Hoi' Polloi's 1972 self-titled album was recorded using two Revox A-77 two-track stereo recorders. The album was recently reissued by a Philadelphia record label.
Dialog between generations of Earlhamites spark reissue of Hoi' Polloi
February 12, 2014
When sleeping bags and blankets adorned the music stands in the Hancock Room for a week in 1972, the Earlham group making and recording the now fabled Hoi’ Polloi album could not have predicted the events leading to the album’s recent reissue. The quality of both the music and its recording, however, wouldn’t allow the story to go untold.
“I have just been amazed with the new life of the album in the last 10 years and quite proud of it,” says John Schuerman ’66, who is credited with holding the project together more than 40 years ago.
“It’s a really neatly balanced album with some experimental touches and some classic rock elements,” says Jason Henn ’05, co-founder of Folk Evaluation, a music label that works to preserve music with an emphasis on the homemade and heartfelt. In August, Folk Evaluation released the Hoi’ Polloi reissue.
“It is a broadly appealing album,” Henn continues. “And its weirder moments help to make it especially collectible. The week we were thinking about whether we should do a reissue, one of the originals sold on eBay for $888.88, and we knew we had to go ahead with it.”
Hancock Room As Recording Studio
The story begins during spring break 1972 when Charlie Bleak ’72, Dan Mack ’72, Bruce Wallace ‘72. Denny Murray ‘72, and non-student Jeff D’Angelo secured the Hancock Room and the equipment and services of Schuerman, who was then head of Earlham’s Audio-Visual Department. Nearly 10 days of straight recording followed using two Revox A-77 two-track stereo recorders.
“We didn’t have a multi-track recorder, so we used two different tape recorders,” Mack recalls. “We also didn’t have the luxury of recording one instrument per track, so we recorded several instruments and/or vocals onto one track. Then John ‘bounced’ that track to the second machine while recording the next set of instruments. If one take was really good except for one spot, we might decide to use it anyway, since the likelihood of getting a better take diminished with the number of players on the track and how tired we were.
“Since the Hancock Room is a classroom, it wasn’t set up as a recording studio,” Mack continues. “We did a number of things to try to isolate the instrument mics to keep sound from ‘bleeding’ into other mics and to prevent sounds from being reflected from chalkboards, etc. I remember stretching blankets across music stands to create makeshift sound booths.”
Schuerman says he remembers the creative atmosphere that filled the Hancock Room.
“We were all excited to be making an album,” Mack says. “But even though we were excited, the overall atmosphere was pretty loose. Most of the arrangements and even some of the original songs were written during the time we were recording. It was a lot of fun, but it was a lot harder than I expected. It’s really difficult to play a song from beginning to end with no mistakes whatsoever. And the recorder picks up every single mistake, including things that aren’t that noticeable when you’re playing.”
A few hundred albums were pressed and some were sold to Earlham students and friends. Although album sales never really took off, all five main members went on to work in music at some level.
“Dan is a classical guitarist, Bruce is a retired musician, Charlie has a weekly gig in Columbus, and has been a part of several bands and recordings, and Jeff D’Angelo, the only non-Earlham student, is a session jazz bassist,” says Henn. Schuerman recently retired as Operations Director at Whitewater Community Television, where he especially enjoyed filming and editing music concerts including the Starr-Gennett Walk of Fame and Legacy concerts.
Yard Sale Find Catapults Album to Collectible Status
At some point during the 1990s, Hans Pokora, a noted record collector, learned about the album and made a slight mention of it in his 1001 Record Collector Dreams.
Fast forward to 2003 when Will Ryerson ’05 found one of the albums at a Richmond yard sale.
“Will traded it to the one person in the world who could catapult it to where it is now,” Henn says. Ryerson traded it to Patrick Lundborg, and the album appeared in Lundborg’s Acid Archives, which Henn refers to as the bible of homegrown or self-produced music. “This solidified its reputation as a collectible.”
“Through the years, I would play the album once in a while but never gave it much thought until I received an email in September 2003 from Patrick Lundborg in Stockholm, Sweden, asking about the album and how it was created,” Schuerman says. “He was very impressed with the quality of the music and the quality of the recording.”
Reviewer and co-author of the Acid Archives Aaron Milenski wrote, “This LP is characterized by excellent songwriting, creative arrangements, complex chord progressions and subtle but strong musicianship. For a home production made by college students, it sounds remarkably self-assured and rich. Even the lesser material shows a kind of thoughtful creativity that makes a jaded collector/critic like myself thankful that there are still ambitious collectors who keep digging and discovering records like this. I’m thrilled that such a deserving album is getting its due with this reissue.”
“Schuerman really worked like a mad scientist to achieve the types of noise reduction found on the album,” Henn says. “For the equipment, I have never heard anything sound as good as this. I would have never known it wasn’t recorded using multi-track.”
Soon Mack joined in the conversation with Schuerman and Lundborg, and photos that Schuerman had taken during the recording process were shared.
“Will and I were both music majors and looking at these pictures of the band in the same room where we spent most of our waking moments made it more personally relevant,” says Henn, a touring musician in Philadelphia who dreamed of starting an archival music label since his ethnomusicology classes at Earlham.
During those 2003 conversations, Lundborg also suggested that a new pressing be released. At that time, Schuerman offered to make a CD from the original master tape and make it available at his website. He has sold 40 CDs and sent them to England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Canada, as well as the United States.
“Then in 2008 Jason Henn contacted Dan about doing a new LP pressing,” Schuerman remembers. “During the negotiations Jason informed us of the eBay sale of Hoi’ Polloi for more than $800, and I couldn’t believe it.”
Mack says $800 is more than the group spent on the entire album production. And by the time they got the original album copies back in 1972 it was nearly the end of the school year.
“We didn’t sell as many as we had hoped, and we never dreamed that it would be a collector’s item,” Mack says. “I actually have several copies. I think I intended to give one of my copies to a girl at Earlham who I was trying to impress, but she didn’t go out with me, so I never had the chance to give it to her. Now that it’s worth $800, I’m expecting her call any day.”
Henn says the reissue is especially important to him because he grew up in Richmond listening to Earlham’s college bands and still has tapes from the Runyan basement.
“This record is just more proof that Earlham has long had an active music scene of some kind,” Henn says. “And it seems appropriate that it’s being rediscovered just as Earlham is affirming its commitment to the arts by building a new facility.”