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Listening Report: Janis Joplin & Jorma Kaukonen’s Legendary Typewriter Tape Gets First Official Release For Record Store Day

Mark Smotroff time travels to the early ’60s Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco…

A classic underground recording that has been circulating among collectors for many decades is finally getting an official release on Record Store Day this week (aka Black Friday). Omnivore Records is issuing The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House featuring legendary vocalist Janis Joplin and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (of The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) before they were famous.

In short, this was a rehearsal session for a benefit gig the periodic duo were playing at The Coffee Gallery in the North Beach section of San Francisco.

Over the years I’ve had different versions of this tape which was circulating among collectors, first on a hissy cassette and then in digital forms as I remember.  

When I put the CD on I hadn’t listened to this in a long time and was amazed how vibrant the music and the performances sounded. Recorded on a reel-to-reel machine in Jorma’s apartment, the session was frequently labeled “The Typewriter Tape” because his wife was busy using a typewriter in the background. So it makes the recording all the more charming knowing this was an innocent, informal document of a moment finding two future superstars making impromptu music magic.

The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House has always been a great listen and now it is sounding better than ever, lovingly restored by Grammy award winning engineer Michael Graves.  I’m just amazed it has taking this long for it to be released commercially!

One of the things that is surprising about listening to this recording it’s just how fully formed Janis’ art was at that stage of her career. She was about 21 years old when this recording was made,  yet she is singing with the authority of seasoned grizzled blues greats like Bessie Smith and Howlin’ Wolf.

Some of the titles are absolute classics such as “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and “Trouble In Mind” as well as the extra sassy “Daddy Daddy Daddy.”  They also do a fabulous embryonic version of “Hesitation Blues” which in later years Jorma would make one of his signature tunes as a solo artist and with Hot Tuna.

In general the CD sounds really quite excellent all things considered given this was an informal tape made for the artists own use and never intended for formal release. Two tracks from The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House were previously issued on the fine three-CD set called Janis (issued by Columbia / Legacy). I compared them — “Trouble In Mind” and “Hesitation Blues” — to the new edition from Omnivore Recordings and I have to say I like the mastering on this new edition better as it reigns in some of the hot edges apparent on the earlier incarnation. In short: the new version sounds a bit warmer in this more thoughtful presentation. Janis’ voice is big here, so it may have been pushing the limits of the basic recording gear they had there for the recording.

Of course, the big question is whether you need to own this on vinyl for the exclusive Record Store Day edition? That, I think, will come down to how much you need this on vinyl in your life.

I wrote to the folks at Omnivore asked about the source for recording. As great as The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House sounds, it turns out that the reality is this edition was sourced from a safety DAT (Digital Audio Tape) of the recording as the original reels seem to be long lost.

Given that the DAT was a 16-bit format, often generally set at 44.1 kHz (to be compatible with compact discs), there are limits to what you can expect from the recording.  As good as this original recording sounds, it is probably not all that mind blowing from an audiophile perspective to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds really great and fantastic all things considered for a tape made somebody’s living room in 1964 on a consumer grade recorder with a typewriter pecking away in the background!  Even if they had made the safety master at 48 kHz (some DATs could be set to that level, tho’ it was still 16-bit) I’m not that sure whether it would’ve made much difference in terms of your enjoyment of the music between listening on CD versus vinyl.

That said, I have not yet heard the vinyl edition as they were not available for press previews. The vinyl pressing may well sound a little bit warmer in playback depending on how the disc lacquers were mastered. Also, because of the inherent nature of how vinyl works and especially if you’re listening through it a tube preamp, things might warm up a bit more, it is conceiveable. 

But honestly, folks, the CD sounds pretty darn good for what this is so if you still have a compact disc player this might be the more affordable way to go. The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House will be streaming on Qobuz Hi Res at 24-bits, 44.1 kHz (click here) and Tidal (click here) as well as Apple Lossless (click here)

Whatever avenue you decide to take, you should definitely listen to Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen’s The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House as soon as you can. 

If you want to buy it online you can click through on any of the mentions of the album title and it will take you to Amazon.

The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House is an absolute essential classic for fans of Janis and Jorma alike.

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