Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dan Simonis' new album

Working in a recording studio can prove taxing, and no one knows this better than Dan Simonis. "I would say the worst scenario was recording with Phil Spector. He literally kept us under lock and key, and was going on 4 days without sleep. This rendered him totally paranoiac, and we had to keep hiding his pistol for fear of death."

Yes, it can be adventurous in such surroundings, but Dan can weather such storms. His best recording session was in the mountains of Tennessee in a log cabin studio. the sound was naturally absorbed in the old oak wood that was used to build this Earthy structure. He still thinks fondly of those days and brought out some of his best songs. These days it is all state of the art, and can leave a lot to be desired. It is a cold cavernous feeling, and can feel more like a mausoleum, so Dan counters this with throwing some Persian carpets on the floor and burns incense. It does help and Dan gets into the moment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Dry Spell

Rex Caliber will be quick to tell you how dismal the 80's and 90's were, with groups that either were pleated pant crooners, or effeminate hair bands. One of those he signed was Formacion, a band that worked the Mexican clubs.

They were arrested after being searched by police and finding 8 pounds of marijuana. He was in his 60's and thinking about hanging it up when he was approached by Bret Austin who ran Old Bisbee Music in Arizona.

Bret wanted an investor to go in half with his recording/promotions business. He already had a good base clientele that included Pinetop Perkins as well as Gatemouth Brown. He wanted, however, to expand his brand to included country music. This was the break Rex needed, and asked where to sign. He and Bret wanted to put together a tour that would feature 4 bands and Rex already had signed Toru Takemitsu, a Japanese country and western singing phenomena.

They also did benefits for organizations like the Verhelst House, which is halfway house for men, to help them make the transition from the jail to the street. When they got on tour they were making their way across the Texas Panhandle and when they were playing Wink Texas, they saw a musician that made an impression that would not be soon forgotten. That person was Dan Simonis and the West Texas Millionaires.

The band met while wildcatting oil pumps in Amarillo. Their sound was very unique, not your run of the mill Garth Brooks or Allan Jackson; no, their sound could have come out of the distant past, the product cow hands around the turn of the century. But the year was 1998, and Rex and Bret signed them to a record deal that would continue to this day. They joined the tour and recorded as they went along. Since then Dan has made the pages of the New York Times and the L.A. times to the praises of music critics. 45 caliber records collaboration with Old Bisbee music has proven to be a success, taking the Bisbee Blues fest to a new level. However Bret Austin was under a extensive audit by the I.R.S. and had to abscond to an Arabian country to protect what assets he had left. No longer is the Blues Fest the small gathering in the Gulch, now it brings in top names and up to 3000 attendees. And 45 caliber records continue to look for the next Dan Simonis and the West
Texas Millionaires.

Celebrating the Seventies

Probably no other time brought so much life and good times than when Rex Caliber was recording bands in the '7os. So many changes took place in that time period, you had the acoustic sound then disco came and went, to be followed with the strange new wave/punk and the hair bands. All of this was capitalized on by Rex but one group stands out in his mind; they called themselves "Top Secret" and had a funky hybrid of styles. They eluded being pigeon holed into one category, and almost sounded like a different band with each song they penned.

They were the first to have a rotating stage and to use lasers. The lead singer Oliver Redding held the record of having a four octave range beating out David Bowie. Though talented, Top Secret failed to bring in audiences on the road, and Rex lost big money on the record that used digital mixing that was expensive for its day. He took the loss and sent them on their way in 1978 leaving a decade of decadence.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Rockin' '50's/60.'s

With the end of WWII, everybody wanted to settle down, buy homes and have babies. The big bands were replaced with jazz combos and rockabilly. Before there was Elvis, there was Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran and Bill Haley to name a few. They moved the music business by leaps and bounds, paving the way for Elvis.
Rex Caliber saw the writing on the wall, rock and roll was the next wave and he wanted to a piece of the action. He started with Brutus and the Bullies,
Brutus and The Bullies played at dances all around the south throughout 1958. The band recorded a demo at our studio. There are very few copies left still in existence. The band decided to pack it in during the winter of 1960.
Next Rex founded an all girl band called The Maids, that had wonderful 3 part harmony. He took them on the road and they proved very successful. Sadly they too disbanded due to the drummer getting pregnant in 1962. He was beginning to realize that rock groups were high maintenance, and he was having second thoughts about furthering another group.
The next year he signed George Washington and the Cherry Bombs and they stayed from 1964 to 1969. They had the smash hit "Crisco Party" and stayed between 56 and 60 spot on the charts for 23 weeks.

Rex found in 1972 a band that were again ahead of their time. The group were called The Saints, and they had a thrashing sound that would later become punk. They stayed with Rex till 1974, before moving up to Decca records leaving Rex yet again without a band.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The War Years

1941 was a busy year. At Rex Caliber's studio an electric guitar was used for the first time on a country music record. According to the story, juke box operators complained to Rex that Ernest Tubb's records could not be heard over the den of their noisy honky tonks. Rex proceeded to employ Fay (Smitty) Smith, staff guitarist working for KDCD, to play electric guitar on one of his recording sessions.

Also, the studio was utilizing live performance and interviews of upcoming talents, playing store bought and studio records, and buying a mobile transmission truck to do on location broadcasts. So they would broadcast Saturday night dances and other local events. It proved very successful, and they would make twice the money: getting paid to broadcast the event, and getting paid from sponsors. Things couldn't be better.

December 7, 1941. The engineers always monitored other stations and shortwave to form the news on the hour. When they got wind of the events happening, they immediately got on the air to be the first to broadcast in all of the delta belt. With 5000 watts of power, KDCB reached a 7 state area, very impressive for it's day.

Every boy rushed to enlist, every adult volunteered in some way or manner, and KDCB did their part in working with the USO, having a dedicated hour every day to discuss the war effort, promoting war bonds, and having patriotic music on record and live. It proved important to keep the patriotism alive, to still fears of family members, and to energize morale.

The Depression Years

The depression hit America, and affected every person, business and city on a level unprecedented. Many businesses closed, but some thrived like the local theater where one could take the little bit of change they saved for an afternoon matinee, and escape the woes of the world for a while.

This also included radio, and Rex Caliber realized that America was threatened to lose national treasures such as musicians of all genres. It was getting harder to get musicians for broadcasts, and that left him reading the newspaper to fill in the air time.

So he made the risky decision to spend a third of his equity on recording equipment and a 78 record press, so that when he got the opportunity to get musicians in the studio, he would record their performance for later rebroadcast, and for posterity. His first recording was of Tampa Red playing "It hurts me too". This was followed by Patsy Montana recording "I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart," the earliest country release by a female singer to sell a million copies. Caliber chose her over a new artist by the name of Bob Wills, thinking he would have a short career thereby wasting valuable record materials.

And so Rex Caliber's recording days had begun, giving him the advantage to pull artists at any time, and gleaning a few more sponsors to get more customers for their business in the dark days of the Great depression.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The 45 Caliber Story

People have asked about the name 45 story and how it came about. The 7″ 45 rpm record was introduced in 1949 by RCA as a smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for the 78 rpm shellac discs. Our founder Rex Caliber jumped on this new form of musical recording. He bought all kinds of blues and country discs for the studio, so much so that the record store started teasing him about how he was there more than the employees, and gave him the moniker "45 Caliber". He liked it so much that he named the studio name by the moniker.

Another innovation was that 45 caliber were the first people to use twin turntables for continuous play. In the late 1940’s Rex Caliber paid a metalworker to weld two domestic record decks together, this was the very beginning of ‘twin-deck’ DJing, allowing two records to be played back to back continuously.

45 Caliber Studio

The United States federal government began licencing radio stations in late 1912, and from the beginning it has assigned call letters starting with K and W to commercial and broadcasting stations. Stations located east of the Mississippi which were assigned calls from the KD-- ship block, instead of W--, during a June 1920 to April 1921 anomaly. (For some reason, during this anomaly almost all new land stations, east and west, got KU-- or KD-- four-letter calls.

45 Caliber, or known at the time as KDCB (CB for country/blues) began broadcasts in their Batesville, Mississippi studio. This was advantageous because they were centrally located between Clarksdale and Tupelo, and on the northern road route 55 that took musicians to Chicago. They had state of the art broadcast equipment and aired country and blues. They brought in traveling Blues men like Scatman Crothers, Robert Johnson, and Pigmeat Markham to name a few. But they also would have full bands playing jazz.

So this was a start of bigger things to come, and they grew in knowledge and learned from their mistakes. Most of all, they got more sponsors to pay the bills and get to know the community.
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