From the Stacks

From the Stacks: Uncle Murray’s Record Collection

Dear Band Families,

I recently inherited well over 1,000 LP’s from my Uncle Murray.  This Wednesday after school we will sell them for two dollars each with all proceeds going to the school band.


Mr. Levitz

My kid tells stories about his band teacher like other kids talk about their coaches.  Mr. Levitz was born and raised in New York City, where he was sort of a musical Forrest Gump who found himself in the middle of things.  What treasures might be hiding in his departed Uncle Murray’s record collection?

Wednesday afternoon arrived. I put on my steel-toed boots, packed up my stun gun, and jumped in the car.  Unfortunately I didn’t anticipate the tangle of after school traffic on the two lane road leading to the boy’s high school, and now I was running late.  When I made visual contact with the campus I pulled off of the road and cut across the lawns, horn blaring.  A gardener yelled something about clipping him.  I tossed him his rake and gave him the finger without easing up on the gas.  I blasted through the fence bordering the campus, parked on the sidewalk between the band room and the gym and bolted for the door.

Dozens of horny, pimply vultures pecked at the wine crates holding Uncle Murray’s carefully curated collection.  There were so many of the little bastards that I couldn’t get close to the goods.  A tiny opening appeared in the crowd, and I worked my way through until I was only one person away from a record box.  I recognized the kid — a fourth chair clarinetist with a runny eye.  I landed a hard knee to his coccyx and he went down.

What was wrong with these savages?  The first album in the box was a Rolling Stones Some Girls with the original cover.  I snatched it, making sure to throw some high elbows as I came up, just in case.

I worked my way around the room.  The boy came over to show me the Lionel Hampton that he found and I made him my pack mule.  “Hold these,” I said, and I shoved a stack of records into his gut.  “If anybody grabs for them head butt him.  They might get my Doc Watson, but they’re going to have to bleed.”

The last box of records was 78s.  I got to them just as another old-timer spotted the crate.  He released the honors band trombonist that he had in a headlock and bolted for the box.  I grabbed Mr. Levitz’s conductor baton and splintered it into a makeshift shiv.  The old-timer bared his teeth and the flecks of yellow in his eyes gleamed.  “Back off, Satchmo,” I growled, the shiv inches from his throat.

When all was said and done I only managed to preserve sixty-seven platters from Uncle Murray’s record collection.  I erred heavily toward the doo-wop for a few reasons:

  • The kid’s school has a brilliant jazz band.  I was thrilled to hear how excited they were about Duke, Django, and Dave Brubeck.  There was no doubt that the jazz albums were going to good homes.
  • I couldn’t bear the thought of Uncle Murray’s coveted doo-wop ending up at a Goodwill or some such.
  • I like doo-wop.

A few records I purchased solely for their “From the Stacks” worthy covers, and these will have their moments in the spotlight soon enough.  Some were for the boy, who rocks the marimba with style and grace.  The rest were for me, and below are a few of my tastiest grabs.  I promise, Uncle Murray, they have gone to a good home.  I hope you have, too.

Some Girls, The Rolling Stones:  Shortly after this album was released the celebrities (or their estates) threatened lawsuits for depicting them without their permission.  Marilyn et. al. were deleted from subsequent pressings.

Now! The Rolling Stones.  This is almost a home run.  It has the red label with the boxed London FFRR logo.  Sadly the jacket isn’t in the best of shape, and it is the “censored liner notes” version.  Still, very cool.

“Katie Mae Blues,” Lightnin’ Hopkins.   I’m pretty sure that this was Hopkins’s first single, cut in 1946.  Having a copy on Aladdin is just silly cool to me, even if it isn’t in the best of shape.  You can hear the song here.

“Cocaine Blues,” Roy Hogsed.  Never heard it?  Listen here.

“Wabash Blues,” Pee Wee Hunt.  Can’t get into an orchestral blues?  Just pretend that muted trumpet is Charlie Brown’s teacher.  Listen here.

Memorial Album,  Johnny Ace.  Johnny Ace is the first great tragedy of the rock  ‘n’ roll era.  A popular recording artist with a rather strange habit of playing around with his pistol, Ace accidentally shot himself in the head before a Christmas 1954 concert.  This is Duke Records’ posthumous compilation of Johnny Ace’s singles,  rushed out quickly after the singer’s death.

Woody Allen – Stand Up Comic: 1964-1968.   I loved comedy records when I was a kid:  Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart.   I never owned a Woody Allen record, though.  Thanks to Uncle Murray that has been rectified.  Here is a brilliant piece that suggests Woody carried around the idea for Midnight In Paris for fifty years or so.

“Too Old To Cut the Mustard,” Marlene Dietrich and Rosemary Clooney.  George’s aunt and the German screen legend singing about erectile dysfunction and Ovaltine.  Have a listen here, if you aren’t too old.

7 replies »

  1. Artfully weaving humor into tragedy is one of my favorite aspects of your writing. The direct links to songs from your story truly adds another dimension to the text… quite like lyrics embraced by melody.

    Here, humor is beaten back by your bloodlust for vinyl. What will slake your thirst for more records? Band students, James… you may have altered the course of great music yet unborn in these kids.

    I’m imagining you in that Twilight Zone episode… racks and racks of albums, not a needle to be found for your turntable.

    PS: Is it necessary for me to explain sarcasm here, like we must do on Twitter? Asking for a friend…


  2. Yes. Yes, you must explain your sarcasm. Do I need to explain that?

    Love the Twilight Zone reference — that is me all over. You nailed it.

    Finally, a big shout out to Hunter S. Thompson, who I completely ripped off here. Rest in peace, Bubba.


  3. You satisfied my constant thirst for clocking stupid teenagers, then caused me to breakdown and weep when I think of the stupid teenager who owned both original Rolling Stones albums and carelessly loaned them/lost them over thirty years ago.
    So I carry a grudge against stupid teenagers! Can you blame me?

    Lovely post, I am going to go rhythmically bang my head against the wall now.


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