A 1977 playlist from WRVR, New York
In retrospect, this track perfectly captured the last gasp of original, mainstream jazz in America, before the obsession with the old bullied out the new. The song was swinging, friendly, and memorable, it made people happy when they heard it and made them jazz fans forever. And it gave Oblivion Records the only record we could possibly call a “hit.”
We were pretty clueless when it came to mechanics of the record business, and because we were roots purists, we didn’t really think about hits at all. Oblivion’s first release had done pretty well from our vantage point —we’d sold out the first pressing within a year— and beyond that… who knew? Organizing distribution, promotion, reviews, the radio play…like I said, who knew?
So, it was on a disgustingly hot night in August of 1974 that I got the test pressing (our only copy) for Joe Lee Wilson's Livin’ High Off Nickels and Dimes. We knew we had something special, something Van Jay would completely dig. Van was the overnight guy at WRVR-FM, New York’s only mainstream jazz station (WKCR tended towards the avant garde and classical, WBGO in Newark didn’t exist yet), and he loved jazz singers. I trooped over there at midnight (getting mugged for my first time in then dangerous Manhattan) and couldn’t get in the staiton. I wrote a note for Van pointing out the track “Jazz Ain’t Nothing But Soul" (written by Norman Mapp) which my friends and I thought was the perfect anthem that jazz needed. The pressing slipped between the bars outside the door, and we hoped for the best.
Within a couple of days it was clear that Van J loved the record. Loved it! Van started it off, but every DJ at the station was playing the track like crazy. OBLIVION HAD A HIT!
The only problem was that we had no records in the stores.
(More to come.)