Tag Archive: Electric Flag


ZoSo

IV – Led Zeppelin – 11/8/1971

My interest in popular music started early, with my obsession with Beat the System and my Neil Diamond phase, as well as my early preoccupation with a Beach Boys greatest hits compilation. It grew and grew, reaching critical mass and passing it by, laughing at its lack of imagination.

I remember one of the numerous times I was rifling through my parents’ record collection. I must have been about 10. They were (air quotes) “LPs.” LPs are these black things with a little hole in the middle, and when you put them in a special machine called a (more air quotes) “record player,” music comes out. Ask your parents  grandparents.

I came across several records that ranged from famous (Tapestry by Carole King, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix­) to esoteric (Chicago’s Hot Streets, Huey Lewis’ Sports) to hopelessly obscure (It’ll Shine When It Shines by Ozark Mountain Daredevils, A Long Time Comin’ by Electric Flag). There was one album by some 70’s gospel group; I can’t remember the artist or title. The cover was a dichromatic picture with an orange sky and a black foreground. It was of five people (presumably the band), just black silhouettes, crouching in the grass, looking like ninjas. All that was visible other than their outlines were their eyes and smiles. It scared the crap out of me.

I remember one specific instance where I pulled an album out of the sideways stack; on the cover was just an old man with a walking stick, bent over, with a bundle of tree branches tied to his back. He was in a picture frame hung on an ancient stucco wall. There was no artist and title on the cover, as I had come to expect. I looked on the spine; nothing there, either, just what looked like the word “ZoSo” written in archaic text, followed by three symbols. On the back, there was just an unexciting building.

I was intrigued, but felt a certain hesitancy. What was this? It didn’t follow the pattern I had established for albums, which put me on guard. Was it even music on this album? Maybe it was some mysterious demonic chant, and if I played it, I would fall into the clutches of the devil! Perhaps even by opening the cover, I would be put under its spell. I felt a kind of electricity running through my system. Just do it! I took a deep breath and opened it.

I didn’t go on a killing spree or rape 1,000 virgins, in case you’re wondering. All that was inside was a painting of an old hooded, bearded wizard standing on a bluff of rock, holding out a lantern to illuminate the darkness. Next to it was a poem (or what I took to be a poem), talking about winding roads and shadows and a lady we all know, ending with the line “to be a rock and not to roll.”

The phrase hadn’t been invented yet, but I had a moment of WTF?

There are very few decisions in my life that I desperately wish I could go back and redo. I can count them on one hand with fingers to spare. One of them is that I didn’t – repeat, DIDN’T – actually play the record. I would have been opened up the Zep a lot sooner, and lived a more awesome life.

I know what you’re thinking – how could I get any more awesome? That thought seems weird to me, too, but it’s true. The earlier a human, any human, is introduced to Led Zeppelin, the better. If I ever have children, I think I’ll put headphones on my wife’s belly hooked up to an iPod playing “When the Levee Breaks” – if she doesn’t take them off and then slap me for being stupid, that is.

Tag Sales

It was the summer of 1995; I was 14. It was a quiet, sunny afternoon. At about 3:00, my father came home and walked into the living room all aflutter, carrying a cardboard box. He said he had just come from a tag sale near us. This was a common occurrence during the summer in New England where I grew up. Once a year, most people took stock of the stuff they had acquired over the year and, being dissatisfied with their stuff, their wallets, and themselves, decided they would sell it. This only happens for a single family about twice, but there were enough families where I grew up that a plethora of tag sales happened every summer.

My dad had just returned from one with a real find. He’s an intense music enthusiast. I get my passion for music (and all things) from him; combine that with my mother’s meticulous nature and my near-OCD preoccupation with music becomes clear. Anyway, he showed me what he had acquired at the tag sale he went to, which was a stack of used LPs. Such things, especially gotten at tag sales, are usually not very exciting, but as I looked through them, I could see that they were. A lot of them I had never heard of (Spirit, Electric Flag, Mountain), but others made me catch my breath. December’s Children; Abbey Road; Band of Gypsys; and what Dad said was the first Beatles album ever. In actuality it was Meet the Beatles!, which was the 2nd album to come out in the US, and the 5th overall. To be fair, it said right on the cover that it was “The First Album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo.” That just ain’t true.

But the real prize was Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, the first album from the guitar deity. This may not seem more remarkable than the other great finds I just mentioned, but for this. The sticker on one side of the vinyl listed the songs on side A; flipping the vinyl over revealed a duplicate side A sticker. A simple factory mistake, but it makes the value of the copy shoot up incredibly. As amazing as this is, it’s shot down in flames by the next thing: the previous owner penciled in on one of the stickers “Hendrix Side B.” Any value the copy may have had is completely destroyed by a bit of lead powder. It makes me weep.