By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
One issue is that the potential follow-up box, or at least something similar to it, was posted on the popular Aquarium Drunkard Web site the same week that Action! came out. Called “L.A. Burnout,” the mix, originally compiled in 2007, collects 36 songs about L.A. released in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Writes mixtape co-curator Justin Gage: “These are the tunes I was spinning while reading both Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood and Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of CSN.”
The collection, which Drunkard posted without getting clearance from the artists, includes pastoral stoner classics from Spirit, Jack Nitzsche, the Beau Brummels, Loudon Wainwright III, the Mamas & the Papas, Neil Young and a host of other musicians who expanded their music after the L.A. rock & roll explosion documented on Action! The price of this compilation? Free. The distribution costs and licensing fees? $0. No wonder Rhino is letting people go, and insiders are contemplating the end of the box-set era.
It’s a constant worry for Lance Ledbetter, owner of the Grammy Award–winning reissue label Dust to Digital. The Atlanta concern deals in obscure, thematic compilations and box sets, and spends as much time and care on the object itself as it does the music within. Its most recent collection, Take Me to the Water, is subtitled “Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography, 1890-1950,” and is as much a book as a CD release. It features obscure songs and old photos that recount baptisms, and a long essay by writer Luc Sante. Ledbetter says that Dust to Digital, which has two full-time employees — “me and my wife” — is aware that they’re operating a business in flux. “I talk to several other record companies that are on our level, and a lot of the discussions we have are about, ‘This isn’t a golden era.’ We’ve come into it a little bit post–golden era for the industry, and we’re all watching to see what’s going to happen.”
Ledbetter, like Sandoval, blames the shift in buying habits. But he says that if the box set goes by the wayside, a whole scholarship vehicle vanishes with it. “I really enjoy the box set as a format because of what you can do with it — the amount of scholarship and knowledge you can convey with a great deal of audio and a great deal of liner notes and essays.” Ledbetter, whose other releases include the amazing Goodbye, Babylon collection of early–20th century spirituals, and the mysterious, stunning Victrola Favorites book and CD of vintage 78s, adds: “But a lot of work goes into doing this. We’re fortunate to be doing this for a living, but it’s a constant, heaping plate of overwhelmingness.”
For its part, Rhino continues to amaze. The Burbank-based company still has more than 100 employees working on their reissues (it just released an all-encompassing Big Star set, and has just started mailing out advances of its forthcoming six-CD box of Doors live recordings). A streamlined Rhino will continue to release unsung gems from the vast Warner Music Group archive. And regardless of whether Where the Action Is! is a commercial success or not, Sandoval is glad the collection is out there. “For me,” he says, “if it finds its audience or doesn’t find its audience, I’m just glad that I did it, especially because I feel Los Angeles needs an identity for its music scene. If you think about what happened here as far as all the great punk groups we had here in the late ’70s and early ’80s, that’s a whole other chapter — maybe not of Nuggets but a history that should get chronicled, too.” Here’s hoping it does.
Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968(Rhino Records)
L.A. Burnout: A Compilation(aquariumdrunkard.com)
Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography, 1890-1950(Dust to Digital)