Chicago's Dusty Groove is a foolish place to kill time. Succumb to the new arrivals bin and you may never get out.
There’s a monthly vintage fair down on Randolph Street, which according to Time Out Chicago features a vinyl swap meet. That’s up there on the list of highly American things I could do while I'm here. Go to a meet. On the way there I stop off at Favorite Records, a store I’d been told is closing down and selling off its stock on the cheap. I get there 15 minutes before it opens, so go over the road to Dusty Groove to kill the time.
Dusty Groove is a very stupid place to kill the time. In the 10 minutes there I find 10 records I definitely ‘need’, and that's just in one new arrivals bin. I pick out the soundtrack to "The Thing With Two Heads". The film may be obscure, but the soundtrack has left a hefty legacy. It’s responsible for the Incredible Bongo Band, a group that was assembled purely to make music for the soundtrack. That was the plan at least. But tunes like Bongo Rock, and their cover of the Shadows’ "Apache", recorded in the same session, went on to become DJ staples at the parties that sewed the seeds for what would become hip-hop, a fixture in the crates of pioneers like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. So no "Thing With Two Heads", no "Apache".
I also snag a copy of Miles Davis’ "Live-Evil", a double LP I’m fairly sure I’ve never even seen in the flesh before. You can’t go wrong with Miles – he’s basically the one man whose career has traversed the entire landscape of 20th Century music, an inspiring figurehead of experimentation and reinvention. And arch wearer of dubious silk shirts. Live-Evil takes us further into his electric voodoo weirdness period. Oh mama.
I make my break for Favorite before Dusty Groove ensnares me fatally. Inspired by yesterday’s chat with Ethan, I’m intrigued by the gospel section. Eric, the guy behind the counter, hands me a couple of LPs to try. It’s weird buying music that bangs on about Jesus, but “Glad About It”, by James Austin and the St Luke Church of God In Christ Youth Choir, has some pretty funky stuff on it. Eric gives it to me for only $4, even though it recently fetched $50 in an online auction, just because the cover’s knackered.
I also unearth a cheap copy of “Music: A Bit More of Me”, by David McCallum – the dude from Man From UNCLE. This is the third David Axelrod production I’ve picked up here, and it has “The Edge” on it, the song sampled by Dr Dre for this…
When I saw Axelrod live at the Royal Festival Hall a few years back he said he’d initially been pissed off to find out people like Dre were knicking his stuff for their own tunes, but that in time he had come to realize how clever it was. Dre had taken a bit of music that Axelrod had only seen as the intro to a larger piece, and made a whole tune out of it. He’d never have thought to do anything more with it, yet Dre had a different kind of vision (albeit one buried deep beneath words like 'muthaf***aaaaa'). The real joy of that Festival Hall concert was to see Axelrod, at 70-plus years of age, defiantly taking the Dre version back and recontextualising it again – with a full string section. And so it goes…
At the end of the day I’m at a free music festival in Wicker Park, essentially a stage in the street outside the flat I’m staying in, and the DJ happens to drop the Dre tune. LOUD. I stand on the side smiling as the crowd go nuts. It’s highly satisfying from a digging point of view to watch the buildings shake to the track, quietly smug that today I’d done exactly what Dre must have done at some point in his life to make all this happen: picked out a dusty copy of the Axelrod original. That it’s a track by the guy from Man From UNCLE only beefs up the geekery.
I take a break from the music at the festival and pop into Reckless Records on Milwaukee Avenue, one of Chicago’s main record stores, and end up picking up a classic pairing. Sometimes you walk out of stores with records in highly satisfying combinations: classic hip-hop in the form of BDP’s debut LP, “Criminal Minded”, a snip at $2.99, and “Magoo In Hi-Fi”, from 1956, which may well be the best record I’ve ever seen.