When The Radio Station Cleaned House

Originally posted January 21, 2008

One Monday in the spring of 1991, I came out of a colleague’s office and headed toward the stairs, going back to my own office at Stephens College, a women’s college in Columbia, Missouri, where I was teaching journalism. Along the way, I passed the studios of KWWC-FM, the student-run radio station.

In the hallway in front of the studios was a table with a box on it. The box was full of LPs, and a sign on the front of the box said “Free.” I took a quick look, found what looked like an interesting album by Doug Sahm – Border Wave, credited to the Sir Douglas Quintet – and left the rest of the records for the students. Scanning the jacket, I went up the stairs and back to my office, where I prepared for my next class.

After lunch, I wandered downstairs again, partly to chat with my colleague but also partly to see how many of the LPs remained in the box. I wondered how many of the students who went past the box during the day would be interested in the LPs. Most of the women who attended Stephens, I surmised, had CD players. There might not be a great demand for records. As much as I would like people to appreciate vinyl, I realized that the students’ disinterest could be a good thing for me.

And the box did not seem to have been disturbed since that morning. I sifted through it, grabbed a few more records, including three Johnny Rivers albums and stuff by Keith Carradine, Felix Cavaliere, Kate Taylor and Jackie DeShannon. I also grabbed several albums of what looked like instrumental jazz. Still, I left quite a few things in the box.

A few days passed. I must have gone shopping at one of the few stores in Columbia that still carried new vinyl, for among the items listed on the log for those days are Sinead O’Connor’s I Do No Want What I Haven’t Got and the Traveling Wilburys’ second album.

On Friday, my colleague popped his head into my office on the main floor. “That box of records?” he said. I nodded. “No one else is interested, and I saw you looking. If you want, you may as well grab the whole thing.”

Well. No one ever goes ignored offering me a box of records. I took the box home that evening – I was renting a house from the college no more than a block from my office – and began sorting through it. Gary U.S. Bonds’ On The Line was in there. A live album by King Curtis. Some Laura Nyro and Rick Nelson and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Some people I didn’t know, and a lot more instrumental jazz. I spent a pleasant weekend listening and cataloging records.

About a month later, my colleague stopped in my office again, a box of records in his hands. “We’ve just about finished pulling old stuff from the shelves,” he said, “and you can have these, too.”

I thanked him and, when he had left, sifted through the box. Most of it was more jazz, but there were a couple of records by the Sutherland Brothers, an Ides of March and a Jake Holmes. There was also a record called The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around by the Balkan Rhythm Band. All together, I estimate that I got about sixty to seventy records from the campus radio station that spring

By the time I moved back to Minnesota that summer, I still I had not finished listening to them all. Eventually, I got through them, keeping about half of them. I gave a number of the jazz albums – lots of fusion, which has never grabbed me – to my friend Rob, and I sold a few of those and a few other things at Cheapo’s when I moved to south Minneapolis in early 1992.

I did keep the Balkan Rhythm Band’s record, and maybe someday, just for hoots, I’ll share it here. But today, I’m sharing perhaps the best record I got during that springtime haul: Road by Johnny Rivers. Recorded mostly in Nashville in 1974 – “Sitting in Limbo” and “Breath” were recorded in Muscle Shoals with the help of its famed rhythm section – the album is a sweet slice of music, very much a product of its time.

I would be wrong, I guess, if I classified Road or any of Rivers’ work in the singer-songwriter genre, though that’s the vibe that comes through. Rivers rarely wrote; only one of the songs on Road comes from his pen: “Artists and Poets,” which he co-wrote with Michael Georgiades.

But Rivers’ greatest gift, it seems, was that during those years from, say, 1966 through 1974, he was able to find and record songs that so well fit his persona and his worldview that he made them his own. However you want to catalog it, its fine stuff. (And yes, that’s Linda Ronstadt providing backing vocals on several tracks along the way.)

Track listing:
Lights On The Highway
Wait a Minute
Geronimo’s Cadillac
I Like Your Music
Sitting In Limbo
Six Days On The Road
See You Then
A Good Love Is Like A Good Song
Artists and Poets
Breath

Johnny Rivers – Road [1974]

Note: I’m sharing a vinyl rip I found online instead of my own rip, as it has fewer flaws. My thanks to the original uploader, The World Is Only One.

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2 Responses to “When The Radio Station Cleaned House”

  1. Saturday Singles Nos. 124, 125 & 126 « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] the spring of 1991, the staff at the student radio station at Stephens College finished cleaning off its shelves. I’d gotten quite a few records in March; my April haul that month was […]

  2. Found Deep In The Hot 100 « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] credits that Johnny Rivers covered the same tune on his 1974 album Road (an album I wrote a little bit about long […]

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