Numero Group: By The Numbers


Up All Night With The Vampire From Outer Space: Kim Fowley
January 16, 2015, 11:05 am
Filed under: Buttons, Obituaries | Tags:
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In the early days of Numero, Rob and I were holding down day jobs at Groove Distribution, a small dance-oriented purveyor of import 12”s. It was expected that we arrive a little after 9am, which curtailed some of our more rowdy behaviors. That first year we were like drones, working 9-5:30, then heading up Milwaukee Avenue on our bikes to my old apartment on Hoyne where we plotted the future. I’d generally hit the phones as soon as I walked in the door, as it was crucial to catch Eastern Time Zone folks in that sweet spot between dinner and bed. For the West Coasters, I just stayed up later. The goal was to fall asleep no later than 2am.

 

I had been trying to get Kim Fowley on the phone for a few weeks but couldn’t trap him. We were in the process of building our fourth record: Yellow Pills: Prefill, and were hoping to license a few tracks from Fowley. The tracks in question appeared on the 1979 Bomp LP Vampires From Outer Space, the artists were Tommy Rock and Randy Winburn. Here’s what we had to say about the record a few years ago when we updated it for an LP issue:

 

Kim Fowley fever hit late-’70s Los Angeles like a tongue in the ear. The Runaways had done as their name suggested, leaving the original Mayor of the Sunset Strip battling a case of empty nest syndrome. Topping a mountain of tapes in his closet was the song “Phone Call For Frank Sinatra,” credited blandly to one Tom Johnson. A Long Islander with a comically thick accent to match, Johnson had come west for a shot behind the lens at UCLA’s prestigious School of Theater, Film, and Television. Enamored with the Fowley-penned “Cherry Bomb” and “Do You Love Me”—the second-to-last song on Kiss’s 1976 Destroyer LP—Johnson dropped a tape off at Fowley’s Hollywood Boulevard office. No name, no lyrics, no photo, just a 213 phone number scribbled on the J-card.  

 

Fowley signed the bespectacled Johnson to a songwriting contract in October of 1977 and immediately set to messing with Johnson’s boy-next-door image. “I thought Tommy Rock sounded kinda square,” Johnson has reflected, but the Fowley machine had already kicked into overdrive, producing quotes like, “Tommy Rock is an extension of Stephan Bishop with Paul Simon’s brain, John Lennon’s wit and John Sebastian’s voice… By the end of the year Jack Nicholson will be waiting to get high with him.” Rock’s wardrobe of faded dungarees and a coffee-stained raincoat did little to prove Fowley’s case. Over the next year, Tommy Rock would join a band (the Dreamers), record a demo for Warner Bros., and issue a 45 on England’s Spark label, all while holding down security guard duty at a West Hollywood Jack In The Box.   “Kim had all these lyrics on yellow pieces of paper, including some for a song called ‘Dream Rocker’ and I thought wow what a great title,” Rock recalled. “It’s like a song about somebody who’s been there and maybe it’s not coming together… kinda lost, and I liked that.”

 

In late 1978, he hit Glendale and cut the song with the Kessel Brothers—David, Dan, and Barney—backed by a legion of Fowleyites including Laurie Bell of the Orchids, Chris Dow of Kaleidoscope, David Carr of the Fortunes, and John Locke from Spirit. Gary Pickus, another Long Islander, got a co-writer credit on “High School,” and the pair of Rock tracks played fraternal twins on Bomp!’s 1979 compilation Vampires From Outer Space. Purportedly an elaborate asset offshoring ploy in anticipation of Fowley’s divorce, the album got flaccid Bomp! promotion that did nothing to refute such a theory. The album slid out of print about as quickly as Fowley’s divorce decree moved through the Los Angeles County Recorder’s tangled paper landscape.   Undeterred, Tommy Rock stayed on, doing double duty as Fowley’s chauffeur and fan mail coordinator while waiting for the next something, anything, to happen. That next thing was a name change and a Manilow-esque album recorded for Columbia. Issued in 1981 by the newly dubbed Tommy Knight, the self-titled LP made minor ripples in the AOR world, none of them big enough to avert a cut-out bin fate.

 

When Randy Winburn’s phone rang one evening a little past midnight, the 33-year-old A.D. for the hit-com Diff’rent Strokes couldn’t have known that his stalled recording career had placed the call. Recently spurned by his Runaways, Kim Fowley was on the rebound, sifting around in his ever-growing haystack of unsolicited demo tapes for the next needle. What he heard on Randy Winburn’s home 4-tracked reel was an unkempt Pet Sounds, mangy and missing a little corner of its ear.   By December 1978, Winburn had been out of the recording business for a decade and more, having taken his last stab with Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s “next Kingsmen.” 

 

During their sophomore year at UNC, the sextet of Winburn, Joe Mendyk, Phil Lambeth, Jim Opton, Cam Schinhan, and Bill Levasseur had morphed from a generically named cover band called the Shadows into psychedelic NC fuzz kings Nova Local. A choice opening slot for Chad & Jeremy landed the group at the William Morris Agency, who in turn hooked the group up with a young Elliot Mazer. Their 1966 demos resulted in a contract with Decca, who issued their lone album Nova 1 in 1968, to minimal acclaim, notice, or sales.   When Nova Local’s membership retreated back to more familiar locales, Winburn took a job at CBS Television, where he earned rent holding cue cards for Captain Kangaroo. Through five more years, Randy Winburn snaked around the CBS system, peaking when he helmed dozens of episodes of the long running soap The Guiding Light. In 1975, he was on the payroll at Norman Lear’s Tandem Productions, A.D.’ing The Jeffersons, Good Times, and the aforementioned Gary Coleman starmaker. As for music, Winburn paid closest attention to theme songs that opened his sit-coms. If not for an in-studio contest over the writing and producing of a theme for the short-lived Joe & Valerie series, Winburn might never have recorded again.  

 

Joe & Valerie, slotted to premiere in April 1978 after Rollergirls, got NBC’s greenlight as a disco cash-in hopeful. To give its credit roll a touch of Saturday night fever, Tandem set their team of songwriters and studio rats to churning out plays-in-Peoria disco cuts. Winburn wrote his own entry and recorded it with the help of his off-camera crew. Lear’s chosen winner was Winburn’s track. This process and the win lit a small fire under Randy Winburn, who began taping songs nightly to his portable 4-track. Using a store-bought guide to getting a record deal, he mailed out few dozen cassette and waited for any response at all.  

 

Luckily, Kim Fowley listened voraciously to whatever hit his P.O. box, even going so far as to roll blank tape sides on the off chance of uncovering “genius stink.” “Most of it was garbage, but Randy was at the top of the can,” he said. Fowley and Winburn convened at a nondescript studio on Melrose, where Winburn met Tom “Tommy Rock” Johnson and his song “Somebody Else’s Girl.” Winburn’s version ended up as the lead song on Fowley’s sprawling Vampires From Outer Space pet project sampler LP for Bomp! With help from his own shaky demo, Winburn arranged the harmonies—all 11 parts—along with the skeleton version of “Sunshine USA.” Tracked in eccentric LA producer and former Sparks guitarist Earle Mankey’s backyard studio, “Somebody Else’s Girl” wears Holland-era Beach Boys on its sleeve. For “Sunshine U.S.A.”—Winburn’s entry for the Vampires flipside—Fowley convinced Spirit’s John Locke to drop by and tinkle the electric 88s, though Fowley opted to literally phone in for the session—auditing the tracking and mixing from the comfort of his living room courtesy of Ma Bell. He lavished a matching effort in promoting the LP, which failed predictably to justify more than its first pressing.

 

I adjusted my strategy and began calling him later and later. 7pm Pacific, 8 Pacific, 9 Pacific, 10 Pacific… 11 Pacific?  I made my last call of the night at ten to 2am Central Time, and he picked right up. For the next five hours, Kim Fowley went on one of the longest rants I’ve ever heard. He covered everything from “Alley Oop” to some song he had purportedly produced for Friends. I kept looking at the clock, watching as my sleep window got ever tighter. Just before 7am Central, he said to me, “You should feel lucky to have spent these last five hours on the phone with me. We’ll never speak again.” And then he hung up. The license was handled through his attorney and royalty payments were sent to his Redlands, California, PO box. We had discussed the idea of a Fowley box set, but as I could never seem to catch him again we moved on.

 

For the moment, he was right. But when the vinyl version of Yellow Pills was being planned in 2011, I sent an email to Kim asking if he could make time for an interview. I wanted to get deep into Vampires, and he was the only one who knew what the fuck was REALLY going on in 1979.  He set it up for, of course, midnight Pacific. The conversation was another epic, grinding on until nearly 5am Central. He told the Vampires story and a hundred others. Just before we wrapped, as the sun was beginning to poke over the horizon, Kim Fowley paid the only compliment he would ever pay Numero: “I like you guys,” Kim said. “You’re the only ones who ever send me royalty checks.”


Treble Boys – Julie-Anne session in depth
January 2, 2014, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Buttons | Tags: , , , ,

TR-66

Upon launching our newly redesigned website, we received an interesting email from Robert Pizzo, of the group Treble Boys, who were featured on our Buttons: Starter Kit Compilation.

“The preview for The Treble Boys’ “Julie-Anne” could use a little creative editing. The 29 second clip starts at the top of the song which is logical, but in this case we’re getting a full 20 seconds of that annoying blipping click track. If I hadn’t been in the band myself I may have even bailed on the preview at the 10 second mark!

Back Story: Session drummer Andy Newmark was such a pro that when we couldn’t find a click track for him he said anything would do, including that crude, circa 1983 bassa nova beat box you hear. We had always intended to wipe that track when we were done but producer Randy Adler said, “Let’s leave it. I’ll fade the guitars in and it’ll be like you guys are cutting through all that blipping electronic crap!” (Remember, these were the days of Men Without Hats.)

Although we have since updated the sound clip on our site, astute gear nerds may recognize that crude samba beat as coming from the Roland Tr-66 Rhythm Arranger. For those of you into such things, we highly suggest the newly released book, Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession. Along with the back story, Robert sent along a treasure trove of photos taken during the Julie Anne recording session. And if these gems aren’t enough for you, the band has also launched a YouTube page filled with loads of live performances.

Session Drummer Andy Newmark (in red sweater) and producer Randy Adler mess with TR-66 "blip generator"

Session Drummer Andy Newmark (in red sweater) and producer Randy Adler mess with TR-66 “blip generator”

Robert Pizzo and Andy Newmark during recording of basic track

Robert Pizzo and Andy Newmark during recording of basic track

Andy Newmark at his kit

Andy Newmark at his kit

When Andy saw the studio kit he looked at it and said, “OK, take this out… and this… and this…” In two minutes there was a big pile of drums he discarded. We looked at each other and said, “Doesn’t he need ANY of this stuff? There’s  practically nothing left!” And then we heard the big, big sound coming through the monitors when he played. Nice!

Robert Pizzo (standing) and Richard Younger

Robert Pizzo (standing) and Richard Younger

Richard Younger recording basic track

Richard Younger recording basic track

Richard Younger recording scratch reference vocal

Richard Younger recording scratch reference vocal

Richard Younger

Richard Younger

Bob Giammarco listening to playback

Bob Giammarco listening to playback

Richard Younger

Richard Younger

Bob Giammarco with Assistant Engineer Caryl Wheeler

Bob Giammarco with Assistant Engineer Caryl Wheeler

Richard Younger and Robert Pizzo recording basic track

Richard Younger and Robert Pizzo recording basic track

Robert Pizzo and Andy Newmark discussing arrangement

Robert Pizzo and Andy Newmark discussing arrangement

Robert Pizzo

Robert Pizzo

Bob Giammarco working out a keyboard part

Bob Giammarco working out a keyboard part



Numero: The Year In Review

While the rest of the world polls minor celebrities and hipster-douchebag record label owners, we quietly sent out an email last week to our staff asking them to rank their top ten Numero releases for 2012. The surprising results are as follows:

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10. Circuit Rider: S/T

Close your eyes and Imagine The Doors backing The Prophet Omega. Now open them upon a picture of Thorn Oehrig, the mind and voice behind Circuit Rider. The first thing that may pop to mind is “student council president.” He’s white, well-groomed and lacks the requisite thousand yard stare of a paranoid outlaw on the lam. And yet the music contained here is so defiled that you can imagine that if he did hold the power seat in high school, it brought forth his inner cult leader, biker gang honcho, and 19th Century sharecropper. Power driven by powerlessness; John Brown. Oerig’s vision is like civil war re-enactment applied to the sixties underground, sounding more like a field recording from the remnants of an Appalachian slave clan moved to the cheap side of Laurel Canyon than a perilously corralled Paul Rothchild production of drunken film students holed up in Morrison Hotel. Thoughout it all, it’s obvious that the guy isn’t kidding. He has been transformed. Beware. It’s contagious.—Tom Lunt

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09. Shirley Ann Lee: Songs Of Light

Back in the spring of 2006, Ken Shipley, Rob Sevier and I holed up in a downtown Chicago studio and transferred a myriad of tapes from Ecorse, Michigan’s Revival Records label. At the time it was the biggest excavation that Numero had ever encountered. After listening to over 150 tapes and thousands of songs that year, we produced a remarkable compilation and created a new series with Local Customs: Downriver Revival.  By far the star of this release was Shirley Ann Lee, the gospel singer from Toledo, Ohio.  There were more tapes in the Revival cache of Shirley Ann Lee than any other artist that Felton Williams recorded at his home studio…and for good reason. Her voice is like none other that I have ever heard before. At times she sounds like a constant contradiction: raw and poetic, bitter and sweet, sinful and sacred.  After years of listening to hundreds of tracks by her, we were proud to present Shirley Ann Lee: Songs of Light in 2012 (the 3rd album in our Numerophon series).  It is comprised of 16 exceptional tracks that are both experimental, evocative, and forthright in their own special ways.—Michael Slaboch

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08. Buttons: From Champaign To Chicago

Part A: On Facebook, re: Julian Leal’s “Get Away,” my brother Neal wrote: “Our mission is to make everybody like this song, if it’s the last thing we do.”

Part B: “Get Away” isn’t even my go-to track on this. It’s still Tom Orsi’s “Where Are You Now,” as power pop as that may not be.

Part C: Pro Packaging Personalization: Take your 2LP gatefold and put it in a plastic LP sleeve. Then select your favorite of the Buttons 7×7 artist promo slicks and put it in the front within the smaller plastic sleeve they all came in (I’m currently using The Names, for example). Next, position your slicks sleeve at bottom left, inside your Buttons LP sleeve, so that it decorates a corner of the Buttons front cover, partially obscuring Ken’s shirt-and-vest getup (but not the yellow Illinois lapel button) and allowing you, the obsessed owner, to tell the world which Buttons track is currently owning every synapse of your power pop neural network. —Judson Picco

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07. Codeine: When I See The Sun

When the idea of taking a run at the ’90s first came up, the Numero office found itself at something of an ideological crossroads. Discussions about “catalog purity” gave way to arguments about our label’s scope, mission, and vision. Terms like “post-songwriting” were thrown out and thoughts of yet another label were pondered. Eventually we realized Numero was more like software, something that could be applied to anything with positive results. We’ve made DVDs, covered salsa, and soon will make our first foray into hard rock. If we couldn’t handle a sleepy early-’90s group from Manhattan, how could we expect to ever really chase our personal muses?

I’ll be the first to admit that Codeine was a passion project for me. I’d loved the band since high school, sneaking out to see them in Petaluma, California, on their last tour. Their three record arc remains a shining example of what happens when a band quits while they’re ahead. The idea of reissuing their smallish catalog came to me upon discovering that our one-time sales maven JR Robinson had made a record with former Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw. A few months later, Chris was sitting in my office. A few weeks later I was on the phone with Jon and Stephen. Then Sub Pop. A personal journey was completed in a matter of weeks, as I went from fan to piece of a complex puzzle. I was no longer just a proud owner of a Loser t-shirt, I was in the process of turning the Sub Pop logo on its head.

The unique packaging concept began with a question from Rob Sevier: Why can’t bonus CDs slide out of a little pocket in the same fashion an LP does? Henry Owings took that question, and, with the help of Jeff Kleinsmith’s original art, reinvented Codeine’s classic trilogy of records for a new generation. Judson Picco and myself spent weeks drafting and redrafting the liner notes, pulling on every thread until we were satisfied we’d told all the story there was to tell. Jeff Lipton grabbed victory from the jaws of DAT failure, rescuing a great many crunchy tracks over the process of remastering the 6LP/3CD set. The result feels like a Numero record, but has a distinct out of house flavor. Not quite a “Group” effort, but a Herculean one nonetheless.—Ken Shipley

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06. Love Apple: S/T

Love Apple may be this year’s best kept secret. A single LP in Kraft paper jacket this dinghy is easily lost behind the armada of flagship releases this year.  Don’t let its modesty fool you, the Ragland produced, Boddie recorded sketches of three Cleveland sisters over a lone guitar and drums has seen heavy play in our headquarters this year.  With unique melodies that sway from elegant to eerie and sparse instrumentation this is the record MPC junkies dream of. Seriously, how has this not been sampled yet?—Nate Meiners

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05. Eccentric Soul: A Red Black Green Production

In 2011, the world caught just a glimpse of D.C.’s  Robert “Jose” Williams and his studio wizardry when we released Father’s Children: Who’s Gonna Save The World. That album represented but a few tapes amongst a treasure trove of D.C. soul, including released and unreleased works by the Summits,  Skip Mahoaney & The Casuals, Promise, Dyson’s Faces, and the Exceptions. Dithering down the 30-odd tapes was no easy task, as originally this was slated to be a a four, possibly five, CD set with full albums by Dyson’s Faces, the Exceptions, Skip Mahoaney, and Father’s Children, with another disc of extras (including this femme falsetto gem). This unprecedented access to the source material gives RBG (as it’s lovingly referred to around the office) a polish and sheen not found on many other Eccentric Soul compilations. If you’re a sucker for low rider ballads, we encourage you to put your rub-off tear drop tattoo on, roll down the windows, and cruise.—Zach Myers

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04. Lou Ragland: I Travel Alone

As Numero’s web specialist, I see lots of things float by our digital domain. I’m privileged (and sometimes horrified) to hear snippets of works-in-progress where I’m completely unaware of what the work actually is. That’s how I originally came across Lou Ragland. I was listening to a random swath of songs when I noticed several stand-out tracks which seemed to be related, but I wasn’t sure. These songs were tied together semi-stylistically, but what grabbed me was the warmth and depth that pervaded each and every track. When Lou Ragland: I Travel Alone landed on my desk at Numero’s New Jersey office, all was clear. I clearly need to get the fuck out of New Jersey.—Jonathan Land

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03. Alfonso Lovo: La Gigantona

Had La Gigantona surfaced during my college years, it would be fossilized into the bedrock of my musical identity today. Between gravity bong hits of Lee Perry and keg stands of Herbie Hancock, Alfonso Lovo would have provided the perfect crossfade between my intensifying interests in jazz and Caribbean psychedelia.Then I would be able to reminisce with random classmates over the holidays—modern lawyers, bankers, sales reps—and they’d say, “Dude, remember how we used to listen to Alfonso Lovo ALL THE TIME?! We were obsessed with that record! I play it for my wife now and she hates it!”—Jon Kirby

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02. WTNG 89.9: Solid Bronze

For those select fans still holding to the misguided notion that Numero Group is a “soul music” reissue label, 2012 must have been quite sobering.  Sure, there have been multitudes of non-soul or gospel titles on the label over the past ten years…Pisces, Lonestar Lowlands, and our two volumes of power pop via the Buttons series, but nothing could have prepared anyone for what we came up with for Record Store Day. Inspired by radio station compilations released throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the idea was to compile a sampler for our own (quasi fictitious) WTNG station; a literal “who’s that?” of a silky smooth style we lovingly refer to as “easy glide.”  After hundreds of hours of listening to potential inclusions, the eleven tracks that finally made the cut still found themselves on repeat play around the Numero office. This is the sort of record I never knew that I NEEDED in my life until it existed. I need more.—Dustin Drase

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01. Eccentric Soul Omnibus

One box to rule them all. We thought many things about last year’s #1 set, the Boddie Recording Company. We thought we’d never spend longer on a project (wrong, some of this research started even before there was a Numero to release it). We thought we’d never see such a shipping nightmare in person (extraordinarily wrong, note the multiple injuries in the shipping department). And furthermore, we thought that any such project that would top last year’s #1 would surely blow its release date (on that point we were correct.) We present the 045 Eccentric Soul: Omnibus… 45 singles, 90 songs, 45,000 words of liner notes, 96,000 tears, 3 bottles of Adderall,  one nervous breakdown, all packaged lavishly in a handy classic 45 case. Now we’re really wondering how to top ourselves.—Rob Sevier



Numero and MTV: What does it all mean?
November 1, 2012, 8:53 am
Filed under: Alfonso Lovo, Buttons, Codeine | Tags: , , , , , ,

Yesterday morning, MTV’s Hive sub-brand did a nice featurette on our little label. Rest assured it was totally out of the blue. While we don’t expect to be moving into Dial MTV‘s top 20 countdown, we have a few suggestions from the video-era if they ever get really daring.

New York’s Colors go bananas in someone’s yard and in some kind of artist loft. That painting in the background? Just an original Basquiat.

A legit MTV play, this was the third of Shoes’ four (!) videos from Present Tense.

For some reason this Speedies track was overlooked for Numero 004, but we did sell it digitally on our site for a while.

While Loose Lips’ “Kyle” is the “hit” off their lone EP, Hung Up On Pop, the track is missing from this 1981 cable access concert from Triton College. The actual Kyle isn’t missing. She’s the girl in the black and white dress dancing on stage.

From Alfonso Lovo’s follow up to La Gigantona. Whatever you do, don’t fax this guy.

Despite being made at the height of 120 Minutes, there’s no fucking way they were playing this arty shit.

We are open to hosting a classic videos night on M2 or wherever they’re broadcasting images set to music these days, just have your make up artist call our make up artist.

While you’re still reading, pick up this great book about the early days of MTV co-authored by longtime Numero supporter Rob Tannenbaum.



Buttons: The Video
July 19, 2012, 7:29 am
Filed under: Buttons, Newsworthy

Simon Brubaker made this fun little video to celebrate our new line of power pop records.

We’re blasting through the deluxe edition with badges, so if you ever dreamed of wearing a Randy Winburn pin, hop to it.



Buttons: Pinned to a turntable or CD player near you
July 13, 2012, 8:41 am
Filed under: Buttons

Our two new records (044 Buttons: From Champaign To Chicago and 004 Buttons: Starter Kit) are coming to a shop near you this Tuesday (7/17/12). But there’s one thing that you can’t get at retail: ACTUAL buttons.

That’s right, we made a unique button (griffin’ out above this) for each of the 30 artists represented on our twin compilations, plus two Numero buttons, and are offering them for sale for the low price of $25 (that’s less than $1 a button). We only made 100 sets, and once they’re gone, that’s it. Subscribers can of course use their discount to procure badges, but we also put a deal together for both LPs plus the buttons for only $60 (a $5 value).

First come, first served.



Collation with Danny “Mario” Ross
May 31, 2012, 9:52 am
Filed under: Buttons

The CD version of Buttons: From Campaign To Chicago is nice; 40 page booklet, digipack,and  a handsome slip case. But the LP? This is the one to own. Above is an action shot of intern Mario collating the 19 7×7″ inserts that come tucked inside the gatefold jacket. It’s like getting 19 little 7″ singles to flip through while you blast the LP.

We’ll be announcing the pre-order for this soon, with a bonus button pack for all of you badge-wearing pop junkies out there. Stay tuned.