Saturday, July 16, 2022

Harry Partch: Archive of the Philosophic Music Carpenter Hobo

     An old college friend and I were chatting about records and music on Facebook. We were sharing photos of recent finds and purchases, she shared a photo of a Harry Partch LP; "The World of Harry Partch" on Columbia. If one finds a Partch record (that is in an affordable price range), it'll probably be this one. This LP marked the first occurrence of his work being released on a major label. It, no doubt, made him more visible as an artist. 

"The World of Harry Partch" LP (photo by April Ridge)

     I'm a long time fan and admirer of Partch.......I am also prone to falling down rabbit holes. I started researching Partch; watching videos, listening to the music, and reading articles, essays and perusing websites. I eventually discovered that his archive is roughly 40 minutes away from my residence. 
Partch playing instrument 

    I (without a second thought) decided to take the day off of work so my son and I could spend the day at the Partch Archive, maybe hit up some records stores and find some video games for my son. With a big ol' cup of coffee in hand, we hit the road, stopping at an antique store where I found a few records.

    The Harry Partch Archive is located on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Illinois. It is housed in the Harding Band Building (The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music). Every piece of sheet music that traveled with Sousa and his band is stored there, along with the archive of cornetist Herbert L. Clarke. One can also find there, some of the great photographs taken by Della Perrone and various artifacts concerning the legendary C-U music scene (Vertebrats, Elvis Brothers, Scream, etc). When we arrived, the archive coordinator met us around back. The Center had recently erected two amazing exhibits on the early history of the saxophone (The Brown Brothers, Tom Brown, Big Band, etc) and one on key figures in electronic music. The things I found most interesting were the displays on The Musical Spillers, a mixed-gender, all-black vaudeville act from the 1910s and the electronic sound devices of James Beauchamp.                   

The Musical Spillers. 1910s.

My son Silas in front of Electronic sound device

James Beauchamp electronic sound device

Paul Whiteman

Tom Brown and The Brown Brothers

    After a short but informative tour, we were taken to a small room wherein contained the Partch Archive. Boxes upon boxes of sheet music, manuscripts, photos, recordings (nearly all media formats), videos, letters, notes and others papers, clothes, etc. Sadly none of Partch's musical instrument-creations-inventions were among the archive. Partch was well known, not only for laying the groundwork for experimentation in music but for inventing, developing and constructing his own unique musical instruments. The Chromelodeon, the Zymo-Xyl are but a few. The bulk of these instruments are stored in Seattle. Not being played. One of the first tidbits I can recall learning about Partch was the witty statement that "he gets his instruments from the aisles of the hardware store." This oft-repeated statement rightfully spells out the level of his artistic/creative eccentricities (this statement is often misattributed to Tom Waits). These instruments were tuned specifically to Partch's preferred just intonation and microtonal scales. 

Harry Partch 

His methods and theories went far beyond what was standard, or normal in Western music. Ultimately, he rejected the many traditions within Western music. He took influence from the music (and sounds) of China (Asia, in general). He is a key figure in the development of experimental music and all its styles (minimalism, music-concrete, etc). 
Partch music/theater performance 

Partch music/theater performance 

Partch music/theater performance 

 My personal favorite piece by Partch is the folk-like "U.S. Highball." It concerns a ramblin' hobo named Slim. Slim makes a grand journey across the U.S. The influence of this particular work on artists like Tom Waits or Nick Cave is instantly recognizable. "U.S. Highball" is one of his earliest recorded and published works. We were able to view the original manuscript (with handwritten notes). It was a beauty to behold. His notations were meticulous, exact, and organized. Each individual instrument had its own notes, every aspect had to be precise. Partch even viewed the musician as part of the work. The musician had to appear a certain way. 

Harry Partch and others working

Harry Partch 

Harry Partch 

Musician playing Partch instrument

      His way of life and his personality were just as eccentric and transgressive as his music. Iggy Pop described him as "the gay, hobo genuis." He traveled extensively, staying in Europe for a time. For many years, his travel within the U S. was done in the manner of a hobo. He lived off of grants or by doing odd jobs. He had an affair with a famous actor. He was known to be difficult to work with (think Captain Beefheart). Much of his music was accompanied by elaborate theater performances. In their totality, these performances were massive, exhaustive works of art. When you hear the cliche phrase of "doing it one's own way," a person exactly like Harry Partch is being described. 

Delusion of the Fury manuscript 

U.S. Highball manuscript 

Exordium manuscript 

Partch, in my opinion, always seemed to have one foot in the world of Americana/folk music, while also deeply ensconced in the avant-garde and experimentation. He seemed to fit nicely along side Woody Guthrie and Peg Leg Howell while belonging to the class of artists like Satie, Stockhausen, John Cage and Phillip Glass. Part Everyman, part mad genius. 

Notegram from John Cage

     The Partch Archive is brought to you by one Danlee Mitchell. Partch was introduced to Mitchell in 1955 at U of I. The music theater performance "The Bewitched" was performed there in 1957. Mitchell later became Partch's heir and Executive Director of the Harry Partch Foundation. 

Partch percussive instrument

Partch music/theater performance 

Partch music/theater performance 

Partch music/theater performance 

 Partch's influence went far beyond experimental music, the avant-garde, theater or Classical. A very early, perhaps not fully formed version of The Stooges were heavily influenced by Partch. Iggy Pop proudly played the vaccum as an instrument. Tom Waits' music career experienced a major shift mid-career, caused, in no small part, to the influence of Partch. Zappa and Beefheart had to have drawn influence from Partch, as well as many No Wave, Post-Punk and Noise bands. Any artist who experimented or sought to do away with tradition and convention, felt his influence.  

Partch studio photos 

Partch studio photos 

  After several hours, my son and I departed the archive. There was so much we didn't get to see. Take some time out of one single day in your life and pay it a visit.....if only once. We then stopped at "Exile on Main Street," my favorite record store in the C-U area. I highly recommend it.
"Exile on Main Street" record store in Champaign, Illinois 

I picked up a 2nd pressing of Bowie's "Heroes" (at the time, I was on a mid-to-late 70s Bowie kick thanks to a podcast I had been listening to), a West Indies reggae original LP by The Mustangs (pressed in the Bahamas), an early 90s 45 by great punker Jeff Dahl, and a 60s instro 45 by some band named The Spins. At the antique shop, prior to visiting the archive, I picked up an original US pressing of The Soft Machine's 2nd LP, some odd local LP, a nice 78⁹⁹⁹ box full of 78s (hillbilly singer Clayton McMichen being the pick of the litter), and a spoof mag, from 1955, called "Cockeyed." It's basically a "Photoshop" prototype.

     It was a great day. A day constructed of many musics is a day of  many revelations. 

David Bowie "Heroes" 2nd pressing 

The Mustangs Reggae/Bush Music (from Bahamas)

Early 90s punk rock

60s instro

1955 photoshop-like spoof mag

Hillbilly 78 by Clayton McMichen

Cool old 78 box (only kept a few of the 78s, Clayton McMichen and a few by early black vocal group The Four Clefs) 

2nd LP by The Soft Machine (UK band) 

Friday, August 10, 2018

There's more to Danville, IL than crime and Dick Van Dyke

There is more to Danville, IL than crime and Dick Van Dyke. There was some great and legendary (and rare!!!) music recorded there. But no one, besides record collectors and RnR fans, seems to know, or care, about Danville's RnR history. Especially its own citizens. The names Arlie Miller, Dean Carter and Jim Foley are huge names to RnR/Rockabilly collectors. Each one of them came from Danville. And it kills me that there isn't a "Dean Carter" street. But more on them later.     
     I'm going to publish a series of blog posts, each one featuring a different record from Danville, IL. I could do this with just about any town! But Danville is only one shitty nowhere town away from me. So I find a lot of music from Danville.
     Rockin' black gospel is a genre that I love and love collecting. Most of it is merely RnR.....that just happens to be about Jesus. Personally, I think the realm of art is the best place for religion. That is a different subject though. Anyone can enjoy this fine, energetic and soulful music; even heathens.

This Gospelaires record might be my favorite black gospel LP ever. The Gospelaires formed sometime around 1950. The band went through a number of line-up changes by the time "Come to Jesus" was recorded in 1970. Released on the small label "Jordan." Produced at Midnight Sound Studios by Arlyn Miller. It is a RITE pressing (manufactured in Cincinnati). This band/LP is not related to any other band called the Gospelaires. I'm not for sure the extent of their discography, this label probably only released Gospelaires records. I do know some 45s exist. Listen to a few songs at the links below. There's more to Danville, IL than crime and Dick Van Dyke!

 The Gospelaires - Oh Lord

The Gospelaires - Glory Hallelujah

That's All Rite Mama

Saturday, August 4, 2018

RAT WAX: "Record Weasels"

  *A book review I wrote. Originally published in French 'zine "Rockin'." It deserves a re-posting here on this blog, as it is an excellent read. Pick up a copy by following the link at bottom ( The author is currently working on a 2nd novel.           

            “RAT WAX: A book review by Justin Lee Russell of ‘Record Weasels’ by Dick Blackburn”

The desire to collect various things is a very basic, fundamental concept of humanity and civilization. From a more primordial perspective, it is a way to survive. Needless to say; we collect food, clothes, money; even ideas and emotions. Some of us more, slightly damaged individuals, take it a step further: records, baseball cards, autographs, post cards, matchboxes, movie posters, comics, vintage furniture, salt and pepper shakers, Elvis memorabilia, classic cars, sexual partners, and pornographic films. I’m sure there is some wretched degenerate, somewhere out in the world; with a collection of pubic hair belonging to celebrities. The list of things people collect is nearly endless. Go to the local pharmacy, some confused and frail grandmother has a massive collection of clip-out coupons. When she goes home, she lies in a pile of thousands of beanie babies. 
        Collecting is, usually, harmless. But as author Dick Blackburn magnificently shows us in his brilliant, but weird novel; collecting has its dark side. Obsessing, cataloging, alphabetizing, numbering, assorting, discovering, chronological order, color-coding, instinctual purchasing, the mathematical breakdown of one’s paycheck, the secrecy, the little white lies that one tells oneself and perhaps a significant other. Collecting can touch upon some heavy advanced psychology. Sometimes collecting and obsessing can deliver one into the bosom of a profound and abounding joy, other times one might find himself dead in the potholes of some dark, lonesome, and dank downtown alley with a switchblade thrust deep into the thoracic cavity of the chest. Or if you are lucky; it will just destroy your marriage, disappoint your love ones, or cause your utilities to get disconnected, it will make you wreck your Trans Am, or put your widescreen TV in hock, or get you in trouble with petty idiotic criminals. In Dick Blackburn’s bizarre and darkly comedic novel, almost all these things happen to its score of colorful characters. Criminals, backstabbers, Indian-givers, bitter impregnated lovers, judgmental mothers, lascivious shysters, and money hungry double-dealers constitute the perfectly dysfunctional corrupt world contained within the feral pages of “Record Weasels.”
The reader will go on a mad, twisted journey with Kevin the novel’s anti-hero. The reader’s emotions and ability to discern, or “read” into his fellow humans will be tested. The electricity of neurons will short. Social connectivity will backfire. Kevin is both affable and despicable. He is constantly on a precipice, ready to leap into full realization of either characteristic. He is vermin, shirking and swindling, in the burrows with other vermin. The reader will feel sorry for those around Kevin; especially for Marlene, his significant other. One will find himself thinking: “at least he is addicted to records and not heroin,” or “he could be into dealing with drugs, firearms, and human bodies but isn’t,” or “Marlene should be glad he collects records and not child porn”. The author, perhaps inadvertently and in conjunction with psychology, lends the novel a moral sense. There are definitely lessons to be learned within this novel. The inner-workings of both love and hate will be explored and there is plenty for the existentialist. One will realize that the concept of human relation is a wondrous, but greatly burdening thing. Perhaps, sometimes……maybe we’d do better journeying out into the woods…….alone.
Mr. Blackburn knows his subject matter and, exhaustively, did his research; this makes for an easy read. He delves into the world of record collecting, record history, the vinyl record industry, and music history. Record labels, record pricing, record grading, the exact year records were recorded, the various genres and sub-genres, their chart positions, and the individual record histories. It is very esoteric. The lucidity and ease of his writing and the universality of collecting and obsession combat this, and brings mass appeal and interest. This novel is for anyone who has collected something, or even anyone who has been in love.
This novel, most assuredly, fits snugly into the long and dark history of the dime store novel, noir fiction, and pulp fiction. It seems to engulf the various pulp genres and it reads like such, but has enough ultra-violence, hopped-up sex, modern conversation, and blockbuster action to feel completely new, original, and refreshing. The hipsters will call it “vintage” or “retro”. When reading this novel, authors like James Ellroy will come to mind. Also, one can get a whiff of Louis Ferdinand Celine’s dark pessimistic humor, the scathing brutality of Selby, the cool of the Beat poets, and the nervous, weird, and perverted awkwardness of Crumb.
Fans of Tarantino, the Cohen Brothers, Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, the quirkiness of Wes Anderson, and film noir will love this novel. I mention film and filmmakers, because one truly awesome and peculiar characteristic on Blackburn’s novel is that it seems to transcend and defy the limitations and the drawbacks of a novel. It isn’t stuffy, nor does it ever feel congested, bloated, or overbearing. It seems to flow freely between the different artistic mediums, in that; although it is a novel, it feels like a comic and at other times like a film. This is a unique effect. It screams from its physical prison of book form, to be transformed into a screenplay and, ultimately, an indie-film. It wants to be a comic series or an instant cult classic film. 

 The author reading from "Record Weasels" at Book Soup in LA.

Pick up a copy at

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


    Yesterday morning I drank a pot of strong black coffee and felt a surge of urination....and inspiration. Namely, to write. To write about music. So I decided to fire this blog back to life. I started by searching through my collection and revisiting my photos, notes and lists of all the records I had accumulated over the past few years. It has been a long time since I last posted on this blog. The first records, that came to mind, were these two 25 cent thrift store finds.

      I am as much a fan of non-English language music as I am music in English. I always make it a point to search out the music and the records. French YeYe is a huge favorite (I've always been a Francophile). French Chansons. Piaf, Brel, Gainsbourg, Lucienne Boyer, Sylvie Vartan, Brigitte Fontaine, etc. I seek out music from all over the world and from all cultures. African Zulu music. Arab folk music. Dabke (check out Omar Souleyman). Japanese Koto instrumentation. Exotica. Korean Pop. Calypso. Mento. And avant-garde and noise music is not, at all, limited by the language spoken by those making the music.
     I enjoy not being able to completely understand the words, but still comprehend the "feel" of the piece of music. The voice becomes a musical instrument, to a further extent than if it was sung in a language I understand. One is not burdened by the verbal contents of the song; the narrative, the meaning, or any message being imparted. No images or ideas force their way into your head. You have to take the music at face value. You have to accept that a certain element of the song is beyond you and, well, that is because you are ignorant of that element. All you hear are rhythmic and melodic human sounds. It is important to have some knowledge on other cultures and music is a great place to start. It goes towards one's worldview.
    These two "Hit Parade"-type compilation stereo LPs were pressed in Germany in early 1960. On Polydor Records. The LPs cover European music from 1959-1960. Artists include Hazy Osterwald, Peter Kraus, Honey Twins, Ivo Robic, Peter Alexander, Tommy Kent, among others. Genres include Rock 'n' Roll, Big Band and Pop. And the more traditional popular genres/styles like "foxtrot" and "tango." A number of these songs are translated versions of popular American RnR songs. Some of these artists were hugely popular and prolific.
    Hazy Osterwald's "Kriminal-Tango" is a standout track. Hazy was a Swiss Big Band musician. Here he adopts a more RnR style. "Kriminal-Tango" was a 1960 Austrian film directed by Geza von Cziffra. I love the sinister "crime-jazz" feel of this tune. There is something very pleasing about the way he sings the song title. There are covers of the song. They are mostly by obscure artists. Punk band Die Toten Hosen did a decent cover. I can think of a few artists who'd render fantastic covers; Johnny Cash, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Blixa Bargeld. Also, an R&B/Vocal group cover would be cool. And a Rockabilly version. I found these LPs years ago and I am still very much intrigued with this song.

    Another excellent track is by Austrian teen rocker Peter Kraus. "Susi sagt es Gaby" is very typical of late 50's/early 60's teen rock 'n' roll. Similar to guys like Robin Luke and Sanford Clark. France's legendary Johnny Hallyday instantly comes to mind. "Susi sagt es Gaby" is from the 1960 film "Kein Engel ist so rein." These LPs are invaluable resources. They show that the phenomenon of RnR spread the world over. They're a fractional glimpse into a time in RnR history that has been unfairly and drastically obscured by "Hippy" Rock, Classic Rock, The Beatles, Eric Clapton and The Eagles. The world of early RnR is infinitely interesting and weird. Unfortunately, it came and went. Frozen in time.

Hazy Osterwald - Kriminal-Tango         

 Peter Kraus - Susi sagt es Gaby