Sunday, December 10, 2006

Record Store Owners of the World Unite!

Geoff Cooper owned and operated "db Cooper's Music & Video" for fourteen years (1992-2006). Considered by many to be Burbank's best kept secret, the shop specialized in vinyl records. Born in Los Angeles, Geoff was a founding member of "The Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band" and worked as a sound effects engineer for fourteen years at NBC prior to opening the store. He was also the recording engineer and mixer of Tryad's 1971 self-titled psychedelic folk album which now sells for astronomical sums on Ebay. Geoff, now retired, finally has the time to play his sax and listen to his massive record collection.

Geoff is a close friend and my own personal musical guru. He's turned me on to some wonderful artists and albums and I feel it is my duty to impose his impeccable taste and expertise on you, dear reader. I've asked him, as we'll ask other record store owners in the months to come, to talk a little about himself and the albums from his collection that he considers to be "the essentials."

I'll let Geoff take it from here.

I’ve been collecting LPs since the early 1950’s. Between the “Safeway Classics” at $.99 and the then RCA Record Club, by age 12 I had amassed 50 records all enthusiastically played on my “suitcase” record player. My interest in records continues to this day and I now have over 7500 LPs in my collection. My tastes run from Gregorian Chant to Reggaetone and most points in between. Only opera and “contemporary” C&W are not represented in my collection.

My first interests were in big band jazz and general pop. It was the 1950’s and rock was just emerging. Even then, I valued artists like Ray Conniff, the Kingston Trio, Ken Nordine, Percy Faith, Belafonte and Mancini, to name a few, more so than the likes of Elvis and the 1st generation of rock. I did have keen interest in the “novelty” hits of the time – Chipmunks, Nutty Squirrels, and Freberg send-ups. I flipped over “new” and “challenging” music then as I continue to do now.

In high school, my tastes expanded to “mainstream” jazz and I was buying Brubeck, Getz, Miles, Mingus, Monk, Kenton, Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley and Kenny Dorham records. College for me was the mid-1960s and the psychedelic era. The Seeds, the Association, Electric Prunes, Vanilla Fudge, the United States Of America (Joseph Byrd), along with Cyrkle, Simon & Garfunkle, Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the whole British Invasion scene were acquired and revered.

I was pretty broke in the 1970s and purchases were few but “essential.” It wasn’t until the 1980s when I worked at NBC that I had the funds to “go wild” at local record shops. A typical purchase was easily 30-50 LPs at a time, most often selected because of a specific artist or producer or side-man or label or song. I NEVER “auditioned” any LP I’ve ever bought and, luckily, was rarely disappointed.

In 1976 I was introduced to reggae. Pretty much discounted it at the time, but the attraction was to grow as Marley, Tosh, U-Roy, Toots, et al. continued to entice me with their revolutionary sounds. I went to Jamaica for the first time in 1978 and was instantly hooked, although it would be another 4 years before I was to return there. From 1982-1989 I went to the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay armed with a high quality cassette deck (Sony TC-D5M) and two shotgun microphones with which I dutifully recorded each four all night performances each year. I was hooked. Reggae continues to be my passion, but I feed my need for diversity with a variety of styles. After a recent trip to Belize I’ve become interested in Reggaetone.

I’ve always programmed mixes of my favorite LP tracks. First on cassette, then reel to reel, and currently on CDs and DVDs. There aren’t many LPs that I play through in their entirety. Many have only 1 or 2 songs that I vibe to.

But which albums are my most essential?

At first it all seemed very obvious. But, being put on the spot to list the albums I could never live without, the process turned out to be quite daunting. I relish diversity and appreciate being teased and challenged by music. Based on a variety of criteria I therefore commit to the following:

Antol Dorati/Minneapolis Symphony Orch.1812 Overture (1958, Mercury)

This was the first LP I purchased as an 8th grader in jr. high school. I could not afford the entire $3.98 at the time so I made payments on this for 3 weeks until it was paid off. Not only the quality of the recording and the passion of the performance caught my attention, but the ensuing “documentary” on the recording of the canon and carillon were especially riveting to my young ears. It sounded so REAL! 25 years later, I became a recording engineer in NYC. This LP and others like; Sound In The Round, THE original stereo demonstration LP, complete with ping pong game; Word Jazz, Ken Nordine’s fantastic aural excursions backed by “progressive” jazz; and Zounds What Sounds, Dean Elliot’s technical triumph that blends big band with realistic and wacky sound effects – both funny and awesome. These and many others were fundamental teaching tools that led to my recording career.

Henry ManciniMr. Lucky Goes Latin (1961, RCA)

Thanks to the RCA Record Club, I was offered many Mancini titles, most of which I (that is, “Mom”) purchased. Mancini was a major force with such early hits like “The Blues and the Beat,” “Peter Gunn," “Mr. Lucky” and others. Mr. Lucky Goes Latin is my fave. Like all my picks on this list, this record was meant to be listened to from start to finish. Major players such as Shelly Mann, who leads the all-star augmented percussion section, are always present in Mancini recordings. Mancini’s arrangements are oh so very tasty! Authentic Brazilian instruments (timpanola) along with Laurindo Almeida’s brilliant guitar work combine perfectly to insure its position on my list. “The Sound of Silver” and the super-sonic “Speedy Gonzales” especially stand out.

Quincy JonesHip Hits (1963, Mercury)

Around the World and Birth of A Band precede this gem. 12 tracks of “soulful jazz hits” featuring Q’s “hip” arrangements and performances by some of the best players of the time makes this a “must." Side men represent a Who’s Who of 1963 jazz: Lalo, Milt Hinton, Ed Shaughnessy Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Jimmy Cleveland, Kai Winding, Melba Liston, Julius Watkins, Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Jerome Richardson, Seldon Powell, and many others. THIS was my Rosetta Stone identifying some of the finest jazzers ever! Most memorable were the presences of Major Holly (bass) and Roland (later “Rahsaan”) Kirk. Check out “Jive Samba” and “A Taste of Honey”. Better yet, like ALL on my list, play it in its entirety!

Laura NyroMore Than A New Discovery (1967, Verve/Folkways)

The lead track, “Wedding Bell Blues,” was a minor hit on both San Francisco and Los Angeles radio in the late summer of 1965 and I was drawn into Nyro's complex world and immediately fell in love with her and her approach to the “popular” song genre. The album revealed an artist who spoke directly to me on every level. Her unabashed openness and jazz infused songs have both delighted and haunted me ever since. I was lucky enough to see her on her 1st appearance in L.A. at the TROUBADOUR, 1966(?). Just her, a grand piano, and a red rose in a vase. So powerfully unassuming! Incredibly, Ms. Nyro continued on that high level until her untimely, bravely fought death. Here’s HER version of “Stoney End” along with 11 other compositions. “Lazy Susan” defies description. Haunting, lyrical, intellectual – all when she was only 19! She was a ground breaking, one-of-a-kind, humanistic genius who ruthlessly bared her soul as well as evoking sensations of tenderness and compassion. Throughout Laura’s career I was, and remain, a staunch champion of her. Only she stole my heart and only now am I a virgin, I confess.

Burning SpearMan In The Hills (1976, Island)

More so than any other reggae artist, Winston Rodney (the “Spear” in question) vibrated immediately with me. “It is good that a man can think for himself …..Exercise the thinking” – these lines literally changed my life. How could such fundamental, humanistic thoughts ever be put to song? Hypnotic rhythms and socially conscious lyrics make this mid-1970’s record an absolute “must”. Jah be praised! Spear did it! And still does! Nuff respect to brother Bob and all the reggae pioneers, but for the God’s honest TRUTH, there is none other than Burning Spear.

Harry BelafonteBelafonte At Carnegie Hall (1960, RCA)

You only need to have this set to have the ultimate Belafonte collection. Arguably the best “live” recording of all time and, (un)fortunately an album plentiful at virtually every garage sale or in the cheap bins at record shops. No need for any other Belafonte album if you have this. When first released, a local AM station played “Matilda” in its twelve minute entirety one afternoon while my mother and I were driving to the market. We were so stunned by what we heard that we pulled off the road to hear it out. Needless to say, that was my next purchase. Absolute definitive performances of his many, many 1950s hits and a display of his unbelievably electric connection with the audience. Be aware that the vinyl version is the only true complete document of this event. All CD versions have been butchered to one degree or another.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of InventionFreak Out (1966, Verve)

“Are you hung up?” “Who Are The Brain Police?” These were questions to be reckoned with. The shit hit the fan with this one. At the time, the M.O.I. was a voice and a sound that, to my ears, had never been heard before - Irreverent, studied, deceptively intricate, with deeply layered sarcasm, and downright honest concern for what was coming down at the time. Wowie, zowie! You’re probably wondering what the heck is going on here? I did play this for my parents and guess what? Well, at least they heard some of it. My Zappa collection now numbers over 40 LP titles by perhaps the most underrated consummate musician, composer, and contemporary philosopher/observer of the 20th century.

Edgar Varese/Darius MilhaudAmeriques and L’homme et son desir (1966, Vanguard Everyman Classics)

Difficult to NOT include Mr. Varese after having copped to my addiction to Frank Zappa. Varese’s influence on Zappa is pervasive. Groundbreaking avant garde works by both. My God, the utter exuberance of “Ameriques”, let alone the disconcerting seminal "Organized Sound," a term Varese coined in replacement of "Musique Concrete," which he disapproved of, along with “Poem Electronique” make Varese as exciting today as he was proclaimed at the 1958 Belgium Worlds Fair. Orchestral and concrete styles in Varese’s hands are deftly dealt with by the master. Milhaud, mentor of Dave Brubeck, among others, offers intricately devised soundscapes integrating South American rhythms and 20th century bi-tonalities into subtle and dazzling orchestral gems, unlike any other composer of the time. This LP showcases the talents of these two composers spectacularly! Also included on this album is "Pacific 231" by Honegger, which expresses his (and my) love of locomotives.

Thelonious MonkCriss Cross (1963, Columbia)

If only for the album cover! And Charlie Rouse (remember, I play sax)! What can I say? You might notice my bent towards the outré, evidenced in my previous picks. Thelonious also challenged me with his outrageous stylizations, especially of old “standards” which, when played by Monk, literally transformed them into something else! “Tea for Two” highlights his insightful interpretation of “standards”, completely dissecting this ditty into a Monk tour-de-force! At first you want to laugh, but ultimately his true genius hits you like a brick. Charlie Rouse’s tenor work is awesome. This LP ranks highly on my list.

Peter Tosh – Equal Rights (1977, Columbia)

Along with the Spear, my soul brother (we were both born the same day, 2 years apart), Peter Tosh, founding member of the Wailers, remains a voice of consciousness to all of humanity. The social and world issues that he so wonderfully crafted into song and verse ring as true today as they did over 20 years ago. The words! The sound! The POWER! With Sly and Robbie backing rhythms AND Bunny Wailer on board, songs like “Equal Rights,” “African,” and the timely “Apartheid” (refer to current “Blood Diamond” flick), this is by far Tosh’s boldest and most scathingly protest album of ANY age.

The ClashLondon Calling (1979, Epic)

Ah, the turbulent early 80s! Music was still groping for “the” sound. Mr. Strummer and the boys combined reggae with their own brand of Brixtonian punk, spiced it up with politics and morality, and set the stage for a host of “other” voices to be heard. This double LP set in my mind is an indispensable document of the times, both then and, sadly, now. 18 tracks include vintage cover versions of reggae classics “Revolution Rock” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” along with the title track and the anthem "Clampdown” – all make this album quite “essential.”

Yello You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess (1983, Mercury)

Oh, yeah! THOSE guys! Boris Blank and Dieter Meir, the international gambler and the techno-freak, who combine talents to produce some of the most outlandishly edgy pseudo-Dark-Starish romps that bombards the senses into submission – all done “tongue-in-cheek”. There is mischief in their creations. Dare to take the “Great Mission” down the Amazonas near Manaus, filled with piranhas, and you’ll know what I mean. Production and recording are elegantly textured and dynamically charged with energy and wit that only YELLO can achieve. The “moody” side of Yello’s music evokes the sinister/impish side of these guys. Do not discount the importance of Yello.

The Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas BandS/T (1974, Vanguard)

Admission. I’m on it and I like it. In 1972-73 there were two L.A. street bands worthy of notice: The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and the Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band. One could see them at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Music Center, the Century City Mall and the occasional supermarket opening. It was an all horn band (plus our “portable” bass drum) consisting of 3 or 4 trombones (depending on the sobriety of the brassmen) and 3 saxophones, myself being the tenor guy. With blessings from Dr. Demento (who wrote the liner notes in exchange for the band recording over a dozen special Demento radio IDs including the Dr. Demento theme to the tune of the all time classic "Pico & Sepulveda"), the band’s avowed purpose was to set music back 1000 years and one way we could was to reduce ANY tune to a 2/4 march. No one was exempt: Beethoven, Shirley Temple, Jimi Hendrix, Star Trek, Lawrence Welk, Richard Wagner, U.S.C., the Wizard of Oz – NOBODY, NOHOW. So, when a man we knew was owed studio time we ended up in a recording studio and came up with this. Who else would have dared to put “The Good Ship Lollipop,” “Hungarian Dance #5,” “The Beer Bottle Polka” and “Purple Haze” together along with 11 others, all performed Roto-style? Peter Schickele featured our “Rite Of Spring” (yep, not even Igor was exempt from "Rooterfication") on his NPR radio show a few years ago. By the way, our name was by committee and a couple of six packs - (we formed during the Christmas season of 1972 playing carols to unsuspecting shoppers at the prestigious Century City shopping mall, and we were an all brass band, and we really enjoyed ourselves – hence the name).

Thanks to Cut the Chord for the opportunity to formulate this difficult list. I kept it to 13 out of self-defense and to be very picky in my choices. I could go on to easily list another 50 titles that I would never part with but I’ve limited it to these absolute necessities.

No, Geoff, Cut the Chord thanks YOU!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article.

I am an ex-record store owner from Sydney Australia and would like to put up my story .
Do I have to register somewhere first ?

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Blogger Jdamen said...


Drop me a line to discuss.

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Anonymous Richard Weinberg Esq. said...

It is a true loss to our commmunity when dbcooper's closed it's doors. The internet & large chain stores have been the nails in the coffin. It is a real shame too; Mr. Cooper's shop was filled with all sorts of treasures, waiting to be discovered. Geoff Cooper's knowledge and love for all types of music & film made his store a special place. Over the years, Geoff has turned me on to all types of recording artists and films that I now enjoy and would have never have been exposed to. I will miss drooping by and seeing Geoff behind the over-flowing counter, and I will miss his comedic timing. Happy 60th bro.

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