Sound Opinions: The State of Clubland and Johnny Cash Live

I’ve been waiting for the right time to merge Live Exhaust with a radio show that I’ve enjoyed for several years and has for the last two weeks discussed two excellent topics that are perfect litmus for Live Exhaust.

Sound Opinions, is a weekly (Friday nights 8pm CST)Chicago Public Radio show where pop music critic co-hosts Greg Kot(Chicago Tribune) and Jim Derogatis(Sun-Times) discuss music news, review albums and usually tackle a specific story or invite a band into the studio to play live.

The last two episodes (downloadable on the SO site) have been so poignant for Live Exhaust that I’ve been buzzing to have the chance to share them with you: the state of the small rock club and Johnny Cash’s 1968 Live at Folsom Prison album, which also includes a confusing possible oversight or omission on the part of Kot and Derogatis. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The first one I suggest checking out is the August 1st show during which they took time to talk about the precarious state of the “clubland” by inviting three of the nation’s most prominent venue promoters from New York, L. A. and Philadelphia. This conversation—like the one Jim and Greg had earlier this year about the declining state of the independent record store—was disheartening but nonetheless insightful. All three promoters shared an interested perspective ranging from tickets prices to how certain contracts restrict them from booking hip hop acts. It’s a great episode to learn how the smaller to medium-sized club bookers are wrangling with the bands and the bigger conglomerates like Live Nation to keep ticket prices realistic and venues from folding.

If you’re like me and enjoy going to smaller venues like Metro, Schubas and the Abbey more so than the bigger arenas where you’re farther away from the action and the music in most cases, than this is an episode that’ll give you a behind the ticket perspective of what goes in to creating the environment where you go to see your favorite local or touring band.

On a side note.. Chicago’s smaller venues and promoters have been impacted by an ongoing story from June involving the local Chicago music community who, led by the Chicago Music Commission and local Alderman Schulter, are blowing the whistle on laws that were scheduled to pass in May. As of today, Ald. Schulter and the CMC are still in conversation with the City of Chicago to clarify several confusing elements, one of which includes, a large umbrella insurance that would require club owners/promoters both big and small, to pay a large fee that would put most smaller clubs out of business in a heartbeat and as a sad result, closed the door on several longstanding and crucial venues that are the bed rock and the mecca of independent music. It would seem crazy for a law like this to pass, seeing as Chicago is one of the most thriving cities in the country when it comes to live music and entertaining, according to a recent CMC study.

The second show you need to download is last week’s “Classic Album Dissection” a show dedicated takeing a deeper look at a classic recording. The subject this time: Johnny Cash’s 1968 Live at Folsom Prison. The show as a whole was great and Derogatis did a solid job of applying his reporter skills to paint the picture of Folsom prison scene and context. But I am really surprised at a possible oversight/omission by Dero and Kot, regarding a documented “over-dubbing” incident during the recording’s post-production.

And the only reason I bring this up is because this piece of info about the live recording “enhancement” plays such a crucial in how, as fans, we can listen to a live recording of an event thinking what we’re actually listening to really happened when in fact it didn’t necessarily take place the way we heard on the album, thus creating a completely different emotional experience that was heard and felt at the actual concert. And secondly, I bring this up because I am very surprised that neither Kot nor Dero brought up this fact or even at least discussed the “over-dubbing” as fact or fiction. I’ll explain the “overdubbing” incident in just a moment. And as a follow-up to this post, I will try to contact both of them to see why there was no mention of it during the show or in the notes.

I’ve listened to this classic recording of Johnny Cash’s performance at Folsom Prison before and I’ve heard the “over-dubbed” inmates hollering after the “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” line. And when I think of how I would react to that moment without the holler, the show takes on a completely different meaning, putting me in a totally different sonic and emotional atmosphere.

I did some preliminary digging and found a brief excerpt from Michael Streissguth’s 2004 book “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: the Making of a Classic” during which Streissguth writes that the hollering convict after the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” was added in the studio during post-production.

“What the record buyers heard after Cash uttered the bloody line was pure image-making…. In reality, the crowd had remained enthralled by the first glimpse and words of the black circuit rider before them,…saving their clamorous gusts exclusively for its conclusion.”

“Pure image-making”? Really? If that’s what really happened then what we really have here is a classic recording of two different concerts; one that actually happened and one that those that bought the album heard. And this also a solid reason to look deeper into other albums that were recorded live that created two different listening experiences beyond just sound quality but in fact changed the emotional direction of the whole concert recording. I’ll start digging and get back to you on that rabbit trail later.

I know I’ve dumped three heavy ideas all at once but I wanted to get them all out there for time concerns and so that we could all discuss them ASAP. And whatever type of response I get from Derogatis and Kot I will surely pass on to you.

Here’s what you can do. Tell me what you think about live concert “overdubbing,” the death of the small club and the rights of their promoters and owners.

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