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A ‘pressing’ affair: Ukiah resident to exhibit locally produced vinyl record collection

Jun 09, 2023

Casey Thompson, a Ukiah native, began collecting vinyl when he was a freshman, in 1994.

It’s taken a few years but now Thompson has a substantial collection and will be displaying a unique subsection of his albums at Medium Gallery this coming First Friday. The record display is a slice of local history – albums that were produced or recorded in the county, along with some artists who resided here.

Thompson’s grandmother Lillian Knighton taught him the love of music.

“Grandma had a lot of 45’s. She’d play me everything from David Saville and the Chipmunks and Andy Williams. She’d play the House of Bamboo and I’d go crazy,” he smiles. “She had cookie tins filled with 45’s. I ended up with her record player and began collecting.”

What started as a passion grew into a side business. He owns somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 albums and 5,000 45’s. He’s been attending record shows and selling vinyl for several years. The genesis of this show began simply.

“In moving back to Ukiah, I started locating a lot of records that had significant connections – bands that started here and labels that started here. When you shop locally, it’s not that unusual to find an album that has a Mendocino County connection.”

Thompson has come across many of the more typical Mendocino County findings – like the Doobie Brothers album with the iconic song, “Ukiah.” But along with those, he’s discovered some very obscure and interesting albums. Green Day is probably the most well-known band with county connections. Drummer Tre Cool is a Laytonville native, and Thompson has located some of the earliest vinyl related to the band, when Tre was playing with the Lookouts.

“Here’s the first Lookout record,” he points out. “Larry Livermore lived in Laytonville. He started this label first as a ‘zine in about ’84, and eventually it became a label. Tre Cool was playing drums at the next farm over on Spy Rock Road. This punk rock label eventually became associated with what became known as the East Bay sound. They thank Mendocino County on their first record. I think the label released about 300 albums in total.

“Green Day’s first two albums were recorded here, and there are tons of Mendocino County references. As far as I have located, I think this is the only major indie small label to come out of this county. It’s cool to hear Tre – this 12-year-old kid – Frank Wright III, playing on that first album. Their first band name was Sweet Children. I was in a band at the time named Hideous Kids, which was in direct response to that first name,” he smiles.

“I discovered this super-rare, ‘60’s fuzzed out band from Lake County called the Graveyard Five. I really went down a small rabbit hole when I discovered them. This is in the super-obscurity category,” he grins.

He references another album – the Living Children.

“This was a Fort-Bragg based psychedelic band, with a song called ‘Crystalize Your Mind.’” The music is certainly evocative of the time.

Other albums on display include Mendocino Home Cooking – a compilation produced by Hal Wagenet, featuring folks like Will Siegel and Karen Almquist.

“Here’s an interesting band – Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys.” Their album, Albion Doo Wop, has clear Mendo references and the double-album inside cover photo looks like a classic hippie cabin, Back-to-the-Land portrait.

The Seigler Family – Floyd, Jean, Sandy, Tana and Candy – lived on West Perkins Street in 1974 and recorded a gospel album. Another gospel album by the Harmony Makers – Lorna, Frieda and Mary – features album notes by Dr. E Ward Willouby, a Redwood Valley pastor.

Country Butter is a compilation album featuring a song called Mendocino Waltz, by Bobbie “Buffalo” Brittain, Eric “Hot Lick” Brittain and Carmon Brittain. Les Boek is thanked for his harmonica contribution. Other tunes include the Tomki Road Breakdown, and Mendocino Mountain Cabin home.

Tiny Harris played truck-driver country music and finished his successful career in Ukiah. “I think he was married here. My dad always said Tiny would start a conversation with a joke,” says Thompson. His album, containing titles like “Double-clutchin’ Truck Line” were connected to his North State Street address. “Tiny performed with Rose Maddox of the Maddox Brothers and at the Grand Ol’ Opry.”

Thompson mentions other local artists like Spencer Brewer, Hansen and Raitt, Alex de Grassi, AFI and Phoebe Bridges – who may not have recorded vinyl in Mendocino County, but he considers part of his collection. Songs like “Mendocino” by Sir Douglas Quintet and the Doobie Brothers classic also made his cut. “I wanted this to be about a band with a song.”

“There was a famous studio in Comptche. The Toadies produced Rubber Neck out there.”

One of the strangest records in Thompson’s collection is called Count to 4 by the infamous cult leader Jim Jones. “It’s a bunch of ‘self-help-take-over-your-mind manipulation sounds,’” says Thompson.

The conversation shifted to the history of colored vinyl records. “The reason we call them ‘albums’ is because you could fit 10 ‘45’s into a photo album,” says Thompson. In 1949, RCA Victor began color-coding albums by genre. They were red, yellow, blue, orange and purple. “You don’t find many purple because they are mostly Blues albums and very rare, and valuable as heck. After a while, RCA gave it up.”

Thompson has had a few choice scores in his resale business.

“I found a ‘60’s Rockabilly record in Ukiah and sold it for $800. And sold a 45 by a Texas psych rock band called The Gentlemen for $2,000.”

“There are still so many records out there. The ‘70’s was the heyday of vinyl. The sad thing is that there’s still so many unappreciated records around. You can go to any thrift store and find interesting things. The Medium Gallery is the only place in town where you can buy used vinyl. I don’t buy a lot of new albums,” he notes, adding that Discogs is “the nerd’s nerd site” for information on specific records.

Thompson knows there are still more local recordings to be discovered.

“An exhaustive cataloging of all the recordings from this area would be truly difficult,” he concludes.

The next exhibit and events at Medium Gallery fall under the theme of Skulls and Bones. The exhibit opens First Friday, Sept. 1 and runs until Oct. 22.

“We asked for people to think out of the box using skulls or bones imagery in their submissions,” says Lillian Rubie, board president of the Deep Valley Arts Collective, which runs the gallery.

Skull and Bones explore autumnal themes, death, rebirth, the intersection of dark and light and all things spooky. “American culture tends to shy away from mortality and death. The exhibit gives people the opportunity to look it in the face and have a community conversation about it. During the Halloween time frame, our community celebrations are among the most creative. People build their own costumes and decorate imaginatively. People open their doors to strangers in a celebratory spirit. I love the history of the incorporation of queer culture in Halloween, where people are allowed to dress as they are in public – coming as you ‘are’ or ‘aren’t’ for one evening,” Rubie notes.

First Friday will mark the unveiling of Thompson’s vinyl collection. For the second year, there will also be a community alter space where the public is invited to bring personal mementos of loved ones, pets and inspirational people in their lives who have died and place them on the altar. A community skull-making project will also be on display.

Rubie will be at the gallery every Saturday from noon-6 with her sewing machine, random scraps of fabric and other supplies to help the public with costume construction.

And on Oct. 13 Medium Gallery will be hosting their second annual Halloween party featuring a costume contest, live music and all-too-true tarot readings by the Mysterious Madame Mumsy. Trophies will be awarded, and spooky snacks served.

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