Numero Group: By The Numbers

In Memoriam: Thorn Oehrig (The Circuit Rider)
November 18, 2015, 11:18 am
Filed under: Circuit Rider, Project Twelve


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


The remaining recordings of Robert Thornton Oehrig have been compiled in Photograph Attached, available only as part of our Project Twelve subscription series.