My First Album

Editor’s note: I would’ve re-posted this two days ago (Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday), but I had my head up my ass.

but are you experiencedHere’s an idea I borrowed from a fellow music blogger: What’s the first record you ever owned? (“Kristian” described the joys of receiving Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction as a Christmas gift.)

Depending on how old you are, maybe that should read “stole” instead of “owned.” Or it could reference any of the following: 8-track, reel-to-reel, cassette, CD, mp3, mp4, streaming audio, youtube or telepathic transubstantiation (new technology we’re working on here at RCR).

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, it boiled down to one of two formats – 33 or 45 RPM. And my first buying decision was informed by a small transistor radio that I had perched on the sill of my bedroom window.

Up until I was about 10 years old, that radio was primarily used to broadcast play-by-play coverage of Cleveland Indians games, which I listened to religiously even though the Tribe rarely won. Meanwhile, my first real exposure to rock music involved sitting outside the closed door of my brother’s bedroom while he and his buddies played early albums by the Stones, the Animals and the Young Rascals. God knows what they were doing in there – and I wasn’t really willing to find out. Entering that room would surely lead to great ridicule and maybe even physical abuse. I was all about listening to the music… from a safe distance, of course.

Then I started hanging out with a friend down the street, whose older brother had a curious mix of rock and jazz albums that seemed to capture the spirit of ’67 – The Doors, Thelonious Monk, Jefferson Airplane, Coltrane, Cream, The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s)… My friend’s brother made me feel a little more welcome, probably because he was way too stoned to care that a couple of 11 year olds were rifling through his record collection. I also spent a lot of time at the local recreation center, where I heard the song Light My Fire about 1,400 times. Literally. (72 summer days x 20 listens per day… my wife checked the math.)

cklwGiven my newfound interest in hippie rock, I started to tune out the Tribe games on the radio and tune in to CKLW, also known as “The Big 8” – broadcasting out of Windsor, Ontario. Now I don’t mean to give short shrift to the birth of free-form FM radio in Cleveland with progressive rock stations like WMMS and DJs like Billy Bass, “the classical gas, the man with the special stash.” But that little phenomenon didn’t begin to take hold until more than a year after the Summer of Love. Before then, you had to really scour the dial to come up with something worth listening to. And even though CKLW was technically a Top 40 radio station, those wacky Canadian DJs would still manage to weave in a few soul and Motown nuggets – not to mention an acid-fueled rock song or two. Eventually, the station was forced to add more Canadian content (known in the biz as “CanCon”) at the expense of American soul. Goodbye Marvin Gaye… hello Gordon Lightfoot.

Anyway, I probably still had a couple of fresh box scores on the bedside table when I first heard Jimi Hendrix on my Japanese transistor. And I distinctly remember the experience (so to speak). It was like I’d accidentally dialed up a transmission from a distant galaxy, where advanced lifeforms had developed amplifiers powerful enough to vaporize our entire planet. The opening riff of Purple Haze was like nothing I’d ever heard before… It sent a jolt right through me. I kept a watchful eye on my Sony, expecting it to burst into flames at any second: Purple Haze

I had to find out right away who it was. The DJ never mentioned the artist, and the founders of google were about five years from taking fetal classes in computer programming. Luckily, the words Purple Haze were now seared into my skull. So I walked over to my friend’s house to ask his brother. “Oh yeah, that’s Hendrix, dude… he’s heavy.” Haze, Hendrix, Heavy… Time to scrape together all the change I’d gathered from around the house and head down to the O’Neil’s department store with my dad, who’d let me roam while he “rubbernecked.”

o'neil's-polsky's

O’Neil’s, left; Polsky’s, right

In 1967, O’Neil’s was the epicenter of downtown Akron – a massive structure that housed every basic item you’d need for the modern American lifestyle (and if you couldn’t find it at O’Neil’s, you simply walked across Main Street to shop at the store’s doppelganger, Polsky’s). O’Neil’s had a record department on the 6th Floor, and you’d get there by taking a series of escalators that became increasingly narrow and rickety as you neared the summit.

I survived the climb and walked over to a young, crisply dressed man who looked like he managed the New Christy Minstrels. “Do you have anything heavy by Hendrix? Purple Haze, perhaps?” He looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead, then suddenly remembered the exotic artifact that somehow got filed next to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On the cover: an odd-looking black man flanked by two even stranger-looking white guys, all three with afros. Inside: some of the wildest sounds ever committed to wax.

I plopped down my four or five bucks – which, if you account for inflation, would mean you’d need to secure low-interest financing to purchase an album today – and made the precarious descent to the first floor, ready to defend my new purchase from any form of assault. If I had somehow lost my balance and fallen head-first, I would’ve sacrificed my face to get that record home in one piece.

I barricaded the door to our family room, carefully took the record out of the sleeve and delicately placed the needle on Are You Experienced. And it opened with that classic riff from Purple Haze. Clearly, I was being way too careful with my new find. This damn thing could protect itself… maybe I should’ve been more concerned about dad’s cheap Heathkit hi-fi.

I could go on endlessly about the many pleasures of Hendrix’s first album. And not all of them had to do with powerful, mind-melting riffs.

The Wind Cries Mary – one of the most beautiful and lyrical rock songs ever written… The Wind Cries Mary

Are you experiencedThird Stone from the Sun, which took thousands of impressionable young teenagers on a trip across the galaxy (and we didn’t even have to leave our bedrooms)… Third Stone from the Sun

Hey Joe – a truly great blues song, right up there with anything by Muddy or Wolf… Hey Joe

And Manic Depression – Mitch Mitchell’s ultimate throw-down to any rock drummer who followed… Manic Depression

As you can probably guess by now, I went on to buy hundreds of albums, even more CDs and enough mp3s and 4s to fill an 80GB iPod. And I have a wall of cassette tapes in a closet that I’m afraid to toss, because one of them might hold that long-lost piece of music that I’ll never be able to get back. But Are You Experienced remains my greatest find, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel as transformed by a new sound as I did when Purple Haze first melted the plastic cover off my half-watt Sony.

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8 thoughts on “My First Album

  • Kurt, 29 November 8:23 am

    As a kid growing up on the shores of Lake Erie…Geneva, OH to be exact…CKLW came in better than every station other than WREO in Ashtabula. That was our Motown catalog…along with all the other pop and rock songs. I tell my 20 something sons that it was a great time to have mixed formats. Why else would I know the words to Knock 3 Times and Harper Valley PTA? I never would have chosen to listen to them but now I’m glad I had the opportunity.

  • admin, 29 November 4:06 pm

    Amen, Kurt… probably better than virtually anything on my dial (er, digital display) today.

  • Juan Giribone, 29 November 10:50 pm

    I really enojyed your story. It must have been a real thrill to track down the artist and album, and to see the niddle slowly coming down towards the record waiting for the explosion. Nowadays it’s all on the internet, the excitement of buying a record is not as great as it once was.

    I remember the first time I heard Jimi’s music, my father lend me his copy of Band Of Gypsys. My mind was blown!

    There’s a new record coming out in early 2013 called “People, Hell and Angels” it contains 12 unreleased tracks. It’s amazing how there are still plenty of unreleased recordings, after 40 years of his departure.

    I’m still waiting for the Black Gold album, I hope they release it next year. Thanks for the story!

  • admin, 30 November 7:48 am

    Thanks Juan. I also have fond memories of those gatefold covers. I think the first one of those I bought was Cream’s “Wheels of Fire” — helped ease the sting of having to listen to a 20-minute drum solo by Ginger Baker. I’ve been told that the gatefold covers also serve a very useful purpose for those who enjoy god’s green herb.

  • rixaidan, 30 November 9:22 am

    I grew up in Columbus and in 68 we moved to Cuyahoga Falls. My parents had to return to Columbus to sign off on the sale of our house and I spent that time across the street with my friend. As usual he had a big stack of albums his older brother had bought. We sampled a coupled of songs on each album, anything from the Electric Prunes to the Cowsills. Even at 14 I was a music snob and told the kid, “I’m not hearing anything worth buying”. He said, “Well I do have this one album, but it’s really weird”. He went in the other room and came back with “Are You Experienced”.
    It’s funny you mentioned going to a department store to buy the album. By the time Manic Depression ended, I had run down to Livingston Avenue to catch the downtown bus to the Lazurus dept. store. It was a long bus ride, but it was the only place I knew to buy albums. Their record dept. was also hidden in the back of the 6th floor like they were selling girlie mags. They even had listening booths where you could sample the albums. I showed the album cover to my genteel mother when I got back, and what she said was the most off-color thing thing I have ever heard her utter in my life. No matter, I had the prize. Jimi had crossed the diamond with the pearl.

    I was now not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.

  • admin, 30 November 5:05 pm

    Great story Rick… Looks like the same album turned us into the OCD music collectors we are today (although I have to admit, it’s a lot easier with all this digital shit!).

  • Art, 30 November 10:18 pm

    I was born down on 25th street in Cleveland and grew up in Brunswick Ohio. I don’t remember when I first found CKLW but it had everything you ever wanted to listen too. I had to go to summer school in order to graduate in 1971. The class I needed was government. For some reason my guidance councilor forgot to add it in 12th grade. I always thought payback but could never prove it. CKLW had 20 20 news and I would listen to the news waiting in the parking lot before I went in as government was current events in that day and I flew through the course. Canadian station had better news on the U.S. than most U.S. stations. Really miss those stations that played every type music. My first record was Dylan Highway 61 Revisited. My sister got it as a thrown in for a penny through the Columbia record club. She hated it and gave it to me. It was like are you kidding here is a punk with a Triumph Tee shirt on looking bad. Yep been a fan ever since. Thanks and keep up the continual education of the type of music we would hear on CKLW.

  • admin, 01 December 9:24 am

    Thanks Art… I’ve always felt that good radio stations should lead and not follow, and I’m not sure when things went horribly wrong (probably the ’70s, when programmed playlists replaced the anarchic DJs of the late ’60s). But I sure miss the golden era of radio, when you didn’t need a satellite and a laptop to find great music.

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