Okay, here’s the situation:
There are two tapes involved. One is labeled “Coffeehouse Jam #1.” The other is labeled simply “Jam.” I had this theory that the latter was an edited edition of the former, simply because I had no idea what else it could be.
I tried playing the first one, and the volume faded quickly; ten minutes in it was virtually inaudible. I couldn’t tell what I was hearing, other than tape hiss and silence, and later squeaking that I thought meant the capstans (which have had no maintenance since 1968) needed lubrication. I stopped without playing Side 2.
I put that aside and tried playing the second one. It started fairly well, but about fifteen-twenty minutes in it, too, faded to near-inaudibility.
So I took a look at the heads on the tape recorder, and they were black with gunk — not just the usual ferrous powder, but gunk, black sticky stuff.
In fact, a blob of gunk had built up so that the tape wasn’t actually touching the heads at all — hence the diminished volume; the recorder was trying to play tapes from an eighth of an inch away.
I cleaned off the heads — and then I realized there was gunk on the guideposts and rollers, too. So I cleaned those off — mostly; there’s one roller that was so bad I couldn’t really get it clean.
That mostly fixed the squeaking; that was from the tapes being pulled across the gunk on the guideposts. Nothing to do with the capstans.
Then I played Side 2 of the first tape. More rapid fade-out. I looked at the heads. Black.
Apparently what’s happened is that after sitting untouched for so long (over forty years) the adhesive holding the oxide to the tapes has deteriorated to the point it’s coming off with the oxide and building up black goo on every surface the tapes touch.
However, the more they’re played, the less goo they deposit. The less signal remains on the tape, too, of course, especially in the higher frequencies.
So I recorded them again, trying to get the optimum balance between the improving cleanliness and the deteriorating signal. I got a passable copy of the first tape, but I don’t seem to be able to filter out the tape hiss without significantly damaging the music. I made five tries on the first track, and the last is… marginally acceptable.
Haven’t gone further, yet.
Oh, and having now actually heard what’s on there — the two tapes are not the same. Sigh. I’ll either have to record and clean up both, or just decide some of this music is expendable.
I got Side 1 done. The middle part was the weakest, but the last half-hour was actually pretty decent. That part is two sixteen-minute jams. The first is entirely free-form, but the three musicians knew what they were doing, so it’s fun. The second drifts in and out of recognizable songs, most notably “Smoke On the Water.”
The higher frequencies are weak throughout. Nothing much I can do about it. Boosting the treble boosts the tape hiss, too, so that’s not a good solution.
Oh, the first hour is fourteen different chunks of music. A few involve singing; one I actually recognize and has intelligible lyrics, though I forget the title.
The good stuff is those last two jams, though.
As for Side 2, I had to decide whether any of it was worth saving. It was only 44 minutes; the rest of the tape was blank.
Much of that 44 minutes is filled with seventeen different versions of the silly children’s song “Alice.”
The quality is pretty terrible throughout. The enclosed song list says some of it was recorded “with Tim Ebacher’s lousy microphone.” I barely remember Tim Ebacher. His brother Chris I remember, but not Tim.
The song list, incidentally, is not in my handwriting. I don’t recognize it.
The only reason to save this… well, there are two reasons. First, some of the variants on “Alice” are funny. Second, and more importantly, these are the only recordings I have of these people, some of whom I haven’t seen since 1973, including one who was murdered while hitchhiking in Michigan a couple of years later. Which is especially macabre given that in one of the variants he sings, Alice goes hitchhiking and gets murdered.
In the song she gets sliced up, where in real life he was deliberately run down (as half a dozen witnesses testified), but still.
So I mulled it over.
I decided to save them, and just finished editing them.
Some of the variants are funny; some are just stupid. The best is probably the original “Alice” as sung by the cast of “The Maltese Falcon” — Sidney Greenstreet for most of it, Humphrey Bogart as Alice, and Peter Lorre for the “Oh my goodness” lines.
Which was done entirely by Chris, the guy who was murdered while hitchhiking. I’d forgotten how amazingly good he was at impressions. The reason he was hitchhiking in Michigan when he was killed was that he was trying to make it as a stand-up comic, and had just made the jump from open-mic nights to paying gigs in small clubs. “Paying,” however, doesn’t mean they paid enough to cover transportation from one gig to the next, so he was thumbing — I think to Ann Arbor.
Chris was the one who wrote the version of “Alice” where she gets murdered while hitchhiking, so he presumably knew it was dangerous. Sigh.
Anyway, that finishes “Coffeehouse Jam #1.” Finally. Still haven’t done the other “jam” tape, though.