Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 78, A Happy Anniversary, and our Road Trip’s Sweet Nashville Ending

This week is the anniversary of our first road trip to make The 78 Project Movie. Thinking about the year as a whole, there has been such a wonderful symmetry to our experiences. The first and last trips both finished in Tennessee, and each trip has been filled with bright, unexpected moments. It felt this week as if we had truly come full circle, and we wanted to celebrate the first recording from our very first road trip made with the perfect person to set the tone for what would come during the year that followed.

Mary Chapin Carpenter was a headliner at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and she offered to spend the afternoon before her set making a record with us in her tour bus.  The most gracious host that she is, she not only invited us with all of our gear aboard her home away from home, she also let us turn off her air conditioning so that it wouldn’t interfere with the recording and serenely braved the August heat. Mary Chapin’s nature is graceful, and her performance was powerful, a combination that mesmerized and awed us.  She sang “The Water is Wide” with the sure, patient voice and agile finger-picking of a person who has always known a song.

For our last two days recording this week in Nashville, we were thinking so much about how far we’ve traveled and of all the wonderful people we’ve gotten to know.  In part because our last two musicians were so kind and generous, and in part because they all have been.

In Nashville, as in Memphis, we felt cozy and at home.  Infinitely welcoming person that he is, Jim Lauderdale made us feel even more so.  He gave us the run of a beautiful house from the 1890s, and a heartbreakingly gorgeous a capella performance of “Before This Time Another Year”.  It’s no wonder that Jim is a constant collaborator. His musicality is superb, and he himself is the kindest of souls.

We always say that our last day of each trip always brings a wonderful surprise, and it remains true. Each trip as we’ve spent our last afternoon making a record, something magical has occurred, and this last day in Nashville was no different.  The Secret Sisters had arranged for us to meet in the Lindsley Street Church of Christ, and everything about the moment was beautiful. Lovely, real life sisters Laura and Lydia, their fluttery, haunting voices in tight sibling harmony, the light through the stained glass, the sounds dispersing through the air all the way up to the ceiling.  When they sang “In the Sweet By and By” and an original called “Little Again,” they invoked the timeless closeness of family.  And during the giddy playback, they overflowed with the fresh energy of new experiences.

We drove out of Nashville as happy as we could ever be. The end of our last road trip is the beginning of everything that comes next for The 78 Project.  We will edit our movie, continue making our web series, and feel fortunate every day that our work helps to bring many, many more singular one-take recordings to life.


Louisiana Bound: Our last road trip to make The 78 Project movie

A Sunday in the Bayou is as perfect as it sounds. Bright sun, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, and music all through the house. We made it to Louisiana!

It’s been an eventful first couple of days on the road, and this trip feels filled with excitement and promise.  We started out with a visit to the Library of Congress Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA.  Built into the side of a mountain, the building is a beautiful sight coming up the road.  And inside, it’s filled with treasures. Matt Barton, Brad McCoy, and Bryan Hoffa were kind enough to show us around and demonstrate some of their process. They played us a 7″ shellac disc from 1905 to show us how they capture the sound, and taught us their tried and true trick for centering a disc punched with an off-center hole. It involves a pencil.

Rare recordings and recording gear, and expert archivists working hard to make the material available to the public.  The history of our nation’s recordings are being preserved in Culpeper, and it was inspiring to see the wonderful work that they’re doing. And in fact, about 10,000 of the historical recordings they’ve transferred are available to stream on their National Jukebox.

A quick stop in Lynchburg, VA and the lovely hospitality of some new friends Joan and George recharged our batteries for the long drive to Nashville.  We crossed state lines at the Birthplace of Country Music: Bristol, TN/VA and we took in the sites for a few.  It’s not every town that can lay claim to the first recordings of Jimmie Rogers and The Carter Family as well as count Clarence Ashley, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Uncle Charlie Osborne as one-time residents.  If you find yourself there, might we suggest you eat at Eatz?


Nashville was as warm and welcoming as always, and it was wonderful to be there exactly one year to the week since we last came this way. But we couldn’t stay long, we were Louisiana bound!

Since this is our last movie trip, it’s a great opportunity to support The 78 Project. We have vintage Louisiana postcards in hand, ready to mail out to thank you for your generosity. And it won’t be a long journey now from road to screen for the film.  We’d love to see your name in the credits, and to see you in person at a screening. And if you donate to The 78 Project through our fiscal sponsorship with IFP your donation is tax-deductible. Donations we receive now will go to our post-production fund and will be essential in giving the film a beautiful finish!

Donate to The 78 Project

Episode #18: There’s Water Now: Watch and hear Victoria Williams’ “Bath Song”

Just on the other side of the steepest mountain in Echo Park, and many miles west of the desert cafe where we first met her, Victoria Williams invited us over for an evening of songs and record-making. The L.A. night was cold, but the house was warm and alive with some friends – including her dog Beau – and home-cooked food.

Victoria wanted what would be to be; she had happily followed Beau’s lead to the restaurant in Joshua Tree where we had also stopped on a whim, and as we set up that night, she was excited to find out what surprises “Bath Song” would bring at 78rpm. It seemed like a moment that had become inevitable since we left New York, wondering who we would meet, somehow thinking it might be her. The Presto clicked off, closing the circle, and our California road trip felt complete.

Our thanks to Gabe Noel for his beautiful musical contributions to this recording and to Robert for his kind and generous hospitality.

Family Story: Hear Christopher King tell the birth of Riley at 78rpm

So often they seem beyond belief, the yarns that are spun around town and around dinner tables, late in the night or in passing on the street.  They are mostly told secondhand. Or third.  Stories from the family lore too wild to think they could have actually happened, and so exciting and colorful we would hardly want to live in a world where they couldn’t.

Often a delightful dubiousness is added to these tales by the distance they traveled to reach our ears, the wine, and the festive manner of telling. This was not the case on the summery night when our friend, acclaimed 78 collector and producer Christopher King, shared with us his family fables. His were told firsthand, and with demonstrations to help us picture the action.

“Did we tell you how our daughter, Riley, was born?” He asked us later, nonchalant as he cleared our plates.  After the stories his family had already shared, of ceiling snakes and hatchets and the town where they live in Virginia, we knew this legend, saved for last, must be the best one.

Episode #15: The warmth of our spirits: Dylan LeBlanc “Innocent Sinner” video clip and acetate

We’ve been hard at work in the editing room since returning home in January from our California road trip. And though we sit in the same room every day as we sort the hours of footage we’ve shot so far for The 78 Project movie, there’s no possibility of sameness or fatigue. Each day we are transported to another room, any of the many different and beautiful rooms all around the country we’ve been invited into to film and make 78s.

This week as scenes from our Southern journey emerged on our editing monitors, the drudgery of winter had disappeared and suddenly summer was bearing down with the last of its might. We were transported to a sunny high-ceilinged room in Nashville mesmerized by a sultry and spectacular sound: the voice of Dylan LeBlanc.

We wanted to show it to you the moment we saw it.  Haunting and reverent and filled with purity and magic, it called to us like the endless roads of our journey, reminded us of the warmth of your support, made us want to say thank you right now and always.

Getting to Know the PRESTO – #8 – On Needles (and Pins)

Things that have been used as needles for record players in a pinch: Cactus needles (like the ones to the right at the Smithsonian which belonged to Moses Asch,) shards of bone, ivory and glass, hatpins, nails, safety pins, sewing needles, paper clips, and even lasers.

If it’s pointy, you can believe someone’s tried to run it across a record to see if some sound will come out.  But most of these impromptu options will ruin your record!  And, of course, when it comes to cutting a record, you can’t use just anything. If you want that disc to last, and sound its best, you’re going to need a gemstone.

We discovered at the Library of Congress – during our (sanctioned!) exploration of Alan Lomax’s own PRESTO – that Lomax used sapphire cutting styli.  We saw them on his order reports…pricey for the 1930s! Diamonds make great cutters, too. But for us only Apollo-made Transco rubies will do!

During our California road trip, we were fortunate enough to tour the factory where our ruby-tipped cutting needles are made, and as we said at the time, we were in awe of the careful process by which each individual stylus is brought to life.  Hundreds of tiny ruby slivers are fit one at a time by hand into individual metal settings (you can see them in the pictures on the right and below) then aligned and sharpened in 8 stages by carefully calibrated lasers and grinding and polishing stones.

The result? A tool as much a unique work of art as the records it will cut.  Hatpins need not apply.


Good Times All Would Happen: Hear Sid Selvidge & Steve Selvidge’s 78

Sid Selvidge is a performer and folk music scholar of the highest order. It’s a well-deserved rap he caught from devoting himself congenially and tirelessly to knowing the people and learning the songs of the South. And of course, to contributing his own songs to the story. Sid is a walking record of Delta music and the American folk scene as it has been and as it is, with stories for days and an ear ready for any new ones you might want to share with him.

Sid had a memory of the Frank Stokes song “I Got Mine” from hearing it on a sampler, he recalled it being catchy and sly. A song that puts its singer in the shoes of a rascally gambler out for a good time. But as he discovered, listening to it again, the exact lyrics are hard to make out. He looked them up, and found enough different versions to keep you confused for a week. So, acting in the truest folk music spirit, Sid just picked the words he liked and rolled with it, the version that now goes on record as his.

Things do change and stay the same in equal parts. For Sid, his son Steve, and for us the day we recorded them together in Memphis, that meant hearing Sid singing a song he’d sung so many times before, but in a changed voice and on a very old format. It was Sid’s idea, to hear the old and the new together this way, the perfect test of time, and the perfect record of place.

Serendipity, Spoons, Hammers and Harmony: Our California adventure continues south and finishes strong

Something drew us into that café. With it’s squeaky screen door, two tiny tables and unassuming presence at the end of the block, it just looked like the place where the locals go.  We were passing through Joshua Tree on our way to Wonder Valley and had stopped in for a quick bite to eat.  When Victoria Williams walked through the café door, we could hardly believe it.  The luck!  She told us her sweet dog Beau had led her there, and we’re inclined to thank him here now.  We asked her if she’d like to make a record later that week and were thrilled to find that she did!

The next day we sped back west to meet an old friend for a very unique recording.  Coati Mundi had tested every spoon in his kitchen, he told us when we arrived at his Murrieta, CA home.  He’d chosen the perfect two, the ones that sounded the best in the bright-sounding room.  The version of “Billy Boy” he had cooked up was truly original, infused with Latin percussion and the strangeness of a memory he has of learning the song as a city kid sent to the country for some fresh air.  Over a home-cooked meal Coati reminisced with his sister about the Midtown disc-recording booths and rock concerts of their childhood.  And he even played us the very first acetate he ever cut as a young piano player in New York City.

A couple hours drive away in LA the next morning, we were scaling Topanga Canyon in search of Little Wings.  He met us in the road and guided us up to a steep parking spot, then helped us haul our gear down dirt paths and up homemade stone staircases to a lovely, sundappled little utopia where he spends half the year in a tiny cabin.  We assembled on the porch to record his mesmerizing take on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, and afterwards, he broke out his spray paint and stamps to customize the record sleeve.

Later that day in a cozy apartment in Studio City, Adam Levy & Gaby Moreno patiently practiced their smokin’ hot jazz while we disassembled the Presto to replace some tired tubes.  If it sounds scary, that’s because it was!  With no backup on hand, our Presto had to work.  Many fraught moments later, the platter was back on and spinning.  With the crisis averted, Adam and Gaby performed a sparkling version of “After You’ve Gone” that we’re sure will be one for the ages.

Gaby had been kind enough to let us use her just-bought vintage suitcase Newcomb turntable to play back their acetate, and after hearing its beautiful warm sound, we knew we had to get one.  She and our friend and master audiophile Tom DeSavia directed us to the Audio Specialist.  He turned out to be the vintage dealer of our dreams, outfitting us with the perfect new playback turntable.

We arranged to meet Victoria at her friends’ house in Echo Park a few days after we’d run into her in Joshua Tree.  When we arrived, she and Beau were waiting for us with great-sounding a spot all picked out in the beautiful front room.  Victoria’s friend Gabe Noel came over with his cello to accompany her as she sang “Take This Hammer” with her undeniable style and breathtaking grace.  Over a dinner of vegetables from the garden out front, Victoria and her friends gave us a wonderful feeling of home so far away from our own.

It had been almost two weeks since we’d arrived in California, and those two weeks had been monumental.  There was just one more record to cut to complete this most amazing trip.  We packed up our car, bid our lovely LA hosts Elli and Andy goodbye, and started north for Pasadena.

Tom Brosseau & John Reilly were waiting for us, warming up their voices and guitars.  They spun through an impressive repertoire of classic songs, wowing us at every subtle turn of their harmonies.  Settling on two perfect tunes, “Careless Love” and “Single Girl’, the duo made an acetate of true distinction marked by the beautiful sound of true friendship and collaboration.

Later that night, we saw them perform at the Sanctuary in Santa Monica along with their friends Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond) and Willie Watson.  And who should we see there but Victoria! It was a wonderful way to end our week in LA, and we headed back North with our hearts full of happiness and our car full of unbelievable records.

Before catching our flight, we stopped in to say hello to our old friend Mia Riddle in Santa Cruz, then headed the rest of the way up the coast back to San Francisco, the place where this whole wild trip started.  A new year began while we were on the road filming this next chapter in The 78 Project Movie, and we feel the newness now, filled with potential and excitement, as we write this.  It’s off to an amazing start thanks to our friends and supporters and to this fantastic West Coast journey, now complete.

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