In another of SPB's regular features, here's a guest column by New England-based rocker JJ Rassler. JJ covers record collecting, country music, bizarro taxi rides in Nashville and "Florida Bill". Read on for more from JJ.
About 20 years ago, the record collector magazine of choice was, and to some degree still is, Goldmine. They ran a feature on Boston music, but not the ‘70s Boston rock’n’roll I was most familiar with. This was a glorious overview of various R&B and soul-related groups, labels and radio stations of the late ‘50s to early ‘70s. Well, a'right, I was on that like white on rice, bad pun intended. I checked out the periodical and learned much to do about a lot of things. I had no idea about the output of a genre that I love, from the city I love. I grew up in Philly and their solid soul and jazz scene. I love Philly soul and I wear it on my sleeve. But I moved to Boston at the end of the ‘60s, and this was Beantown Soul 101 in a nutshell. Bring it on.
This particular issue was an eye opener on many levels and it would have a serious effect on my wallet, as well as other aspects of my virtual well-being. For years I carried a little notebook in my hip pocket with different record labels, band names, stuff to look out for. As I fingered my way through the dust of countless record bins, and this issue of Goldmine was chock full of just the kind of data this little mind craved. And sho' nuff, I would come across little treasures and salivate my way home like a Harvey Pekar character (if ya don't know, google). Regardless of genre, etc., thanks to those notebooks I'd scoop up any number of untried 45s.
Things used to be such that 45s went for a dime or a quarter in many a junk shop. I was always on the hunt and one of my favorite finds around that time was because of that article. It was on a label called WILD, which I always assumed was because of an association with the local soul radio station with the same call letters. This particular record was called Do the Thing by a cat named Earl Lett. It was recorded live at a Boston nightclub on Columbus Ave., either the Top Hat or Hi-Hat, Tip-Top maybe—I forget which presently. The 45 sounded late ‘60s maybe early ‘70s, somewhat lo-fi but H-O-T. One of those instrumentals with the voice break in, "Do The/ Do The/ Do The Thing," with an impressive array of grunts sprinkled around for emphasis. But that was the gist of it. Man, I loved that record, still do, but when I found that puppy, it pissed all over my parlor. There were hundreds of 45s I bought around that time, whether locally or in whatever town I found myself in, but that record was just a personal little score I dug. So that's an example of the soul side of things.
I like country music too. Real country, none of the contemporary schlock pop. I love old, hill music from late ‘20s and ‘30s. I love honky-tonk from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Always have. Well, in the mid ‘90s, I happened to be in Nashville on business for the weekend. I was working for an indie record label that dealt, in part, with many country-related artists. One of the acts I worked with was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and I had to go down, wanted to as well. Regardless of what I think about Nashville, which was mixed at best, it does have a heritage, of sorts, and it is "home" to country music, or so says the Chamber of Commerce. There was a celebratory party at some fancy banquet hall for this particular group after the awards show. I didn't go to the awards event, but the after-hours party was something I helped arrange, so it was on my social itinerary.
Everybody was wearing tuxedos and sequins, almost everyone: I had my jeans and Beatle Boots on, a little jacket that I think was an old girlfriend’s and a scarf on to cover the stains on my T-shirt. Best I could do fellas, sorry. My bosses were less than impressed when they saw me but, hey, ya get what ya pay for—know what I mean? Apparently others noticed my entrance as well. The women were starin', and the men were starin' at the women starin' at me. My bosses were starin' at it all. Was I that outta place? Well things turned a bit weird when I started gettin' attention from the sequins and, then, asked for my autograph. First one, then several. Now, I know they couldn't have been fans of Boston's ‘70s punk scene, but who did they think I was? Maybe they didn't exactly know who they thought I was, but figured they better be safe just in case I mighta been "somebody."
At other times of my life, I might have milked for all I could, but I was on the clock and under scrutiny. It all seemed somehow surreal. I smiled, nodded and waved at first and tried to keep it low key. I engaged someone in conversation, but there was no escaping that feeling that the walls of insanity were closing in. Not that I really minded this unexpected attention but, hey, weird's weird y'know? My presence noted by the boss man, party in full swing, it was clearly time for my boot heels to be a-wanderin'. No kiddin', get me outta here. So, I signed some autographs, posed for a couple pictures, think I even kissed a baby or two and, to my employers delight, I was looking for the first stagecoach home, post haste. Scenario unreal, call me Houdini, but I'm gone.
Now I'm outside of building bizzaro in a part of Nashville I didn't know at all, rather industrial and not well lit. The only lights in a 3-block radius were behind me in the banquet hall. I started to make for the street when a cab pulled in, dropping off some people headed for the party, who started staring at me. Who do these people think I am? Is there no real rock’n’roll down here? I make my plea to the cabbie, "You free?" to which he replies, "Ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. Hop in cowboy?" OK, somebody with a brain and who knows what's what.