Monday, February 15, 2010

This Week In Music Geek

Long story short, I got sidetracked today and ended up at a record store I used to frequent... but I hadn't been there in probably a couple of years. The place always had a hit-or-miss but always entertaining used vinyl section. The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways and today I struck gold for a mere $5: A first pressing of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Street Survivors album.

The first pressing of the album featured the eerily prophetic cover photo of the band engulfed in flames. Only 3 days after Street Survivors was released in October 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd were forever decimated by their infamous plane crash, with Ronnie Van Zant (3rd from the left) and Steve Gaines (horrifically in flames in the center of the photo) both losing their lives and the other members forever damaged (some physically... all psychologically). The real life darkness surrounding this album was only magnified by the single 'That Smell' and its chorus:

"Oooh, oooh that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Oooh, oooh that smell
The smell of death surrounds you."

The cover of subsequent pressings of the album, and later CDs, was changed to a different band photo from the same session framed in black. That image remained the album's cover for 30 years until the 30th Anniversary Edition Deluxe CD was released a couple of years ago. Umlaut loves the first vinyl pressing because it's a haunting time capsule from October 1977.

The original gatefold album came with a couple of paper inserts, which was common for albums back then. One insert is a charmingly simple merchandise order form ("Lynyrd Skynyrd - Survival Kit") with which to mail order a t-shirt ($5.98), pendant ($5.00), or a 24-page souvenir photo booklet ($3.00). Postage and handling charges were $1.00 (!). On the flipside of the order form is a charmingly simple marketing survey asking fans what format they listen to Skynyrd on (album, 8-track, or cassette) and a few questions about where the fan lives and their favorite radio station and magazine.

However, it's the other insert that makes my Music Geek head spin. It's printed on red paper and on one side are all of the band and album credits handwritten out. On the other side (also handwritten) are the tour dates for Skynyrd's TOTS ("Tour Of The States") 1977-78... a tour that was never completed. The tour's 45 shows started on October 15, 1977 in Miami and were due to end on February 1, 1978 in Honolulu; Skynyrd's plane went down 2 days after Miami after the tour's second show in St. Petersburg.

The first time I came across a copy of this album some years ago I got chills when I discovered the tour date insert. It's haunting for me to look at the tour dates and think about what could have been for Skynyrd on that tour. It would have included their first headlining appearance at Madison Square Garden on November 10, 1977, a Thanksgiving Day show in Pittsburgh, a New Year's Eve show in Ft. Worth, a San Francisco show (at Winterland) on January 13, 1978, and the tour wrapping up in style with 2 shows in Honolulu on January 31 and February 1, 1978. After TOTS 1977-78 I'm sure the Summer of '78 would have seen Skynyrd headlining stadiums, since they were on the brink of challenging Aerosmith as the biggest American Rock band of the 70's. Sadly, none of that came to pass.

Umlaut listens to alot of Death Metal, Black Metal etc. etc. but few of those bands come close to having the real life violence and darkness that surrounded Skynyrd... and the Southern Boys could easily have kicked Scandinavian ass in a bar fight.

I honestly can't imagine coming across a CD in the near or distant future and having the same kind of historical and emotional reaction to the packaging... and we don't even have to discuss a digital download, right? Part of the mystery that made Rock bands so ingrained in my psyche as a kid was stuff like this. In those pre-Internet days you had to work to find out information about bands, it simply wasn't handed to you by pressing a button.... I've said this in this space before and, yeah, I'm an old fart about it: Because I had to work for that information I valued the bands (and the music) that much more because I had invested something in them. It's harder to invest yourself in bands now since, in this digital age, another band can grab your attention via a single web link e-mail forum post. I know... give me convenience or give me death... but I'll always prefer finding something in a dusty record store bin.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st Century, YES Umlaut already had a copy of this album at home... but I couldn't leave today's copy in the store.... it would have felt like leaving a comrade on the battlefield. So, YES, Umlaut now has 2 mint copies of Street Survivors on vinyl sitting on his shelf. The Geeks shall inherit The Earth.

On a lighter note, how can you not appreciate Artimus Pyle's cutoff jeans and "Vegetarian" t-shirt in the cover photo? The Southern Boys had a sense of humor.