At 19 I was determined to become a record producer rather than a chemist (my plan since I was six). I’d played music since I was seven, The Beatles had infected me at 12, and the excitement of recorded music completely enveloped me by the time I was working at my college radio station. I was the only one to jump at the chance to record visiting jazz musicians, even though my interest was popular music. When Gunter Hampel, a German avant-garde multi-intrumentalist, released an album I had engineered, and put my name of the cover (!), I was was hooked.
It was an explosive era of independent record labels and my new friend, local record retailer Tom Pomposello, and I decided we’d start a label. We’d release great, underappreciated blues and jazz, and not incidentially, Tom’s solo music too. Our 1972 debut album on Oblivion Records came from tapes I’d recorded when Tom guested with country blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell. We had an great time and released some amazing music. Five more releases and our lack of capital, lack of acumen, and insufficient entrepeneurial zeal closed the label in 1976.
Now I had the bug, and during my short career the demand for my production services grew enough that I produced almost thirty albums (one with a Grammy nomination), many of them for the tiny New York independent Muse Records.
For most of the jazz ‘producing’ was a misnomer, it was actually ‘recording supervision.’ I mean, what was an a rock’n’roll playing, 26 year old kid from the suburbs going to tell a master musician to do? Play faster? Better? The records weren’t always what I would’ve wanted, but they reflected the vision of the artist. That was my job.
All the magazine articles about producers celebrated activist visionaries like Phil Spector, but artist oriented folks Jerry Wexler, George Martin and Alfred Lion were the ones I admired most. They became the kind of models I carried forward with me to filmmaking.
Alas, I never found my way into the pop world I coveted. And therefore, no surprise, I couldn’t make a decent living the way I was going. I slowly, reluctantly, started to morph the dream.0 comments Tagged: Muse Records, Oblivion Records, producing records, records, producingrecords,.
In late 1971 my new friend Tom Pomposello and I decided to start a record company to record his music, and so I could become an instant record producer (it was easier than convincing some big company to let me do it). He was 21, married with a small child, and owned a local hippie record store in Huntington, New York. I was 19, single, a college student in New York City. By the time it was over, five years later, we had six world class releases.
We both emerged from the pop and rock fans of the 69s, but had broadened. Tom loved the blues. I loved jazz, especially the avant garde variety. We both wanted to do more to promote artists we believed in.
It seemed like a smart move not to start with the unknown Tom’s record —especially since we hadn’t figured out exactly what it would be yet— but we had a viable, commercial tape we’d recorded of college concert star Mississippi Fred McDowell (with Tom on bass guitar) at the Village Gaslight in Greenwich Village. With the sales of this sure fire hit, we’d be on our way to the big time of indie labels [wink]. Our agreement was to make blues records for Tom and jazz records for me. We had a passion for underexposed American music and we were certain we’d be the two to bring unknown artists to prominence.
The only question that lingered was where we would get the outrageous sum of $1800 to press the first 2000 copies? Tom came to rescue by bringing in our third partner Richard (Dick) Pennington, a friend of his from, uh, somewhere (I never actually found out). Dick stepped right up with enthusiasm and verve and stayed until our fourth album when he and Tom fell explosively out over something neither of them ever revealed.
Tagged: Oblivion Records, blues, jazz, producingrecords,.
Tom chose the name “Oblivion” off of the back of a Leo Kottke LP and we released Obivion OD-1 —’Mississippi Fred McDowell: Live in New York'— in 1972; altogether we put out six records in five years (it still feels like 100 records in 1000 years) before we flamed out with musical dignity intact. Tom’s album was our last, so we had fulfilled our mission.
You can listen to the complete Oblivion Records library (and bonus tracks) here and get more of the stories behind the records here.
My Oblivion Records partner Tom Pomposello and I were incredibly proud of our discography of releases. We were two young guys in the thrall of the world’s music explosion everywhere around us and we wanted to be part of it. (Just click on the covers and you’ll be able to play the complete collection.)
Not only our first record, but our most celebrated and successful. Fred McDowell had become a country blues world touring sensation in the late 60s and early 70s, and Tom, budding suburban bluesman, became his pupil and bassist. This was Fred’s last recording before his untimely passing.
Our only single came during Tom’s last trip to Mississippi when he asked Fred McDowell to locate harpist Johnny Woods, Fred’s sometimes duet partner. They found Mr. Woods at his farmhand living quarters, and in true field recording style, Tom took out his trusty Panasonic cassette machine, gave Johnny one of his Hohner harmonicas, and recorded two songs. Then he whipped out his Kodak Instamatic, posed Johnny in front of Fred’s Pontiac. Now we had enough for a record.
When Marc Cohen (now Copeland) first showed up at my college radio station he played an awesome mainstream alto saxophone. So he shocked me the day he came in with a trio wired up and echoplexed I felt like I’d seen a future first defined by the Tony Williams Lifetime. We made a deal and he brought back a quartet, and before it was branded we called his music ‘electronic jazz.’ No jazz-rock here, just plugged in supercharged jazz.
Tom really wanted to discover a bluesman. Which was really hard to do in New York City. So a talented blues hustler called Charles Walker kept turning up musicians and songs and we kept recording them, for more than a year. Our smallest selling album, with one of my favorite tracks.
Never paying much attention to mainstream jazz singers, I initially paid no attention to the hubbub surrounding a session I missed one summer in 1972 at WKCR. But then I heard the tape. Joe Lee Wilson was great.
The record caused a sensation and became a turntable hit at the biggest New York jazz station, but we were too inexperienced and broke to work it properly. A great record faded again into oblivion.
Tom Pomposello, my great friend and the artist that inspired our record company. And our final release. Recorded in bits and pieces over four years in dozens of locations, with Tom’s truth telling slogan •file under: Suburban Blues.0 comments Tagged: LP cover, Oblivion Records, blues, jazz, music, record label, recording, records, producingrecords,.