Numero Group: By The Numbers

Snail Studios Chicago
February 19, 2015, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Jeff Cowell | Tags: , , , , ,
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.22.14 PMIn the mid ’60s, radio personality Ken Nordine was doing a nightly radio show for WMAQ called “Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz.” Rather than spending studio time at Universal, the top floor of an unassuming Edgewater, Chicago home at 6106 N. Kenmore was emptied, and engineer Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, et al) started moving some Ampex 2-tracks and mixing equipment in. The studio grew from 4-tracks to 16-trk, then 24-trk. A quad 8 console grew to be replaced by a Harrison MR-4.

“The premise was quite simple,” says Nordine.** “You had a musician who could play all sorts of different instruments. He could play drums, he could play flute, he could play piano, vibes, marimba, all of these funny sounds. Bruce would be in the control room and he would be recording everything on the fly. And I would be in the booth here with books. I had cookbooks, the Merck Manual, anything, old papers, scientific treatises.

“The show would begin and I would say, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ And out in the studio, he’s playing the flute or the organ and Bruce would have wind sound effects going behind it and I’d say, ‘Well, I was thinking about God the other day.’ And at that time, Bruce would change the atmosphere and so, instead of wind, there’d be chickens clucking. And then I’d react to the changes in the background and I’d talk about Aristotle and whether he ever ate eggs. Then I’d pick out a cookbook and maybe get a strange recipe for eggs Benedict or some strange eggs with truffles out of Escoffier. In those days, I used to drink beer. I’d have a six-pack during the first show and we’d do five shows in five hours, and by the fifth show I was a little looser.”

Snail Records started as a vehicle for Ken’s Word Jazz and some other side projects. The bulk of the work centered around radio and TV commercial production with Ken’s son Kris Nordine and a host of session musicians serving as the in house band. In the off hours, Kris would sneak in bands such as The Asteroids, Manfredo Fest, Bonnie Kolac, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and Tom Waits to name a few. Jerry Garcia once hung out at the studio as well. In 1974, Kris brought his childhood friend Jeff Cowell into then 16-trk studio to record what would become Lucky Strike’s and Liquid Gold. The Nordine’s would spend summers at a Chain of Lakes vacation home and Kris and Jeff met in 1966 as teenagers, bonding over the excitement of upcoming Beatles records. Jeff would often visit Kris in Chicago, and would come down for a week or so with a handful of folk and country songs that he had written. Kris formed a band and fleshed out the orchestration of Jeff’s songs, and with the help of his brother Ken Nordine Jr. they recorded two full length LPs which Jeff self-released on his Iron Mountain, MI label My Own Record Company.

**additional source material from the Chicago Reader

Jeff Cowell at Snail Records Studio in Chicago 1974

Jeff Cowell at Snail Records Studio in Chicago 1974

What Is An Album Worth?
December 9, 2010, 11:18 am
Filed under: Methodology | Tags: ,

Ken weighs in on Miles Raymer’s piece in this week’s Chicago Reader about, What Is An Album Worth?

“What we’re doing over here is making a record we think is worth 16 dollars,” he says. “You go into Reckless and you see very few of our records come through used, because people who plunk down 16 dollars for a record have made the decision that this is something they actually want to own. Somebody who downloads something has made the decision that they want to listen to something, but they don’t necessarily want to own it.”

Read entire article here

Syl graces the Chicago Reader’s cover
November 24, 2010, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Press Archives, Syl Johnson | Tags: , , ,

After two years of threats, our pal Peter Margasak at the Chicago Reader delivers a beaut of a story on Syl. So good in fact, his editors decided to throw it on the cover. Numero neighbor Saverio Truglia shot the photos (Syl shows no shame, sports the Is It Because I’m Black t-shirt), and even our man on the phones Erik Selz gets a shout out. Family affair indeed. Gotta love this quote:

“I ain’t no jack of all trades, but I’m a multitalented genius.” Fair enough, I think. But then he’s off and running: “I’m not a great singer, but you know who can make a great hit? The one that can hear hits. You know Jesse Jackson? Or Louis Farrakhan? Them motherfuckers know how to . . . excuse the expression, I don’t mean to call them motherfuckers . . . they know the shit to say what the people like. I’ve been discriminated against, and I know about racism, and I know that my great-great-grandfather was a slave. I know they killed six million. You ever heard of Adolf Eichmann? He killed four million. I said, ‘Mama, how come they’re killing those babies, mama?’ She said, ‘Boy, they’re just some rotten people.’ My point is, everybody’s been discriminated against. I’m not worried about racism, I just want you to be straight up.”

Read the entire story here, and if you’re on the fence about Saturday’s concert at Old Town School of Folk Music, perhaps this can persuade you.

The Numero Group Turns The Tables On A Bootlegger
March 9, 2010, 10:48 am
Filed under: Eccentric Breaks & Beats | Tags: ,

Miles Raymer of the Chicago Reader weighs in on the history of bootleg records and our upcoming Eccentric Breaks & Beats release.  Link to article.

Chicago Reader’s Critics Choice: Celestial Navigations
February 18, 2010, 8:44 am
Filed under: Al Jarnow | Tags: , ,

Peter Margasak gives a fantastic review & critics choice for our screening of Celestial Navigations: The Short Films of Al Jarnow, taking place this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center.  Tickets are still available and we’ll be there hanging out and selling the entire Numero catalog as well on Friday & Saturday night. We hope to see you there.

Experimental animator Al Jarnow is best known for the shorts he contributed to the children’s shows Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact, but this survey of his work from 1968 to 1987 shows him to be a multifaceted artist. Drawing on stop-motion and time-lapse photography, flipbooks, and eventually early computer animation, Jarnow transformed investigations of perspective, geometry, and science into delightful, whimsical vignettes. Rotating Cubic Grid (1975), for example, is an intense geometric exploration of a cube-based shape as it steadily morphs and spins, but Jarnow adds a dash of humor with a Sisyphean human figure that tries in vain to climb the object. Autosong (1976) is a mesmerizing highway dream that takes a sudden left turn when its protagonist—a Volkswagen Beetle—drives up an endless set of stairs in a downtown building. Also on the 90-minute program is Asymmetric Cycles: The Work of Al Jarnow, a succinct documentary produced by Chicago’s Numero Group for a new DVD collecting 45 of his short films.

Light: On Chicago Tonight

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Your Numero Group was on TV last night. No, not the World Series, just a little program on public television called Chicago Tonight.  Click on the image above to watch the piece.

Also yesterday:

Time Out Chicago did a nice piece on Light: On The South Side.

Peter Margasak from the Chicago Reader threw in his 2 cents.

Don’t forget our event at the Chicago Cultural Center this Sunday from 2-6pm.

The Jackson Find
September 10, 2009, 5:39 pm
Filed under: Home Schooled, Methodology | Tags: , ,


Jake Austen re-wrote pop music history this week as he unearthered the 1/4″ master of The Jackson Five’s first recording session. The tremendous story is featured on the cover of this week’s Chicago Reader or you can read here online.