Monday, February 13, 2006

Bonus Beats -- DJ Records Pt. 2

So every day last week, I looked at this blog trying to get it together to pull off a new entry. The issue was, the story that I had planned to tell last week was really kinda fuzzy in its details. I outsourced for information! I had to contact Jon (aka Jonny Lov) to jog my memory and get some supplementary facts. Joe Black is the central character of this story and he deserves a blog of his own. Thanks to Jon for the help, he's always there in a pinch.

Ah, the story of Joe Black. This guy was certainly a character, no question. He was a friend of a friend, my buddy Jon who is still around and doing his thing in his hometown. They had gone to school together and known each other for years. I can't really remember much about how I initally got to meet Joe Black but i think he ended up taking my job at the old club (7 Willow Street) I worked at in Port Chester, NY after I went to school. I got to know him in that period of time while coming back to visit from school in Albany, NY. The kid was simply a trip. I later found out that he was one of those people who was always riding up and down the rollercoaster of emotional troubles. He was proof that they can totally interfere a person's life. At this point, no one I know seems to know what Joe Black's doing nor where. The last I saw him, he was working as a runner for an autoparts store in Port Chester. Jon's told me stories about how once in Vermont, Joe was boiling pots of water just to boil em.. let the vapor just go. Jon would ask him why and Joe'd assure him that it was a crucial measure towards purifiying the air. Jon just reasons it out as, "that's just Joe Black". This is, after all, a kid whose name reflected his preference for Black women.. Joe himself was a very light complected Italian-American. Jon has also told me that Joe was the first cat he'd ever seen who would do blends of stuff like Pink Floyd and KRS-ONE. Apparently he'd be at home for hours trying to work it out. If there's one thing you could say about Joe Black it's that the kid had some fucking spirit.

I'm gonna presume that it was around this time that Joe and I got in tighter together. Jon had moved to the left coast and I was still linking up with Joe when I was back in Port Chester, on time off from school in Albany. To cut to the chase, a lot of the memories of Joe are faded because of one event which basically changed everything. One night I was outside the club and Joe walks by with some taller blond kid. Now Joe was all into reggae and shit, smoked weed plenty and probably sold a little here and there-- really nothing that unrealistic. As for anything harder I knew he wasn't really into it. But I looked at him that night and he was fuckin' split right open. The kid was really, really fucked up. I don't know if he was tripping for real or what, but I said what's up and asked him if he was ok at least 3 or 4 times. He shrugged it off and after a few minutes of bullshit went on his way.

I must have gone back to Albany before I'd heard what had happened. Apparently Joe Black had overdosed that night and suffered some kind of breakdown. He was housed up in the mental ward in United Hospital in Port Chester and was about to lose his apartment. I knew he'd had to sell his turntables, probably being hard up at one time. I don't want to make fun of it, but this is something that anyone who's ever wanted to DJ has heard of or experienced. I knew at one point or another all kinds of guys who had the one pitiable belt drive and was saving (basically like what I did) or who were just swinging it with one Technics 1200, the long-time industry standard turntable. Anyhow, he was facing eviction from his little one room joint while he was in the mental ward, so I made some calls and took some time off to come down and help him out. I visited him in the hospital, spoke to his landlord, and bullshitted my parents into letting me clear out some garage space for his shit. His apartment was in pretty poor shape. I don't remember doing any actual cleaning, which was a good thing.

But of course there were the records (that is the point after all). There were the standard old time stolen milkcrates stuffed with records in all kinds of poor shape. If you do the record thing, you've probably seen this a million times--- the cardboard sleeve gets so chafed that not only does it weaken bt it gives up in flamboyant style. The raw paperboard fans out and expands. The white innersleeve gives up at the corners and opens or gets torn by a record's forced hasty
retreat into the sleeve and grows these vicious tears in the middle, where the label cutout looks like it tried to expand. You get the crossed-out songs on the labels, the DJ's name on the label or a stamp. Something about these records is very charming, but you have to wonder where the life in them is. And let's not forget the travesties. There's more of these kind of mistreated records out there than you'd imagine. Afrika Bambaataa's "Death Mix Live" (Paul Winley 1983), above, is one of the best live rap recordings of all time and in good shape is worth at least 200 bucks. I kept it cause you CAN'T let an original go but it's in pretty damn rough condition. It's Bam, Jazzy Jay and others dj'ing with live MCs at James Monroe High School in the Bronx and it was mastered off CASSETTE! Word was that Bam hated it and considered it a bootleg. It came in the wrong sleeve, of course, but it's from the great Emergency label. Emergency released a lot of great dance/r&b in the early 80's.

I visited Joe in the hospital and held onto his stuff for several months. The poor guy was seemingly convinced that he'd been dosed maliciously by someone and told me that he'd wished I'd grabbed him when I saw him. His mom was looking after him at that point, and apparently he was often on this pattern. Jon told me that he was always "just mental." Apparently he'd been battling such demons since he was a kid, having dealt with not really having a father. He was very grateful for me helping him out and let me take whatever I wanted from his crates.

They were confused, sloppy, mistreated records, but brimming with history. So there it was- I was still a young skinhead kid, about 2 years after I'd learned to use a mixer while dj'ing ska music. I was a rap fan but I didn't know that much really. Joe Black inadvertently clued me into collecting (more importantly, UNDERSTANDING) rap in a 12" format and the essence of dj'ing. It wasn't just the records themselves, but what you could get out of them and how they flavored everything. Wherever he is, whatever he's doing, I owe Joe Black big.

Some of these records included:
"Mister Boops" by Resident Alien (Dew Doo Man/Columbia/Ral 1991). The only track ever released by them, and the only release ever on Prince Paul's Dew Doo Man Records label. Needless to say it never quite hit, and Resident Alien has a record that got shelved (never released) called "It Takes A Nation of Suckers To Let Us In." This was something I read about a few times and wondered, "damn, I wonder if I can find that?" I went back into those records from Paul at my parents' house only a year or so ago and realized it was already there-- along with an empty white sleeve for the promo copy. You can see the sticker cut out of that sleeve on the wall shot of DJ Records Pt. 1.

Herbie Hancock/D.ST. "Megamix"(Columbia, 1984). A fine example of a standard DJ record. Very very worn 12" sleeve with double copies shoved into it. Promo only, stupid good.

K-9 Posse "S/t" LP (Arista 1988). JRS called this one out instantly when it went on a mixtape. This record is good and also in AWFUL shape. It's got water damage, a hammered sleeve that doesn't even belong to it, and it looks like it's been walked on for a couple of years. I don't know ANYTHING about this group but there's some HARD late 80s beats on this slice. I need to find another one.
Super Disco Brakes (sic) Vol. 4 (Paul Winley 1981). Years before the reissues of these seminal breakbeat collections, this came out of the Joe Black stacks. Disco Circus, Rock It in the Pocket, Super Sperm... Perhaps one of the most important building blocks in this lesson.