If you look up the term “vanity pressing” you might find a definition akin to “a press that publishes at the creators expense, without much regard to standards.” While there is a lot of crap out there, Robert Dayton believes many of these artists have their own specific set of standards that may not be in line with industry standards. Here he shares a collection of self-funded gems with mysterious origins.
I first heard the phrase “Vanity Pressing” through experts/collectors Gregg Turkington and Brandan Kearney. Today the phrase “Private Pressing” has unfortunately replaced it but the meaning is relatively the same: usually small pressings of albums financed by the artists themselves that can span a wide range of musical styles (sometimes on the same album). In other words, DIY – except that DIY stems from punk rock and vanity pressings generally aren’t punk rock. Due to its use in collector terminology vanity pressings are usually associated with older works – collectors love old stuff. What can occasionally (though not always, there is a lot of dreck out there) result is the type of unhindered, personal visions of a unique type that one cannot normally access on a label release (unless the artist is making music to pander/pitch to a label and even then there are exceptions….). Turkington and Kearney both played in The Three Doctors Band who put out their own extremely messy and dank vanity record in 1995 that covered a lot of songs by veteran vanity artists. Most recently these boys have reissued the amazing Joe E. vanity album Love Got In My Way from 1976 (described as “…a poor man’s Elvis taking aim at a Pet Sounds for the middle-aged melancholic”) as a CD on their new label Eabla Records. Their site eabla.com contains other examples of vanity recordings.
Here are four vanity records from my own collection that I’d like to share with you. They’re mostly lost, mostly from long ago, mostly elusive…. if you have any additional info about any of these artists please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weeley Wright — Ree-Ree-Cession Dee-Dee-Depression b/w Cariboo Kid 7 inch (Canada, date unknown)
Low rent country swing sung in an endearingly strained wheeze with a clear sense of humour. The A-side is especially prescient in today’s economic climate and can certainly provide one with comfort. “My shoes are getting mighty, mighty thin/ But as long as I got my old guitar they’ll never, never do me in.” The B-side is about an un-discussed legend of The West. “Jesse James and Buffalo Bill were really quite unique/But there’s a kid that’s rough and tough and mighty hard to beat.” Rumbling bass, light touch bass, piano, guitar, sax: Weeley Wright seems very personable and very likeable. And it’s on Weeley Records no less! If anyone has any info on this single and/or the Canadian DIY singles Vancouver by Night by Ebo Solmaz and Zeus Creation by The Outraged Husbands please contact me.
The Robert Tennison Troupe — two words, three words LP (Toronto, date unknown)
This was given to me by music archivist Kevin Howes (who oversaw the recent Doug Randle reissue on Light in The Attic: a must-have piece of mid-life crisis 1970 Canadiana soft pop). Beneath a fairly non-descript sleeve bearing what is probably the profile of Robert Tennison in the midsts of composing on piano, is one of the most exquisite and gorgeous soft-pop/easy listening albums ever recorded. Female and some male group vocals, lush strings, some flute, bass and guitar. Piano is the lead instrument, possibly played by Tennison who produced, did all the vocal arrangements, and wrote every song. Within the 10 brief gems that deal in love and loss, the stand-out track is “World Of Make-Believe,” an entreaty to join them in a land that features: “…flowers that never die, people that never lie, babies that never cry, too, armies that never fight, sunshine all through the night….”
From Toronto, this was released on Tentam Records, which is obviously a play on the artist’s last name. For a vanity effort, this album is exceptionally well produced. Recorded at RCA Studios, three album singles with instrumental B-sides and the album (with new cover) were later re-released on major label United Artists. This album will make you feel loved. Still I can’t find any info on Robert Tennison! Anyone? Help!
Voyage Into Magic Feeling Sense With Sunshine Bus (Canada, date unknown)
This album comes off as a head injury-induced meditation record that’s laying on some fairy tale theatre. Against a backdrop of bubbles, one man half-sings/half-recites from the perspective of various underwater creatures, his voice multi- tracked as he plays a school of fish. As a clam he’s craggy: “I am the clam, that’s what I am, it’s always the same in the clammy clam game…” He utilizes an unstructured narrative involving freedom and community. Flip the record over and we get the same man but this time he’s rhyming about climbing a mountain and having a party over a backdrop of bird sounds and off kilter people humming. “We’re like flying gypsies, the earth is our nest.” He is briefly interrupted by a girl who rhymes in much the same manner, this time about being a little girl. For no reason, I have seen this album go for $20 at a psych record boutique – it’s not music to take hallucinogenics to, it’s more the long-term end result of an excess of hallucinogens. The cover is rendered in coloured pencil crayons, while the back cover contains a meandering mandate about universal art, transcending ego, and the paradox of male and female. I can only guess that this is from the island. If you know anything about this, contact me!
The New Creation — A Unique Disaster CD (Vancouver, 2006)
Here’s an album that’s easy for you to find and it’s on CD! The late Ty Scammel ran a record shop in the back of the Vancouver Flea Market that greatly influenced a lot of people, he was a psych enthusiast and taste-maker who had some incredible stuff. One vanity record that he had was the 1970 Christian psych album Troubled by Vancouver’s The New Creation. Only 100 copies were pressed. Ty turned the right people on to it, it made waves, and it was reissued in 2003 on the Companion Records label. This inspired The New Creation to get together and record again 34 years later! What they produced was a concept album that is all about The End Times. It ain’t an easy album but it’s honest in intent. As a child I had nightmares along these lines, 666 flashing in my skull. This album deals in fear. Many of the songs are sung by the mother, Lorna Towers, with some vocals by the son Chris Towers and drums by Janet Tiessen. Ominous keys and slow tempos, timely samples and folk elements co-exist together. Buy it before the Anti-Christ bans it.
Enjoy these vanity pressings on their own merits. There is plenty to enjoy out there if you dig and opens yourself up to it.
Robert Dayton has his own musical project, July Fourth Toilet, which put out its own vanity LP entitled July Fourth Toilet Presents Balls Boogie Featuring: Me and Bobby McGee Plus! Kentucky Whore and Many Others! Available through julyfourthtoilet.com