Ouds, a New Year, a Lacquer Factory and the Desert: Our first week in California

At the end of our first week in California, we found ourselves looking out across a vast expanse of sand and sky thinking back to our trip’s beginning, just one week ago in San Francisco.  It seems too beautiful to have all just happened in one week. But as Ben Vaughn reminded us, gesturing out beyond his property to the faraway mountains before we recorded with him at his house in Wonder Valley, “How can anything be wrong?”

This idyllic scene in the Mojave fell at the end of a week filled with wonderful hospitality and amazing serendipity. But we should begin at the beginning of the story of our California Journey…

Last week when we left New York, we were nervous. If you’d seen us at the airport, you’d have laughed or died. We checked 9 bags of gear, including the Presto in its iron-clad, perfect black road case made for us by Red Dirt. It might have only been a hundred yards from the car to check-in, but it felt like a mile. Thankfully the nice folks at Delta took our gear with good humor, and we were on the plane and on our way!

We arrived in San Francisco and watched in horror as the Presto came crashing down the baggage chute. After testing the gear and finding everything miraculously in working order, we set out for Santa Rosa to record our first 78 of the trip with The Easy Leaves. At the end of a gravel road, next to a chattering creek, Sage Fifield and Kevin Carducci live in cozy, adjoining shacks. We set up in Sage’s under twinkling lights and recorded the duo performing “Cotton Fields.” Our first record in California! And it was beautiful.

Novato became our home base, thanks to our generous friends Tony and Kay. And suddenly, New Years Eve was upon us. How better to spend the last day of the year than on a real adventure? we thought when Jaron Lanier called and asked us if we wanted to stop by his Berkeley home to see his profound collection of musical instruments from all around the world. We stopped into San Francisco to pick up Jody Stecher to join in the fun, and an hour later we were lugging the Presto over clarinets and under hanging ouds to make our final 78 of 2012. A momentous and improvised recording of Jaron’s own design.

A new year and what a way to start it! Recording with X’s John Doe in his home in Fairfax. After cutting a rendition of “Skip To My Lou” more badass than your average barn dance, John was all fired up to try out some of the 78s he had lying around the house. So we turned the turntable over to him for an afternoon of Almanac Singers and Lead Belly’s “Sinful Songs.” 2013 felt welcomed in right.


An hour away in Sacramento the next morning, Julie Baenziger of Sea of Bees awaited us with doughnuts and coffee and stories galore. Her voice, like her house, was filled warm sunlight and life as she sang “In My Dying Day.” And after we made her 78, she took us to see her favorite Sacramento sights, cafes and a recording studio and all the places a local would want to go. We felt so at home that it was hard to depart, but we had to put a whole state under our wheels that night, so we bid Jules goodbye and hit the trail.

Eight dark hours later we were in Southern California. We regrouped, backed up and repacked at our dear friend and 78 Project contributor Sarah Law’s house. The desert was calling and we knew we had to be ready. We had a date with our supplier!

We can say without hesitation that Apollo Masters in Banning, CA is the reason The 78 Project can exist. They make our 78 acetate discs and the cutting needles we use…and they are the only ones in America who still do. We were honored that they extended us an invitation to visit their record-making facility, which included a full tour of every part of the process. All we can say is that it was mind-blowing. Apollo is a small company that produces an incredible product. Each disc goes through so many stages of production and quality control, and at each stage a real human being handles it. We saw how they polish the metal discs and coat them in lacquer then punch the hole in the center after they’ve dried. We also saw how one woman carefully crafts the ruby-tipped cutting needles one at a time under a microscope. We left wide-eyed and in awe of the preciousness of each and every disc we cut!

Further east past the grapevines and cow pastures, past the golf courses and the Joshua Trees, at the end of a long dirt road and a long dirt driveway, Ben Vaughn was waiting for us. His famous Rambler stood sentry as we entered his property, and two vintage campers sat out back, ready to be used to make a 78. As the sun went down, we set up in front of the Silver Streak, and Ben played “Worried Man Blues” with a lilting, cheerful energy. No dust settled on the disc and his camper provided us with a refuge for our playback after the hot desert sun set and left the air chilled and dark.

Our L.A. adventures are still to come, and our California trip is only halfway done!  More from us soon…

Our California Road Trip begins today! A new year of 78s awaits…

Our journey to make The 78 Project Feature-length documentary film continues today...

As the sun sets over Manhattan tonight, we’ll be 30,000 ft above the city, flying West towards the next leg of our journey: California.  We’ll give the Presto something to help it sleep and nestle it snug and warm in its fantastic Red Dirt Case for the long flight in cargo. 

When we land in San Francisco, we’ll free the Presto from its foam and start heading down the long roads that cross the great state.  From the forests to the oceans, the cities to the deserts, we’re going to try to film, record and see as much of California music and scenery as we can in two weeks.  And we hope you’ll join us!

Every day we’ll post photos on Instagram, tweets and Facebook posts so that you can see and hear what we experience along with us.  And if you’re one of the generous backers of our film, we’ll write and mail you a real, tried and true vintage postcard from the trip. 

The left side of our custom google map is just waiting to be filled with pins for new recordings and encounters and visits.  We can’t wait! 

Become a backer of The 78 Project Movie: https://the78project.com/contribute/

Episode #13: Sid Selvidge & Steve Selvidge “I Got Mine”

A beautiful afternoon filled with end-of-summer sunlight hid the rainstorm that was on the horizon. Our week in Memphis had been full of surprises, and our last day there was no different.

Sid walked in first, and his son Steve followed with their guitars.  While we set up, father and son filled the room with stories of Memphis past and present.  Sid can tell tales of Tennessee music for days, and you’d never want to miss one minute.  He’s been there for it, and not only can he tell it, he can play it for you, too.

They settled in to pick and slide through a mischievous version of “I Got Mine,” two styles of playing that spin on the same axis.  And when the story was told and the song finished, we heard two generations echo “It’s a record.”

Our deepest thanks to Ward Archer. For so many things!

How Sweet the Sound: Hear Holly Williams & Chris Coleman sing “Amazing Grace”

Tomorrow is a family day.  Not that every day isn’t, it’s just that this week in particular we make such an effort to gather together our loved ones.  Putting aside the stress and distance, it’s a wonderful thing to find that we are all joined in such a profound bond; that we are not the first, nor will we be the last to experience the world.  It’s not our sole responsibility to navigate it.

Holly Williams’ family has a vibrant musical story.  As Hank Williams’ granddaughter, she has a birthright of song.  And because her husband, Chris Coleman, is a musician, singing and playing guitar is something they can share as a family. When we visited them in Nashville, they sang “Amazing Grace,” together in their home with their dogs at their feet.  It was the picture and sound of togetherness and warmth.

An Old Familiar Tune: Hear John Paul Keith’s Flipside “The Man That Time Forgot”

Some things never change, and we like them that way. It’s comforting to sit in the same taped up vinyl booth in our local rock club, and to know that a simple, well-crafted rock riff will always make us feel good.

With his timeless songwriting and style, John Paul Keith was right at home in front of our Presto surrounded by the decor of Memphis’ Hi-Tone Cafe.  His flipside song sums it up perfectly, how someone can exist in many different moments all at once.  The comfort of the old, the lure of the new, and the place in between where we find ourselves most times.

In the Middle of the Night: Hear The Bo-Keys with Percy Wiggins Flipside “Writing on the Wall”

The beginning of a new week means just a few days are left in our 7 days of 78s…and that a holiday weekend is in sight!  Just in case you were afraid your Monday might lack a little flavor, we have a dash of Memphis hot sauce to add to it.  Trust us, it cooks.

We’ve heard that when you’re in Memphis, every night is like the end of the world.  After our last full day there, which we packed with a marathon three recordings, we’re pretty sure we know what that means. The Bo-Keys and Percy Wiggins were our final shoot of the day, and we arrived bone-weary and excited beyond belief. A splendidly shabby room packed with incredible musicians, the dark Memphis night for a backdrop, and a bold, old-school, no-holds barred sound that challenged our mic and carved itself into a perfect record.


Your Morning Song: Hear Arborea’s Flipside “Red Bird”

Today is a Sunday afternoon with an agenda.  It seeks to usher us into a real Autumn for the first time since the months of strange and unseasonable weather began.
Today the sky is powdery and sunny and the air is quick and brisk; the experience of being out in it is haunting and energizing.

Who are we to argue with such a Fall day?  It demands a song to match its mood.  So Arborea’s flipside track “Red Bird” is the perfect song for this afternoon.  We recorded with the duo on a sun-cooked hotel porch in rural Pennsylvania in August, but it was always meant to be a song for a more solemn season.


Fire Burns so Bright: Hear Ella Mae Bowen’s Flipside “Heart Locked Out”

In the spirit of the freewheelin’ freedom that comes with the weekend, today feels like the perfect day to share Ella Mae Bowen’s rockin’ flipside “Heart Locked Out.”

We recorded with Ella Mae in the house in Nashville that inspired her songwriting, and we felt so freewheelin’ that day that we set up on the staircase instead of in a room.  Her voice and her presence were bright and strong.  And when she sang, she turned the excitement of youth into something beautiful and vital we can all understand.




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