Written by 4:46 am Audiophile Music

A Tale of Evel Knievel, Dirty Old Towns, and One Dirty Old Record

Mark Smotroff takes a moldy chance and strikes soul gold of sorts


Audiophiles like their records clean. Real clean. So much so that many of us spend inordinate amounts of money on various and sundry cleaning products — and services — to get our records old and new sounding as spiffy and pristine as possible. Some of us who are collectors of previously owned recordings of rare vintage will sometimes go to great lengths to try to salvage a disc. 

AR-CarrMoldyBackCover225.jpgThis is one such story that I thought might interest some of you readers… or at minimum this will reaffirm why some of you prefer to just wait for a reissue or buy a copy that has been pre-restored …

Earlier this year while I was on a little journey around Southern California, I happened up on a fun antiques shop in Palm Springs.  Actually, it wasn’t really an antiques shop, but more like a bunch of choice — and not so choice — old stuff that was just fun and interesting.  

Ok, some of it wasn’t so interesting.  

There is a nice Yiddish phrase for this kind of store: A “chotch-ka” shop. Ye olde junk shoppe. A “curio” shop.

Amidst this mish-mosh, there were about 300-400 old records in that store, 99 percent of which were dusty, crusty toss offs of hit records from eras past. 

But, crate diggers like myself, we forage onward through the crud in hopes of finding that one gem that will make all the effort worthwhile.  

And then I came across it… a record with cover art so stunning it made me pause… a record that was so dirty and filthy I had to hold it daintily from its edges… a record that was still sealed and had things growing inside the shrink wrap…

It was nasty, folks.  

The record had obviously been in a flood and thus the bottom third of the record’s cover was covered in some sort of growth… inside the shrink wrap …

AR-CarrInnerSleeve225.jpgThere was probably a little eco-system going on inside there at one point but it seemed to have dried out in the intense dry desert heat of Palm Springs.

But for, $1, I had to take it.  My gut instinct was telling me that this was either going to be a brilliant piece of something-or-other…. or it would be the biggest musical train-wreck known to mankind.  

The album, entitled, “For a Real trip, Fly with Eddie Carr” — you can’t make stuff like this up, folks — depicts a rather curious fellow (I assume it is Mr. Carr, in the flesh) sitting atop a flying carpet (carrying a Beethoven bust and a bowl of fruit) flying over a valley looking into a city that is covered with haze and smog.  It is a notoriously low budget, wonderfully amateurish, goofy fun cover with mixed fonts and colors.  

Irony…

And then in the midst of the track listing you notice that there is a song called “Evil Evil Evel Knievel.” 

Really…

And then on the back cover I could see through the murk a listing of musicians including a couple familiar names from the world of Easy Listening music Anita Kerr and Johnny Mann (both credited with “singers”).  Gary Paxton is listed on guitar , a name also familiar but one that I couldn’t place at the time — he may well be the fellow who was a Grammy award and part of the 1960s Bakersfield sound, but I am not sure.  

That the credits also list someone called “Blind Man Pig” on piano compelled me further still.  

The final credit for “Also 23 Violinists” and “One Harp” sealed the deal: I was going to buy this dusty musty moldy $1 affair and find out what sort of music was contained inside. 

Wrapping it in its own plastic bag so it wouldn’t mess up my other treasures found along the way on this trip, I brought Mr. Carr’s album home and it sat there for a week until I got the courage to open the thing up. 

AR-CarrPeople225.jpgIn the interim, I poked around thee Interwebs and — lo and behold — was stunned to find that this album is something of a highly sought after album among collectors of so called “Northern Soul” music.  Two tracks on the album had seen single release on other labels but this appeared to be a independently-pressed self released album by the artist (on W.H.C. Records).  On some sites, the album was going for upwards of $300! 

Woo hoo! Score! 

I was thus more encouraged than ever to salvage this confirmed odd little gem.

]]>When I finally mustered up the courage to clean this now confirmed collector’s piece, I first wiped down the outer shrink wrap with rubbing alcohol so I had something I could comfortably touch. Holding it over the toilet bowl, I carefully slit opened the shrink wrap at the bottom carefully holding the cover by the cleaned plastic outer wrap.  

Tapping the outside of it with my hand large chunks of the cover art and moldy-dusty dirt floated down into the water. Eventually enough was gone I was able to take off the remaining shrink wrap and then wipe the cover down with rubbing alcohol inside and out. 

AR-CarrMoldyLP.jpgMore album stuff came and went down the drain, much of it powdery… I was careful to not breath much at that time. 

But then I had to deal with the inner-sleeve which had been sort of eaten away by the water damage and left a bit of murky mess on the otherwise brand new unplayed vinyl. 

Eight washings later with my vintage Watts Parastat record washing brush, some Ivory soap and luke-warm water, I had an album that was almost playable. I played it, in fact, on my secondary turntable and it was sounding pretty great but there was still a bit of a low level wooshing sound.  I feared that the mold may have somehow damaged the grooves a bit.

Remembering a fellow I’d met out in the land of obsessive record collectors, I decided to make a journey down to the other side of San Francisco to his fine new vinyl-only record shop. Called Originals Vinyl, there, they are not only selling lots of choice records at reasonable prices, the store is also offering a very reasonably priced cleansing of your records in their spiffy Ultrasonic Record Cleaner system.  No, they don’t make the physical unit that does the cleaning, but they do use one of those pricey newfangled systems which well-to-do uber-audiophiles have been snapping up. 

I saw at least two companies demonstrating and selling these wonder gizmos recently at The Home Entertainment Show in Newport Beach, CA

So how did it work?

AR-EddieCarrPlaying225.jpgPretty good! Now, my doing the heavy pre-clean lifting with the hand scrubbing method using the Watts Record Cleaning brush was essential in an extreme case like this. But putting the album through their longer ultrasonic cleansing process helped remove another layer of whatever was down in the grooves there, so the amount of “woosh” sound is now fairly negligible.  Its still there, no doubt, but now the album can be listened to end to end and it sounds pretty grand even on my good turntable.

So, you can imagine that for cleaning up your standard faire fingerprints and smudges, something like what Originals Vinyl is offering might be a good investment for anyone with a sizable vinyl collection. And if you only have a handful of albums you want cleaned, they only charge $2.50 per disc. They even give you a free audiophile grade rice paper / plastic sleeve to put your newly cleaned album in! 

 So, now that I have this spiffy cleaned up record that most people would have buried deep in a trash heap, you are probably wondering what it sounds like…

Well, first off the opening track is a super fantastic tune and the one that the Northern Soul collectors apparently pay huge coin for (not that I plan to sell it any time soon). I mean, there is someone trying to sell a promo copy of the original single (on People Records) for $900 up on eBay.  That doesn’t mean it will sell at that price and it doesn’t even mean that it is really worth that much, but it does indicate that there is some sort of demand for these obscure recordings (especially since it is a really good tune!).

This song in question is “Dirty Old Town,” a tune which on this disc is for some reason credited to someone named Frank Virtuoso. The original song was — at least according to most sources I’ve found on the Interwebs — written in the late 1950s by Scottish folk composer named Ewan MacColl. I first heard the song from a 1985 release by England’s briliant pub-punk rockers The Pogues (its on their amazing album Rum, Sodomy and The Lash).  

Eddie Carr’s version, however, is more of a Memphis-fueled Stax/Muscle Shoals flavored affair. I would have loved to have heard Dusty Springfield doing this song in this arrangement. Its that kind of tune. 

“Little Lost Girl” is a groovy high-steppin’ hyper country rocker in 6/8 time — try to imagine Nancy Sinatra in go go boots dancing to a fast pasted two-step waltz. This gives way to a more traditional 4/4-time country swinger, replete with horns and choirs and twagin’ Telecaster-sounding guitar licks, “Cozy Inn.”  

“Evil Evil Evel Knieval,” follows, and, I swear, it sounds like the music to the alternate universe TV commercial you never saw for a children’s action figure toy that never existed!  While Hasbro did issue an Evel Kneivel toy, as far as I’ve found on YouTube, no commercials used this music.  Inside, Mr. Carr asks the big questions most of us wanted to ask back in the day: “He’s not a bird. He’s not a plane. Is he a fool who’s gone insane?” 

Heady commentary, folks…

Ok, so I’m having some fun with you here. Really, this is the epitome of cheeseball novelty songs. No doubt A&M Records understood that timely fact back in the day, which is why that song was released by them as a 45 single (a promo of this was auctioned by uber-collector John Tefteller for a starting minimum bid of $30!).

The album goes up and down like this between groovy out-of-time pop rockers (“1932 Ford”) to country flavored ditties (“Sally Was a Good Old Girl”). “School is Over” is a nicely done variation on the theme tackled so many times in 1950s urban street corner Doo Wop songs, but transmogrified to the late 60s in Nashville with rockin’ post-psychedelic guitar licks throughout the tune and a great solo that leads to the fade out. 

And lots of GREAT too-loud-in-the-mix Tambourine playing!

“It’s My Way” sounds like a lost Leslie Gore tune, if it had been recorded in Nashville, replete with big string sounds — remember them 23 Violinists? — and bluesy honky tonkin’ piano.

If you want to hear some of Mr. Carr’s music on this album, you can find digitized versions of it put up by fans on YouTube.  But the real experience is in the vinyl grooves, moldy or otherwise…..

Anyhow, I hope you found this little real world tale about record collecting, record preservation and restoration of interest. 

Do any of you have any stories like this to share? If so, please leave them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.

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