Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's hard to be a vinyl addict in my family. It's hard for me when I simply can't stop and need to save for a trip. It's hard when endless arguments and aggro come into play all the time over the purchase of expensive albums online. You also have to worry about the vigilance of who you deal with. Sometimes the grading is picture perfect, but there are dealers who don't know shite about grading albums. Back when I first started collecting it was a different world.  Really it was Stuart, my father, who got me into the kind of music I collect when I was just a small lad who knew very little about what Real music was. He and other older friends who remembered the 1960s and 1970s were my encyclopedia then before I became a walking, talking, living, loving book of world records on ultra obscure stuff and more famous bands. Stuart brought me up surrounded by music and even if he hadn't been nurturing me with it I was very aware of it from an early age. I had a small interest as a little boy, but as I grew older music would become more a part of my life. When I started collecting seriously I was 16. Now at 35 many things have changed since then. There is the internet and occasional record stores and insane people like the mail order freak brigade as I could call them are nearly completely dead. This is a good thing. I could tell you all about the absolute maniacs who used to run this whole show, but I won't bore you with the details. Onto some factual information about how this all began.
Stuart Patterson Mitchner (Father) and Leslie Carol Mitchner (Mum) were a part of the 1960s counterculture and were dubbed "The Happy Hippy Couple." They were introduced to each other by none other than Ben Van Meter who did the light shows for the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms and thus named me Ben with the Blake stemming from English poet/artist/visionary hero William Blake.
Thus Benjamin Blake Mitchner was brought into the world on April 28th 1976.
Stuart wasn't slow in introducing me to music. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bowie, The Incredible String Band, it all was a part of childhood and one of my most traumatic memories is the assassination of John Lennon in 1980- it would be a full decade before I could listen to the Beatles again.
Fast forward to then. At 14 years old in 1990 I'd gotten bored with new music for the most part and Dad stepped in with suggestions- Traffic, Family, The Zombies who I was enthralled by thanks to "She's Not There." Two years later at 16 and 3 years later at 17 these bands were a staple of my diet of vintage brewed 1960s and early 1970s magic.
The big revelation came in 1989 when I was a 13 year old metalhead. I was finding heavy metal increasingly uninteresting and beginning to wonder if something else could be more satisfying to me than the numerous bands who were on MTV and the radio 24 hours every day and night. My answer came in two bands. First I bought a copy of Death Walks Behind You by Atomic Rooster and then after listening pinned to the floor by the title track, John Cann's dark Gothic voice, his blazing guitars, Vincent Crane's heavy pounding mesmerizing organ, Paul Hammond's thundering drums throughout the album I hated Metallica and continue to hate them. I knew I wasn't gonna make it anymore with the trendy metal kids at school who knew nothing. Stuart then had a massive collection of records. I had read in an interview with her that Doro Pesch of Germany's Warlock's favourite band and song was Procol Harum's only chart entry "A Whiter Shade Of Pale." Yes had by now become a favourite, but to put a final cap on modern mass marketed rubbish Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade" and the whole album did the trick. Soon I was in another world. I learned how to draw and I had to own up that I'd been mainly into the classic stuff like Angel, Scorpions, UFO and all these new bands were nonsensical. Stuart came into the picture to offer suggestions. Traffic and Steve Winwood were one of his first, but his first success along with Procol Harum were McCartney's best solo works and a revisit to The Beatles. I had a dream when I was about 14 I would guess that The Beatles were safe to go back to and it snowballed from there. Now, of course, I know that you just can't argue against The Beatles and Stu was right all along. Anyone who hates the Fab 4 needs to have their head re-examined. I was an idiot at 14 and 15. I did really bad things to other kids. I was shy, goofy, completely Unhip, terrified of England (soldiers especially thanks to a premature rendezvous with "The Knife' by Peter Gabriel and Genesis), blurry, unable to communicate with other kids on any level, and pretty much a fool. I was learning, though, at least about artwork and sounds. Sounds always affected me. From the beginning they did. It was certain sounds when I was a kid that bothered me and got me "horny and uncomfortable and moody" when I was really really young. I would run screaming because of these sounds while others delighted me. Music wasn't my main interest. I was into video games and then wanted to be a botanist. All that would give way to rock and roll over time. By the age of 16 I had gone through a massive Frank Zappa phase and he had taught me some good lessons. Poor Frank was dying then. He'd die that December of 1992 leaving me no time to get over the loss of another hero brought to me by father Freddy Mercury Of Queen who'd died the previous November. Stu had bought me a copy of A Night At The Opera and after completely missing the point it then sunk in. Still I am a dyed-in-the-wool Queen freak. Another acquired wonderful taste passed down from him was the idiosyncratic progressive group Earth Opera- a band who may have created Prog Rock or some form of it. This band possessed a singer and writer named Peter Rowan whose voice could tear the paint off walls and send your mind to some pretty strange places. I would grow to love them and him.
When I was 16 Stuart and I could agree about 1960s music nearly completely.  He brought home a tape of Quicksilver Messenger Service's 1st album and the twin guitar heroics of John Cipollina and Gary Duncan convinced me to get serious about playing the guitar. Stu found a rock and roll wonder kid guitar teacher named Jim MacGuire and thanks to Jim I studied hard at the instrument spending hours of practice to master it. At age 35 now and 19 years later I can say I am a fully equipped guitarist. Stu, never one to quit while he was ahead, then introduced me to the wonderful and strange beautifully twisted music of Arthur Lee and Love. Forever Changes- the sound of all that was going on in the 1960s both the beautiful and frightening side to it and of it.
Stoggie or Doggie is now how I refer to Stuart, but when he was still Stuart or Stu or Badger he bought me a copy of The Time Of The Zombies and Kak for Christmas of 1992. We were reading All Quiet On The Western Front in English class and soldiers were starting to have a big impact on me. Oddysey and Oracle, album 2 of the double set, blew me away. There was a really horrific song about World War 1 and an opening track that joyfully told of a loved one coming home from prison. There were songs of love and loss, of imagination run wild and hypocrisy. I was hooked. Well, there was no stopping from there. Stoggie may want to go back and change things now but he can't.
On my own accord some strange experiences led me to where I am today. In early 1993 things were really ugly in the Former Yugoslavia. The UN had sent British soldiers in as peacekeepers to try and do something about the genocide against the Bosnians by the despicable Serbs. After lies from our English teacher about soldiers which people who believe them still should be shot for the truth was revealed. We were told in class that they had no feelings or emotions and did nothing but go off and fight wars and that was it. A young Cheshire Regiment (Now Mercian Regiment) soldier was in tears on the Tele and I was staring at him with a horrified expression. The truth started to hit. No longer would I be ashamed of my emotional personality. I wanted to travel to England.
Years later now I've been to England 14 times and am hoping for a 15th if I can get my buying under control for awhile. All my best friends and closest allies besides Mum and Dad are British Soldiers and I want to thank them for the tremendous job they've done in making my life worth living. God Bless. Many hugs and maybe even a kiss. The same would go to Music. I know of nothing more moving, more powerful, more exciting, more alchemic, more poisonously addictive than the sounds that come out of old records. Now I'm open to all the music that passed me by when I didn't know about The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Pomp Rock, and AOR (Album Oriented Rock.) Bands from Snowblind to Wildfire to Skagarack to Shy to Treat (these guys are really good) to Glass Tiger prove that music was being kept alive when I thought it was dead. Of course, and rather sadly, the airbrushed images, flamboyance, airs and graces of hair bands and Pomp rockers would be killed off by Grunge which is another word for Shite. One of the few truly heavy HM bands from back in my early days Diamond Head knocked Stoggie out and continue to. He always knew good music. He always knew real music. I can't help but wonder how he feels about my jumping ahead of him into the obscure. Now Obscure can be bands who once had a following or chance of making it or bands who died out as quick as they came. I would advise you to start with a slightly more famous band. Choose Yes or Uriah Heep or Procol Harum or early Genesis. Choose Traffic, The Beatles, or The Zombies or Yardbirds. Then you dig really deep into the record racks, online sights, and record shops and become a vinyl collector.  Stoggie and I drove into NYC last week listening to Procol Harum and The Beatles. It all comes around in circles. I just bought loads of expensive and rare records to come in the mail in the now and near future. If you can support yourself and it's your Own cash maybe this is more fun. With Stoggie he grudgingly feeds my love for the rare, the obscure, and the expensive and then appreciates the music as much as I do. From Stoggie to Ben from Father to Son- he's handed down a wonderful kind of magic as Queen would have said.

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