Saturday, April 30, 2011

Abandoned Bible College

There's something horribly romantic and gothic about an abandoned Bible College. It's a subject that's ripe for all kinds of metaphors.

The truth in this case is actually rather prosaic. Zion Bible College decided to vacate their campus in Barrington, Rhode Island after the state instituted a stricter fire code in the wake of the Station Nightclub disaster. The school judged the costs of upgrading their facilities too expensive and moved to another town in Massachusetts.

The town of Barrington is now considering buying the property, so today the campus was open for public tours.

The photos below were taken by my son Will, and myself.

Photo by Will Bilderback
Photo by Will Bilderback

Photo by Will Bilderback

Photo by Will Bilderback

Photo by Will Bilderback

Photo by Will Bilderback




You can see more photos of the former Zion Bible School here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

R.I.P. Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene (aka Marianne Elliot Said) in a recent publicity photo
 
It took Poly Styrene (aka Marianne Elliot) all of 10 seconds to become an immortal legend.
"Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,
But I think,
Oh Bondage up yours!
One, two, three, FOUR...."
Before the first notes of her band X-Ray Spex's first single were even played, Poly uttered those words from a mouth still full of braces in her little girl cockney accent, and she would never be forgotten, nor could she be.

I was greatly saddened to learn of Marianne Elliot Said's passing after a battle with breast cancer at the age of 54. She lived a life as bright as her signature day-glo fashions, but one that was tragically cut too short.

Strip away the obscenity and titillation, and "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" is very simply a song about refusing the chains that other people would put on you. Widely embraced as a feminist anthem, the message is also universal. The obscenity of the metaphor, the shocking quality of hearing it shouted so forcefully from the mouth of someone who was barely more than a little girl herself at the time, only amplified the power inherent in the refusal. The song is at once potently nihilistic and forcefully affirmative. In many ways "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" is the punk-rock single, and I rank it up there in importance with The Sex Pistol's "God Save The Queen," or anything else to come out of the English punk rock explosion of the late 70s. It might be the greatest one of them all.

Likewise, I consider X-Ray Spex's first album, Germfree Adolescents, to be one of the very best UK punk rock albums, and just as vital as the debut albums by The Clash, The Damned or The Sex Pistols. With her day-glo fashion, bi-racial beauty, and mouth full of braces, Styrene cut a smashing figure across the punk rock scene, one that no doubt has served as inspiration to the hundreds of rebellious female (and male) musicians who followed in the trail she blazed so brightly.

Styrene quickly refused the shackles imposed by punk rock, releasing the decidedly non-punk solo album Translucence, then dropped out of the music scene altogether to join a London based Hare Krishna sect. She would periodically reappear on the music scene, most recently with Generation Indigo, which was released earlier this year.

According to her BBC obituary, Styrene recently said, "I know I'll probably be remembered for 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' ... I'd like to remembered for something a bit more spiritual." I know nothing of the spirit world Poly now belongs to, but I don't think there is much better advice for living in the material world than that contained in "Oh Bondage Up Yours!"

"Oh bondage, no more!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Everything Is Right - Audio Updated


When I first posted this song, it featured a different take of "Everything Is Right" than the one that appeared on the cassette. I've since replaced the older version of the song with the newly remastered 1981 cassette version that will be released digitally on June 7th. Take a listen. It sounds terrific!

Don Fleming

I had a good chat with Don Fleming this morning. I believe I am getting closer than ever to finding out the true story of what happened to Dr. Rhythm, the elusive "Missing Link" in the Velvet Monkeys' story. More details to follow. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Robyn Hitchcock Album, Tromsø, Kaptein, Available for Pre-Oder/Download

  

A new album from Robyn Hichcock, Tromsø, Kaptein, is being released by Norwegian label Hype City Recordings. It is currently available for pre-order at Robyn Hitchcock's website. If you buy it now, you will immediately get an MP3 download of the entire album.

Details:
Robyn Hitchcock's new album is sung in English for Norwegian ears.
We are excited to announce that Norwegian label Hype City are all set to release a new collection of songs by Robyn Hitchcock on April 8th [May 3rd in USA], Tromsø, Kaptein on CD. Produced by Paul Noble, the record features 8 new original compositions from Robyn as well as a re-recording of "Raining Twilight Coast" from Eye and a new Norwegian language version of the title track from Goodnight Oslo.

Exclusively at the Robyn Hitchcock Webshop, we are giving fans the chance to pre-order the CD now and get the full MP3 digital album instantly for FREE. CD will ship and FLAC download available for purchase 5/3/2011.
Robyn says:
"In the late summer of 1982 I first visited Norway. A yellow van containing the London band Motor Boys Motor, my own rock trio, a sound engineer and our tour guide set off from Oslo up to the Sognefjord, down through Lillehammer, back to Bergen and through the Sognefjord again, and returning again to Oslo. We played in fallout shelters to AC/DC fans, in small town festivals in the rain, in beautiful wooden hotels by the water's edge, and sometimes in actual clubs. Our yellow van drove through endless tunnels that finally emerged onto fjord-side roads with 1000-meter drops to the water on one side, and cliffs that vanished in the clouds on the other. Ferries took us across stretches of water where the rain seemed to be falling up into the sky. Mist and alcohol were everywhere. One morning I was wakened by a man who was wearing nothing but an air pilot's cap and clutching a glass of moonshine. It was 7:42 by his watch.

Since 2005 I've visited regularly, making new friends in Bergen and beyond. In Egersund, I met Frode Strømstrad whose band I Was A King were playing there. He very kindly offered to release a record of mine in Norway on his Hype City label. So I went home and disappeared into myself, as if I was roaming the fjords; I let one side of myself argue with the other, as if I was roaming the fjords with a therapist. I let the songs come out of me, and here is the result - sung in English for Norwegian ears."
~ Robyn Hitchcock - London, 2011

Robyn has been on something of a hot streak lately, releasing one outstanding album after another in quick succession with a variety of line-ups and in a wide array of Hitchcockian styles. On first listen Tromsø, Kaptein sounds like another winner. Perhaps I have "Norwegian ears."

Village Of Spaces In Store At Analog Underground Today


I had previously, mistakenly, posted that Village of Spaces and Mona Nash would be doing an in store at Analog Underground on Record Store Day. In fact, the performance is today (April 21) starting at 3:00 PM at Analog Underground, 504 Broadway, Providence, RI.

I would go, but will be busy discussing Schrödinger's Cat's at that time instead. No cats will be harmed in the course of this discussion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Daddy, this music is not making me feel happy.


"Daddy, this music is not making me feel happy." That's what my four year old daughter said to me as I played my new prized-possession, a limited edition reproduction test pressing of Big Star's Third, an album I've listened to regularly in one form or another since the age of fifteen. It's a pretty sensible statement. Really, what other reaction could a normal four year old have?
You're a wasted face
You're a sad-eyed lie
You're a holocaust
I doubt my daughter was specifically responding to the lyrics of "Holocaust," but rather to the overall tone of exquisite melancholy that pervades the album. Nobody ever accused Big Star's Third of being "the feel good album of the summer." Alex and Jody couldn't even find a label willing to release it when the original test pressing was cut in 1975.

But why should we enjoy (or even listen to) music that doesn't make us happy? Or is it possible that incredibly sad music can--on some level--make us happy under the right circumstances? I don't have any easy answers to those questions, other than to say that as we move past the age of four, some of us learn to embrace music that covers the full spectrum of human emotion (love, happiness and ecstatic joy, yes, but also anger, fear and even depression). Maybe you get to a certain age and you're happy just to still be able to feel anything at all, and sometimes you need art (musical or otherwise) to provoke an emotional response to remind you that you're alive, that you're a human being.
You're eyes are almost dead
Can't get out of bed
And you can't sleep
Maybe you have to have been there once or twice to find any comfort in lyrics like that.

I didn't try to explain any of this to my daughter. She'll have to find out for herself.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" 78 RPM Screw Up?

After playing around with the Beach Boys 10" a bit, I suspect Capitol may have cut this in odd way (shocking, I know).

What I suspect they did was cut the record on the lathe at 45 RPM while playing the tape back slowly. Since Capitol hasn't been cutting 78s for a half century or more, it would not surprise me if their lathe can't spin at 78 RPM (I'm trying to find out whether that is the case or not). But no problem right? Play the tape (or digital file) back at around 57.7% speed, and spin the lathe at 45 RPM and everything should work, right? Not exactly. The problem comes when introducing the RIAA compensation curve, and if that is applied as the tape runs at the slower speed, it also shifts the RIAA crossover points. If that is the case, and the RIAA curve is off, the frequency response will be a bit off when actually played at 78 RPM.

How do I know this you ask? Well, I don't, it's a somewhat educated guess. I recorded my copy while playing at 45. Then I sped it up the proper amount using the method outlined in the post below. But when I used the EQ program I suggested (using the 45 > 78 setting) the frequency response sounded off (too bass heavy and muffled in the treble). But if I didn't apply the EQ change, it sounded right. When I recorded at 33.3 and applied the appropriate speed changes and EQ correction in Equalizer, the resulting file sounded even more off than when I recorded at 45 and applied the changes. I've used Equalizer to adjust EQ under similar circumstances dozens of times in the past, and this is the first time I've found the results unsatisfactory.

It was also interesting to me that on the EQ corrected copy I could see the brickwall frequency cut off appears to have been mostly shifted down to around 17 kHz, whereas without the correction I see the brickwall cutoff around 22 kHz (which is right were I would expect it to be if they used a 44.1 kHz digital source, or had a 44.1 digital delay head in their cutting set up). Also when I inspected the re-EQ'd file I recorded at 33.3 RPM, the brickwall filter appeared to have mostly been shifted down even further than that (to around 15 kHz).

So my revised advise--in this case only--is to skip the EQ step I outlined below for best sound quality. Just record at 45, speed it up, and don't worry about correcting the EQ. It will sound fine that way. The difference between the two is not so huge anyway, but the uncorrected version sounded more right to my ears. Or you can do it both ways (it's a free program and works quickly) and decide which way it sounds best for yourself.

I just want to emphasize that in other cases, I have found the Equalizer program to work perfectly for transcribing vintage 78s. Brian Davies, the author of the program knows 78s inside out and backward in his sleep. I highly recommend Equalizer in general both for transcribing vintage 78s at 45 RPM, or for recording 45 RPM singles at 33.3 (which is sometimes a useful technique if you have a noisy 45, but that's another story). And as I have noted in the past, Click Repair (also by Davies), is the single best vinyl restoration program I have used, and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to digitize any kind of record (78s, 45s, LPs, flexi-discs, whatever...).

All of this is assuming Capitol used the RIAA curve to cut the record, and since the release doesn't indicate any other curve was utilized (Decca, Columbia, Westrex, etc.), I think it is reasonable to assume they used RIAA, although I could be wrong about that.

I have a few inquiries out, and I'll see what I can find out what actually happened. Although, honestly, I think I've wasted more than enough time on this already.

**Update: I revised this post for the sake of clarity. The original post was written quite quickly, and may not have been as clear as I hoped it would be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How To Listen To Your Beach Boys 78 RPM Record Even If Your Turntable Won't Spin That Fast

Just got back from Record Store Day with your Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" 78 RPM double 10" EP, but don't have a turntable that spins at 78 RPM? Really want to hear those previously unreleased alternate versions on the second disc?

 
You are probably not alone.

So, what's to be done? You could follow the advise of commenter Mark N. and just play it at 45 RPM and pretend it's Vanilla Fudge covering the Beach Boys. That might be fun for a spin or two, but once the quaaludes wear off it might not be so amusing anymore.

There is another solution. You could record the tracks to your computer and then once they've been digitized, manipulate them digitally so that they play back properly. However, there are couple tricks to doing this that are necessary in order for them to sound right.

First, you'll need to record the tracks. If you've never digitized a record before, I recommend doing a little research on best practices. If you have a CD recorder, you could just record to that, then load the tracks on your computer. There are numerous programs you can use to make recordings directly to your computer, including a free one called Audacity.

For simplicity's sake, I recommend recording at 45 RPM and setting the digital sampling rate to 44.1 kHz (this is the standard for CDs, so if you went the CD-R route you're good). Once you have made this recording, if you use any de-clicking software, I recommend running it through the de-clicker at the slower speed.

The next step will be to change the sampling rate without resampling. This will change the speed at which your computer plays back the recording. Assuming you recorded at 44,100 Hz, you'll want to change the sampling rate to 76,440 Hz. (If you recorded at some other sampling rate, simply multiply the original sampling rate by 1.733333...) Again, it is important that you do not resample when you change the sampling rate. Most audio programs will offer the ability to change the sampling rate without resampling, but you'll need to check your owner's manual for how to do this.

Once you have done this, you should have a recording that sounds correct in terms of speed, but not quite right in the frequency domain. If you want to get things right, you'll need to change the equalization because you originally applied the RIAA equalization at 45 RPM, and changing the speed also shifted the EQ. To make the proper EQ change, I recommend you download the free program, Equalizer.


Once you open Equalizer, use the following settings: Under Filters "Original" select "RIAA + 45>78," under "New" select "RIAA." I would also recommend in the box that says "Mono Mix" that you check the box that says "Merge." Make sure "Lo-cut" and "Hi-cut" are off (they should be by default). Under "Main controls" Click "Open" and select the file you recorded. A box will come up asking you for a name for you new file. You can call it whatever you want, but by default Equalizer adds "-dr" to the name of your original file. Select "Save." Under Main controls select "Start."
 

Once the program is finished running (it shouldn't take long), you will have a new file that is both speed and EQ correct. You can then make any further changes you want (normalization, etc.) in your normal audio editing software. Enjoy!

Or you could just let someone else do the work and wait for the result to show up somewhere on the web. But what is the fun in that?

Merry Record Store Day!

**Update: I offered some bad advice, but it wasn't my fault, it has to do with the screwy way (I suspect) that Capitol cut this. See my updated post for details.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Other Providence Area Record Stores

I've written about three first class record stores (real record stores) in the Providence, Rhode Island area. As I said before, I feel very lucky to live in an area that can still support the existence of record stores. But these are not the only places to buy records in the area, and I wanted to single out a few other shops. All three of them will be participating in Record Store Day.

Armageddon Shop - Providence, RI
Shockingly, I have never even set foot in this store, a situation I really should remedy. Armageddon's focus is on punk/metal/noise/hardcore/indie, but they carry a variety of used records. (Maybe I'm afraid a trip to Armageddon will make me feel even older than I already do.) I've been told it's quite a good shop, and the fact that I've never been there is only a testament to how spoiled I am by the other great record stores in the area.

The Time Capsule - Cranston, RI & Seekonk, MA
I didn't even know this place existed until recently, despite the fact that their Seekonk, MA location is just a stones throw or two from my house. I only discovered their existence when I saw them listed as a participating Record Store Day retailer. I suspect the Cranston location is where the real vinyl action is, but the Seekonk shop has a lot of used records and CDs, as well as comic books, video games and various collectables. (I couldn't decide between the Fonzie and Ralph Malph dolls that were still in their original packaging, then I started thinking about the "Potsie" doll and how dreamy Anson Williams is, and then I realized I was better off sticking to looking at the records.)

I ended up searching through a lot of Asia and R.E.O. Speedwagon records, but found a copy of The Rain Parade's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (yeah, I already owned a copy on CD, but I wanted the LP too), a very clean copy of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night ("the audience fell at his feet like plums!"), and an Ella Fitzgerald CD. Most LPs are priced at $3 each. For her patience, my daughter got a beanie baby kitty cat, and if it had been a little cheaper, my son would have scored a Gigan action figure. Fun for the whole family!

What Cheer! Antiques (and some records) - Providence, RI
What Cheer is an antique store, but they have records and a few CDs in their back room. Their selection is very interesting and varied. As you might expect from a funky antiques shop, a lot of their records seem to have high kitsch value, but there is lots of good music there as well (nothing against the musical value of kitsch, mind you). In my opinion their records are fairly overpriced, but on Record Store Day (and Sunday 4/17) all LPs will be 50% off, and their "bargain bin" will be 10 for $1. It's not uncommon for them to have 50% off sales at other times too (you can decide what that means about their everyday prices for yourself).

Price complaints aside, What Cheer! is an important Providence institution and owners Chris and Jennifer Daltry are solid citizens. They are both big supporters of (and participants in) the local Providence music and art scene. They also run the semi-annual Providence/Somerville Rock & Roll Yard Sale.

I still haven't even covered everything in the area, but if you're a vinyl or music hound in the Northeast, a trip to the Providence area could be well worth your time. Prices here are not as high as the New York or Boston markets, but the selection is still quite good.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Your Ear - Warren, Rhode Island

In Your Ear Records - 462 Main Street, Warren, RI

In Your Ear Records is my favorite record store in the Providence area. Located in scenic Warren, Rhode Island (just a few miles from my house), In Your Ear houses a fantastic collection of records, 45s, CDs, DVDs, 8-Tracks, reel-to-reel tapes, as well as vintage turntables and stereo equipment. The store is bright and clean, and both the owner and his employees are friendly folks.

What I like best about In Your Ear is that they are constantly getting in new stock. Constantly. It pays to check in often (which I do). But what this constant influx of records, CDs, 8-tracks (and God knows what else) means is that it is almost impossible for the store to be kept to the same level of organization as found at Round Again. Yes, records are alphabetized by genre on the racks, but you'll find a lot of the really good stuff placed randomly in boxes on the floor. Strangely, I am okay with that. I think I actually even like it. For me it's fun to spot a new stack of records hiding in a corner of the store then checking to see what's in it. More often than not there will be something cool in there, and chances are it's in good shape and extremely reasonably priced.


For nearly 20 years In Your Ear was a hot destination on Thayer Street in Providence (the main commercial area around Brown University). But then Thayer Street rents skyrocketed right around the time college students discovered a way to get music without paying for it, and what once was a prime location for a record store no longer made sense. So the store relocated to the mean streets of Barrington, Rhode Island (with a brief name change), and later moved to it's current location on Main Street in Warren.

I've picked up a lot of great records from In Your Ear over the years; stuff like a white label promo of Richard Lloyd's Alchemy (I just spotted a non-white label copy in one of the boxes on the floor for cheap if you're looking for one), an original pressing of Big Star's #1 Record, a minty fresh original U.S. pressing of Exile On Main St. with all the postcards intact, a near perfect six-eye stereo copy of Sketches Of Spain, and many other terrific records. They also stock new CDs and LPs and will special order anything you want. If you are looking for something specific, it pays to ask because they also have locations in Cambridge and Boston and might have it there.

In Your Ear is worth a special trip to Warren. While you're there you can grab a refreshing Del's Frozen Lemonade, a coffee at The Coffee Depot, or an award winning pizza across the street from Federal Hill Pizza. (I recommend skipping their next door neighbor Warren House of Pizza unless you enjoy being yelled at over a greasy, bland slice of pizza).

In Your Ear is definitely participating in Record Store Day. In addition to having limited edition RSD exclusives, all new CDs and vinyl will be 10% off, used vinyl will be 25% percent off, and used CDs will be buy one get one free. Weather permitting they will also be having a sidewalk sale featuring items from the mysterious In Your Ear "vault."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Round Again Records - Providence, Rhode Island

Round Again Records - 278 Wickenden St. Providence, RI
 If Analog Underground is the new kid on the block on the Providence record store scene, Round Again Records is almost defiantly old-school. Round Again has no Facebook page. Round Again barely has a webpage. It's been in the exact same location since 1979.

All of which might give you the wrong idea. It may be old-school, but Round Again is not some musty-smelling hole in the wall. It's extremely clean and everything is exceptionally well-organized (alphabetized by genre). There aren't piles of records sitting on the floor, and nothing makes it to the racks that is in questionable condition. I hardly bother to inspect records before buying them at Round Again because they are always in excellent condition and very clean (a Nitty Gritty record vacuum sits prominently on the counter).

Steve, the owner (and only person I've ever seen working there), clearly knows his records. He knows what's an original pressing and what's not. He knows whether a mono copy of an Elvis Presley soundtrack is more sought after than the stereo version. He knows if there's an alternative cover that increases the value of a record. From the limited interactions I've had with him, it's clear to me that Steve works really hard at what he does, and that's why Round Again has survived in the same location for over thirty years while other shops have come and gone. And if he isn't ready for the brave new world of social media, he is one of the most trusted sellers of LPs on eBay, and deservedly so.

Selection is excellent and varied. Round Again is a great spot to hit if you are looking for 50s and 60s Jazz Records, but there is also a robust selection of Rock, Pop, Folk, R&B, Country, Classical, and Soundtrack LPs. But don't go in looking for the latest indie buzz band's limited-edition flexi disc, cause it's not there. Prices are fair. (During one of my recent trips, I scored a still sealed original pressing of NRBQ's first album for only $10.) Wall items tend to be pricey, but I have no doubt Steve could sell them on eBay for at least what he asks for them in store. Round Again also carries some nicely refurbished turntables and other vintage stereo equipment, and like the records he sells, all of the equipment is clean and appears to be in excellent condition.

If you live anywhere near Providence and love records Round Again is well worth the trip. And when you're done shopping for records you can go get amped up on caffeine across the street at the Coffee Exchange. I seriously doubt Round Again is doing anything to celebrate Record Store Day, Steve strikes me as more like a Festivus kind of guy.

Analog Underground - Providence, Rhode Island

Analog Underground - 504 Broadway, Providence, RI

I missed this when it came out, but there was a nice story in the Providence Phoenix about Analog Underground, a relatively new record store on Broadway in Providence, RI.

I've met owner Dave Lifrieri a few times over the years, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And it's great to see that that a younger person with some vision can still establish a new business that is built primarily around selling vinyl records in the year 2011. Dave has been particularly savvy in utilizing Facebook to communicate with his customers, and using the world of digital media to create a feeling of community. 

Dave is also smart, in my opinion, to focus not only on selling the records themselves, but also helping his customers to set up relatively high quality vinyl playback systems. Too many record stores miss out on the opportunity to educate their customers about the pleasures of high-quality vinyl playback. Instead of just having a few cheap ION USB turntables collecting dust in a corner of the store, Dave has set up a serious "listening den" in the back of the his store, and is both knowledgeable and outgoing enough to educate those who want to know what all the fuss over vinyl records is about.

Too often you have "music guys" on the one hand, and "gear heads" on the other. Often the music guys are only too happy to play their music on crummy equipment, and don't seem to care a bit about sound quality (more power to 'em). On the other hand the gear heads who tend to run hi-fi shops often seem happy to play immaculately recorded, but musically sterile, "demo" recordings over and over to demonstrate their equipment's remarkable imaging abilities. (I apologize for these gross generalizations, but I think you know what I mean here.) Dave seems like a good balance between the two. There is no doubt he is a serious music lover for whom music will always come first, but he also has a good understanding of how the right equipment can enhance the listening experience.


Analog Underground is a small shop, but the selection is well-chosen. You'll find lots of 70s and 80s Punk and New Wave vinyl for reasonable prices (last time I was there I picked up a copy of the Buzzcocks' Parts 1-3 EP, and was really tempted by several original 10" copies of The Clash's Black Market Clash), as well as a great selection of reasonably priced jazz records, and smattering of new releases and reissues. There is also a small selection of used CDs, although as the name of the shop implies, the focus is very much on vinyl.


I'm very grateful to live in an area that has a healthy selection of record stores, and it is nice to see a new store establish itself. I don't think Analog Underground is officially participating in Record Store Day, but Iif you are a music lover who lives in the greater Providence area (or are just visiting) this new shop is certainly a destination worth checking out.

Update: Analog Underground is participating in Record Store Day. They will have some of the RSD exclusives, plus their $3 LPs (already a bargain) will be marked down to $1. They will also have live in store performances from Village of Spaces, Mona Nash and others starting at 3:00 PM.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Feelies Album, Here Before, Release Today

In case you missed one of my multiple earlier posts on this subject, the pride of Haledon NJ, The Feelies, release their first album in nearly 20 years, Here Before, today.

Review to come soon. The UPS man has my LP copy, and it should arrive tomorrow. I admit that I have heard an MP3 version of the album already, and I am very favorably impressed, but I want to put needle to groove before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard for that matter).

I figure if the Feelies can wait 19+ years to release a new album, it won't matter much if I wait a few days to review it.

Whatever Happened To Dr. Rhythm? (Velvet Monkeys News)


Long out-of-print, and originally a cassette-only release, Everything is Right will once again rock the world, this time as a digital release. To the best of my knowledge, the debut release by Washington D.C. rock legends the Velvet Monkeys has never been reissued in full on any format until now.

According to a recent press release:

The digital reissue of Everything is Right is the first release on Don Fleming’s Instant Mayhem label since partnering with digital distributor IODA.  The audio was restored from the original analog tapes and remastered by Fleming. Instant Mayhem will release reissues of Fleming’s older catalog (w/Velvet Monkeys and Gumball) as well as new projects.  The next two releases for the label are a new solo EP titled Don Fleming 4, and a new album by To Live and Shave in L.A. called The Cortège.

Skip Groff, producer of many notable Washington, D.C.  bands, first recorded the Velvet Monkeys in 1981 at Don Zientara’s Inner Ear Studio. "Drive In" and "Shadow Box," were featured on Groff’s Connected LP, a sampler of D.C. bands released in 1981 on Limp Records. The band followed with the 10 song cassette-only Everything is Right, released on their own Monkey Business label in July 1982. Three additional live songs from a show at the Chancery in D.C. on New Year’s  Eve 1981 have been added to the original release for this reissue.

During this era the Monkeys lineup featured Fleming (later of Gumball, and producer of Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, Screaming Trees, Hole, Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, Andrew W.K., and others) on vocals and guitar, Elaine Barnes on vocals and keyboards, Stephen Soles on bass, and Jay "The Rummager" Spiegel on drums.

The story of these four Velvet Monkeys, their rise to the top and subsequent celebrity exploits are well documented, and I see little point in rehashing the details here. (For more on this, I highly recommend Kitty Kelley's controversial, but impeccably sourced, biography of the band, Monkey Business: Life in the Rock and Roll Zoo with Don Fleming and the Velvet Monkeys.) But the band member that I have personally always been the most curious about is the original drummer, Dr. Rhythm. Sometimes referred to as "the Fifth Monkey," or "the Missing Link," not much is known about the reclusive and mysterious Dr. Rhythm. 

So just what happened to Dr. Rhythm anyway? Dr. Rhythm's metronomic drumming was an incredibly important ingredient in the early Velvet Monkeys' sound, but the reasons for his sacking, as well as his current whereabouts, have remained shrouded in mystery for decades. Some claim the good Dr. was fired after he was caught moonlighting on a Depeche Mode session. Others say that extensive electroshock therapy sessions had made him increasingly unreliable. Still others claim Fleming fired him in a jealous rage when he caught Elaine Barnes fooling around with him. I have even heard it said that Dr. Rhythm was Don DeLillo's inspiration for the character of Bill Gray in his 1991 novel Mao II.

But, as with anything related to the Velvet Monkeys, the truth is rarely what it appears to be. Rest assured, dear reader, that I am doing everything in my power to get to the bottom of this mystery. In the meantime, enjoy the first chance to hear Everything Is Right in any format for the first time in a long time.

[BTW, I believe the take of "Everything Is Right" that I am streaming on SoundCloud is slightly different from the one that appeared on the original cassette release. I'll replace it with the correct version when I get it.]

Update: The correct audio is up now. This is the newly remastered version of the song that originally appeared on the Everything Is Right Cassette, and that will be available for download on June 7th.