This afternoon we went to Promenade Days in Barrie. One of the vendors on Dunlop was none other than Big John of the decades closed Big Johns Records. When I moved to Barrie in the late 80s, my sisters introduced me to Big John and his record store. His store was around the corner from Sam the Record Man at the 5 points. His tastes were eclectic in the extreme and he had only one rule– “Is it Good?” If you could find the kind of top 40 pablum they sold at Sam’s around the corner, it was likely kept inside a (thankfully dry) toilet at the back of the store with a hand lettered sign reading “Pop Shit” or in a basket on the counter under a flystrip with a sign that said “Top 40 tapes– Free if you take a fly.”
Big John introduced my sisters to Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins and Sioxie and the Banshees before they broke into the mainstream. He turned me on to Little Feat, Dave Brubek and the Greatful Dead.
Today he sold us 3 CDs. My daughter got a Johnny Cash compilation that got the Big John seal of approval. She also a Miley Cyrus CD which I remarked should have been free with a dead fly . Mine was a special Big John Recommendation.
There are more than a few musicians and bands that have profoundly influenced my musical tastes and my songwriting BUT I have never actually owned one of their albums. I have become intimately familiar with their music through the covers of my friends, on the radio and TV, or just through pop culture overexposure.
Today I bought one such album from Big John. It is from a long disbanded group who produced about a dozen albums in the sixties. Their music has shaped my consciousness for my whole life, but I have never owned one of their albums till today. I had considered getting a greatest hits compilation, but I think as a musician I really needed to hear these songs afresh in the original order as an album. I narrowed it down to two CDs. The one I chose was a recording entitled: “Rubber Soul”.
We listened to it in the car on the way home. My mind has been melted.
As I said, I am intimately familiar almost all of the 14 songs on the album but to hear it as a whole. So many impressions– Wow That Bass Player is astounding… And that drummer. Some of those rhythm guitar parts are stripped down in the extreme– just a downstroke on 2 and 4– jangly and slightly out of tune. The mix is wonderfully organic and inconsistent. Sometimes the guitars are a little too loud, sometimes drowned out by the drums and bass. The harmonies are sublime and not one of them autotuned. The songs demonstrate a hodgepodge of influences from rockabilly, to Rand B, to bluegrass, to British dance hall, to Indian Ragas. The style, mood and lead singer changes with almost every song. There is a moment in Girl during a 2 beat pause in the music where John takes a noisy audible breath. For all of the above reasons, this album shouldn’t work– but it is a masterpiece. It is perfect even in its imperfections.
Yesterday I got an itunes gift card as a gift. I believe I will use it to buy another record from this band called Revolver. Has anyone else heard of it? Is there anything else by these guys that I should have?