Look out New York, Los Angeles and you other smug centers of the recording industry - here comes Wallingford, Connecticut.
Sure enough, Wallingford has entered the big time with some releases that are beginning to catch on and one, "The Scratch Band" (Big Sound, BSBP-1009), that's getting play on several area radio stations. Not that Big Sound Records has Columbia or Warner Brothers shaking in their blue suede shoes yet, but this market's airwaves are not known for giving the musical underdog a break. So the attention given The Scratch Band is worth nothing.
More important than the music (mor on that shortly) is the approach that Big Sound Records is taking. Ever since the list price of albums went to $7.98, there have been complaints from store owners, consumers and marketing management types that popular music is in the process of pricing itself beyond the average buyer.
These complaints have not slowed sales all that muich (record grosses have tripled in the past 10 years, and went over $3 billion in 1977) but they have given rise to alternative labels. Big Sound Records is such a label, and "The Scratch Band" is a perfect example of their production technique. No studio hotshots hired at $100 per hour; no tracks mixed or recorded in different studios across the country; no fancy packaging (either each band member owns only one outfit or all the cover art was shot at a local dive in about an hour); and no expensive advertising campaign. Suggested list price: $3.98.
There's a hitch: There are only six songs on the disc. But putting less music on each side gives a clearer sound because of the wider grooves, according to Peter Lubin, who bills himself as Big Sound's Minister of Information.
"We are trying to be the 'Stiff' of America," Lubin states, referring to the English independent initially responsible for recording Elvis Costello and various New Wave and unknown bands. "We have a staff of 15 people who work for peanuts to put out the music. And we'll never go to $7.98 because we don't like it".
He also mentions that Big Sound has no plans for singles, his tone implying that singles are the product of a corporate technocracy bent on musical dictatorship. No plans, that is, until he realizes that Big Sound's next release, an album by country singer Van Duren, "may contain 13 singles - he's sort of the Paul McCartney of Memphis."
You may have noticed that 13 cuts is more than twice the number on the Scratch Band's effort. It's also nearly twice the price, listing at $6.98.
"It'll be an LP," Lubin responds.
As opposed to . . .
"An EP [extended play - 4 cuts] or a BP [big play - 6 cuts]." Big Sound has yet to use the "Bet your BP" promotion tag. "There are also possibilities for a double BP."
Since a double BP would logically contain 12 songs and an LP has already been mentioned with 13, why pay more money for one less song? Sound quality, no doubt, which is a bit cleaner. Still, in the end, it's what's in the grooves - not their width - that will make or break Big Sound.
Unfortunately for BP admirers, "The Scratch Band," more often than not, sounds like a dynamite high-school band gearing up for the big dance.
There are some bright moments, though. Christine Ohlman's slowed-down remake of Dusty Springfield's hit, "I Only Want to Be With You," floats nicely over Paul J. Ossola's piano. There are hints of T-Rex ("When We Dance") and Lou Reed ("One Night for Eddie") and an energetic, if ragged, interpretation of Willie Dixon's "Don't Go No Further."
The group's influences are ecletic and it never resorts to outright mimicry, but it does need some work.
What's encouraging is that it won't have to travel too far to find it. Trod Nossel Studios are conveniently located downstairs in the same building that houses. Big Sound Records, and the Scratch Band is planning a club tour that should provide some high-level experience. As for Big Sound itself, there's no hesitation in discussion future prospects and the company is now trying to build a roster of good talent.
The odds, admittedly, are against any independent trying to undercut the giants. But remember that Heart put Vancouver's Mushroom Records on the map, and Vancouver was as obscure a music center to Americans as Wallingford is now.
And Vancouver doesn't have the BP.