Welcome Back, Lou

9087There’s a Goodwill store about a mile from where I work, and for a number of years I stopped there on the way home to go through the record bins. I started going there regularly in 1995—sometimes three times a week—and only stopped in the early 2000s, when the number of good records began to thin out. Apparently, it took that long for people to figure out they could sell their old LPs on e Bay. At a dollar each, I could even afford to buy records for my friends, too.

I found a lot of great stuff there. I have a terrific mono copy of Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds, a really nice mono Blonde on Blonde marred only by the previous owner’s name on the cover in magic marker, quite a few jazz LPs, tons of Sinatra…the list could go on. Sometimes I found things I didn’t want but knew were rare and sold them on e Bay for good money. I sold two albums by the Holy Modal Rounders, a folk group, to a guy in Japan. I ended up sending the money back to him a few months later when I found Japanese versions of two Grant Green CDs that were then unavailable in the US. He very kindly picked them up for me and mailed them.

One of my best finds at Goodwill was a copy of Sunny Side Up, a 1960 recording by Lou Donaldson with a solid lineup that included Horace Parlan on piano, Bill Hardman on trumpet, Laymon Jackson and Sam Jones on bass, and Al Harewood on drums. The LP was an original pressing in mono, sounded great, and was in a cover that was still in good condition. Most people who own Blue Notes don’t get rid of them at Goodwills or yard sales because they know how valuable they are. I kept it for at least 15 years, enjoyed it every time I listened to it, and was glad I found it.

Last fall, in a routine check of the LP listings on E Bay, I saw that a copy of Sunny Side Up went for close to 200 bucks. I did a search of completed sales, and copies were averaging $150.00. I have a copy of the recording in stereo as part of a Mosaic CD set, I think I may have needed some money for a new bike part, and it just seemed to be the right time to sell the LP because I have a big collection. I posted it on e Bay, with a careful description of the condition of the record and the cover (both had some minor flaws), and sold it for $100.00 to a collector in Thailand. I paid a dollar for it, so I made out in the deal.

Of course, I immediately regretted selling it. It was a cool thing to own, and relatively rare. I’ve found a number of later Blue Note pressings, including a couple by Donaldson, but Blue Notes from 1960 and earlier are difficult to find in good shape. Owning a vintage Blue Note has some collector cred that, say, an old Verve pressing doesn’t seem to have. More than that, it was a record I enjoyed listening to, the pressing was first rate, and it sounded lifelike and immediate, even in mono, in a way the stereo CD version doesn’t.

A few weeks ago I was on the web-site for Acoustic Sounds, one of several online music retailers I go to in order to find audiophile LPs, CDs, and SACDs. They had an all-analogue mono reissue of Sunny Side Up that the now defunct Classic Records pressed about five years ago. It was on sale for $25.00, and Classic mastered and cut it using their all tube mono cutting system and cutter head. I had been itching to replace my copy, and this was an affordable way to do it—after all, I’d still be $75.00 ahead on my previous sale.

Obviously, I can’t do a side by side comparison with the copy I sold, but this is a wonderful pressing and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it sounds better than the original. Bernie Grundman mastered and cut it and I’ve never heard a CD, SACD, or LP he’s worked on that I didn’t like. This LP certainly has a presence and power the CD lacks. Harewood’s cymbals ring out and stay in the air longer than on the CD, the bass from both players is full and resonant, all horns are three dimensional and out into the room (yes, in spite of it being mono) and Horace Parlan’s piano rings true throughout. The cover is a glossy reproduction of the original in heavy cardboard, and the LP, pressed in 200 gram vinyl, is a first-rate example of how records should be made (it was probably done by RTI in Los Angeles).

Does it fill the hole left by selling the original? Yes, and more. In fact, as I listened to it a couple of days ago, I realized that what I missed was the sound of that LP, not its collectability. Only other collectors would care about that anyway. I’ve bought a few rare records over the years, and they’re nice to have. There’s a kind of insider aura to having a cool record that is an exciting part of collecting. But it still has to come down to putting a platter on a turntable and enjoying the sound that pours forth from the speakers.

So, a guy in Thailand now owns a more than 50 year old Blue Note pressing that I found at Goodwill and I own a newer pressing that is a pleasure to hear. Balance is restored.

By the way, I have a copy of Roll Call a 1960 recording by Hank Mobley that my brother in law Mark found at a yard sale about ten years ago for a quarter. I won’t be selling it.

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