by Jeff Archer Black
Joe quickly flipped through the H section of the vinyl at Quinn's Records and Rarieties. It was a weekly venture and he'd pretty much seen the same records time and time again. Some of them he already had - Hendrix, Humble Pie, Sammy Hagar, Full Moon by The Charlie Daniels Band? That one was out of place. He plucked it out and put it in the front of the D section where it belonged and in doing so, felt his lower back begin to kack out for the third time in as many months. He remembers his Dad saying once that after you hit 40, things turn south. At 46, Joe felt like he was screaming through Alabama at mach five. Then he saw the other records he didn't want - The Honeydrippers, Helix, Hall & Oates. He'd seen them all. That was, until he reached the end of the section. The very last record in the H section was one he'd been looking for a clean copy of, any copy of, for a long time. Jerry Quinn, the store's owner, or one of his vinyl junkie employees must have known that this particular record didn't come through real often being whoever it was, intentionally filed it in the back of the section. It wasn't there the prior week. Perhaps they knew Joe had been looking for it for a long time?
There it was in it's strangely plain covered glory. Mixed Bag, the first album by Richie Havens. Joe slowly pulled the sleeve out of the near mint cover. Someone knew how to take care of their records, he thought. It was in a thick sleeve with a soft plastic lining. Then he pulled the record out to give it his usual close inspection for dust, scratches and general wear. Side 1? Hmmmm. Looks good. Side 2? Wow. It's perfect, he whispered.
Jerry Quinn paid the stranger ten bucks for Mixed Bag. It was the only album the man brought in which was quite odd. Most sellers brought in 3 or 4 peach crates at a time. The stranger softly said, Thank you, put the ten spot in his front pocket and left as mysteriously as he had arrived. Jerry put a square sticker on the top right corner and wrote $20 on it, then remembered one of his regular customers asking about the record a month or so back but he couldn't remember which customer. Knowing some of the drivel that continuously haunted the H section such as latter day Heart, Herman's Hermits and The Human League, he figured it would go unnoticed by everyone other than the serious record searchers, so, he placed it in the back of the section then stepped out of the front door for a cigarette.
Al Sanchez simply gave up. It was his 40th birthday and he was at his girlfriends apartment for the night. In the previous week, they had spent over three hours at his house watching the director's cut dvd version of the Woodstock movie. She was 29 and had not listened to Richie Havens' music before. She liked what she heard from him in the film and asked Al if he had any of Richie's music. He did. He figured he'd start at the beginning and brought his copy of Mixed Bag to her place on the night of his birthday. A month earlier he had loaned her one of his four turntables so he could listen to his prized vinyl at her place too. The night was good for both of them. But then, the next morning, Al went home only to find that his home was no more. Somehow, overnight, a fire had started and consumed everything he owned. He was a rather low profile kind of guy so no one from the area knew where to find him to let him know what had happened. All they knew is that he wasn't in the house when it burned down. They had all gone off to work that morning leaving the neighborhood empty except for Al, his car, the charred remains of his small house and his one lone remaining album, out of close to twelve thousand, which he put up to his face and cried behind.
Thirty years earlier, in 1976, Al's older cousin Lynn gave him Mixed Bag. It was the very first album Al ever owned. From that lone album which he proudly stored on a nick nack shelf on the wall above his bed, he grew a collection over the years that would become legendary throughout Dane County Wisconsin. When it came to rock and roll, he was the go to guy. The one with all the answers and subsequently the eventual owner of Amazing Audio, a tiny store on the east side of Madison that specialized in high end audio equipment. Sadly, a month before the fire, he had to finally close the doors. With the mess of an occupation happening in Iraq and gas prices steadily over four dollars a gallon due to all the oil rig sabotage taking place, people just weren't buying what he was selling anymore. He had no choice but to cut and run. To make ends meet until he could find work, he was contemplating selling his record collection. He second guessed himself when he got the phone call from his aunt ten days before the fire that his cousin Lynn had unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack. He thought he was responsible. He figured he broke her heart when he mentioned in an email to her that he was considering selling his albums.
In early August, 1969, Lynn Harper was 18, fresh out of high school and ready for adventure. She found it when she heard about the upcoming music festival in upstate New York. She somehow conned her mother into letting her make the road trip with a few of her friends to see Jimi Hendrix and The Who. Her mother didn't understand why they had to drive to New York when she figured they would probably be coming to Milwaukee sometime soon. "But Mom, they're TOGETHER. Same stage. It'll never happen again." Off she went.
Little did Lynn or her friends know that they would be members of a party encompassing nearly half a million people.
They had done their share of drinking and pot smoking in high school but this was something else. They got lucky and managed to dodge the bullet of the infamous brown acid. They got the good stuff and managed to weave their way up close to the wooden wall between the ocean of bodies and shanty ship of a stage. And they waited.
Three hours of voices, sweat and hard tripping went by when they heard the hard strumming of an acoustic guitar building in sound like a helicopter coming in from the far side of the jungle. Lynn was completely mesmerized by this tall black man, beating the daylights out of his guitar. This man who spoke so elequently of peace and happiness. She remained entranced for the next couple hours as he left the stage, then returned. And again left, then returned to sing more songs. She had the odd suspiscion that something was wrong and he was being pushed back on the stage to stall for time. She was right. Richie Havens had run out of songs to play so on his last trip out, he began to make stuff up on the spot. "Freedom! . . . Freedom!" Lynn didn't even hear The Who or Hendrix. She could not get the sound of Richie out of her head for days on end.
On Saturday night, Lynn and her friends, who amazingly never lost each other once, managed to make it into the woods where all kinds of things were being sold. Although most of the things being sold were drugs, beads and assorted clothing, there was a boy of maybe 10 sitting on a milk crate next to a dilapidated red tent. He had a small fire burning in front of him which he intently poked with a stick. The little light that the fire emitted illuminated a soggy cardboard sign which was leaned up against the side of the tent. It said, MUSIC. Lynn aimed her friends toward the boy.
"Hi. I'm Lynn."
The boy looked up and said, "Hi Lynn. I'm Josh. But people call me JoJo."
"I see you have a sign that says music on it. What kind of music do you have?"
"Well," he replied, with an embarrassed grin, "I really don't have much of anything left. The rain, the leaky tent and some thieves did a number on me. But, here. . ." He got up off the milk crate and stuck his head into the tent. "Dad, wake up. Dad. Can you push that box over to me please?" He emerged with a muddy square box with what seemed to be no more than five or six records in it and handed it to Lynn. "That's all I got. Sorry."
Lynn smiled at him and put the box at her feet. She kneeled down and pulled out the records one by one. The Who's Tommy, Maynard Ferguson, Crosby Stills & Nash. She came to the last record in the box. A very plain looking album cover with a clean cut, bespectacled black man wearing a very serious expression and a guitar under his arm. Then she saw the yellow lettered words next to him. Richie Havens Mixed Bag.
"Hey," she said, turning the cover toward Josh, "Is this the guy who was on the stage first yesterday?"
He squinted at the cover. "Yeah, I think so. My Dad likes that one and it sounded like him when I heard the music start yesterday. A lot of the songs sounded familiar. Handsome Johnny in particular."
Lynn had a huge grin on her face. "How much?"
"Ummmm. Is two dollars too much?"
"You got a deal JoJo." She gave him the two dollars, thanked him, then disappeared into the crowd with her friends.
Somehow, with the help of a plastic bag she found on the ground, Lynn managed to tote the album unharmed with her throughout Sunday and Monday morning after Jimi Hendrix played the final notes to assult the air of Max Yasgur's farmland.
After Lynn and her friends walked away, the young Josh turned to see his father crawling out of the tent. "Sell any more son?"
"Yes sir. A girl just bought the one you like a lot. Richie Havens."
"Ah yes. Mixed Bag. He's a good man there."
"Do you know him?" Josh asked.
"Matter of fact, I do. I guess I never told you about this."
Josh poked at the fire a couple more times then turned to face his father.
"Back when you were just a little one and of course, before the accident, I used to play guitar and sing. It was probably 1961 or 62. I used to go to this place in the Village a mile or so from where we used to live called Cafe Wha?"
"Yeah, Wha? Anyway, Richie used to play there all the time and I must say, I was quite inspired by him. He was always friendly to me and always had a positive word to say. Now, I had bought a used acoustic guitar a couple years before that but I never really got around to doing much with it. Until then. After seeing how he played, with that open tuning thing he did, I tried it and found that with the tuning called open D, I could play just about any song I wanted to. So, I began learning some songs and practicing. I learned a lot just by watching him play.Well, one night I think it was in October of '62 I finally got the guts up to take my guitar to the cafe and ask if I could get up and play a couple songs. Unfortunately, there was a full roster for that night but, after Richie finished his set, he came and sat at the table next to me in the back of the place. We started talking and one thing led to another and I ended up, in between musicians performances, playing a little two song concert for him at my table. He said he really liked what I did and told me that he'd pull some strings to get me a good spot to play on the following Friday night. Then of course, Friday night came around. There I was walking up west 3rd street with my guitar case and that was the night the car came barrelling across Sullivan Street and ran me over. He never stopped. I know you know I was hit by a car, which of course is what led to me missing part of my arm here, but I don't think I ever told you how it all actually happened. You know, where I was going and all that."
"So you never got to play?"
"Nope. Kinda hard to play with only a left hand. Even with open D tuning."
"Did you ever go back to Wha?"
"Yes, I did. A couple times anyway. I remember Richie being very distraught over the accident. Then, after those times there, I was so disheartened by it all that I just had to stop going. It made me too sad to see all those people up there playing, knowing I could never do it. I stayed sad for a long time Josh. But then, something great happened. This was in 1967 when I was working at the bus company dispatch. I'd read somewhere that Richie had finally released an album. I went out that night and found it at the local record shop that used to be by the house. For some reason, I bought five of them. And, other than the one I play at home, that was the last of them that you just sold there."
Josh asked, "Where'd the other ones go?"
"Well, I gave one to my brother Tommy and the other two disappeared about the same time your mother left us."
"Oh. I hope that girl likes it as much as you do."
"Son, I'm sure she will. . . I'm sure she will."
Lynn and her record made it back to Wisconsin safely, but there was a small problem. She didn't have a working turntable to play it on. Something had gone wrong with it a year back and she just never got around to doing anything about it. She did hang onto the unopened Mixed Bag though. When Lynn was 25 she made the decision to join the Peace Corps. She proceeded to give away most everything she owned except for the clothes she would be taking on her first mission in Belize. Not only did her cousin Al get Mixed Bag, he also was the recipient of her stereo system. He had the turntable fixed the following week.
In 1971, Josh's father was hit by another car. This time, he was very drunk and witnesses said it appeared that he intentionally walked out in front of the speeding car. This time, he didn't live.
Josh's mother was nowhere to be found and he was immediately taken in by his aunt - his father's older sister - who lived in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
Joe put the fine copy of Mixed Bag back in the sleeve and then into the cover. He then spent another half hour scanning the rest of the alphabet. He did find a couple other gems. A flawless copy of Child Is Father To The Man, the first Blood Sweat & Tears album with Al Kooper, an original Janus pressing of Modern Times by Al Stewart with the gatefold cover. Then, his search was over. Jerry Quinn had just walked back in from a cigarette break and found Joe at the counter waiting to pay for his records.
"Ah," Jerry said, "I see you found the Richie Havens album. So that must've been you that was talking about that one about a month ago eh?"
"Yes, that would be me. It must've come in within the last week."
"Yeah it did. Some long haired guy brought it in a couple days ago. Just that only. I thought that was really odd. I mean, you've seen some of the guys who come in here selling records."
"Yep, like that one guy with the dolly cart loaded full."
"Thanks Jerry for kinda stashing this one. It really takes me back. I can't believe I've had such a hard time finding this one on vinyl. I can get it on CD anytime I want but, there's something special about this one that only analog can bring out."
"That would be music in general to me."
Eric, one of the part time employees came in the front door with a book bag slung over his shoulder and the days newspaper. He plopped the bag down with a thud behind the counter next to Jerry and slapped the paper next to him. "There's your paper man."
"Thanks Eric." He looked at the front page. "Holy shit!"
"What?" Eric asked.
"That's the guy who was in here the other day that sold me that Havens album. Whoa, suicide? Poor bastard."
Jerry then ran Joe's credit card and handed the slip to him to sign. He wrote Joshua Joseph Johnson. He looked at the newpaper and said, "I know who that is. That was Al, the guy who owned Amazing Audio over on the east side. He had to close it down. I felt really bad for him. Damn, what a shame." He then took his records, headed for the door and said, "I guess I got his last record. Thanks Jerry."
Jerry said, "Thank you. Have a great night JoJo. We'll catch ya next week."
Copyright 2006 Jeff Archer Black
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