Back in The Day: Selling Records on Berkeley's Telegraph Ave by Ron Penndorf
Past Present Tense by Don Tilldors
I Learned to Love Records by Ron Penndorf
Albert really wasn't capable of having a manager
I'm told that today Reese Holmandoller lives on an island off the coast of South America. I guess it's possible. I know that for years he lived on an island off the Greek coast.
Reese Holmandoller was the first manager at Campus Records that I remember. Manager isn't exactly right. I don't think that Albert was capable of having a manager. Reese came from New York and so did Albert. More importantly, Reese learned the record business in New York City. But in the end, Albert probably hired Reese because he liked him.
Reese was tall, thin, a little stoop- shouldered, and had a droopy Einstein moustache. Before the Beatles had longish hair, Reese had hair down to his shoulders.
Berkeley has always thought of itself as a liberal, tolerant and accepting community. But in the '60s, sadly, even in Berkeley, people thought something should be done about a man with a woman's hair. In particular, Reese's hair annoyed some members of the Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association. At a regular meeting, and with Albert present, they suggested that either Reese get a hair cut or that Albert fire him. Albert quit the Association, but I vaguely remember Reese's hair becoming a touch shorter.
Reese now began to make a point of smooching in public. In front of the shop, and with great gusto, he would kiss and squeeze his saftig lady for all to see. His lady was a good jazz piano player and Reese played alto. I remember waiting, along with him, for the release of Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch album. When the first shipment arrived from the distributor, work ceased for a moment and we all listened. We agreed it was "far out."
Reese, his lady, and some friends had regular "blowing sessions" at a warehouse just off Shattuck Ave.
I was asked to sit in.
I was just beginning to play classical 'cello, but the idea of playing jazz was tantalizing. The 'cello was much softer than the jazz instruments that surrounded it, especially the piano and drums. In the first session I couldn't even hear myself, but Reese thought the 'cello could be made louder by electrically amplifying it. So at the next session we rigged a guitar pick-up to the 'cello bridge and plugged it into an amplifier.
Now I could hear
myself, but I had a hard time following the "changes,"
after all, I was being trained to sight read Bach, not improvise
I can't say that I was a very good jazz player, but I can say that I played with Country Joe and the Fish's drummer. Chick "Chicken" Hirsh was one of the people who sat in that night.
You had to be there
I guess I liked my job because I worked at night and mostly alone, and when it was slow, as it often was, I could play any record in the shop. Campus Records was a full catalogue store and in the '60s that meant we had virtually every classical and jazz record that there was. Happily I could play them all-well maybe not all. Albert didn't like you to break the seal on a new recording, but in the '60s many records weren't sealed, so there were many to be played. Also, if I absolutely had to hear something that was tightly wrapped in plastic, I could usually get a free copy from the salesmen.
There I was with an enormous collection of classics and jazz. Of course, waiting on customers sometimes interfered with my listening, but then much to my surprise, many of them bought a copy of what I was listening to. It seems I had also discovered a way to successfully sell records.
In the summer Berkeley was still a quiet university town with a small summer session of teachers "vacationing for credit." Still, with the "serious" regular students always talking about how the classes were too big, how the teachers didn't care, and how the administration was "fascist," you could sense some unrest. But all in all, the town was quiet, especially at night, and that meant I would have plenty of time for listening-I could learn all about music.
Albert left for home about 6 o'clock and we were open until 11:00 PM so at about 5:00, between waiting on customers, I began planning my evening's program.
Often I'd play different performances of the 'cello pieces I was working on. How did I want to play the Sarabande from the Bach G Major 'Cello Suite? Did I want to learn the D Minor Suite? How should the C Major Prelude sound? I'd listen to Casals, to Fournier, or to Janigro. They were my teachers, and at the evening's end, many times, I'd be in complete confusion about the works I'd heard, my head swimming with ideas, solutions and more problems. How could Casals make them dance so? Why did Janigro's bow on the string sound like pulling taffy felt? Was that good? How could Fournier play so quiet and so strong?
I usually managed to sell a copy or two during my evening's concert-usually the Janigro; I guess because he sounded good on first-hearing or maybe just because the Westminster record sounded good on the store's system. Of course it sold for $2.98 or sometimes, if Albert had a sale, less.
Bach cantatas also sold well, and I learned to love them as I listened my way through the Westminster, Archiv and Cantate stock. We had a speaker outside the shop that was pointed across the street towards the university, and so on a quiet summer night you could hear Stich-Randall or Fischer-Dieskau singing Bach two blocks into campus. I know you could hear it that far and I know that it whetted musical appetites, for many a student arrived at the shop after walking across campus and had to know what kind of "song" they had heard and if they could buy it.
I learned a lot about playing a string instrument by listening to Rössl-Majdan, Poell, and others singing Bach. I learned to imitate the human voice, the best of all instruments; to phrase as a singer breathed; to just barely touch a high note; to come into a note flat and then satisfyingly resolve it in tune. I hoped I learned to play with all the expression of a good singer. I hoped . . . well, maybe you had to be there.
I just listened
Albert's recurring nightmare was that all the music would disappear from his records and he'd be left in the plastics business. You see, his first wife's folks thought that plastic was the business to get into. Albert probably didn't like that. I know he didn't like the plastics business and he probably didn't much care for his wife's parents advice either.
But Albert loved music, and it's this deep consuming love that he gave to all who would listen, whether it was a guy who stopped in front of the shop, or one of his daughters, or me, or the other fellows who worked for him. With the joy of a two-year-old shoving his toys at you, Albert would share his music discoveries.
When the Bach Accompanied Violin Sonatas by Menuhin, Malcolm and Ambrose Gauntlett came out, Albert found true love. "Listen to that note," he'd say. "Listen to the way he shapes it." The store's speakers were up toward the ceiling, on either side of a 14x10 foot window and in order to better hear the music he'd face the window, cup his hands over the back of his ears and look skyward. "Listen," he'd say, "Like this!" And he put his hands over his ears.
I'd listen. At first with some skepticism and embarrassment. After all, I was standing, looking at the ceiling with my hands over my ears, next to a guy who looked a little like Bogart with a goatee, who was looking toward the ceiling with his hands over his ears. And we were doing this in front of, or behind, a large window that looked out on the busiest corner in Berkeley.
After a while I just listened. I found there was a lot to hear. I heard not only how Menuhin shaped a note, but how he and Ambrose Gauntlett played notes that were of different pitch and color and yet sounded the same. I listened to how, in the violin sonatas, the violin accompanied the accompanying instruments, whether the gamba or the harpsichord. Finally I heard the players "get it right."
Sometimes when we were listening a customer would come in, and Albert being quite persuasive, would get him to put his hands over his ears and look skyward. Then there were three of us listening.
At most you could get four or five people between the speakers in front of that window, and there were that many there at the beginning of Albert's playing of the St. Matthew Passion- a favorite conducted by Karl Munchinger. Albert, almost immediately became carried away by the power of Bach's soloists, full chorus and orchestra, and he turned up the volume on the old Scott. The magnificent sounds rolled down over us all. I can remember being both exhilarated and stunned. The outside speaker was on and people streamed into the shop. Many had never heard these kinds of sounds before, and during the twenty-some-minute performance, though the shop was packed, the assembly was totally silent. Albert tended the amplifier, making a slight adjustment to bring a soloist forward, or to quiet a chorus or to prevent speaker damage. Now and then he'd make a gesture as if he was conducting- maybe he was.
Holiday Sales and Bittersweet Tales
What I remember about working during the holidays at Campus Records in the '60s was that Albert didn't have central heat in the shop. Recently, when I mentioned to him that I was thinking of moving to Vermont, he reminded me that it gets really cold there and observed, perceptively; "Hell, in the shop you use to stand in front of that electric heater in Fall." I remember "the cold" more than the holiday madness.
Though I do vividly recall a late-Christmas Eve when Albert and I were selling records almost faster than we could ring them up-having begun celebrating with brandy in early afternoon we were, of course, happily drunk.
But generally the holiday rush worked against staff happiness and Albert's policy of careful attention to the customer's needs-accompanied by informed and slightly snobbish opinion. "Come back after the rush . . . and you don't want that Bernstein performance anyway," Albert would exhort.
You really couldn't take care of the customer's needs during those hectic weeks just before Christmas and I particularly remember ignoring my regulars just so I could sell pop Christmas albums to last minute shoppers.
Of course, the entire staff were non-believers-and cultural elitists-but that didn't stop us from aggressively selling those popular holiday albums. Mitch Miller Sing Along albums sold very well and, to ourselves, we justified selling these records by working in, "He's a classical oboist you know."
But much more importantly, the rush interfered with "hitting on the chicks." In these tense times of retail combat, often after a sale when you were just about to strut your music knowledge in front of some impressionable coed, Albert would bark in his best ex-infantry manner "Disengage!"
Of course he was much more understanding in ordinary times and only when he was fighting with Connie, his wife, would he so explode. It was during one of those times that the famous "Play Boy" incident occurred.
Campus Records was located behind Campus Smoke Shop-also owned by Albert-and the two shops were connected by a short, wide passage way. And at this passage way, on the Smoke Shop side, were the magazines. (Magazine profit was very small, for the there is little markup and magazine profit depends on large sales-and the return of worn, dog-eared copies could be difficult and cut dramatically into an already small profit.)
For months a fellow would come in on magazine-delivery-Thursday looking for the new "Play Boy"-not to buy, but to dog ear. Ordinarily, this just annoyed Albert. But one Thursday, after continuous phone confrontations with Connie, he'd had enough.
I can clearly see the fellow eagerly take up the new magazine and become absorbed in its pages-one can easily imagine his bliss.
But not Albert.
Albert could only imagine a difficult return and a difficult Connie. He quietly walked up next to the fellow, pulled his Zippo lighter from his pocket, and set the lower left-hand corner of the magazine on fire. The guy didn't immediately grasp what was happening-probably sensing only that his passions were hotter than he'd imagined. Eventually, forced back to reality by the flames licking his hand, he fitfully dropped the object of his reverie.
Albert stomped out the flames and I think Albert and Connie separated shortly after.
I don't know what Medved learned
Of course Mike Medved was younger than most of us, but regularly recommending early Bernstein/N.Y. Phil records in an age of Klemperer, Monteux, Bruno Walter and the Berlin Philharmonic was hard to understand. We tried not to kid, or interrupt, him during a sale. Yet Harper occasionally blurted out, "You're kidding: that's terrible!" When it was slow, and depending upon our mood, we'd sometimes give him a hard time about his recorded preferences, or just play some of our favorite performances for each other, of course including him.
The other half of the we, Jim Harper, was a record salesman and music lover whose path and mine have intertwined over the years.
I don't know what Medved learned, for after awhile, a semester or two, he moved to L.A. to go to school. Somewhere he learned a lot about classical music and movies.
After Campus Records closed in 1967, Record City was the leading source in Berkeley for classical music. It was owned by Sandy and Helen Schneider. Sandy was a good harpsichordist and was a student and admirer of Gustav Leonhardt. Helen was a charmer.
They were also very understanding employers. Once, when Helen's 3.4 Jag Sedan had become sluggish, I suggested that what it needed was a fast run on the highway to "blow out the carbon." Helen seemed to think that made sense and I volunteered to take the car out for a run. The car was fast! I guess I pushed it pretty hard or it was pretty gummed up. It back fired a lot and stammered a bit. Then it caught fire. As smoke poured from under the hood, I looked for the nearest Freeway Exit. Fortunately one was close by and I coasted the Jag down the off-ramp and into a filling station. They put out the fire. I wouldn't say that the Jag was totaled, but I don't think it ever stopped smelling of smoke.
Sandy's brother David was a violinist in the San Francisco Symphony. He played under Pierre Monteux, among other conductors, and Sandy shared his brother's love of the Maestro. It was Sandy who introduced me to my first recordings of "Papa." I particularly remember the RCA Victrola performance of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony and the Victrola Beethoven Second. The Fourth is still my favorite performance and has also become my favorite recording. Another favorite was Wagner's Siegfried Idyll with the San Francisco Orchestra. It originally shared a record with the Beethoven Fourth and later it was released with Strauss'Death and Transfiguration, also with the San Francisco Symphony.
Jim Harper managed the store for some time. He was a good manager for I never thought of him as a boss. I think we sold a lot of records and had some good times.
For all the fun, Sandy ran a tight shop. Most tight was the inventory system. The number of records in each section was written on the back of the section's divider card. Also the name and quantity of each title was kept on 3 X 5 cards in a file box. Sandy prided himself on knowing exactly what he had and where it was. Inventory could be taken two or three times a day and Sandy knew within minutes if something was missing or misplaced. It made him as crazy if the inventory was off as it did if a record was stolen.
Without telling him we used to bring records from home and put them in stock.
Moe left you alone . . . sometimes
Moe's Books in Berkeley is what you would call an institution. Moe prided himself in the '60s on being one of the few Telegraph Avenue merchants that didn't have his window broken by The Demonstrators. In the '70s, however, I think some drunk fell through it. Anyway, in the '60s, not to have your windows broken by the demonstrators was an achievement. At the very least it meant that Moe was skillfully and politically in tune with the times, and at the most it meant that he was a mensch. Most certainly it meant that he had been put to, and survived, a test of character.
If Moe's was an institution, Moe was its leading inmate. I worked for him in the '70s and like to think that I built a few tables of old records into a serious used record department. Then the store was still called Moe's Books and Records. Though Moe was a bookman, he wisely saw used records as a natural addition to his store. He also loved music, claiming to have been the world's most committed and worst violin student. He probably was.
Moe has always said that he had only one good idea. That was to pay a customer a decent price or give him a decent amount of trade for used books. In a business that was characterized by dealers who paid almost nothing, that was revolutionary. In fairness, he also paid his people extremely well. And he left you alone . . . sometimes.
I applied his one good idea to used records and it worked. Moe's basement,The Pit, filled with old records. New bins were built, filled up with used records, and more were built. Used book tables were taken down or pushed aside. We even displaced Moe's friend who sold used comics there on Saturday morning. More and more records came in, and went out.
It seemed that at least one copy of every record ever made showed up at that store. With the volume we did, this must have been true. Sometimes on a Saturday, and with two or three people working, we would still fall behind in buying and would literally become surrounded by old records. They would be stacked on the floor, on the counter, next to the counter and under the counter, and still people would stand in line five or six deep offering us arms full of old records.
So many records came in, that the ones we couldn't use were given to the L'Chaim School for Dropouts (another Berkeley institution), or were put in a free box, or were thrown out. I remember, when Fantasy Records reissued some of the Prestige Catalogue on Two-fers, a customer came in with some originals for trade, convinced that the reissues were better. The ones that we couldn't use he threw out; among them an original Tenor Madness, with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. With classical records, we seldom discriminated between different issues and I remember pricing first label RCA stereo records at $3.00, and receiving complaints when I suggested raising the price to $4.00 or $5.00. The classical collectibles of the time were the old monos from the early '50s, these commanding the hefty price of $10.00 to $15.00. They sold, the RCAs sold, the old jazz sold, the rock sold. Everything sold.
As record sales, and more importantly the book sales, became greater, Moe talked more and more about building his own building and about having the biggest used store on the West Coast.
And he began not leaving me alone. I quit. But that's another story.
Mrs. Overholzer answered the door
I don't remember if it was Joe or Cynthia who called. Joe told me about other kinds of collections before. A good one contained a 1964 BMW R69S, a motorcycle that I've loved to this day. But I think it was his wife Cynthia who called me that afternoon at Moe's. One of her customers, she said, wanted to sell his record collection. She knew that he had good equipment, they had repaired some of it at their shop and she thought that he probably took good care of his records. (Cynthia and Joe still own the same shop they did in the 1970s, Resistance Repair, and they still repair stereo equipment. They opened the store in the '60s and named it as much for political resistance as electrical.)
Moe's had always bought book and record collections, but this was a large one, about 7000 records. No one at Moe's ever spent the kind of money that this collection might cost, and, Moe was a book man. He loved the music that was on the records but that was all he knew about them. (Actually he prefered cassettes because they were easier to play. Moe did not relate well to machinery, as any one who had the thrill of driving with him knows.) Also Moe was of a mixed mind about his employees spending his money on collections. He understood fully that it is through the careful buying of collections that lots of money can be made. Yet he didn't like to spend lots of money. He and I would often argue loudly, and publicly, about me spending his money. But I bought well and, after what was becoming a ritual confrontation, behind his contact lenses his eyes twinkled and his face lit up slightly. He gave me the go-ahead.
The fellow who owned the records, a Mr. Overholzer, lived in one of the Bay Area's modest and middle-class suburbs. It was definitely not a "hip" area so I wondered just what kind of record collection he really had. I was skeptical.
Still, the next day I telephoned Mr. O. On the phone he was businesslike and polite. He confirmed that the collection was mostly jazz and asked if I would please come out and see it. I agreed and he gave me careful and deliberate directions to his house, and in closing, as an afterthought, mentioned that he liked Duke Ellington and had all his records.
I arranged for some of us to go out to see the collection the following day. Together we drove to the Overholzer house. The neighborhood was pretty undistinguished. The area was built up in the '40s and '50s and was one of those drab look-alike California developments, saved that day only by California sunshine. Judging by the surroundings it looked like the records wouldn't be very jazzy. I was afraid that the three of us were going to look through 7000 pop, easy-listening, and semi-classical records. We parked in front of the house and cautiously went up the driveway, a beatnik and two hippies, we were out of our element.
I think Mrs. Overholzer answered the door. If she was uncomfortable with her guests she didn't show it. She ushered us politely through her house and into the den. There was Mr. O. among his records.
Thank you Mr. Overholtzer
The "Overholtzer Collection" precipitated the first "collectors section" in Moe's Books and Records-in fact, the first that I can recall in any record store.
Six-thousand-seven-hundred LPs, purchased for $9000, it was an astute mix of vintage jazz and classical LPs that raised eyebrows all around. Having viewed the records at their home, I was further amazed when poring over them at the store, pile after pile brought in and stacked, at first, on the floor: pristine original issues and much long-out-of-print material formed a good portion of the collection.
But before the records were off the floor-before most were even priced-there appeared, with a homing instinct peculiar to them, the dealers. Two came up from L.A., one fellow appeared from Asia! My memory is that we sold about $8000 worth of records to these three alone. Given the almost laughably low prices on these records, that added up to a lot of vinyl. And what is still clear in my memory is the seventy-five or so Ellington and Ellington sidemen originals, the price fetched by the coverless Art Pepper Intro record ($35), or the three records on the Transition label, a jazz label about as esoteric and valuable as any, that were priced at a ludicrous $30 each. These are today, name-your-price items.
After the initial feeding frenzy abated, and the records were ensconced in their new segregated area, the employees got to survey and purchase the material at their leisure and to pretend that they were just buying used records. But clearly our collective consciousness was raised by the Overholtzer affair.
We had moved into the future of records as collectibles.
I would like to thank Richard Brown for his contribution to this series.
copyright 2001 by Ron Penndorf, RECOLLECTIONS
Whenever you go into Penndorf's the records in his browsers always look new. Whether they are 20, 30 or even 50 years old, they look like they have just been unpacked and put into stock.
I've known Ron from college-days in Milwaukee and Madison. And when I'm in the Bay Area I usually visit his shop.
So I stopped by one Saturday afternoon-I had some questions and a need to buy an old record. First of all, I wanted to know what the very first Philips PHS-900-000 stamping was-the 35mm Liszt/Richter/Kondrashin record. "I've got one here," Penndorf mumbled, distracted as he squatted down in front of a soji-screened cabinet. He slicked a panel open to reveal rows of what appeared to be new records and then moved awkwardly, frog-like, across the floor to the L's. He pulled out a copy of the Liszt. "Here, take a look."
The record looked new, and when I took the disq out of the jacket, it even smelled new. I examined the lead-out area and found RFR-1/RFR-2. "That's one of the earliest." he commented. "I've got this one too, but you can't see the disq. The record's still sealed. Still, I'm sure it's newer ." He seemed unusually confident.
It was, in fact, sealed but what was more unusual about this almost forty year-old record was that the sealing shrinkwrap wasn't brittle with age. But my mind dismissed this as it wandered to another subject. I wondered aloud. "What are those first Mercury American music records like?" He replied simply. "I have a copy of 'American Music for String Orchestra.' It's MG 40001; released about '53. It's got good sound. Listen!" Its jacket was crisp and clean and the glacine inner-sleeve crackled as he took out the disq. He carefully put it on the turntable and placed the stylus in the lead-in groove. And indeed its sound was good-the strings were appropriately satin and soft. But after just a few minutes he took the needle off. "I don't want to play any more. The record's new and I don't want to spoil it." And I'll admit it did have that treble-tight-never-been-played sound.
Penndorf put the record away in understock and began working. I started browsing the bins, looking for something interesting and after some time, and careful inspection, I picked out Nonesuch 71054; a record of Beethoven wind music by the Paris Wind Ensemble. I've always loved the Nonesuch covers and I also like French recording and wind playing. And it looked new. "You know that's $10.00-$10.83 with tax," he said. I gave him $11.00. As usual he didn't have any change and he returned $1.00-to this day I owe him eighty-three cents.
By then another person had arrived and I said my goodbyes and left.
When I was back in Milwaukee I ran into an old record collecting friend. He'd just bought some old photos at a flea market and among them were some snapshots of the staff at "Netzow's Broadway House of Music." The back of one was dated 1940 and in the photo was someone called Ron.
I'm sure it was Penndorf.
But he didn't look any younger-no beard, just a Clarke Gable mustache and dressed in '40's style, but not any younger.
copyright 2001 by Don Toldors RECOLLECTIONS
I liked Grandma Penndorf's Victrola better than our Philco
I remember as a four year old happily jumping up and down on the living room sofa, pounding a pot with a spoon in time to march music blaring from the large Philco. I also remember the Sunday afternoons at Grandma and Grandpa Penndorf's, where cigar smoke filled the room as grown-ups talked and laughed and drank Mogen David. Grandma put old German 78s on the wind-up Victrola to keep me busy. The machine, as much as the music, intrigued me.
But the first records that I actually remember playing were 78s of Duke Ellington, of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France and of Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. My father bought them right after the end of the war when you could get records again. (I remember that when feeling good, a little schnaps helped, my dad could whistle along with the Bix and Frankie Trumbauer solos quite skillfully.)
After the war he also bought a 78 changer, a Philco, with a miniature radio transmitter that broadcast the record's music to our big living room radio ten feet away.
The Philco changer had a felt covered metal platter, a substantial grey metal base with a heavy tone arm and steel needle, and an antenna that came out of its backside like a tail. Antenna placement was critical. There was just one position for the best sound. (My father labored long and found it.)
To play the records through our Philco radio you turned the radio on and set its dial to the frequency band on which the player broadcast. (My dad was a Ford man, and Philco radios and record players were built by a division of the Ford Motor Company. My dad bought, or would have bought, anything made by Ford. Mr. Ford was pro-German before and during The First World War, a time when my then eleven year old father, a new German emigrant, was regularly getting beaten up by kids at school. My father forgot neither.) You then carefully put a stack of 78s on the player's spindle and pushed the on-auto button. The changer-platter began spinning madly, the first record clunked onto the platter, jarring it, and the needle slammed into the record.
Duke Ellington's band then boomed out of the big Philco speaker. (My mother's favorites, Eddie Duchin's Piano Music of 1929, could also be made to come through the Philco-I like to think that I got my musical taste from my father.)\
Grandma and Grandpa Penndorf also had a 78 player. It was of an earlier time, a wind-up Victrola that stood taller than I did. They placed it prominently in their living room, right across from the piano. (The record players and radio consoles of both my grandparents were thought of in the same way they thought of their musical instruments, and were given a place of honor in both their homes.)
I confess I liked Grandma Penndorf's Victrola better than our Philco. It was beautiful in its polished metal and wood, and it didn't boom. On most Sunday afternoons we visited Grandma and Grandpa Penndorf's and we often listened to the Victrola. On special afternoons Grandma would play Axsel Schiøtz and Grandpa would serve pastries and dessert wine.
Conversation stopped as the clear but far away voice sang songs in German. Even though I didn't understand, I loved listening.
When the grown-ups had finished playing records and eating pastries they started talking again . . . maybe just a little sad about far away Germany.
The music was more impressive than the sound
I remember that hot, humid, summer day in Milwaukee. For as much as any other reason we went into Bill's basement to get away from the heat. Also, he had a phonograph there and I did want to hear my new 45s. His dad had put it together for their future rec-room. It was a home-made console with an old big radio speaker and Bill said it sounded great. It could play 45s and since 45s were still new, and I didn't have a player, I was happy to find somewhere I could hear them.
My just-new records were a set of Toscanini/Wagner. All I knew about them was that the music was "classical" and was played by a "string orchestra." The box said that it was the "Good Friday Spell" from Parsifal.
Bill and I got them at Gimbels, where my aunt managed the record department. I told her that I wanted some "classical music" and among other things, she recommended Toscanini conducting Wagner. But what really attracted me to the set, and the reason that I got it, was its beautiful package. It came in a dark maroon box with an elegant portrait of Toscanini embossed on the cover with silverish-gold lettering.
The cover was beautiful and I hoped the music would be the same.
These are the records Bill and I played that afternoon.
I don't actually remember putting them on, I guess Bill did that. After all this was his dad's new machine and we had to be careful.
The console was at the far end of the room and Bill was putting on the records and fussing around it. Before the music began, I sat down on the concrete floor, against the basement side wall. Bill's dad was a stone-mason and the foundation was solid, substantial and, most of all, cool.
As the music came out of the speaker I was immediately aware that it was Hi-fi, which simply meant that it sounded better than our kitchen radio.
More impressive than the sound, was the music; a kind that I had never really heard before. This was "classical music." Its sound was big and there were lots of musicians playing-all violins it seemed. There wasn't just one tune but many, and they were slightly strange and hard to hum. The music seemed deep and broad.
As I listened, the strangeness disappeared.
The music flowed over me and I flowed into it. Soon the hot August day disappeared. Then the basement left and so did Bill.
Bach was wonderful
As a teenager, although fascinated by my father's whirring and clanking 78 changer, I mostly remember being hypnotized by the sound of Stephane Grapelli. And though my RCA 45 player was cute, what I really remember was Benny Goodman and his Big Band playing "One O'Clock Jump."
My first Hi-fi was purchased at Netzow's. Netzow's was a record and Hi-fi store in Milwaukee. In the front part of the store, Netzow sold records; in the back, Hi-fi components. Charles E. Netzow and his faithful clerk Bob Cody were crazy. And between them they knew "everything" about recorded music.
Before I owned a Hi-fi, I bought records from Bob, and hung out at the store. I also rode my motorcycle into the back listening room during one of Charles' equipment demonstrations. I don't clearly remember why-something to do with, "If you just want to listen to sound, there's nothing like the real thing." I came in through the back door and down a long hall, and I was heard long before I was seen. Certainly the customer had a unique listening experience. My unannounced approach must have seemed like terrifyingly real stereo.
I liked what Bob recommended. He had varied taste and introduced me to Ella Fitzgerald's singing, Klemperer conducting, and Howard Hanson's recording of Adventures in a Perambulator by John Alden Carpenter. (The first stereo record that I heard on a good system was a copy of this disq. I remember that it didn't stand up to the sturm und drang of one of my new loves, Ludwig van Beethoven. It didn't stand up to the red-haired Ann Davidson either. And it certainly didn't measure up to the sturm und drang that caused her father to throw me out of their house. But viewed in proper perspective, it is still quite a nice record.)
I trusted that Charles had equally interesting taste in equipment, and so took his recommendations. I bought a "Mac 30" and McIntosh C-4 preamp, an AR-2 speaker, and a Rek-o-cut turntable and arm. The Rek-o-cut arm mounted a Shure cartridge. I also bought an Ampex tape recorder. Since the pots and pans, I've taken my equipment seriously.
The first record I played was the early Mercury 1812 Overture. I'd bought it months before but waited to hear it on my new system. The cannons were wonderful. I then played my first LP set, The Brandenburg Concertos on Bach Guild, with Felix Prohaska and members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
Bach was wonderful. To this day he is the composer I come back to most often.
They hadn't listened to as many records as we had
I admit to becoming Chairman of the Program Committee solely because of Cathy O'Reily's beauty. Cathy O'Reily was among the few students that showed up for the first committee meeting of the fall semester. She sat directly across the small, stuffy, a little too warm room from me and only with great difficulty did I keep my eyes from fixing constantly on her.
Her eyes, skillfully outlined in black, wide and dark, flirted about.
Coming down with my regular fall-winter cold, I had to make an effort to concentrate on the meeting. But more distracting than my aches and fever was Cathy O'Reily. An Irish girl, a weakness of mine to this day, Cathy was small, thin-boned and lovely. With pale-white skin, her hair was pitch black. My fever became stronger and the meeting droned on. Then, as the seemingly endless session closed, she agreed to work on the committee and I excitedly volunteered to become chairman.
The meeting over, in a fever and even a little delirious, I wandered out into the cold.
The University of WisconsinMilwaukee, Student Union Program Committee was many things, but above all it was innovative. In 1957 and '58 we brought to a former mid-western teachers college, the Budapest String Quartet, the M.J.Q., the Max Roach Quintet, the New York Pro Musica,
and many more.
All these groups were chosen because of one simple fact. We had heard their records and liked them. I knew of their music only through their recordings, and that was enough. Still, I wanted to meet them and hear their music live.
As exciting as it was to hear and meet these artists, it was equally exciting to learn about concert promoting. It was all new to us and we learned as we worked. We made out press-releases, called the artists' agents in New York, met the musicians when they arrived, happily entertained them and more.
I particularly remember a party with Pete Seeger after his concert. He had just gotten out of jail. He was in, I think, because he wouldn't turn his friends' names over to one of the congressional committees. He seemed sad, and, I believe that his time in prison had frightened him, for he wouldn't talk about politics or any social issues.
Still his songs spoke volumes.
The jazz players, particularly, appreciated the concert setting. It was a first for many of them, and after playing over, in front of, and through the distractions of a nightclub, they loved the quiet and respect of a concert audience. Some simply couldn't believe that the people came just to hear them play. They couldn't believe that people came just for the music, and not to drink and talk. For one concert, the Max Roach Quintet drove up from Chicago on a snow-stormy winter night, and they arrived late. I remember their "cool," and I remember their playing in the dim light of the Union Lounge. But most of all I remember that they "hit on our chicks." They all seemed very happy. Also, they seemed very pleased-and a bit stunned-to be playing for a concert audience. But I don't think they had any idea that they might be playing "art music" and not just entertaining.
I also remember that we stunned the music faculty and the art-and-music patrons by our selections, and with our concert series. They had no idea how some mid-west sophomores might know about, and like, these kinds of musicians. Though they themselves knew about classical music, they hadn't heard, or even heard of, most of the jazz and folk artists.
I guess they hadn't listened to as many records as we had.
I would like to thank Berigan's for the loan of the Max Roach record and DBA Brown for the Pete Seeger record.
Much of this material originally appeared in "RECOLLECTIONS Journal of Recorded Music." Back issues of the journal are available for US$15.00 at RECOLLECTIONS-by email at email@example.com
can also be found and browsed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive
of the New York Public Library, the Stanford Archive of Recorded
Sound and the Music Department of theChicago Public Library.