Just for the record: A fitting tribute to Bra Hugh
A bi-weekly vinyl review
In recognition of Hugh Masekela, who passed away last month aged 78, newly-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to the legendary trumpeter by quoting from one of his songs in his debut state of the nation address.
That song was Send Me (called Thuma Mina on some collections), which first appeared on Masekela’s 2002 album, and its lyrics very much reflect the concerns he expressed throughout his long career: “I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around/When they triumph over poverty/I wanna be there when the people win the battle against Aids/I wanna lend a hand/Send me.”Masekela’s passing has raised some interest among vinyl collectors in his earlier, seminal recordings which were cut in the mid-1960s as the newly exiled artist sought to break into the North American market. He initially failed to raise much interest as a jazz artist, but did well as a session musician in California before emerging as a performer in his own right.Some critics suggest his 1966 album, The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela (UNI Records), is a perfect introduction, blending as it did local rhythms with jazz and rock & roll. One cut in particular, She Doesn’t Write, could be regarded as a template for Masekela’s forthcoming Grazing in the Grass, which was a massive hit the following year, and led to his invitation to appear at the groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival.Emancipation, alas, had perhaps the most unfortunate cover art imaginable: Bra Hugh with false beard a la Abraham Lincoln with the old oranje-blanje-blou flag flying from his top hat. Distributors in the southern US boycotted it as a result. It was then released with an alternative cover, this time featuring a woman in billowing yellow dress seductively flashing her orange panties as she gambols in a meadow of sorts. I don’t know which was worse.
The album to get, though, is 1969’s Masekela (UNI Records), a militant blend of African rhythms, jazz and R&B. The cover features a brooding, no-nonsense portrait of Bra Hugh. With song titles like Mace and Grenades, Sobukwe and Riot, it was clear there’d be no more dicking about with false beards.NEW AND FORTHCOMING RELEASESTom Waits’s back catalogue is getting the big remastered, reissue treatment from Anti Records. First two titles on 180g vinyl are the 1970 debut, Closing Time, and 1974’s The Heart of Saturday Night.The latest in the David Bowie reissues from The Vinyl Factory will be with us soon. The glorious Aladdin Sane is out on April 20, the 45th anniversary of its 1973 release. It’s the 2013 remastered version. Also issued is the less-than-essential compilation ChangesTwoBowie, available on limited edition black and blue vinyl, as well as the standard black issue.Next month Sony Legacy issues Both Sides of the Sky, a new album of 13 studio recordings by Jimi Hendrix, 10 of which have never been released before, including a version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock recorded with Stephen Stills and a reworking of Muddy Waters’s Mannish Boy.
Lastly, for fans of African blues, World Circuit has reissued Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré’s breakthrough album The Source. This 25th anniversary edition, a two-LP set on 180g vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with a large format 28-page booklet, has been remixed from original master tapes and includes an unreleased track from the same album sessions.HEN’S TEETHInitial copies of the Beatles’s self-titled 1968 double album, known as “The White Album”, were stamped with serial numbers that began with A00000. These first stamped copies were given to band members and studio executives. One of these early pressings sold for $35,000 (about R408,000) in 2013, a year after a copy with the serial number A0000023 was knocked down on auction for $13,750 (about R160,000).
In 2015, Ringo Starr sold his copy for $910,000 (about R10.6-million). His serial number? A000001. The other Beatles members had the second, third and fourth albums to be issued. Copies of the album regularly turn up at record fairs. The odds however of finding one with a low serial number are slim to none. But not impossible.
THE ESSENTIAL LIBRARY
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve, 1967)It’s now widely regarded as one of the most influential albums of all time. Upon debut, however, it barely limped into the Billboard chart at 197 before disappearing. But, as Brian Eno famously remarked in 1982, the album may have initially only sold about 30,000 copies, but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.
The record had a tortured genesis. Andy Warhol, who was curating the band as another of his avant-garde projects, had secured the Velvets three days of studio time in April 1966 to record the album. In return, the Velvets had to use his latest “superstar”, Nico, as vocalist on some songs. Band members Lou Reed and John Cale were so hostile to the idea that they reduced her to tears on occasion.There were other problems. Time restrictions meant the band was forced to record live with almost no overdubs. As the studio was still under construction, engineering limitations meant the band had to play unusually quietly. The result was very patchy indeed. And no one was interested in it, either. Record companies either balked at the album’s druggy content or they loathed the idea of a rock band with a viola. Verve finally released it, in March 1967, but by then they too had lost the will to market it.
It was only with time that the full power of Reed’s songs would become apparent. The tenderness and violence in them were startling. It was music, as one critic put it, that “could scar you for life”. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it 13th on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2006, it was included in the US National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.Dealers can demand as much as R7,000 for mint copies of the original Verve release (V5008). There have been a number of reissues in recent years, however, including a limited edition on 180g pink vinyl.
Food, beer, coffee, cool tunes and general good vibes a-plenty at Obs Vinyl Fair, this Saturday, February 24, at Touch of Madness, 12 Nuttall Road, Observatory, Cape Town. From 10am to 3pm.Note: details of forthcoming fairs, conventions, auctions and record store events are gladly shared here. Please send details at least three weeks in advance.
Once again, some tips on buying second-hand vinyl:
Firstly, check that the sleeve and album match up. People do get ripped off. That might be the cover of a Bob Marley album, but is that a Bob Marley record inside? Is it even the right Bob Marley record. (Catalogue numbers on the sleeve and the disc’s label, or “sticker”, must match.)
Check the condition of both record and sleeve. Dealers use a universal grading system: “M” is “mint”, usually a sealed factory product; “NM” or “M—” is “near mint”, pristine and rarely played; “X” is “excellent”, an item that has been cared for, with very minor or no scratches; “well looked after well-looked after item; “VG” is “very good”, some surface noise; “G” is “good”, lots of wear and tear, but playable, and an average quality item; and “F” is “fair”, usually rubbish.
Look for a clean sheen on the vinyl. Any marking should be obvious. If the original release included a lyric sheet, poster, stickers and other extras, check if they’ve been included. Such missing items devalue the record.
Vinyl should be stored upright in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight as covers fade and, crucially, records warp.