Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My Inner Drummer

Today’s cut comes from an LP purchased by one of my parents, presumably my dad. The vinyl transfer you will hear represents one of the most unlikely upgrades to my record collection I ever accomplished, and the track itself affected my musical path greatly.

When Hi-Fi, Living Stereo and all other such marketing terms came onto the average consumer’s radar in the late 1950s, bachelors across America bought music equipment that would allow them to set a realistic stereo mood for their dates when young ladies came by for a martini or three. And then, of course, there had to be music to play on the hi-fi, soon to be known as the stereo.

What we now call exotica, comprised of tropical rhythms and such random sounds as the calls of tropical birds, was sophisticated music exuded by the likes of Martin Denny and Les Baxter. The more justifiably Latin music of Pérez Prado and His Orchestra came into our homes in Living Stereo on at least one album, Prez (1957). The LPs I appropriated from my parents when I turned three were in stereo, but there was no way to know that; my record player was mono, with one built-in speaker.

The LP that contained today’s track was not a music LP. It collected a bunch of sound effects, all presented in stereophonic hi-fi. Recorded for the Rondo-lette label, Stereo Sounds included these scintillating tracks: Trains, Jets, Ships, Traps and Sea Sounds.

The writer of the cover notes had quite a task to turn this disc into a hot seller, and boy, did he execute it:

“Because of the great separation of sound as shown in stereo recording, it is necessary to make records of sound effects. Normally, one does not think of these records for the home, but how else is one to show off the wonderful stereophonic set except by having the train come into the room from one side, whistling its approach, pass through the room and go out the other side.

“With the modern age, the jets have come into being and the whine of the jet is something with which we must become familiar. To have a jet enter the room from one side and leave through the other is an experience.

“One cannot but become nostalgic when hearing the ship’s horn as there is nothing as inviting as the ocean trip. You will feel the movement of the ship as it leaves the pier and you are on the trip.

“Another new device that came into being with high fidelity and stereophonic sound is the trap drummer. In this record you will hear every kind of trap sound. It sure will show off your stereo set.

“Last but not least, we have the sounds of the sea which, too, is an experience in stereo.”

I am speechless. If I could write like that, well . . . dang. I didn’t change or delete a word, should you be hoping I did.

Three-year-old caithiseach occasionally enjoyed hearing the train rattle into the speaker from nowhere, but one can do only so much with such sounds. The interesting thing about the train is that the recording is more or less in real time; there is some serious dead air between trains. That got old pretty fast. Listening to jets roar and ships honk didn’t cut it, and the ocean? Yawn.

But Traps, now, that caught my ear. This track, replete with the most varied percussive sounds I have ever heard, became a personal favorite. My LP eventually would show anyone, at a glance, which track I liked the best. While the rest of the LP maintained its weak luster with random scratches from sitting in my box of 45s without an album cover, the Traps track was Ground to Dust. (See the scan for proof.)

When it became possible to transfer my vinyl to digital files, I transferred Traps. The sound was muddy in spots from constant play with bad needles, but I could hear everything, and I wouldn’t have to play the LP any more. I put the LP away in a safe spot, as it was the only 12-inch disc to survive the Great Meltdown and the ensuing nomadic existence.

One day in April 2004, I was listening to Traps and decided to see if there was any chance the LP was available online. Yeah, sure.

But it was! A record vendor in Japan had a copy in near-mint condition. He even had the cover, which I had not seen since mine fell apart when I was 4 or 5. I jumped on the opportunity and paid $20 for the LP and another $20 or so for shipping.

Once I saw the cover, I remembered it. A motorboat off what I assume is a European coast—that makes you want to buy a record of sound effects. I don’t know how many copies Rondo-lette sold of album SA-46, but I think a photo of a trap drummer going at it would have gotten them some more sales. By the way, if you recognize the coast in the cover scan, let me know. I looked up a bunch of cities and couldn’t find a match.

I was able to transfer this pristine recording of Traps, which I offer you today. I heard nuances I could not get from the Ground to Dust LP, which, of course, I kept. I think you’ll be impressed with the quality of the recording, considering that it is 50 years old and is a vinyl transfer. Good for them.

The other point I wanted to make about this track is the influence it had on me musically. When I was four, my parents got me a little electric organ for Christmas. You had to turn it on, wait impatiently for it to warm up, and then you could play it. When the Charlie Brown Christmas special debuted, I really liked the song at the end. My mom caught me after Christmas, playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” from memory. She asked me if I wanted to take music lessons. I did indeed. What did I want to learn to play?

I think she hoped I would say “the piano.” I said “the drums.” She went with it, to the great amusement of her siblings, and I began to study drums when I turned five.

The drum lessons got shot to hell when she became ill a couple of years later, but it was Traps that got me interested in what percussion could do, rather than what I could do with a keyboard. It was another 27 years before I took any piano lessons. I wish I had started sooner, but the results might well have been the same. I’m quite a hack on the piano, unlike my talented friend whiteray.

So, here’s a truly obscure track by unknown performers. Despite the preponderance of percussion, it is a melodic track, so give it a chance to get going. Enjoy their artistry, which I can pretty much guarantee is new to you. If you’re here for music you’ve never heard before, this is the quintessence of your quest.

On Saturday, I’ll look at a couple of Hit songs. See you then!

Rondo-lette, Traps (recording)

LP cover scan

Traps label scan


Stephanie said...

Just thought I would let you know...

"I" was not your {hmmm}


whiteray said...

Could it be somewhere in Portugal? (Thanks for the props!)

yah shure said...

How's this for timing? I had Channel 2 on when it aired a Rick Steves program two or three weeks ago. Rick was visiting Italy's Lake Como, which instantly triggered a St. Cloud recollection from about 1980: "Lake Como" by Sweet People, which we played briefly at WJON.

As luck would have it, that same Rick Steves program aired again an hour ago. This time, I paid closer attention to the Lake Como segment with its breathtaking scenery. A shot from the lake triggered a different reaction this time. It looked like the town on Seán's album cover scan!

A visit to Google confirmed that the town on Lake Como is Bellagio, Italy. Check out the very top of this page: http://www.bellagio.info/

caithiseach said...

Great timing, indeed. Superb work, Yah Shure, and many many thanks for solving a 45-year-old mystery. I Googled a LOT of towns in Italy, Portugal, Spain and France (and even moved on to Greece) for this post, but I didn't think of Bellagio. Again, thanks!