2007 APRIL 25 #115
Jim Dandy and The Sugar Beats - From Dust To Dust/Warm Up
1. From Dust To Dust (3:46)
2. Warm Up (3:00)
This was the first truly odd record I ever bought back in 1981. I found it in a pile of singles gathering dust in a dubious shop in my home town (Watford, Herts, famous for George Michael, Geri Halliwell, Gene lead singer Martin Rossiter and Elton John's football team!). The shop mainly dealt in porn mags and 'marital aids' but begrudgingly also sold old paperback books and records. It struck me as a suitably seedy home for such a strange disc. I bought it hoping that it might be a rare southern soul effort but I kind of knew it probably wouldn't be. However I was not to be disappointed because it was in a category all of its own with a special kind of magic as you'll hear...
Jim Dandy seems to be a pseudonym for singer/songwriter Richard Wisniewski who was based in the Saginaw, Michigan area in the early 1970s. The A-side credits Jim Dandy and The Sugar Beats 'From Sugar-Beet Country' while the B-side also credits the intriguingly-named Patsy's Pickle Patch Coir. The label credits the publisher as Dialtone music (BMI).
After years of searching I have also discovered two other equally odd Jim Dandy singles, namely: Hot Pants/Move It Around (1972) and She's Tuff/Bring Us Together (1973) all on the Dadjo label. The writer and producer on all three records is credited as Richard Wisniewski and so I am guessing/assuming that he is Jim Dandy. If anyone knows of any other singles or albums by Jim Dandy (or other records on this little label), or has any information about the band and/or Richard Wisniewski, I would be very interested to know.
My tongue-in-ceek review of this undiscovered classic appeared in Record Collector magazine last year in the 'Digging For Gold' section. Here's what I said:
Jim Dandy and The Sugar Beats 'From Dust To Dust' / 'Warm Up' (Dadjo 5572, 1972).
With absolutely no connection with the lead singer of country rockers Black Oak Arkansas or the LaVerne Baker R&B classic came this mysterious single from Jim Dandy and his band The Sugar Beats - "from sugar beet country"- or Saginaw, Michigan to be precise. This highly obscure record is so much a private pressing that very few people knew of its existence, and even the ones who recorded it are in denial! Both songs have a deliciously dubious home-made quality about them, evocative of not so much a field recording as a swamp. The A-side is not an ad for Hoovers as you might think but uses the old Christian burial idiom as a moral look at life and death. "What are we made of, people are asking, we live our lives from dust to dust" creepy Jim oozes with an awkward and shaky vocal delivery, not helped by the staccato rhythms of the verses and the over-use of the word dust. "We eat the same bread, we are each other" he continues offering perhaps a bit too much information.
But you can only smile when you hear the chorus which ends in a clumsy, but obvious rip off of Billy Preston's organ coda from The Fab Four's 'Let It Be'. However any comparison with The Beatles is soon forgotten once the truly bonkers fairground-style organ solo kicks in which is in complete contrast to the somber mood of the rest of the song. Drowned in reverb and tape delay, and with more bum notes than a colitis sufferer, this uniquely unpleasant keyboard sounds like it was once entered in a piano smashing contest - and lost!
Whether it is Jim himself at the keys or one of the ironically sour-sounding Sugar Beats isn't known, but in combination with the ludicrously overlabored drum fills and Phil Spector-esque harmony backing (courtesy of the wonderfully-named Patsy's Pickle Patch Choir) it all adds to the unintentional comic effect.
However it's 'Warm Up' the barmy B-side which will have most jaws dropping. In a complete u-turn Jim and the gang get all groovy on a dubious dance number, where the home made harmonium is in competition with an equally ham-fisted harmonica. "You gotta let go and dig the crazy beat" yells Jim somewhat unconvincingly not letting himself go, or warming up in any shape or form. And when he continues with the immortal line "You gotta start jumping and clap your feet" you know he's a sugar beet short of a refinery. Either that or the only dust-to-dust he'd been sampling was the white stuff you shove up your nose!
UPDATE (JUNE 2008):
You can't believe my excitement when I received a message from Hoyt Park, a relative of the real Jim Dandy, Richard Wisniewski, telling me that Rich was still alive and well and living in the Saginaw area:
'Richard grew up in Saginaw Michigan. After returning from the armed services towards the end of the Vietnam war, Richard desired to record music. Lacking the necessary money to outfit an elaborate music studio, he decided to build his own studio. He wired 2 stereo reel to reel recorders together to create a 4 track recorder, wrote the music, and then performed the music by bouncing and layering the tracks. In conjunction with his father (Conrad Wisniewski) he attempted to market the music by distributing 45 rpms across the country.
But success was not to be had during the 70s, so Richard made the decision to attend a local university and achieved 2 degrees in Electrical engineering and Physics. He then worked within the defense industry for several years, eventually retiring in the 90s. Richard's father Conrad, known as Dadjo, passed away last November. Dadjo spent a major portion of his life as a professional musician within the Saginaw area.'
I then received a long message from Rich himself who revealed that he made the Jim Dandy records at the family home with help from his dad (Dadjo) and his mum (Alpha/Patsy) and he included a lot of extensive technical information on how it was done:
'I used to record under the stage name of Jim Dandy and the Sugar Beats. My real name is Richard Wisniewski. Dadjo was my father, and Alpha was my mother. She grew pickles in her vegetable garden, so she called herself "Patsy's Pickle Patch Choir." My parents were professional musicians. They used to play at night clubs, weddings and parties. They were the Connie Radd Band. Both parents died. My brother and I used to play in our own band. We called ourselves "The Stardusters."
One day Dadjo said, "Write a song like 'Let It Be' ." So I did. I wrote "From Dust To Dust.". I played all the instruments and sang. Alpha sang backup choir - three part harmony. That record was released in 1972. We received radio airplay on various stations in the United States, but no hit. We also sent records to Europe. We released three singles. No albums.
In 1970 Dadjo came up with the idea of making records. It was his idea to put two stereo tape recorders together and make it into a four track. His idea, but I did it. I mounted a stereo head in front of the other stereo head, thereby changing the machine into a 4-tracker. The two stereo heads are staggered, so the tape can only be played back on that machine.
Dadjo was the idea guy, and I was the technical guy. I majored in electronics at Arthur Hill Technical High School in Saginaw, Michigan. That school was torn down in 1974, and a McDonald's Restaurant was built on the property. I worked for a couple years as an Electronic Development Technician in R&D. I am a former ham radio operator. I used to send Morse Code over the ham bands. I also had a phone license. So I have plenty of technical skill.
Later I went to college. I have two college degrees. A Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I have a minor in Mathematics. Physics is my passion. Albert Einstein is my hero. I started taking piano lessons at age 4 and a half. I took piano lessons for 10 years, accordion lessons for one year. At age ten I did an impersonation of Liberace on a local television station. For that performance, I dressed up in a tuxedo and had a candelabra. Then I recited a monologue in front of the TV camera and played boogie-woogie on the piano.
I played piano for two years in the junior high orchestra. Then I began playing professional at age 14. Later on, I was a musician in the United States Navy Bands. Our Navy Band recorded an album of march music in Los Angeles, California. The recruits are probably still marching to that record today. I played the glockenspiel on that record. It is very noticeable, because I used to adlib most of my parts.
In the navy, sometimes I performed on stage as Uncle Wizz. For that act, I played the accordion, blew a whistle, shook a tambourine tied to my leg, blew a trumpet, and sang. Then I told a few jokes. The children loved me. But I don't know about the adults. I guess they thought I was OK. The guys in the band liked me. In the navy band I played piano, accordion, glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes, bells, cymbals, and bass drum. We put on concerts, marched in parades, and played at schools. We also played dance band music.
When Alpha recorded her three-part harmony, I recorded it on my homemade 4-track tape recorder. To transfer those three tracks to a single track, I used another tape recorder. With my fingers, I touched the reels, speeding them up and slowing them down until the two machines were in synch. Then I turned up the volume control for the choir. When the choir finished singing, I turned down the volume. Then with my fingers, I touched the reels again, to bring both machines back into synch. Then I turned up the volume control for the choir. Repeating this process, I was able to put the choir on one track. To perform the trick of synchronization, I was listening to the 4-track machine in my left ear and the stereo machine in my right ear. With two ears, I was able to synchronize both tape recorders. It was not perfect synchronization; but it was good enough for the choir, since the choir did not sing all the time. Then once I had the three-part choir mixed down to one track, I put that tape on my 4-tracker and continued adding other instruments. Bouncing instruments from one track to another.
To record from one track to another on the same machine, I built a special filter box that was tunable. With that filter, I tuned out the internal feedback frequency that would cause the tape recorder to break into oscillation.
For my echo, I used an Echoplex which I modified electronically. I also used a spring echo. I built many mixing boxes. I diagrammed my bass compressor, and modified the circuitry to let more high frequencies come through.
The tape recorders had non-synchronous motors. To correct this speed problem, I recorded a tuning fork for one minute. Then I adjusted the tape speed with a variable voltage transformer, zero beating with the tuning fork. Using this process, I was able to get the music back on pitch.
I always wrote out a plan of how to record a song, showing all the recording steps. The plan showed which tracks to record on, and which tracks to re-record on. In that way, I was able to combine instruments together on the same track. For example, I always put the drums and piano on the same track. First I recorded a synch track, then recorded the drums. Then I re-recorded the drums on track 2 while I played the piano on track 2. So the drums and piano were on track 2.
When I recorded "From Dust To Dust" down to the final mix machine, Alpha turned the tape reel with her hand - while the machine was running. This reduced mechanical flutter. She also operated a volume control with her other hand. Meanwhile, I played the Clavinet and organ (on an accordion) while she was doing that. Then after the song was over, I faded out the volume.
Some day I would like to remix that song on my computer. Thereby improving the quality and add a stereo echo. But I don't have time now. I am very busy. I am writing a book on Intelligent Design.
I later contacted Rich again and asked if he had a photo of himself from the time of the Jim Dandy recordings ad he kindly sent one [see below]. Rich is the young guy with the short hair and glasses while Dadjo is in the background with long hair. This is the photograph they used for publicity purposes at the time although Rich has colorized it in Photoshop. I also asked him if he had any other Jim Dandy recordings (apart from the six sides on record). Sadly not, although he did send a cleaned up version of From Dust To Dust and told me about his musical influences and some details about the family home where the recordings were made:
'Attached is a photo of me and Dadjo. The picture was taken in 1971. Dadjo is on the left, and I am on the right. We were in our living room. That's where we did our recording.
We put white fiberglass boards on the walls and ceiling to absorb the sound. Then we put a mattress in the doorway to get rid of echo from the adjoining room. On the left is a door with a plexy-glass window. Behind that door is our control room with recording equipment. The room used to be a bedroom. Alpha built shelves where I keep parts, tapes and electronic boxes. The grand piano is in the background.
Back then there were many songs that I liked. As a teenager--and also in my 20's-- I used to buy a lot of records. I always bought records that were the latest and greatest. I would buy anything that was hot. I frequently would walk into a record store and buy 40 records. Then I would listen to them. Some songs I would memorize and learn the lyrics.
Songs and musicians that I liked: "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" (Brownsville Station), "Come And Get It" (Badfinger), "Joy To The World" (Three Dog Night), "The Loco-motion" (Grand Funk), "Christine Sixteen" (KISS), "Saturday Night" (Bay City Rollers), "Eight Days A Week" (The Beatles), "Satisfaction" (The Rolling Stones), "Let It Be" (The Beatles), "Come Together" (Ike and Tina Turner), "Proud Mary" (Creedence Clearwater Revival), "The Twist" (Chubby Checker), "Mother-In-Law" (Ernie K-Doe), "Mr. Tambourine Man" (The Byrds), "California Dreamin" (Mammas and Pappas), "Monster Mash" (Bobby Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers), "Wooly Bully" (Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs), "Shop Around" (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles), "Oh, Pretty Woman" (Roy Orbison), "Hanky Panky" (Shondells), "Tossin and Turnin" (Bobby Lewis), "Turn-Turn-Turn" (The Byrds), "Hully Gully" (The Olympics), "Instant Karma" (John Ono Lennon), "Love Grows" (Edison Lighthouse), "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (The Shirelles), "I've Told Ev'ry Little Star" (Linda Scott), "Can't Help Falling In Love" (Elvis Presley), "Josephine" (Fats Domino), "Too Young" (Donny Osmond), "Quarter To Three" (Gary U.S. Bonds), "Which Way You Goin Billy?" (The Poppy Family). Those are some of my favorites.
In Junior High I was a DJ at the school dances. So I liked a lot of songs. I was also on the P.A. Crew. I was a stage hand. I operated the spotlight, stage lights, curtain, sound system, and movie projector. It was a carbon-arc projector. The light was produced by passing a high voltage between two carbon rods.
When we made records, we sent them to radio stations all across the United States. We also sent records to Europe. I don't remember where we sent them. I think it was England and Germany. We must have sent them to radio stations, hoping for airplay.