKingsley LP-dPerrey & Kingsley 8-track tapeOndioline Trivia:

  • Al Kooper played ondioline on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 debut LP, as well as 1968’s Super Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.
  • Sy Mann’s Switched On Santa album was engineered and mixed by Jean-Jacques Perrey.
  • Richie Havens plays an ondioline on his 1969 album, Richard P. Havens 1983.
  • Gershon Kingsley is the mastermind behind 1972 instrumental “Popcorn” – the smash hit attributed to ‘Hot Butter.’

Kingsley sheet musicThis is the fifteenth Zero to 180 piece to be tagged electronic musical instruments.

“Little Boy Blue”: Name That Opening Instrument

YouTube contributor, RoswellReptilian, tells us that Tim Dawe‘s “Little Boy Blue” was “used as bumper music for WMMS’s Cleveland Buzzard Morning Zoo in the 1970-80s.”  Can you name the electronic musical instrument that you hear at the opening of the song, as well as during each repeated instrumental passage leading up to the verses?

“What more can one say about Tim Dawe, after all, than that he is from Chicago by way of New York City, Missouri, Wisconsin, La Jolla, Los Angeles, and Rangoon, that he once went to Yale without much success, that he used to support himself by performing Dylan songs at a time when and where no one knew Dylan from Schmylan, that he went on to win himself a spanky two-week booking at Randy Sparks’ intimate Ledbetter’s in the Wilton, Wisconsin Midwest Folk Festival, and that he plays the guitar divinely, sings, and writes little songs?”

Liner notes to Zapped, 1970 sampler LP of songs from Straight/Bizarre, the Warner Brothers subsidiaries established for Zappa-related musical projects & productions.

Tim Dawe’s 1969 stereo LP ‘penrod’ – issued on Straight

Tim Dawe LPThanks to the contributor who provides invaluable history behind Dawe’s one and only release during his brief association with Straight/Warner Brothers:

“Released in 1969, Tim Dawe’s Penrod was one of the few entries on Frank Zappa’s ironically-monikered Straight Records label — where it was nestled between Jeff Simmons’ Naked Angels original motion picture soundtrack and Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon, both of which were also issued that year.  It has been suggested that Penrod was a pseudonym for the name of the assembled musicians.  However, Penrod is, in fact, the fictional Penrod Schofield, a preteen whose misadventures were anthologized in a collection of humorous drawings by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Booth Tarkington.  He is portrayed on the outer LP jacket in two cover illustrations hand-drawn by Gordon Grant.  For this recording, Dawe (acoustic guitar and vocals) is joined by Arnie Goodman (keyboards), Chris Kebeck (guitar), Claude Mathis (drums), and Don Parrish (bass), and the ten-track project was realized under the supervision of producer and arranger Jerry Yester, who also scored light orchestrations for several of Dawe’s originals.”

              Issued on LP                                            as well as 8-Track tape

Penrod APenrod B

“Truckin'”: Charlie Jackson on the Spar Label

A huge tip of the hat to the late, great Charlie Coleman for playing the righteous sounds on his Coleman’s Classic Country radio show in the greater Annapolis/DC area — a part of the nation that desperately needs help with the quality of its radio programming.  Charlie was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to program a couple of all truck-driving radio shows, and it delights me every time to hear his bemusement over the fact that this hot little number by Charlie Jackson – “Truckin’” – was issued on a tiny label, Spar, that not a lot of people can honestly say they have represented in their vinyl record collections:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Truckin'” by Charlie Jackson.]

An obvious candidate for an A-side, “Truckin'” – recorded at Spar Recording Studio and produced by Tommy Downs – unfortunately, was never released as a single.

Released on LP

Charlie Jackson LP

8-Track, too

Charlie Jackson 8-track

Back cover liner notes

Note:  Click on image above to view in ultra high resolution

“This album of great country hits by Charlie Jackson is dedicated to all the many truck drivers who spend a good part of their time pushing a rig down a lonely stretch of road so that you and I can benefit by all of the many products and foods that come to us from coast to coast.  [Their] home away from home is the truck stop that is fast becoming a familiar sight along the superhighways that criss-cross the nation.

What was once a few gas pumps and a restaurant known for its good food has been replaced by a combination hotel, supply depot, repair center, and last but not least, entertainment supplied by juke boxes, friendly talk from other drivers and bright lights that seem to never go off.  It’s a 24 hour world that never closes seven days a week.”  

Thanks to the Bowling Green State University’s library catalog, I was able to identify a handful of other titles released on Nashville’s Spar label, such as Ricky Page Sings Harper Valley PTA, Hits Are Our Business by The Now Generation, Country Hits and also Straight from Nashville – the last two by The Nashville Country Jamboree and all four released between the years 1968-1970.

Spar LP aSpar LP bSpar LP cSpar LP d

The Internet also helped to fill in some of the gaps in the library’s catalog of Spar releases.


        Interesting to see this LP            get re-branded Later in this fashion

Spar LP LaSpar LP Lb

Richie Unterberger, in his review of a 2007 CD anthology by The Now Generation, sheds some much-needed light on Spar’s operations:

“In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the studio-only ensemble, The Now Generation, were principally known for issuing albums full of soundalike covers of contemporary hits, although they did put out some original material.  Top Nashville session men like Henry Strzelecki, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Wayne Moss, Bill Purcell, Kenny Buttrey, “Pig” Robbins, and Charlie McCoy were among the musicians who played on Now Generation releases.  Fortunately, this 20-track compilation concentrates on the original material, as much of the CD is taken from their self-titled 1967 debut LP, their only album not to fall into the ‘soundalike’ bag.”

Billboard‘s October 18, 1969 edition included a supplemental publication — “World of Country Music” — with words of praise for Spar in a piece entitled “Independent Fleging Giants”:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Spar-Records-Billboard-article-Oct-18-1969.jpg

For those who don’t have the time to trawl through second-hand vinyl, help has arrived:  those fine folks at Yellow Label have rounded up enough material for a three-CD set of 7-inch recordings from Spar Records, home of such unsung musical artists as Bobby & the Beagles; Sandy & the Beachcombers; Jimmy Tig & the Rounders; Phoebe, Unky & Fatty Ann; Joe Pain; Ken Kennedy & The Now Generation, among many, many others.

Spar RecordsInformative piece about Spar Records’ budget subsidiary – Hit Records – in which MusicMaster Oldies makes this hilarious observation:

“[Ted Jarrett and Bill Beasley] ran another budget label called Spar Records.  It was on that label that Bobby Russell made his recording debut with a Nashville teen garage band called Bobby Russell And The Beagles.  It was 1964, the year the Beatles hit it big in America.  Clearly the “Beagles” was intended to trade off the success of The Beatles.”

Fascinating to learn that Bobby Russell would go on to have a Top 40 hit with the song “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” – memorably covered later by The Ray Charles Singers.  That’s Bobby Russell, by the way, doing the lead vocals on today’s featured song (Charlie Jackson is strictly the piano man), thanks to Paul W. Urbahns of Hit Records of Nashville and his insightful comment attached to this piece.

And, of course, much gratitude to Tom Avazian – record collector extraordinaire – for bringing this record to my attention in the first place.

“Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham”: The Other John(ny) Marr

Love the soulful harpsichord that opens this track from the only album ever recorded by John Randolph Marr:

“Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham”     John Randolph Marr     1970

Such a memorable title for a tune few people have ever heard of – and yet this song has been recorded by Artie Christopher (1968); Kin Vassy, Gainsborough Gallery, Larry Henley & The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (1969); Nancy Sinatra, Eve, Mac Davis, Blue Cheer, Juicy Lucy, Goodness & Mercy, Nick Anthony & Smokestack Lightnin’ (1970);  Dave Kelly & Max Merritt and the Meteors (1971); The Platters (!) & Bobby Whitlock (1972); John Dummer’s Oobleedooblee Band (1973) – and, more recently (2013), The Chris Robinson Brotherhood.  Therefore, it would seem that I am the one who’s rather late to the game.

John Randolph MarrWould you believe Harry “Mr. eddie’s Father” Nilsson produced this funky thing?

Such an obvious A-side – particularly given the many cover versions – and yet Warner Brothers felt it unworthy of even the flip side of the only single issued from this album.

How amusing/annoying to discover that the 8-track version of this album would cleave the song into two parts, hence, the forced fade at the end of part 1, at which point the 8-track would audibly “click” over to the next track of tape, followed then by the fade in of part 2 — in no way dishonoring or degrading the musical experience for the listener whatsoever.

John Randolph Marr 8 Track labelI am eternally grateful to A Light in the Attic for bringing this song to my attention.   Funky16Corners nobly attempts to nail down who recorded the original version.

Only on 8-Track

Believe it or not, there are pieces of music that can be found on no other audio format but 8-track tape.  One example of something that exists only on 8-track:  this brief instrumental passage from Lou Reed‘s 1973 album, Berlin, that appears between the first two songs, “Berlin” and  “Lady Day”:

Note:  original audio clip no longer on YouTube — this clip used in substitution

Another instance of something that resides solely within the realm of the 8-track is an alternate version of “Pigs on the Wing” from the Pink Floyd album, Animals, produced for the 8-track cartridge release, in which the song order was changed, and Parts 1 and 2 were played back-to-back at the beginning of the album, linked by a guitar solo performed by Snowy White, who would later play the guitar solo in live performances on their 1977 In the Flesh Tour:

Also, there is an extended version of “Six O’Clock,” written by Paul McCartney for Ringo‘s near-Beatles reunion of an album, 1973’s, Ringo, that was only included on 8-track:

Similarly, there is an extended version for the 8-track release of “Silver Moon” from 1970’s Loose Salute by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band with a longer steel guitar break by Red Rhodes and a “cold” ending (not a fade-out).

“I’m a-Wonderin’ Why” = final song on Boyce’s debut album but on 8 track ONLY

I have also affirmed a chatboard assertion that Tommy Boyce‘s self-titled 1968 debut on RCA/Camden includes a song found only on the 8-track version, “I’m a-Wonderin’ Why.”  There also seems to be a consensus that 1978’s Some Girls by The Rolling Stones is noticeably altered for 8-track release, with two songs (“Miss You” & “Beast of Burden”) longer, while at least one other (“Shattered” – and possibly “Far Away Eyes”) is shortened – and possibly another (“Just My Imagination”).

Also mentioned in a previous post is the odd fact that – despite the release of two 7″ vinyl promo singles in 1972 – the first full-playing release by “JimmyDale & The FlatlandersAll American Music, was issued by Plantation Records as an 8-track-only affair!

Jimm(ie) Dale & Flatlanders 8-Track

Thanks to a tip from Ron Yoder, I know now that Robert Plant included an extended version of “Burning Down One Side” solely for the 8-track version of 1982’s Pictures at Eleven album.   As Mr. Yoder explains, “You will notice that this version is almost 5 minutes long as opposed to barely over 4 minutes on every other version I have heard.”  Readers who would like to hear this longer version may email me directly.

8 Tracks:  4 Figures!

Just for fun, I went to Popsike (auction info on rare vinyl) and did a keyword search using the phrase “8 track” and then organized the results according to top dollar paid.  Check out the winner:  $4550 paid for a single 8 track tape of Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim!   Jerry Tomko of the Facebook group 8 Track Tapes and Players explains why:

“Release was canceled but a handful of 8-tracks survived (the number usually quoted is three) … presumably more were manufactured and then destroyed.  No vinyl copies were ever made.  Evidently there are enough Sinatra completists that it achieved this price, which was an eBay auction result.”

Goldmine’s Dave Thompson provides additional details in his playful piece entitled, The Coolness of the 8 Track.

Image courtesy of 8 Tracks Rock!

Secret Hidden Bonus Track

8-track enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy Chip Rowe‘s feature story about the (once) staggering 25,000 8-track collection formerly owned by noted musician and producer, Don Fleming: