The Top Ten Private Press Records

July 10, 2009

Oh man, what a horrible day. Today was to start my five consecutive days of working open-close, and I woke up to a $3,000 tax levy from the IRS. Bank account frozen for the next 21 days? Check. Funds already removed in anticipation of transferring to the government? Check. Surprised Evan upon discovering that the problem stemmed from a famous incident in 2006 that is still a touchy subject? Not at all. I just hope this one gets worked out soon. After that…big changes.

Softball last night ended in a bitter defeat. I’ll write the recap when I have a moment to myself. You’ll be happy to now that I had my best game and biggest boneheaded play on the same night! You’ll also laugh, I’m sure. Anyway, it’s going to be difficult to get timely blog posts published this weekend.

I don’t feel like putting too much effort into a top ten today, so I’m going to crap out and write a list of private press albums that I think you need to hear/purchase. Some of them have been posted on this website for your listening pleasure, others have not. By “private press” I mean albums that were released in miniscule numbers as an artistic/craft-based endeavor, such that they were made and released by the artist — not for commercial value — as a simple means of sharing original music. They were usually done so in extremely small runs, and attributed to made up record labels, or small regional labels. I won’t count records like the original version of Can’s Monster Movie, which originally came out on Music Factory Records in 1969 but was reissued a few short years later and is still widely available.

The Top Ten Private Press Records

Honorable Mention: Heitkotter – Heitkotter – “Intense real people/fringe LP popular among psych mafiosos, a 3-man band with guitar, bass and drums led by Steven David Heitkotter, presumably recorded inside the mental institution where the guy has been for decades. Track titles include “Hangin’ All Night,” “Quaker, Dog Got Away,” and the 14-minute “Fly Over The Moon”. The vibe is intense and feverish like a nightmare, unique LP that lives up to its reputation. This may have been a test press only and comes in a blank cover, except for the handwritten title. He was also in a garage band in the 1960s that released a few 45s.”

10. Hendrickson Road House – Hendrickson Road House – A folk/psychedelic rock record featuring female vocals, released in the early 1970s. The record label, Two:Dot, was located here in California, and has become highly collectible through the years. A few other records like The Mystic Zephyr 4, Arthur, and Mountain Glory, are all quite valuable. It’s soft rock, and at times jazzy, with a very strong, smooth femme voice that is not often found on these records. More often than not, a local band with a lady singer would want to sound like Jefferson Airplane, or apply a unique, unrefined voice to the standard soft-folk format. This is entirely different, and super cool. It’s got a kind of druggy, hazy vibe that I quite enjoy.

09. Gandalf The Grey – The Grey Wizard Am I – I think it’s so rad that a dude from New York City decided to dress up like a wizard and play hobbit-inspired folk music. It’s more style than substance, but it should definitely be heard for his observations on New York neighborhoods in the early ’70s. If anything, at least search out a high quality reproduction of the artwork, because the guy looks so awkward and uncomfortable in his cape and pointed hat you know it’s going to sound hilarious. The production value is about the same as any other basement-recorded loner/downer record, but this one definitely varies as far as theme and tone. You won’t regret downloading it, I’m sure.

08. Book Of Am – Book Of Am – Considered by many to be a masterpiece of European acid folk. A collective of English, French and Spanish musicians known as Can Am des Puig recorded an album in just a day or two during the winter of ’78, on a four-track recorder on loan from David Allen (Soft Machine, Gong). Very much indebted to Eastern-tinged, mystical folk/psych (see: Popol Vuh), these guys nearly had the sound perfected. Lots of sitar, tablas, stoned vibes and English vocals. It’s recently been reissued (in 2005, I think?) with the original second chapter included. The band recorded both in 1978 but ran out of funds after mixing the first chapter was completed. Very good and very far out there.

07. Bobb Trimble – The Harvest Of Dreams – Great album, great sound, Bobb Trimble is a mad genius. This one was recorded in 1982 by a guy from Worcester, MA, and it sounds like it was made in the late ’60s in some guy’s basement. Imagine “Strawberry Fields Forever” style production done by a single guy on no budget. Excellent melodies, a high-pitched but powerful voice, and great lyrics. This is a must have, in my opinion.

06. Dave Bixby – Ode To Quetzalcoatl – An absolute monster of a record, if such praise can be heaped upon a total downer/loner Christian folk recording. Original label of release: unknown! Bixby’s story is not that uncommon: played in folk and garage bands, started dropping acid, totally freaked out and lost his life, found religion and tried recording an album about his experiences. Bixby’s music, on the other hand, is uncommon. It’s beautiful and sad and stark. I think it ranks as one of the best solo songwriter albums I’ve ever heard, to be perfectly honest. If he’d only ever recorded “Drug Song,” he would have done something completely amazing worthy of great praise. There’s enough emotion in that one tune to make it memorable for years.

05. Dandelions – Dandelions – I have fallen for this record. I only discovered it a few months ago, but I have been spreading the gospel Dandelions ever since. In a perfect world, I would have records like this one to share way more often, but an opportunity to bring light and exposure to such an amazing album only comes along…well, once in a blog’s lifetime, I think. This is the absolute best representation of “real people” music I have ever heard. Way better than the Shaggs or Mystic Zephyr 4 or any of those untalented young people/family/everyman private press recordings. It is up there with Jr. and His Soulettes as far as musical richness and overall enjoyment. Like I said earlier, I pray that I uncover more albums as amazing as this one to share with the world…

04. Jr. And His Soulettes – Psychodelic Sounds – Based purely on a musicality scale, this barely ranks ahead of the Dandelions record. Two adolscent girls playing topical folk songs is great, but a group of kids in the same age bracket playing crazy funk/psych/garage rock is just insane. Until further notice, I also think this wins out as the rarer of the two records. An average-condition copy sold at the Austin Record Convention for 1,500 in recent years. There’s another original copy (still in the shrink wrap) for sale online now for more than double that. Who knows how many more legitimate first pressings exist. Jr. And His Soulettes are the real thing. Check ’em out.

03. Bob Desper – New Sounds – Portland, OR’s Bob Desper might have actually won the [redacted] Commemorative Trophy for “Most Depressing Album Ever”. But it’s also a stunning and beautiful album. Recorded in one take — just the man and his acoustic guitar — this is a very dark affair. Not recommended for those of you who might be prone to nervous breakdowns or psychological problems. Desper can’t help but feel like everyone in the world is blind to what is really important in life, and his helplessness and continued attempts to try and convince us of this theory truly make me wonder if he’s right. If that doesn’t sound depressing, I should mention also that Bob Desper was a blind man. One listen to “To A Friend Of Mine” and you too might just realize how useless life is.

02. The Bachs – Out Of The Bachs – Everyone knows this one; it’s considered a “holy grail” record by collectors. Released in 1968, Out Of The Bachs is the most legendary garage recording of its time. Chicago, IL was there home, they released 500 copies of the record, and an original will set you back well over a thousand dollars. Even the Del Val ’90s repress is expensive now. I think mine is on the legitimate Del Val label, but it’s been bootlegged several times over now so who the fuck knows. It’s not like it matters, all the reissues play slower than the original, and the recent CD reissue has a totally inferior sound quality. This could be the record that, in hindsight, bridged the gap between garage and psychedelic music. The 13th Floor Elevators make a similar case for being the OGs as far as that is concerned, but the Bachs are right up there alongside ’em.

01. Jerry Solomon – Past The 20th Century – This is it. This is the holy grail. I’ve made it my business to seek out someone with a copy of this album to provide me with a recording I can share with you all. I know two or three off the top of my head, but this thing is…it’s pretty scarce, to say the least. The first copy I’ve ever heard about auctioned to the public sold for over a thousand dollars, and that was without a cover. What makes it so cool? Los Angeles native Jerry Solomon, a “real person extraordinaire, creates an LP that is from a time and dimension not yet determined. Jerry’s songs are the modern psycho-acidic equivalent of the madrigals of Don Carlo Geualdo, music’s first outsider. With his highly chromatic melodies and overdubbed harmonies, Jerry sounds like a late ’50s vocals group from the Twilight Zone. His self-accompaniment consists of a repetitive one-chord (maybe two) guitar strum that predates Jandek and a toy piano that is “strummed” and sounds like a lysergic zither from the Third Man soundtrack. The songs range from nostalgia for the earlier years of his life to total despair. He sings about not fitting in the modern age, life in the ’50s, his first date. A song about the drudgery of work and longing for green meadows with peace and solitude is an atonal dirge that is anything but peaceful. The starkest song, complete with distorted vocals, sings of being denied of all human life in the name of morality, though he never says whose morality it is. Those close to Jerry have compared his lifestyle to that of a westcoast Cosmo Kramer.”

It will be mine. Someday.

For related soundclips and downloads, follow the links provided above. If you own one of those albums I have not provided a link to, and want to share a digital copy of your record, contact me privately.

PS – I officially hate the New York Mets as of today. Fire Minaya, please, for the love of God. FIRE HIM. BEFORE IT GETS WORSE!

Jay Reatard – It Ain’t Gonna Save Me
Hobart Smith – The Devil’s Dream
Slapp Happy – Casablanca Moon
Mayo Thomspon – The Lesson


  1. bateman

    Would have definitely included the first INDEX LP. Still, awesome top ten !

  2. |

    This is such a great post and you chose some real solid albums. I couldn’t get in to that Desper album too much…maybe it was because I purchased it at the same time I started listening to The Spirit of The Golden Juice…that must have overshadowed it.

  3. |

    check out charles miller’s country girl. and the super rare 25 cassette tapes from aiwass are also like my hunt for blood.

  4. |

    just found the list, cant agree more but maybe you shoulda had an 11th place for circuit rider? or maybe stan hubbs? good list tho!

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