A month ago, a group of friends held a celebration of the life of one of our number who had died earlier in the year. Many in the circle talked about Ron Turk’s life, and how it had affected them.
Nobody talked about the tapes, though. Maybe that’s because I’ve got them, and have had them for decades, although now stashed away in plastic tubs in the basement.
That trove of seven-inch, reel-to-reel recordings was given to me by Ron’s best friend and fellow world traveller, Skip Drew. They were recorded on Skip’s tape deck, and I’m sure some of the albums taped were his, but I got the impression that many belonged to Ron.
The stash consisted of dozens of tapes, perhaps 80 or so, most recorded at 7.5 inches per second. But there also were a number of store-bought recordings, which came from the factory at 15 ips.
A few of the Ron and Skip tapes were recorded on the latter’s old “deck,” an ancient tape recorder that dated from the early ’60s or maybe before that. That white-metal-and-steel boat anchor met its demise during one of our early Psychedelic Adventures, after Skip had replaced it with his Sony TC-630D; we hurled it from the balcony of our friends’ seventh-floor apartment as Skip stood, wide-eyed, near Ground Zero in the parking lot below.
Those recordings turned me onto a lot of the music that I still listen to today. They perhaps weren’t as influential WIBA-FM’s Radio Free Madison, but I spent thousands of hours listening to Ron and Skip’s tapes back in the 1970s and earlier ’80s.
But after Jeanne and I married, my cobbled-together stereo system, including the Akai tape deck, and the bookshelves filled with boxed tapes, moved to the basement. The were replaced by the CD player and the disks; the tapes, and the 33 and a third rpm disks, were largely forgotten.
That is, until the Continuing Digitization Project began. After I got my digitizing turntable, the vinyl got converted first, but the Ion table also has RCA jacks that allow you to plug in other analog devices. The first thing hooked up was the cassette deck, and the remaining recordings taped in that format were burned. (Unfortunately, I had tossed a bunch of cassettes, because none of our vehicles had cassette players anymore.)
The Akai reel-to-reel came out next, and the plastic tubs full of tapes were opened. I burned a few of the seven-inchers, but soon found that the years of sitting unused had taken their toll on the innards of the Akai (bought with part of the settlement I received after a 1973 bicycle accident).
The transport didn’t like pulling the tape toward the end of the reel, resulting in noticeable wow and flutter. Replacing the pinch roller didn’t resolve the problem, and research on the Internet determined that the unit had to be taken apart and the drive belts replaced.
But the front of the deck had to be taken off to do that, and two Allen screws held one piece that had to be removed before the front would come off. And those screw heads were of size used in the 1970s, but apparently not now. So the deck sat on the work bench while I tried various ways to unscrew them; one succumbed to a smaller and epoxy glue, but the other ultimately had to be drilled out.
So now, I just have to figure out how to install the new belt (the instructions that came with the replacement aren’t very helpful). Then I may find out that the way-high level on one of the stereo channels, which I thought was caused by one of Skip’s decks, instead may be another problem with mine.
I may end up having to buy another used reel-to-reel to be able to access the Skip and Ron tapes, and get decent digital sound off them. But some of the tapes are nearing 50 years old, and the sound quality may have suffered accordingly.
I went through the plastic tubs tonight, trying to make notes of what’s on the tapes. The total stash is upwards of 100 tapes, including the “factory” recordings — everything from “The Best of the Animals” to Grand Funk to one of Iron Butterfly’s later LPs to James Taylor, with detours into movie soundtracks, jazz and the classics — and tapes that I bought and recorded. (There are also a couple tapes of a radio show I did in the mid-70s, and comedy recordings that friends and I made.)
The 70-plus tapes used by Ron and/or Skip are a mixed bag of brands that probably no longer exist: Allied (which as I recall was Radio Shack’s house brand way back when), Shamrock, etc. There were some blank sides and duplicate recordings that I taped over, with the Goon Show, Prairie Home Companion, King Biscuit Flower Hour and National Lampoon Radio Hour/Half-Hour shows.
Most of the boxes have handwritten lists of the taped contents on the outside or on pieces of paper inside, but some have been crossed out as the recordings were taped over. There are mystery tapes with no notes, though, and some where the handwriting is faded or otherwise indecipherable.
The identifiable recordings include the ones I remember influencing me 40 years ago, including the Joy of Cooking, the later It’s a Beautiful Day albums, Blodwyn Pig, Savoy Brown, and others. A few of them were digitized — they were on the front end of the reel — or have been purchased as CDs or off iTunes.
But there are plenty of rarities and others I don’t remember — Savage Grace, for instance. I didn’t see it written on a box cover or list, but somewhere on those tapes is Moondog, the itinerant poet, composer and musician who wandered the streets of NYC, and wrote things like this: “Machines and men/Were mice and lions/Once upon a time/But now that it’s the opposite/It’s twice upon a time.”
At some point later this year — it’s more of a winter project — I hope to get the Akai put back together (or replaced). Then I’ll be able to delve into a treasure trove of music. And say “thanks” to a departed friend who left me a legacy of The Music.