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Published: 2004/04/28
by Andy Tennille

Used with Vince Herman</b.

photo by Tony Stack

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

Vince Herman is a Luddite, I'm sure of it.

I'm not saying the eccentric frontman of the polyethnic Cajun slamgrass outfit Leftover Salmon is out to dismantle any IBM he can get his hands on, but if you ask Herman what really gets him excited when he walks into a record store, you're certain to get an answer that would make Ned Ludd and his 19th century blue-collar British followers proud.

"78s, man," Herman says with a wide, bearded smile. "I've been collecting them with some regularity for a few years. I've probably got about 500 or so now. Glenn Howard at the Musicians Resource Center here in San Francisco helped me find my Victrola. It's the last model they made that's completely analog."

The joy the Nederland, Colorado resident exudes over having such an antiquated piece of music technology is obvious. Ironically, Herman actually shows some interest in the idea of an iPod when confronted with the device, but he doesn't own a computer. iTunes is safe from Vince for now, it seems.

"The goldmine for me as far as 78s go is the really old-time folk and bluegrass music," Herman continues. "Most of the time, I look for stuff that I've heard before songs that other people have played or even tunes we've covered."

As we make our way into Amoeba Music, Herman spots his little slice of Heaven.

"Here it is, my corner in every record store," he says as we walk up to the 78s section. "This place is a little different than most, though. They've actually got some new arrivals. Most of the time, I'm sifting through old boxes and crates at thrift stores, garage sales or flea markets looking for these things. To be able to come here and constantly look through new arrivals, this is it for me."

We leaf through the notebooks of 78s, running across records with labels featuring groups like Tex Williams & His Western Caveria, Dude Martin & His Roundup Gang, Cliffie Stone and His Barn Dance Band and my personal favorite – T. Tyler, The Man with a Million Friends.

"The different group names are pretty funny, but the songs are even better," Herman says. "Waiting in the Lobby of Your Heart' by Hank Thompson, now that's a love song. Or how about Woman is an S-letter Word' by Tennessee Ernie. Hey, I know this one…Rocky Road Blues' by Bill Monroe. We played it on Ask the Fish, I think. Emmylou sings it on this version from Hoosier Records in Indiana. That's the stuff I'm looking for. Any acoustic music is basically good with me."

The majority of Herman's favorite 78s come from a small label based in Cincinnati, Ohio called King Records.

"They recorded most of the early bluegrass and old-timey music," he says, flipping through the notebooks. "Mountain music, really, before it was called bluegrass. I'm also into the local labels, stuff that's a little more obscure- here's one from Ezzie Nicholas' Westerners. They're from Berkeley or Pacifica, some place around here. I'd be interested in hearing it, since it's local. It's definitely from the 40s. You can tell because of the small grooves. It's archaeology or shit with this stuff, basically. Some of it's great, some is crap. Look at all these it's incredible that they've all survived this long."

Growing up in southern Pittsburgh as the youngest of seven kids, Herman was influenced heavily by the music his older siblings were listening to. Between the psychedelic rock of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath to the Motown sounds of The Miracles to the redneck rock of groups like the Charlie Daniels Band, Herman listened to a variety of different genres, which helps explain the musical diversity of Leftover Salmon.

"I think the first albums I bought growing up were Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy and America's first album with Horse with No Name' on it," Herman says. "One major letdown from my childhood was that I never saw Kiss live. That was a major regret right there."

Around the ninth grade, Herman was over at a friend's house when he heard Tut Taylor's The Old Post Office' for the first time, forever changing his life.

"It was at Scott Elliot's house on his parent's Quadraphonic stereo," he says. "I was just blown away. Norman Blake plays on that record and is still one of my favorite guitarists. That experience influenced me to go to the Smokey City Folk Festival. I went to the festival and as I was walking through the parking lot, I saw 20 or 30 people standing in a circle, pickin'. It threw me completely off course, man. All I wanted to know was how these people knew how to do that."

Herman started listening to any bluegrass music he could find, from the Stanley Brothers to Jessie McReynolds (Me and My Fiddle) to the Kentucky Colonels ("Kentucky Colonels is the quintessential redefining bluegrass album of all time") to Del McCoury.

"Del McCoury's Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals was really big for me," Herman says. "Getting the chance to sing with Del and play with his band this past year was incredible. Del's voice is just amazing, man. He sounds perfect every night. It was a lot of fun to stand up there and do some songs with him."

Although his love of old-timey bluegrass music might seem pretty standard, Herman's musical tastes also delve into classical music.

"Classical is some of the most powerful music out there," Herman says as we wander into Amoeba's vast classical abyss. "Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is the most intense music you’ll ever listen to. Bruce Hampton recommended it to me. He says it’s like huge sheets of falling glass. It’s really some scary shit. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is another one that does it for me. I've spent many crazy nights doing some really weird things to that record."

Any fan of Leftover Salmon that has witnessed the band's live show is no doubt aware of the group's collective insanity. Herman attributes the band's lunacy to three fringe musical collaborations Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band, The Holy Modal Rounders and The Cheap Suit Serenaders.

"Kweskin & the Jug Band's Blues in the Bottle' is a great tune that we cover some times," he says. "Tye North's (former Leftover Salmon's bass player) dad was in The Holy Modal Rounders. That stuff's the Holy Grail for me. The Cheap Suit Serenaders are another really strange group. They released a few 78s themselves."

"Most companies that make 78s are out of business now," Herman says with a hint of nostalgic hope. "They'll be back though. They're just waiting for the ultimate format."

Vince’s Picks of the Day

 Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
 Kentucky Colonels, Kentucky Colonels
 Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
 Tut Taylor, The Old Post Office
 Holy Modal Rounders, The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders

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