My son gave me a turntable for Christmas.
It took me until this past week to set it up, as I had to clear space in my cluttered room for a table to hold it. I also needed to see if it needed an amplifier to work. Yes, but it turns out another recent gift, a CD player from my wife, works great for playback.
Oh, sure, it’s got its limitations. The speakers are tiny and kinda tinny and the bass is dreadfully weak. Maybe I will work on boosting that somehow. But, for now, the big thing is — it works!
For the first time in many years, I can play my old records. If only I can find them. Having not been in use for several years before we moved, they were not the highest priority in moving. The first few places I checked only had a handful of old Broadway musical records we’d gotten from our former neighbor, Steve Parks.
See, we had not had a working turntable for years, so I boxed up what we had and brought them here. They were mostly mine, but also a number of Sara’s records as well and also a few random additions from other folks. After checking a few places, I finally remembered where they were and found my treasure trove of golden oldies.
See, almost all of these albums come from the 70s and 80s. By the 90s, we were mostly listening to CDs, so that’s mostly what we bought. I don’t even recall what happened to my old record player — as we used to call them.
By the way: I will always and forever call these “records,” not “vinyls.”
Of course, I have my Who and Grateful Dead records. And that includes numerous spin-offs from both bands. For the Dead, that not only includes solo albums from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, but also Mickey Hart and several records by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The Who collection includes solo albums from Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle, and, yes, even Keith Moon’s abysmal but entertaining in its own inept way, “Two Sides of the Moon.” I have several different recorded versions of “Tommy,” starting with the original and including the film soundtrack.
Austin musicians are well-represented in the collection from Jerry Jeff Walker (“THERE’S my Viva Terlingua! album!”) to original “Cosmic Cowboy,” Michael Murphy (who started using his middle name later “Martin”), to lesser known bands like Denim and Steam Heat as well as great collections from the Austin All-Stars and the original Austin Christmas Collection. Then there’s the rare releases like Butch Hancock “Live at the Alamo Hotel,” complete with hand-written credits/liner notes.
Ah, yes, liner notes! Checking out the extensive liner notes and musician credits used to be requisite reading for any decent record. How many times did recognizing a sideman’s name buried down in the credits cause me to pick up an obscure album? I especially loved looking through the used records bin at Inner Sanctum, buying albums for a buck or two. Walk in with a twenty and walk out with an armload of records.
Let’s be clear on one thing: my records are in terrible shape. They snap. They crackle. They pop. Some of the skips caused by scratches sound familiar, a recognizable and loved flaw you grow used to. While I was generally careful in handling my records, I was never one to exercise the levels of care may friends did. My records show that clearly. All of the album covers feature those circular wear rings from being stacked and shuffled repeatedly. Many of the covers have become brittle over the years and are splitting apart. But I do love the larger size for those liner notes and the beautiful graphics involved.
It’s great listening to them again. Even the imperfections of the records, the playback system, and everything about it don’t diminish my enjoyment as I wander back through these chunks of my musical memory. Old favorites and forgotten gems give me big grins these days. And then I revel in the rarities it reintroduces to me. Just going through to listen most of them once will keep me busy — and grinning — for some time to come.
Too bad this turntable only plays two speeds of records, the standard 33 and 45 rpm. Still wondering when I can ever resurrect my Dad’s old 78 record collection with early Spike Jones, Nat King Cole, and others from the big Band Era. I seem to recall seeing at least one in there by Ella Fitzgerald…
Later. Right now, I’ve got plenty of old favorites to listen to again. Think I’ll cue up some good old Vintage Dead — live recording circa 1966.