Homegrown album project (local music compilations from the 70s and 80s)

I was at a show at Square Cat Vinyl a couple of weekends ago, and while I was there, I noticed a record in the used section: “Coca Cola Q95 Album Project III”.


I do a fair bit of poking around in local music history, but I’d not come across this one before. Not that I get too far into the 70s and early 80s; I just have no frame of reference beyond bits and pieces that I remember Charlie Hoovler or Steve the bartender telling me about music history around Lafayette.

It looks like this was somehow sponsored by Q95 (Indianapolis radio station WFBQ) and released by Karma records, a now almost defunct record store / headshop chain that most folks my age think of as the place you had to go to buy Ticketmaster concert tickets in the 90’s. The content was all Indiana bands. I started searching on this LP title a bit and initially wasn’t finding much until I googled just “album project”. Looks like there were 3 of them. Here are links to their Discogs pages:
WFBQ 95 Karma Homegrown Album Project I
WFBQ 95 Karma Album Project II
Coca-Cola Q95 Album Project III


Every once in a while I have some luck finding ancient things like this on youtube, so I rolled the dice and found that someone had uploaded video from the award ceremony for the first homegrown album project. Pretty wild that video from that time somehow survived. I’m not gonna lie, this one is a real snoozer. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: WFBQ Q95 Homegrown Album I Award Ceremony

The same user had uploaded a real gem with a performance video from the second album. Most of the material feels dated, but there are a couple of songs on there that I think are worth a listen. Here are direct links if you don’t want to go through the whole thing:

The Edge – Fine Line – These guys seem like the early 80’s version of some band that I’d be friends with. It’s guitar driven power pop backed by Hammond organ and touches of synth with big vocal harmony choruses and some nice guitar leads. I think I see an Orange head in the background there. One guy in a satin jacket, one in a Beatles suit(?) another in a T-shirt. lol.

Lifer – She Clown – This starts off and you see a guy in bell bottoms with a weird hat and think it’s going to be pretty bad.. But then they launch into a really tasty lead harmony with great guitar tones. I feel like this could be on the sound track for Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. The vocal harmonies are probably the best of any of the bands in this video, and overall, the composition of the song is just really good. Tasteful.


Anyway.. The more I looked on Discogs, the more of these local compilation records I found. WEBN in Cincinnati did 10 of them from ’76 to ’87, maybe making them the originator of the idea? 93QFM in Milwaukee did 3 records from ’80 to ’88, the last one sponsored by Pabst. WSTW out of Delaware did one in ’81. KEZX did one in ’83. At this point, this is kind of an internet black hole.. The label that put out WSTWs record, Pacer, has a discography with several more of these all over the place.

I guess no real point here, other than the fact that this is kind of interesting. I suppose it never really occurred to me that there were this many of this level of band – “local” stuff – in the late 70s and 80s. While I remember my high school friend Jason telling me that his Dad’s band (two synth players and a drummer!) got played on Q95, I didn’t know how common that was. I figured that either you were working hard enough to have a shot at “making it”, or you were a punk rock band. Dumb assumption on my part, but I guess you just don’t hear about bands like these.

Also along these lines this makes me have a better appreciation for the “Star Tracks” local CD that Dave Lindquist put together 18 years ago as a time capsule of what was going on. I kind of hesitate linking to the weak review of it that I did, but I literally can’t find anything else about this comp on the ‘net.

Star Tracks CD cover

But while I’m at it.. Just digging for the Star Tracks review, I bumped into a couple of other compilations.. (Remember the Patio Battle of the bands? Check out young Rob G and Matt Chandler on the AirCheck comp.) and just recently I was reminded of both the IMN “Indy MP3 CD” and all of the IMN showcase CDs. Might be worth a listen back.

Purdue Student Radio – A (mostly) failed experiment.

Every once in a while I feel like I should post about things I’ve worked on in the past. Sometimes it’s as a point of pride and others I feel like it’s just a matter of documentation. In this case, I was recently reminded of my time working with the Purdue Student Radio Station so I’m going to reflect on that here.

[Wow.. this post has been in the works for.. well, the first draft was logged in 2015. lol. I’m trying to do more writing, and dredging up some of the many things I’ve started in the past but not finished.]

A conservative place..
Purdue University is a conservative institution. Especially considering the aptitude for curiosity and exploration of many of the students (and some of the faculty) there. A former supervisor during my time working in IT at Purdue told me it hadn’t always been so stuffy. Things apparently got really conservative during the Hovde administration. This supervisor had a story from his undergrad experience at Purdue wherein a couple of students built a small hot air balloon that landed on top of a campus building and caught fire. The point of the story was that these students were expressing a healthy desire to create and learn, and weren’t punished for the relative danger they incurred in this pursuit, while a similar event in the current political climate (this was around 2000 mind you) would have gotten the students thrown out of school and probably sued for damages. This conservative tone echoed in many aspects of student life. “Mass” media was one.

[As an aside, I noticed something interesting as I researched for this article. The duration of time that Purdue presidents hold office is seriously diminishing over time. Cordova – 5yr | Jischke – 5yr | Beering – 17yr | Hansen – 11yr | Hovde – 25yr | Elliot – 23yr | Stone – 21yr … not sure what to draw from this, although I suspect it somehow fits into the discussion of “what’s wrong with higher education”]

Student life and media consumption..
Purdue as a University during my time had three main student facing media outlets: Boiler TV – the campus cable network, airing several regular cable channels along with a couple of terribly curated campus information feeds. The campus newspaper, “The Purdue Exponent” – once referred to by my friend Matt F. as “The leading source of misinformation in Tippecanoe County”. And finally, a radio station called WBAA – This is operated by the university, but seemed, at least during my tenure, to not consider students as their target market. The station played mostly classical music and some select NPR programs. It seemed like, in general, the University was very wary of either campus-wide communications, or campus -wide communications with students at the helm. There was also a general perception that it was unwanted, but I never had problems finding other students who were into the idea.

That said, Purdue has a long history of student run radio in the form of so called “dorm stations”. Many residence halls at Purdue had their own closed circuit stations at various times, some also having low power FM in times of less heavy regulation. WILY, WCCR in Cary Quad, Shreve.. There were more, but I don’t have any more info than this. For a time, something called PRN – Purdue Radio Network connected several of the dorm stations. (it seems to still exist in some form but is focused on sports coverage?) I DJed at WCCR when I lived at Cary Quad in 1996 and 1997 and learned a lot of the station lore. WCCR was purported to be the first station nationally to broadcast stereo by sending the left and right channels out two separate transmitters. They had a hell of a vinyl vault. Unfortunately, by the time I got there it was all melted due to improper climate control.

The problem with these dorm stations was that listenership was very low, mostly because to hear it you 1. had to live in that dorm and 2. had to go to the front desk and get a “splitter” to connect your cable TV line to a stereo.. if your stereo had an antenna input. In my time, I was lucky to get 2 or 3 of my friends to listen in. I suspect the dorm stations were more popular before tv and internet was readily available in the dorms. In the mid 2000’s some of the dorm stations experimented with web streaming. WCCR would get a handful of listeners from time to time.

[Some of these stations seem to continue on in some form and have web presences: WILY, WCCR]

My experience at WCCR was both informative and disappointing. The station had a cool vibe – there was a big lounge with typical institutional sofas and lots of old copies of CMJ laying around. The air studio was a small, but functional room with one wall lined with CDs. Some manner of junky Arrakis board was the operational centerpiece along with a chronically broken mac of some kind. I don’t remember a lot about the other bits, being new to it all, but there were surely a couple of CD decks, a (also broken) cart machine and at least one semi-working turntable. There was some manner of operational organization – station officers that we DJs were supposed to somehow report to, and send our play logs to, but now that I think about it, I had no idea what any of those people actually did, and honestly, I don’t think I ever saw them past the callout meeting.

Still, I had fun doing radio shows for my friends, playing my favorite stuff and also digging through the station’s CD collection. Once I even plugged my guitar into the board and played on “air” for a whole show. And lol, I remember Enrique, a guy who lived down the hall calling in with a fake voice every time I did a show and requesting Tool.

The start of “Purdue Student Radio” as a station..
Maybe a relevant piece of information in this story is that I was a student at Purdue for over 17 years, so I saw things come and go. When I moved off-campus, the dorm stations became little more than a fond memory. But I was still looking for things to do on campus.

I remember going to a callout for PSR, Purdue Student Radio, at some point prior to 2004. It was a kind of odd group, seemingly predicated on doling out various “director” positions to students volunteering. But lets jump outside of my personal experience and backtrack.

Apparently, the station had been formed under the premise of being a place for business students to practice.. business stuff. I don’t know the full story, but this seemed to be the brainchild of an undergrad who somehow had the ear of people at Krannert with money. Regardless, the business model was based around selling on-air advertising. A Purdue Staff director or engineer of some kind, Michael Gay from WBAA, was involved in planning an AM transmitter installation using gifted money. The transmitters would augment a web stream, and added a touch of legitimacy that the dorm stations lacked. WBAA also provided a massive, antique Harrison console and some other miscellaneous hardware. This was all housed in a room in the old student organizations area in the basement of the Union.

And that all happened. Kind of an amazing feat. But that’s about where progress stopped it seemed like. When I found out about all of this, it was kind of in a proof of concept state. The transmitters worked – 6 low power AM units perched atop the Krannert building, the transmission barely made it to Chauncey Hill at AM1610. The studio had all the parts it needed and was capable of doing most of what it was supposed to.. but there were many broken things, no music library, and not a lot of institutional knowledge.

And so back to my experience.. we had a lot of these meetings where people were trying to figure out how to synthesize the structure and operation of a college radio station. I remember the Programming Director instructing us, the non-director volunteers, to try to generate a station handbook by plagiarizing other college station’s handbooks. Little progress was made under this regime, and said Programming Director later was kicked out of school for some dubious reason if I recall. Another prime activity of these meetings was trying to recruit people to do the “sales”. The only training was “go talk to businesses and see if they’ll give us money”. Needless to say, this didn’t work. I always surmised that the real shortcoming in this plan was that the station wasn’t actually broadcasting anything yet. Eventually, the guard driving all this was changed. I’m not quite sure what happened. Probably some people graduated, and probably some got bored with the lack of progress. A couple of good people stayed for a while and did what they could, but there was really not enough knowledge to make it work.

The reorg..
At this time, somewhere in 2007, there were a few of us in the non-director set who were there for the music rather than the business and we decided to change the approach to: lets have a functional station and then try to get some money later. We started by building a music library. I knew a little about how this worked from my limited time doing record label promo. All of the labels and distros were quite happy to give you more music than you could handle if you were reporting to CMJ, (College Music Journal) so we shelled out the cash for CMJ membership. I recall this was over $1k for a year, which seems excessive.. but I digress. I handled the chart reporting, basically grepping the logs of our station automation software, SAM, for what was getting the most plays. At this point, the station was largely on autopilot so this was an easy process. We dumped some mp3’s in, and it played them randomly. Later we got more advanced, doing programming blocks by genre, etc. CD’s came in droves. More than we could deal with, in fact. [as an aside, when we wound down the station, there were still dozens of CDs a week coming in for our PO Box in Stewart Center. I remember the mail folks asking/demanding that we tell companies to stop sending stuff, but I didn’t even know where most of them were coming from. Labels and distros just chucked that stuff out to any entity on the CMJ list. Hopefully they’ve finally stopped or else someone in the mail department of STEW have just started taking the music for themselves.] There were also the starts of digital distribution, which eliminated some steps but added new ones. We initially hoped to get all music we received into the digital music library. I set up a ripping lab with four PCs with multiple CD drives so we could at least rip 4 discs at a time.

It seemed like we were doing pretty well. There were several regular shows, constant content with music and syndicated programming, I was keeping station manager office hours and reporting to CMJ weekly, and it felt like we were growing. At one point, because we still didn’t have any money and still weren’t really interested in doing sales, we hit up all the old dorm stations to see if they had gear they’d give us. One came through, told us to take whatever we wanted, then mysteriously stopped responding to emails/phonecalls after we took the first load. We also talked to WCCR at this time who were still going. They didn’t have any equipment for us, but we had some interesting talks about piping in their programming.

The death..
Things eventually just petered out. People weren’t showing up to do their shows as much, keeping the equipment working was hard, staying on top of ripping CDs that came in was daunting.. and the real nail in the coffin – the AM transmitters quit working. Their demise coincided with a re-roofing project on the Krannert building that we weren’t notified about until after I started investigating the dead transmitters. I got permission to go to the roof with the building deputy to inspect the equipment. ..and noticed that some of the 6 transmitters’ ground straps had been removed for the roofing and not reattached. I suspected that maybe they got a lightning strike, but who knows. The university seemed to have a stance of “we’ll we’re not real sure what happened, but we’re also not going to do anything. Sorry.” Not having the knowledge or motivation to troubleshoot any further, we basically packed it in. As far as I know, the transmitters are still up there, connected to the streaming box in the penthouse.

We folded the club, and sent most of the remaining gear to a burgeoning podcasting club that a couple of our folks were in. The Harrison console went back to WBAA, and God knows what dark basement it’s hanging out in now.

Looking back..
Well.. the station didn’t do what it was supposed to. Very few ad sales were made, if any, and in it’s prime, we didn’t do advertising at all. For music nerds, it worked a little bit. Longer than I would have expected.

It was an interesting thing to be a part of for sure. I’m glad I did this. I made a lot of friends, and it’s always good to have a shared goal with people. While this wasn’t an exercise that added a lot to my CV, it is one of the handful of things that I’m proud of. Notably, we had a couple of show hosts go on to minor celebrity in broadcasting and comedy, and I’d like to think that having a radio station to do shows on was at least a little boost for their skills and resume.

Shoutouts:
I realize I have a bias for being negative, and accentuating the struggles in things like this over the good times, so I want to take a minute to thank people involved in this radio thing that brought joy to me in one way or another over the years that we did it:

Nur – for keeping things going in the transitional period mentioned above

Doug – for wiring up the whole thing in the first place

Emily, Jake and Andy – for being the core of motivation and participation for this thing.

Pat, Mike and Nick – for helping to keep things going

Ryan, Coby, Alex, Wes and Blair – for doing shows and keeping them going

Aaron – for all of the tech help and time spent

I’m probably forgetting a lot of people, but thanks for being there.

Songwriting process

I’ve been interested in songwriting process for a long time, although I think it’s only in the past 5 or so years that I’ve thought of it in terms of an actual process. I played in several bands in high school and college and somehow we managed to create songs without really planning the construction of them too much. After having gone through an MFA program, I’ve become a lot more aware of and interested in specific processes that people use. Not least in part to studying some of the process of John CageContinue reading

is making music only for the young?

An elliott live video that I hadn’t seen before popped up on youtube today. Dated 1998, it really made me think about how cool it is that these guys had such proficiency at what they were doing at a relatively young age. ..and not only that, but they had also gone a long way to develop their own artistic style – I was going to say art form, but rock music wasn’t new, and there was a whole community even in just their geography.. but still, what they were doing had some new elements. I think that’s got to be a really fulfilling situation to be in. Very self directed.

Continue reading

“Local” music / “The history of Lafayette Music according to Pat McClimans”

There’s some allure for me in music attached to a geography that I also am attached to. Last week I watched a documentary called “It’s Gonna Blow: San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996“. It was pretty good. I’ve gathered some “dots” of information about the San Diego music scene past, but this helped me connect them and make a little more sense of it.

Hearing about some of this stuff in a chronological context reminded me a lot of some things that I saw and heard about in Lafayette. In my formative years (1998-ish) there, I ran a local music website, and at one point around 2001, my friend Pat was kind enough to write me a fairly comprehensive history of the Lafayette music scene from his vantage point. It coincides with the timespan covered in the aforementioned movie quite well, and I’d guess that similar other stories across the country match too. Kind of a Dischord Records to post-Seattle era. I can’t tell if this was a particularly good window of time for music, or if I’m just partial because it’s when I was young and into music.

Anyway, here’s Pat’s history of Lafayette music: Continue reading

On the topic of pop music driving anti-intellectualism..

As I’m trying to establish myself here in San Diego, I’ve found that I’m gravitating towards music again. I’m just a few blocks from a great concert venue that a lot of locals and larger names play, and I think that finding myself in that fray reminds me how much accumulated knowledge, and maybe even skill I have in the area.

While I’ve been thinking more deeply philosophically about music, expression and identity, I bumped into a couple of interesting articles. The first, The Assault on Intellect: How Popular Music’s Lyrics Perpetuate American Idiocy cites work by Andrew Powell-Morris on the topic of “Lyrical Intelligence” wherein the author uses some rubric to determine the reading level of lyrics on the billboard charts over the past 10 years and graphs it all out. The takeaway is that lyrically, pop music is getting dumber.

I don’t necessarily agree with the metric – I think I’d like to somehow measure the depth of the themes of the songs as well as the instrumental maturity.. but nevertheless, it’s a pretty interesting idea, and one that has crossed my mind in the past. Notably, I remember a paraphrase from a friend back in Lafayette on the topic of local bands – “I don’t like local bands; They all try to make their music difficult”. The last half of that certainly has some salience to me. I remember playing in one of my longer running bands, Summerfield, and trying so hard to create something original and challenging. I’ve come to understand this as something of an appeal to ego, but doesn’t make me value it any less. I think the flip side is a band that can go play a three chord song that people enjoy dancing to. Both are valid in their own ways.. Why I’m attracted more to the former, I don’t know. Leaving a lasting mark? Advancing an artform? Self fulfillment from conquering a challenge?

Back to the literature review though.. I saw another article around the same time that referenced a GZA interview on the topic of the absence of lyricism in modern hip-hop. I’ve heard a little of this material before in other interviews with the rapper, but this was a broader collection of ideas. GZA’s criteria of quality aren’t that well organized, but I’ll attempt to capture them in bullet point format here:

  • lyrical
  • Strong
  • Fresh
  • New
  • discussing the art of MCing
  • good analogies
  • good wordplay
  • good sentence structure
  • good visuals
  • not about negative things (?)
  • having a message
  • telling a great story
  • grabbing you / pulling you in
  • understanding life
  • witty
  • intellectual
  • smart rhymes
  • clever rhymes

I see three main themes in these items.. The first is embracing a kind of “meta” culture – describing your rapping skills, and maybe even bragging about them. This is definitely a prominent element in most music styles, but I’m not sure if is really a strong thread in what makes lyrics “good”, at least not for me, from a critical viewpoint.

Storytelling is another theme mentioned by GZA. This one definitely resonates with me and I’ve often cited a good story as the main driver for my preference of hip hop songs. In an era of popular artists bragging about material possessions and success at dubious endeavors, hearing a good story can make a difference.

The last, and largest theme in GZA’s list of preferred qualities seems to be a general intellectual depth and thoughtfulness. Both in terms of being a person with a broad knowledge to draw from but also displaying an aptitude for abstract thinking. This, I think, most relates to the example I cited above about local bands. GZA’s motivations to be creative, innovative and intellectual may be ego driven, but they do also push the envelope of what other artists are doing.

Looping back to the Lyrical intelligence rating, I suspect the criteria used there would probably call GZA’s works less intelligent since the main metric is application of grammar rules – something that is less important to the artist than the wit and craftiness he imbues.

So what?

I guess I wrote this all out to start a conversation with myself about how to make smarter music. I’m going to forego the question of whether challenging music is better or worse than simple music. What is “good” to me? and how would one integrate the conversational tradition of most music lyrics with something more heady?

 

Music that matters (to me) – Waltham/Damone

There are ongoing themes in my listening habits; at the most fundamental, bands that I tend to revisit occasionally. Sometimes it’s more about the body of work of a specific musican or group of musicians. In this case, I wanted to post about a couple of bands that I keep coming back to, and the common denominator is guitarist Dave Pino.

I think my introduction to Pino was the band Damone, and specifically their album “From the Attic” which saw major label release on RCA in ’03. (a version of it had previously been self released as “This Summer” under the band name “Noelle”) I really wish I could remember how I found this album, but I’m totally drawing a blank. It was around the time that I was the operating station manager for the short lived Purdue Student Radio station which would be the sensible discovery avenue, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I do know that the single “Frustrated Unnoticed” was the first song I heard, and it felt like a different production style than the rest of the record, but regardless, “From the Attic” was, and continues to be a very captivating album for me. The lyrics were all penned by Pino, supposedly as a means to get back a girl who had dumped him.  A band was formed around these songs when Pino encountered Noelle LeBlanc, then still in high school. On this album in particular, Noelle’s inexperienced yet honest vocal delivery is the perfect match for the adolescent-ish tales of lost love. This feature is something that I’ve struggled to explain to people who are used to well polished and professional singers. There’s just something real and personal about it.

Here’s a very early public access in-studio of the band complete with the oddball-ness of Pino rocking a doubleneck SG; apparently the norm for him while in this band:

It must have been around 2006 when I found out about the band, because I remember their second album surfacing. I had been telling people how cool Damone was, and they would go listen to the couple of early release tracks on myspace (sic) and tell me I was stupid because the band was terrible. The band had very much changed. Instead of the 80’s influenced pop-rocking featured on “From the Attic”, the new record, “Out Here All Night” was showing a lot more thrash metal influence, while keeping the power-pop choruses in place. Noelle’s performance was a lot more confident, no doubt built up from years of playing shows. It lost some of the charm though, I think. Another really obvious thing was the absence of Pino from the videos. He’s still credited for the album, but I question what level he was involved.. As I encountered more of his body of work, it seems like this material wasn’t as much “him”. The band released a third album in ’09, but to be honest, I haven’t even listened. I think I’m only in it for the first one. Apparently the band has folded, but Noelle continues with solo work as well as a band called The Organ Beats.

 

At some point I realized that Pino was really the mastermind behind the Damone record that I enjoyed so much, and I started digging to see what he was up to after leaving Damone. There were a few bits and pieces out there. Notably, this youtube video of his process in learning to throw a guitar around his body, a showmanship bit that had some popularity at the time. (I must admit I suffered some injuries attempting the same myself)

There were also a handful of really cool guitar lesson videos he had done, breaking down some of the more difficult parts of Damone songs. Here’s the only one I can find that’s still on youtube:

Perhaps the most relevant thing I found though was Pino’s previous band Waltham, (to those of us not from the east coast, it’s pronounced “Walth Am”) and this great little bio pic that someone made of them:

The whole angle is great. it’s kind of a slightly modernized take on 80’s stuff like Rick Springfield. It’s kind of gimmicky, but still good enough to enjoy. In my excitement about the band, I started telling friends, and oddly, a couple of people I knew were aware of these guys. My buddy John had been living out in Boston and recognized some of the guys in the band from their day jobs at Guitar Center. My friend Karen who had lived in Sommerville told me about the Pizza place that Dave’s father owned.

Showing a bit of a pattern, the band continued but Dave was gone. The 2003 release “Permission to Build” had all the same charming Pino features that Damone’s “From the Attic” did, but the follow up EPs were lack luster. Still the band made a major label run in ’05 with some touring through Germany. After a long hiatus, they put out another collection of songs through band camp in 2013 as “Wicked Waltham” but it seems like they only play new years eve events and the occasional charity show at this point. Still, they left behind some good music and some entertaining, albeit slightly hokey videos like this one:

Pino now seems to be a bit of a hired gun, playing with the band Powerman 5000 and Andrew W. K.