Where ya headed? We meet like fellow passengers at the end of a nearly abandoned train car in Brooklyn. But the train doesn’t budge, because we’re not there to travel, not really. It’s dark inside, and we light candles, it’s chilly outside so we bundle up. It’s silent at first, without the chugging of the engine and the tripping of the steel wheels over hundreds of miles of track, so we fill the space with music.
She’s a New Yorker now, but Valerie June brought her Memphis along in her reedy, bouyant voice. And as she sings the sweet longing for a long-distance love in “Happy or Lonesome,” we almost expect her hometown to answer. But it’s the Presto that does, in the end, with a satisfying click.
This train’s not leaving the station, but it doesn’t need to. So what if we’re rooted in place, we’ll still get carried away.
Thank you so, so much to Pete’s Candy Store for giving us such a warm Brooklyn welcome, and for mixing our 78 Sours so strong!
The gypsy queen said it was the oldest song in the world. Even before he told us so, we felt that long history of “The Coo Coo Bird” in the sure motions of Richard’s fingers on the guitar strings and the dark depth of his voice. In a borrowed room, we borrowed what might be the oldest song in the world, and cut it deep into acetate.
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“The Wayfaring Stranger” felt truly right when Rosanne Cash sang it. With her husband, John Leventhal, playing guitar accompaniment and surrounded by the cozy familiarity of their kitchen, the quiet rumble of the Presto’s spinning platter seemed comforting and familiar to everyone gathered. The song is about the hope for comfort that carries you through a long journey, the promise of finding those you love again. This simple, graceful message of faith has carried “The Wayfaring Stranger” on a 200-year journey through history, and Rosanne’s belief in it brought it to rest on an acetate in her home.
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For her Flipside song, Rosanne chose a new original. “Etta’s Song” is about coming home as well, but to the city where she was born, Memphis, Tennessee, and is a tribute to a dear family friend.
It was sunny on Wednesday. But on Thursday, when we arrived on Rosanne Cash’s doorstep, the rain and cold were looming over our plans to record in her beautiful garden. So we set up in Rosanne’s kitchen while she made tea. John picked on his guitar, the morning rested on the hands of the clock and the black tuxedo cat investigated our Presto on the counter. A sense of comfort and family reverberated through the room. “The Wayfaring Stranger” is a spiritual made most beautiful by it’s simple narrative: after the toil of life’s journey, we will find home.
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The 78 Project: Vandaveer “Banks of the Ohio”
When the PRESTO clicks on and the platter starts to spin, there is a moment where the whole room focuses in and everything becomes a part of the music; the radiator’s hiss is a harmony and the sounds of traffic below tune to a G so perfect you can check your strings against it. And so it was on a wintery afternoon in New York, as every whisper of steam and every squeak of the bed’s springs under the weight of the PRESTO merged into Vandaveer’s “Banks of the Ohio.” The hotel seemed, on that December day, built to make this record, its purpose finally revealed in a rush of song.
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Special thanks are due to Ye Olde Carlton Arms, the artbreak hotel that was kind enough to host our crew for this episode. They are true to their history and truly kind to their fellow eclectics.
Vandaveer (Official Teaser)
If you listened only to his narrative of a scorned suitor’s terrible revenge in “Banks of the Ohio,” you might be reluctant to follow Vandaveer down a long dark corridor. But we took a chance in the name of an acetate, and let him lead.
We’ve lived in New York City for a collective eon. But we learned from Vandaveer that our own hometown still keeps secrets.
The 78 Project: The Mynabirds “Roses While I’m Living”
It seems like we started another life when we started The 78 Project. One filled with humbling challenges we couldn’t have ever imagined we’d face (a few swipes of a paintbrush and a tiny needle are all that stand between failure and success?) but also overflowing with momentum and awe.
And so it is fitting that The Mynabirds‘ episode should come first in the new year, 2012. The shoot was a celebration of our first week of filming for The 78 Project, and the spirit of the night was one of joy and gratitude. We gathered friends together in Brooklyn for a backyard party, dragged the piano outside and, after dark, The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn sang for us. Her song, Dock Boggs’ “Roses While I’m Living,” is about appreciating life while we live it and appreciating those we love while they are around to receive it.
We wish you a Happy New Year with joy and gratitude! We hope 2012 brings you excitement and comfort in equal measure. And we hope to see you in person, perhaps record you, but definitely share with you the indescribable beauty of sound captured the old fashioned way.
With deepest appreciation,
The 78 Project
With every acetate we cut, we’re understanding more and more how miraculous it is to be able to capture and replay sound. Portable and accessible recording devices changed the lives of Americans in the 1920s and 30s. And one of the most important reasons they did, was that machines like our PRESTOs changed the way that radio broadcasts were made.
Before TV (but long after broadsheets) most Americans got their news and entertainment from their radios. 1920s radio shows were a far cry from the phone-prank-laden shock jock-hosted sound effect parades you hear during drive time today. Back then every round of applause or word of warning had to be made in the studio in real time.
But radio broadcasters realized the possibilities of field recorders right away, and dove right in, using them to create all kinds of messages for delayed broadcast. These “air checks” would include intros and outros for popular radio programs, news reports, recurring features that required content from outside the station, political messages, public service messages and more. It was the birth of syndication. Just imagine the faint crackle of record spinning every time you hear Ryan Seacrest start the Top 40 countdown…we have PRESTO to thank.
LISTEN: Kentucky Governor A.B. Chandler for the reelection of Franklin Roosevelt in 1936
LISTEN: January 27, 1937 aircheck of WSM/Nashville’s coverage of the great Ohio River Flood
These clips are from the archives of WHAS, LKY Radio in Kentucky. Radio geeks can hear dozens more vintage air checks on their website.