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Hardly Strictly Jazz

A Few Frames Of Public Access Art

By Published: July 23, 2012
Great book, too. I had bought it three years before I moved to Los Angeles, and read it several times before I ever met Art Fein. When we met, around 1997, I immediately told him I knew the book, and how much I'd enjoyed it. We spent the rest of the evening discussing what could be added in LAMT's second edition. And most of those suggestions actually made the cut, except for the Wilshire Ebell Theater, a venue whose most notable bookings were not rock'n'roll but rather classical music, such as the famous "Evenings On The Roof" series that tore open the modern classical scene of the 1940s. The Ebell was also the place of Glenn Gould's last ever live performance, which happened in 1964. Art neither shared my enthusiasm for modern classical music nor Glenn Gould. Which comes as no shock to anyone who has ever met him.



There were only two guests Art wanted but never got—Little Richard
Little Richard
Little Richard
b.1935
piano
and Phil Spector. Richard was never easy to get hold of, and there are those people who slip away. As for Spector, I'm not quite sure. He and Art had been friends for years at that point (and still are), and Phillip had even helped Art get a few guests.

My favorite string of guests on the show were the behind-the-scenes guys. Larry Levine was the engineer at Gold Star studio in Hollywood and had a profound role in creating Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, to say nothing of his work on Herb Alpert
Herb Alpert
Herb Alpert
b.1935
trumpet
's "A Taste of Honey," Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt," and dozens of other hits. He started with "Summertime Blues" and worked his way through the Ramones and then some. His ability to recall musicians, recording techniques, and productions was staggering. He never spoke of his own importance, even though he was often the one that figured out how to get to tape the bold innovations brought forth by this new music that was starting to percolate when he came back from Korea in the 1950s. Larry was a great storyteller, and his appearances on Poker Party were what the show did best—they put you backstage at some song you thought you knew by heart, and then told you every cool secret you'd never heard before.

Not every guest was a revelation, nor was every show a gem...or even watchable. And not every fact offered by the guests was...verifiable (to be nice about it). But this is the nature of war stories and the old generals who tell them. And when something is so clearly a labor of love, you will overlook a few lesser moments, because truly great things happened. Fans of the show hold special love for Blasters lead singer Phil Alvin's manic, unhinged description of how the record business is a fallacy put forth by the furniture industry. I am not making this up. Behold Phil's screed:

"'Record companies' is a way of trying to trick you, scam you. These are furniture companies. That's how they started, that's what their contracts are, that's what they intended to sell into the 1950s.

"In 1878, Edison invented a record player (note: invented and demonstrated in 1877, patented 1878). It was a cylinder and the needle went up and down, and he had companies that wanted to distribute the player. Furniture companies like the Victor Furniture Comany. But we don't know this stuff. We don't know the facts abojut a lot of things in our country.

"The first blues record record ever made was made by the Okeh Furniture Company in New York City, then the Paramount Furniture Company in Grafton, WI. These are furniture companies. And they sold furniture and were not interested in selling music or records. They were interested in selling record players.

"Edison was a bad business man and was charging people very high prices for distribution. Victor didn't wanna pay... I forget the exact number, but it was very high. So, everybody was tryuing to design their own patentable record process. Victor did it. Rather than encode things up and down, as Edison had on the cylinder, called 'hill and dale recording,' Victor said 'We'll record things left and right,' and they patented that process.

"The Victor Furniture Company—Furniture Company, folks—was very happy they had this patentable process 'cause they wanted to sell Victrolas, the Victor piece of furniture. And they said, 'Anybody in the world can use our process for free. We want people to make records, because we're not in the music business, we sell furniture. We got trucks and we got warehouses for furniture.' If you find early Victor records, they only got one side on 'em, 'cause they weren't even smart enough to see you could have two sides when you're going left and right. Edison couldn't 'cause his were going up and down on a cylinder. Columbia, who were acting inside these business concerns for the furniture companies, said 'Why don't you put it on both sides?,' and they let anybody use it except Victor, just as Victor didn't let Edison use their process.


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