Elusive Reissues I: Dinah Washington and Siegel-Schwall

As a collector, one develops all kinds of techniques to keep track of things one believes one still needs. Of course, if you bring the world and the universe into the equation, hardly any of these purchases can be adequately justified, but we all have that constant itch that there is something missing, a disk here or a boxed set there that we simply must have, or simply a gaping hole in an ongoing series that we still need to fill because we didn’t have the cash when the time was right to jump on that missing item.

Yes, we make our lives more difficult than need be, but being a collector also does bring that moment of joy when you finally get to hold one of these wanted items in your hands. Don’t get me wrong, for me it’s always been the music first and I wouldn’t be collecting so much of it if I didn’t get permanent enjoyment out of it, but there are those irrational moments when your safety switch goes off and you get yourself an item that you might not even enjoy that much, just to get that CD number 53 that’s missing in a long run of, say, 100.I’m not going to talk about those irrational moments here – I’ll leave that to another post – but what I do want to talk about are those single items that I’ve had on my want-list forever and which I, for one reason or another, have not been able to pick up yet. And, to get that out of the way first, the reason for having avoided purchasing many of the items listed below is usually … money.

How much is music really worth, in an age in which illegal downloading or copying has seemingly made music a freely-available commodity? I can’t give you a general answer, but to me music is worth quite a lot, despite the fact that I have also gone digital these past many months (or years, depending on the perspective). I might be a bit too old-fashioned here, but there is joy in actually owning music in a form that you can actually touch and look at. It’s an aspect that is beginning to disappear from modern culture, in an age of quickly-exchanged, up- and downloaded digital bits and bytes, but all of us who grew up in the age of the LP and then the CD, SACD or audio DVD probably have a special affinity to the product itself, the music, the liner notes, the cover and the production values as a whole.

The downside is, of course, that whereas a digital collection takes up next to no space, even if you have several terabyte on external hard drives twice mirrored, a real-world collection takes up a larger part of your living space. In my case, my entire digital collection fits onto about 1 meter of shelf space whereas my CD and LP collection takes up more than 60 meters, not counting the moving boxes stuffed full with empty boxed sets I removed the CDs from.

I have chosen the real-world collection route, doubling-up in digital formats so I’m ready if I should ever decide to go entirely digital, but I can’t let go of my CD collection that has accompanied me for the past 30 years or so. I bought into the new CD format very early on (I’ve always been an early adopter) and was lucky enough to be the guy on the lookout when, in its first wave, CDs weren’t all that successful yet. I remember endless hours in second-hand shops in my old hometown, buying up CDs other people had apparently gotten as Christmas or other presents and dumped at the shop, either because they didn’t even have a CD-player yet or because, for some other reason, they didn’t want that particular CD. In that phase, I bought tons of them.

When I finally started earning a decent living, which was delayed considerably by me being the eternal student and assistant at university, I started buying music regularly, albeit in an economical fashion. One could often find me hunting around the bargain bins and second-hand stores wherever I happened to be living or visiting and I had all of those beginning-of-the-year, end-of-year and in-between sales phases imprinted on my inner clock. There were and are lots of bargains to be had and you just need to invest some time to unearth them.

Still, some CDs have proven to be rather elusive ever since the time I had the chance to buy the music (usually upon release) but couldn’t because I didn’t have the cash or had other items at the top of my list.

That list of must-have disks is not very long, but it is substantial enough to seriously drain my music budget. I have decided though – in the hope that no other high spots will pop up to make me veer off course, to finally get to these elusive CDs this year, one by one.

So, I started the year off with hunting around the Internet for an entire day, comparing prices, unearthing copies and then contacting sellers to get hold of the first batch on my “want, need, will have” list.

***

At the very top of my list were the other 3-disc volumes of “The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury“, which I only had volume 1 of. I might possibly be the biggest Dinah Washington fan in Germany (hell, many people don’t even know her name) and ever since I bought Volume 1, I knew I had to get the rest of this reissue series. Now, I know that the first four volumes, perhaps the first five, are what you need, volumes six and seven veering off into different territory, but I decided to make this a full run.

The problem with this reissue run is that it really collects everything Dinah Washington recorded for Mercury and that being the case, we enter some controversial areas. AllMusicGuide sums this up quite nicely:

Dinah Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century — beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop — and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she [had] the time.

Fact is, I like her voice and although a lot of the later recordings are quite formulaic, to say the least, I intend to get the full run.

So, these out-of-print volumes being so damn expensive, for starters, I limited myself to those I could afford (usually in the $30 to $70 range). That way, and after some very intensive research, I managed to get hold of Volumes 2, 3, 4 and 7. Volumes 5 and 6 are currently too expensive, but once my initial purchasing run is complete, I might just jump on those as well, a month at a time. I’ve had help from my connection in the States getting hold of volumes 3, 4 and 7 (the marketplace sellers didn’t offer international shipping), but volume 2 I found at a very reasonable price here in Germany (I was alerted via e-mail by Amazon.de that someone had put it up for sale at a very low price and I jumped on it within seconds).

***

I have written about the Siegel-Schwall band on here before and if you did read that older entry, you know I’m a huge fan. They were a huge part of my very early encounter with music and one could say, despite this being the white blues school, they got me hooked on it. For some odd reason (detractors might chime in, “rightly so”), most of Siegel-Schwall’s output has been out of print for ages. Best-of CDs abound, but I’m not interested in those because they usually leave out those tunes I particularly enjoyed.

So, after having researched the Dinah Washington material, I spent not one but two days hitting every online site known to man (and woman) to unearth the three central recordings that I didn’t have yet.

And, lo and behold, the research paid off. Just two days later I was the (very) proud owner of “Sleepy Hollow” (Wooden Nickel, 1972), “953 West” (Wooden Nickel, 1973) and “R.I.P.” (Wooden Nickel, 1974). Together with “The Complete Vanguard Recordings and More!”, which collects the first four Siegel-Schwall albums … and more), I have now brought my collection in line with what I used to have on LP.

Believe me, those three CDs added to my collection were the icing on the cake and I’ve been blasting this music through my hometown ever since they got here. I started with my favorite tune off “R.I.P”, entitled “Take Out Some Insurance” and haven’t stopped since.

I won’t go into further detail here because I intend to write about each and every one of these CDs once my run is complete, which it isn’t yet. I’m still hunting around for their live recording (“Live: The Last Summer”, Wooden Nickel, 1974), the totally elusive debut on Wooden Nickel, “The Siegel-Schwall Band” (Wooden Nickel, 1971), which doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, and I’m at least considering their “Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra” (written by William Russo) which is readily available from Deutsche Grammophon and presents their collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1973 (conducted by Seiji Ozawa).

AllMusicGuide had this to say about this recording:

This is not an album — or a piece of music — to be neutral about. Collaborations between the high brow and the low down have always been dicey (anyone ever heard Albert King playing with a symphony orchestra?), but this one will definitely leave on one side of the debate or the other; either you’ll hail it as the blues brought “uptown” or as an experiment gone terrible awry.

I agree, and I sway between the two camps, but it does, nevertheless, have some excellent Siegel-Schwall on display. I liked it 30 years ago and will probably get hold of it as well to make my vintage Siegel-Schwall collection more or less complete.

***

After the Dinah Washington and Siegel-Schwall parts of my collection have been completed I don’t honestly know where my searches will take me. I do still have quite a few reissues on my want-list, but most of those are too outrageously-priced to even be considered. Those items include some out-of-print Mosaic boxed sets and similar items which I do not intend to pay the asking price for.

When push comes to shove, there is a limit to what music is worth around my house and that limit is my wallet.
Always has been.

[to be continued]

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. I have the entire Dinah Washington on Mercury series and luv it. I know that many critics have absolutely trashed the last two (sometimes three) volumes but I don’t care. If you like her voice, it’s the one series to own. Good luck with getting the last volumes!

    Reply

  2. Mary,

    you posted your comment here while I was working on my site, so an instant reply for you.

    I’m always a bit hesitant about buying into pricey out-of-print reissues because I’m afraid that once I shelled out all the cash, whatever I bought will be made available in some sort of – either flimsy or better – (budget) reissue (something that has happened to me several times these past years), but in this case I don’t really care. I’m looking forward to completing my full run of this reissue series.

    BTW: I also own “The Best in Blues” (Verve Elite Edition, 1997, 314 537 811-2), “The Swinging Miss ‘D’” (Verve Master Edition, 1998, 558 074-2), “What a Difference a Day Makes!” (Verve Master Edition, 2000, 543 300-2), “Dinah Washington Sings the Standards” (EMI, 2003, 7243 593284 2 3) and “Dinah ’62” (Roulette Jazz/EMI, 2003, 7243 5 81831 2 2).

    I really like each and every one of those so I’m not going to be disappointed or scared-off by the material that the critics panned. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    Reply

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