First Recordings… A Star Is Born

My parents had a huge console stereo.

I am amazed at how many people I talk to remember their parents having one too. This stereo was a piece of furniture, not just a rack of components to be tucked into a corner or nestled between some chairs. This was a record player and stereo that had its own zip code.

It had 2 fake doors in the middle of the front, as if a huge TV was in there. It was not. The speakers were built in and had cloth covering them that matched the console. I mean you would want anyone noticing the speakers after all? Not in those days apparently.

Ours looked something like this.

When I was old enough to look inside without smashing my fingers, I opened a whole new world. Inside was a record player in the center, with an arm to hold the stacked records, a radio with tuner knob, and a slot on each side to hold albums. There were albums in there from my parents. Some classical, some Neil Diamond, some Barbara Streisand and assorted others.

I plumbed the albums and nothing really interested me at the time. There was one relic though, that I wish I still had. My father was in the Korean War, and at one point, made a record for his parents. Apparently you went to a tent with the equipment and recorded a spoken message right to vinyl. It was thick and heavy and I listened to a piece of history. I heard my father’s voice, talking to his mom and dad and telling them that things were okay; listing his friends and things he had seen. Then guy running the equipment must have stepped out, my father ran out of things to say. It was kind of funny. He chatted about a few other things and then said goodbyes and the record ends. It was very personal and cool. I wish I knew what happened to it. It may actually have been the seed that grew into my friend Jeff and I exchanging tapes together years and years later.

At first, with no albums to my name, I listened to the radio.

The radio in those days, lets say 1974’ish, was interesting to say the least. The station that I listened to was playing The Partridge Family, The Jackson Five, Beatles, and all kinds of light rock of the day. Already a music snob I was annoyed by having to listen to crap songs between the ones I liked. So as millions of other people did… I made my own radio tape. Now, I had no stereo tape deck component. I had my trusty portable cassette player. I remember spending summer days sitting by the radio with my finger on the record and play button (you had to press them both down at the same time to record) waiting for the first few seconds of the song and determining if it was one I wanted.

I ended up with songs that were missing the first few seconds, had the DJ talking over them and ended with the beginning of the next song. The sound was awful and chaotic but I loved it. The first one I made had not only the chaos of the editing, but you could hear our dog barking during one song and a particularly loud semi passing the house in another.

As an early editing experiment when I started the next tape, while I was recording I turned the radio volume down a bit and held the tape recorder to the speaker. This improved the sound dramatically, though I did have to hold it there for the whole song. I listened to these tapes when I went to bed. This old bulky tape recorder would be next to my pillow at night and I alternated my tapes each night.

I became familiar with the records my folks played. Neil Diamond is imprinted in me as if I were a migrating goose. They didn’t use the stereo much, in fact it had stuff on the console cover I had to move when I wanted to get into it. At some point though, they began using it again. They would stack the albums and use the record arm to hold the stack in place, playing alternating Neil and Barbara. I didn’t care so much for the Streisand but she is single handedly responsible for my very first dub. I am not clear on the timing (A Star Is Born soundtrack was released in 1976) but at some point the soundtrack to “A Star Is Born” was purchased.

This featured music from the film with Barbara and Kris Kristofferson. I liked it. The Streisand tunes were up tempo and the Kristofferson tracks were awesome. My first live tracks it should be noted. I recorded this whole album via the recorder against the speaker. I stacked the recorder on something and put a pillow against it to hold it in place. It worked great. This tape became a bedtime staple. It was always next to my pillow. I loved the song “Hellacious Acres”. I still remember the lyrics to most of it. It was grungy rock and Kris belted it out. Years later when I saw the actual movie, it all made sense. I still loved it though.

My experience with the console stereo helped when I started buying my own records.

My grandmother Ellis actually got me started on records. That is a whole other story.

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