Sunday, March 20, 2005

Annals of thrift shop - cyberspace interface

I could lie and say that I bought the album 405 South * by jazz pianist John Wood at L.A.'s Amoeba, or Tower, or Aron's Records, but the fact is I am addicted to prowling thrift shops for CDs, LPs and books. Have been for as long almost as long as I am able to remember, and can, in fact, supply you with a list as long as my arm of extraordinary finds I've made whilst spelunking Goody's (Goodwill) and Sally's (Salvation Army), etc. But that is best saved for some other warm and cozy night around the camp fire.

I snagged 405 South last Saturday at one of my neighborhood standbys---the one cater-cornered from Trader Joe's in Culver City, CA. Don't even know the name of the place, but I seldom walk out without buying something. Good karma there. As always, I wondered about the backstory as to how the item made it's way there. Somebody die? An unwanted (re) gift? One time I even found a CD there that I had produced. Gakkkk! I bought (rescued) it.

I'd never even heard of Wood or his 1989 album prior to the day before yesterday. And it wasn't the plain wrap packaging that caught my eye. Rather, it was the extraordinary lineup of sidemen accompanying him. The bassists on various tracks include the "A" list likes of Jeff Littleton, Leroy Vinnegar, and the late (and legendary) Eric Von Essen, and the drummers include Billy Higgins (alas, also "late") and Joe LaBarbera. Major league flautist Ray Pizzi is also heard on two tracks, including Wood's original "One for a Friend." The remainder of the repertoire is a mix of half originals, half standards, "Autumn Leaves," "Secret Love, etc." Arguably, there's seldom been a more impressive gathering of rhythm section players on a single CD, even by a musician of far greater renown, subjectively speaking, than John Wood.

Two other things captured my attention as I pored over CD ** in the thrift shop. One is that the liner notes were written by the high-powered critic and social commentator Nat Hentoff. Mind you, I don't have a great deal of respect for the man (see my previous blog entry about Hentoff). But his disquisitions are more often found on CDs by musicians of far greater stature, and not ones that will eventually end up, alas, in a landfill off the Jersey coast.

Also catching my eye was that, according to Hentoff, John Wood is the son of Dot Records founder Randy Wood. For those of you not up on record label lore, circa 1950s - 1970s Dot was the home of such square music makers as Lawrence Welk, Billy Vaughn, and Pat Boone. In other words, not exactly the kind of sounds as purveyed by Randy Wood's progeny on his 405 South. In fact, NOT AT ALL like. . ..

But to give Wood, Senior his due---Welk and Boone et al notwithstanding---he was one of the radio sponsors of the all-night rhythm and blues radio station, WLAC.

Late at night in the mid-1950s found many of us in my hometown in West Virginia listening not to local radio stations, still continuing to pump out our parents' retrograde faves like "April in Portugal" and "Lisbon Antigua", but to the 50,000 watt clear channel station out of Nashville, WLAC, featuring deejays Gene Nobles and John R. Enacted after hours and away from parental scrutiny, auditing WLAC was so clandestine and forbidden, that it operated like a vicarious trial run for sex---something that few teens in the 50s had partaken. Not in my set, anyway. In between their pitches for mail order rhythm and blues packages from Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee and salacious paeans to the lubricating properties of White Rose Petroleum Jelly, this powerhouse outlet blanketed almost the entire country with the real deal in black music, instead of the pale white simulacrum coming to be known as rock and roll. Randy's was owned by Randy Wood, also the proprietor. of the Dot record label whose number one star was Caucasian r 'n' b arriviste Pat Boone. But I can never recall the WLA C deejays ever playing any of-the inauthentic "cover versions" of black artists, e.g. "Tutti Fruitti," "Long Tall Sally," etc. of White Buck (!) Kid, Pat Boone. When the secret history of rock and roll is writ large, it will probably be made apparent that it wasn't really Dick Clark who turned on teenage America to black music, but instead, this seldom acknowledged radio phenomenon out of the heartland of America ---WLAC. Brought to you, in part, by. . .RANDY'S RECORD SHOP.

And Dot was not certainly not incapable of some fine releases. Three that spring to mind are a terrific Slim Gaillard album, a quite fine one-off jazz vocal effort by tennis great Althea Gibson, and a five-star album by jazz vibist-pianist Eddie Costa, plus a number of other worthy jazz and jazz vocal albums. Still, it is awfully hard to erase the memory of a - one - and - a -two, and the oleagenous arrangements of Billy Vaughn that were a mainstay of many Dot releases.

My logic being "How bad can it be?," I sprang for 405 South, minus my ten percent, ummmm, senior discount = $1.80 plus tax, brought it home and popped it in the player. And right out of the starting gate I was knocked out by Wood's playing! Doesn't get much better. Immediately evident was the influence of Bill Evans. But that's nothing new. What jazz pianist worth his salt of the past several decades hasn't been touched to a degree by Evans' genius? Also methinks I detect just a soupcon of Ahmad Jamal. Odd but heady mix, Evans and Jamal.

When it comes to pere and fils Randy and John Wood, the (musical) apple has, seemingly, seldom fallen farther from the tree. Making musical reparations for the old man? In the immortal words of Alice, it was just getting curiouser and curiouser . Just what, exactly, is this cat's story? To be continued. . .

* The title of Wood's CD comes from a heavily traveled SoCal freeway famed for being even slower than a post-midnight Shirley Horn ballad.

** 405 South is release number one on the fine fine super fine L.A.P. Records label.

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