There is so much to say about Master Wilburn Burchette—someday. “Preserve the mystery,” he told us. We agreed, to a point, but wondered if we could—”No,” he interrupted. “I won’t do it. I don’t need the money.” And certainly, that’s true. Burchette has done very well for himself in the 35 years since he decided to burn and/or send to landfill everything related to his musical endeavors, so as to close the door on that chapter of his life without temptation of ever returning. This need to completely detach from that chapter accounts in part for his reluctance, as a dozen or more labels found over the years, to so much as talk about reissuing his music.
But why walk away from a startlingly successful career as a self-published, self-distributing musical artist in a market (new age) that was by the late ’70s just beginning to boom? Why simply quit in the midst of creating work can rightly be described as visionary? We’re contractually not allowed to tell.
Limited essentially to what is already public via internet searches and yellowed magazine ads and articles, we can say a few things about Wil, as he is—or at one time was—known to friends. Wil made albums of guitar and synthesizer music between the years 1971 and 1977, mostly under his Burchette Brothers label (run jointly with his brother Kenneth, who is, or was, a chemist), which may have been second only to Steven Halpern’s various labels as the most successful of the early new age self-publishers, selling thousands of copies of a total of seven LPs and a 45 through classified ads in the backs of magazines like Beyond Reality, Gnostica News, and of course, High Times.
Wilburn was a largely self-taught guitarist and self-taught mystic, whose fascination with the occult began around the age of twelve. He calls his music “Impro,” seeking to play not music but emotions, harkening back to a pre-verbal age. In Burchette’s construction, language is somewhat mundane as compared to the communicative capabilities of music.
Writing in his 1973 survey of new age spirituality, Revelation: The Divine Fire, Brad Steiger (the author of dozens of books on the subject of the paranormal, as well as producer of Burchette’s second album) relays Burchette’s statement that “the ancients believed that everything that existed had a voice and that all creatures were eternally signing the praises of the Creator. But contemporary man, because his soul is enmeshed in the illusion of material existence, can no longer hear these divine melodies.” Impro, then, is one means by which a listener might transcend “the illusion of material existence,” by recognizing the relationship between music and time to achieve consciousness, which Burchette defines as “the ability to recognize the dimensions of time through comparisons. As such, it has being.”
To this end, Wil constructed an Impro guitar. Steiger writes that “Long, tedious hours went into the arduous process of tearing down and rebuilding. By the time it was finished, six different woods had gone into the guitar’s construction. Included in these were mahogany (the base), soft pine, elder, and rosewood. The neck is inlaid with abalone shells.”
Perhaps there will be more to say about Burchette at some point—perhaps not. For now, we leave you with a picture of the one thing he kept from those musical days, his Impro guitar.
Master Wilburn Burchette’s Mind Storm is available through our seasonal music club, Project Twelve.
“PEPE WILLIE—DO NOT USE—1975”
These words, emblazoned across the spine of an ordinary tape box, were the only visible identifiers connecting a now-legendary set of recordings to their owner, Minneapolis songwriter Pepe Willie.
Having established himself in the funk-rock canon with 1985’s independently released 94 East: Minneapolis Genius, Willie was no doubt aware the impact one could make when Prince was your session guitarist. The album gained some traction amongst paisley completists, with most copies finding their way to the used bins by decade’s end. Then, in the ’90s, after finding a reference cassette for an even more Princely recording session from 1975, a call was placed to the scene of the crime: Cookhouse Studios. Conceding that unclaimed tapes were often discarded, a diligent receptionist eventually found Willie’s 2-inch masters in a storage closet.
While assembling the track listing for Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, Pepe Willie and 94 East were by no means a shoo-in. It was our goal to tell the untold story of the Minneapolis Sound, and the story of the Minneapolis Genius was common knowledge amongst Prince’s meticulous fan base, even if the music was not. But after exorcising the Minneapolis Genius LP and pruning back the group’s lo-fi rehearsal cassettes, we discovered the undeniable allure of 94 East’s prescient Cookhouse recordings. In an alternative reality, the session could be regaled for the debut of either keyboard virtuoso Pierre Lewis or imaginative timekeeper, Dale Alexander. As captivating was Willie’s evocative vocal delivery, seasoned to perfection by the tightly braided harmonies of Kristie Lazenberry and Marcy Ingvoldstad. Prince’s involvement may have been more of distraction than a boon to the legacy of 94 East, were in not for his instantly recognizable—often playful—lead lines. Compositionally fantastic, and historically relevant, The Cookhouse Five was everything we look for in a record.
So how do you do justice to a short-but-sweet recording session that constitutes the Minneapolis Sound’s baby steps? The Kind Of Blue of the Twin Cities’ signature sound? With a modern mix by long-time Prince associate Matt Fink, the anticipated Cookhouse Five LP includes studio banter from the margins of each calculated take. We included the five instrumentals on the flip side, for those hoping to observe the Minneapolis Sound’s junior variety team on the eve of all-stardom. For the jacket, we rendered the Minneapolis skyline in gold foil, stretching across a river of purple velvet—lush, gorgeous velvet. The Minneapolis Sound is important, and 94 East’s role in the phenomena is undeniable. We wanted to give the watershed sessions treatment they deserved, and now we have via our Project Twelve subscription service.
It has always been difficult to separate the truth from the hyperbole surrounding the enigmatic Circuit Rider LP. This is exactly the way Thorn, the record’s mercurial creator, wanted it. By the time I first heard of the Circuit Rider LP, the legend was already well-established amongst basement-dwelling record gollums like myself. It was originally hyped by Paul Major, a brilliant spinner of fables himself, as an unequivocal masterpiece of self-released long-players. Even the hype was subdued as compared to the actual document. I finally cornered Paul back in 2008 to get the real dirt about the record’s creator, and he gave me the tidbits of information necessary to track down Thorn (as the only name on the LP, there wasn’t much to go on. And Thorn Oehrig, in the context of the record, seemed like a pseudonym cribbed from an infamous viking marauder, not his real name, though truncated: Robert Thornton Oehrig).
I finally got the man himself on the phone (though found his brother first, who sent me in the correct direction). Thorn was initially prickly, but a few weeks into the conversation we started to get along. Finally, he conceded to let his music be heard again (though his initial thoughts included ways that he could improve on the original mix). However, he had two caveats; one, that the record be preserved in its exact original packaging, replicated exactly, and two, that he would not reveal any of “the story” of the record, which he was withholding for future writing projects. These requests flew directly in the face of Numero’s standards. We also told the story, and we had never done an exact replica. However, for Thorn and the Circuit Rider masterwork, we made an exception (and from it was born our entire 1200 catalog line, all of which are replicas). We got the shipment of LPs right before the WFMU record fair, which resulted in a frenzy of people lining up to buy it, as it was by then somewhat “internet famous.” We sold nearly 200 units at that show, which is probably pretty unheard of.
Thorn never even knew exactly how effective his myth-making was, as he eschewed the internet largely. He believed me, in a self-assured way, that there was a deep pocket of interest in this record—a thick vein running through the underground of the record collecting community. But he also had moved on, seeking out new endeavors, always painting and writing and plotting to record again. After a few years, he shared with me the balance of his recorded work from the sessions before, during, and after the set of recordings that became the Circuit Rider LP. It was a jumble of material, tracing a variety of paths, some that seemed wildly divergent. We set about the long task of sorting through the brace of new material, enthralled with every discovery therein. It was a puzzle that couldn’t quite be solved, and there were recordings that remained uncovered, that Thorn had on cassette only, dubbed in a lo-fidelity fashion that unfortunately couldn’t be resuscitated. The complexity stalled it out, and other projects moved in front of it.
In June of 2015, Thorn got in touch again, and wanted to reignite our original energy. All of us were excited to do so, and by then many of the songs had been played dozens of times and fantasy track lists had been assembled and thrown away almost as quickly. As we rolled up our sleeves to dig in, Thorn became more elusive. What he wasn’t telling us is that he was terminally ill, and only had a few months to live. Plans to visit him were made and then scrapped as his condition deteriorated. His stubborn demeanor and sense of humor were tested but never trumped by his travails. He made extremely specific demands for his days of interment: party. His entire family took a road trip to Thornton Gap, Virginia on Saturday October 24th to Party with Thorn, spreading his ashes within the Shenandoah National Park and imbibing food that Thorn loved- Hard Shell Crabs, Cold Lobster, Lox, Wine, Cheese, Crackers and Bourbon.–Rob Sevier
Filed under: Syl Johnson
After winning the audience award for Best Documentary last weekend at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows is heading to New York City this weekend! Only a few tickets are left for the Sunday, November 15th screening at the DOC NYC Film Festival with Syl Johnson in person for a Q&A. An encore screening has been scheduled for Wednesday, November 18th at 3:00pm at IFC Center. Ticket info for both shows below.
DOC NYC presents Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows
Sunday, November 15th @ 2:15pm
Q&A with Syl Johnson and the filmmakers
Tickets available here.
Wednesday, November 18th @ 3:00pm
Q&A with the filmmakers
Tickets available here.
Filed under: Scharpling & Wurster
When a mess of The Best Show recordings arrived at Numero Headquarters, it was the duty of Numero engineer Blake Rhein to sort through the media, tinker with file type and metadata, and make suitable masters for reproduction. The track listing had been decried by Jon and Tom, but it was the young, doe-eyed Rhein that listened to every single compact disc, to make sure there were no hiccups, skips, dropouts, or otherwise. Knowing little-to-nothing about the Best Show going into this task made Blake the perfect impartial tour guide for other uninitiated Numero employees. As more and more Numero allies acquainted and reacquainted themselves with the citizens of fictional Newbridge, New Jersey, Blake’s Choice Nugs stood as a pretty good introductory to the intimidating 14-disc behemoth. For those apprehensive about applying for a Newbridge visa, we figured this playlist might be appreciated. Enjoy!
Ready to drink ALL of the Kool-Aid? Scharpling & Wurster: The Best Of The Best Show is available at numerogroup.com
Filed under: Syl Johnson
Hot off it’s World Premiere in Chicago last month, ‘Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows’, will have it’s Memphis premiere this Sunday at the Indie Memphis Film Fest followed by a live show with Syl backed up by The Bo-Keys also featuring Don Bryant and Percy Wiggins. Ticket info below.
Indie Memphis Film Festival presents:
‘Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows’
Circuit Playhouse Theatre
Sunday, November 8th @ 4pm
Q&A with Syl Johnson and the filmmakers
Tickets Available Here
The Bo-Keys featuring Syl Johnson, Don Bryant and Percy Wiggins
Sunday, November 8th @ 8pm
Tickets Available Here
Filed under: Uncategorized
In the 4,357-part series, Everything You’ve Ever Loved Will Become Condos, the sublime slice of nightlife real-estate at 1951 W. Dickens, Danny’s, is said to be closing at month’s end. Managers and spokespersons are said to be working towards a resolution that will keep the house-shaped dive bar in operation past month’s end, but inside sources say the outlook is grim. Danny’s is many things to many people, least of which, home to Sheer Magic. Piloted by Courtland Green and Numero ally Dante Carfagna, Sheer Magic has served as both a showroom for serious 45s and a nonjudgmental sanctuary for regular humans who appreciate the off-grid selections. Oh, and the dancing! When asked his thoughts on the closing of Danny’s and the series finale of Sheer Magic (tonight, Wednesday, November 4th), Dante Carfagna had this to say:
It was a good run. When we started it, there were no other nights in the US like it, except for [Matt] Weingarden’s Botanica thing in NYC (and that shit never got as buck as Sheer Magic, ever). Now there are fuggin’ soul nights in Lafayette, Des Moines, wherever. It was a perfect case of right time, right people, right venue, right music. This was pre-Youtube, pre-Discogs, pre-Shazam, pre-everything really. You came to our night and heard sounds you simply could not hear anywhere else, much less find. Another factor was that there was no firecode installed, so you could pack as many people as you wanted in there. The marshal finally came in around 2009 to institute a limit. Throw in Shirley selling $5 weed muffins to the whole place and it was Kismet as fuck. So many of the records that are now “classics” across the globe were first played at Sheer Magic to utter enthusiasm. I remember playing Scorpio & His People at the peak of the night in 2004/5 and the whole place literally lifted off the ground several feet. When shit was on full throb, the floor would actually be waving from wall to wall to the point that they needed to reinforce it from the basement. I will also proudly admit to pioneering the slurred, heavily delayed mic style that came to be our signature. The key to a sick funk party was a healthy dose of psychedelia, a facet that EVERY current party misses.
The soul party that we’ve come to know as Sheer Magic was initiated in 1997 by Courtland Green and Scott Craig. Held the first Wednesday of every month, Dante Carfagna came aboard in 1998 following Craig’s return to Detroit. Originally referred to simply as “Soul Night,” the reoccurring event was dubbed Sheer Magic in 1999, in honor of the Ice Cold Love 45 used to close each affair. Guests have included all manners of world class DJs, whose names and resumes don’t really matter because everyone was simply there for Sheer Magic, which was always just about a one-of-a-kind vibe. Tonight, we say farewell to a Chicago institution.
Sheer Magic // TONIGHT // Danny’s // 1951 W. Dickens // Bucktown // 10pm-2am // Free