Thursday, February 22, 2007

United Record Pressing

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By John Gerome
the associated press
Photos by Mark Humphrey
Published: 02.22.2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —That dusty stack of records in your parents' basement? They're not as retro as you might think.

Many record collectors, DJs and music junkies still consider vinyl to be the gold standard of recorded music — scratches, pops and all.

That enduring appeal has helped Nashville's United Record Pressing, which cranks out 20,000 to 40,000 records a day, making it one of the largest — and last — vinyl record manufacturers in the country.

"Folks thought we had disappeared," owner and CEO Cris Ashworth said.

Started in 1962, the plant is as much a throwback as the shiny black discs it produces. The interior is dingy, the '70s decor looks like a vintage garage sale and the air is a stale blend of ink and cigarette smoke.

Ashworth, 56, sat down for a recent interview with an ashtray and pack of Merits by his side. He hardly looked the part of dance music guru, but 60 percent of his company's records are by rap, hip-hop and R&B artists such as Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera, Ludacris and Krayzie Bone.

Most of the discs are 12-inch singles destined for professional DJs at radio stations and dance clubs who still use vinyl records and turntables to mix, scratch and blend music.

"The record labels use us as a marketing tool to get that new track out there," Ashworth explained. "They'll come to me on a Monday, want it out on Wednesday and played Friday or Saturday night at a club or radio station."

Typically, the company will press four versions of the same song: a radio and club mix, as well as an instrumental and a cappella version so DJs can mix and manipulate the sound.

Another portion of United's product goes to retail stores, where vinyl is preferred by amateur DJs, collectors and purists convinced that the sound is superior to CDs.

"Vinyl has a distinct sound," said Doyle Davis, co-owner of Grimey's New & Preloved Music, a Nashville store where 15 percent to 20 percent of sales are vinyl. "You hear people use adjectives like 'warmer' and 'more round.'

"And there are other things beside sound quality. People know what the song titles are. It's not like, 'I like track 5.' You put the needle on and let it play through — not jump around. You have more of an intimate relationship with the music."

Vinyl records use analog technology, whereby a physical groove is etched into the record mimicking the sound wave. CDs, on the other hand, transform sound into digital packets of information.

"No one ever doubts the quality of vinyl over any other format that's ever existed," said George Sulmers, a Nashville-based club DJ who spins classic funk and soul discs under the name Geezus. "I understand why change happened, but I don't think there was a valid need for the change."

The means of music delivery continues to evolve. Digital downloading has eroded CD sales. Some artists are skipping CDs entirely and releasing new music online for the casual listener and on vinyl for DJs and hardcore fans.

But vinyl still accounts for a small percentage of total music sales. Last year 858,000 LPs were sold, compared with 553.4 million CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan. While the 2006 figure was up slightly from 2005, the overall trend has been down from 1.5 million in 2000.

Ashworth believes the data is skewed, though, because a lot of vinyl is sold in mom-and-pop stores not reflected in the SoundScan numbers.

His company has managed to thrive by picking up business from competitors in a shrinking market. Today, he has only 13 competitors compared to several dozen before CDs took over in the '90s. Revenues hit $5 million in 2004 and grew to $7 million in 2005. Last year saw significant growth over 2005, Ashworth said.

And yet the plant remains a timepiece with its rumbling presses that jar the floor, noisy blasts of compressed air and vats of blue nickel solution used to create the master discs.

Ashworth regards it a relic of Nashville's past, every bit as important as the old RCA studio where Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers recorded, or the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry enjoyed its heyday.

"We want to be the last vinyl plant standing, no matter what," he said. "There is no other plant that looks like this in the country. This is an antique."

Indeed, it still has the furnished apartment where Motown Records executives stayed when they came down from Detroit during segregation. The apartment adjoins a party room where Wayne Newton celebrated his 16th birthday.

Most of the major labels and many of the independents contract with United. Elvis Presley's reissues are pressed here, as well as recordings by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Alan Jackson, John Mayer and many others.

"If you look at the Hot 100 singles, we represent about 80 percent of what's on the chart," Ashworth said.

Ashworth himself is something of an oddity. A longtime corporate executive and former chief financial officer at Nashville Gas Co., he bought this place in 1999 with no experience or knowledge of the industry. At the time, the vinyl record business seemed doomed.

"My son was very worried about whether he was going to be able to go to college," he said with a laugh, adding, "Thank the Lord for a trusting wife."

But Ashworth made a go of it and then some, boosting employment at United from 10 to 60 people and fulfilling his own need to create something.

"A lot of people spend their lives doing something as opposed to making something, and I wanted to make something," he said. "I wanted something tangible in my hands at the end of the day."

Saturday, February 17, 2007


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I used to work for this company.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tolkien's The Children of Húrin

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Here's your first look at the jacket art for ''The Children of Hurin,'' the completion of ''Lord of the Rings'' author J.R.R. Tolkien's unfinished novel, due out April 17

By Gilbert Cruz

In the 33 years since Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien passed away, his youngest son Christopher has relentlessly plugged away at deciphering and organizing his father's voluminous notes into further tales of Middle Earth. On April 17, the release of The Children of Húrin — begun by the elder Tolkien in 1918 — will bring those tales to a close.

According to the Tolkien estate website, The Children of Húrin ''takes the reader back to a time long before The Lord of the Rings, in an area of Middle Earth that was to be drowned before ever Hobbits appeared, and when the great enemy was still the fallen Vala, Morgoth, and Sauron only his lieutenant. This heroic romance is the tale of the Man, Húrin, who dared to defy Morgoth's force of evil, and his family's tragic destiny, as it follows his son Túrin Turambar's travails through the lost world of Beleriand.''

Quite a mouthful, huh? If the only word you recognize in that paragraph is ''Hobbit,'' then you probably shouldn't even think about picking up this book without first reading the other books Christopher Tolkien has worked on over the past three decades — The Silmarillion (1977), which contains both the Middle Earth creation tale and beautiful love story of Beren and Luthien; Unfinished Tales (1980); and The History of Middle Earth (a 12-volume set released between 1983 and 1996). It's a lot. You'd best get started now.

Maltese Falcon stolen

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Maltese Falcon swiped from SF restaurant

Monday, February 12, 2007

A photograph of Humphrey Bogart with the original Maltese... A replica of the famous Maltese Falcon used in the 1941 H... John Konstin, the owner of John's Grill, says the Maltese...

(02-12) 16:46 PST -- It's been nearly 80 years since Sam Spade wandered the streets of San Francisco in search of the Maltese Falcon. Now, the statue is missing again.

John Konstin, the owner of San Francisco's John's Grill on Ellis Street, said someone broke into a locked cabinet on the second floor of his establishment and took a signed reproduction of the Maltese Falcon -- one used for publicity stills for the movie -- along with several vintage and signed books by and about Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett.

Konstin said the theft was noticed Saturday afternoon. He guesses the theft took place sometime late Friday night or in the early morning hours of Saturday.

The black statue was signed by actor Elisha Cook Jr., a San Franciscan who played the role of Wilmer the Gunsel in the movie. He presented it to the restaurant after Konstin and San Francisco private investigator Jack Immendorf failed in their attempt to buy the original bird that was used in the movie.

Police have been summoned to the scene of the broken cabinet on the second floor of the restaurant, and Konstin has offered a $25,000 reward for return of the statue and books.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jungle Jim's

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1,600 cheeses from 40 countries.
100 varieties of honey.
Almost 1,000 hot sauces.
More types of olives than you'd think exist.
More than 44,000 imported groceries from more than 75 countries and regions around the world.
Even kangaroo meat.

More pictures:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Creation Museum

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Everyone's Favorite Biker

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Steve McQueen 'most famous biker'

Steve McQueen is the most famous biker of all time

Hollywood legend Steve McQueen has been voted the most iconic biker of all time.

The star of action movies including The Great Escape and The Towering Inferno came top of a poll for Motor Cycle News (MCN) in which more than 2,200 enthusiasts voted.

He beat competition from double grand prix world champion Barry Sheene, seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi and daredevil Evel Knievel, famous for his spectacular jumps.

Also in the top 10 were Marlon Brando, star of 1950s biking film The Wild Ones, Mission Impossible actor Tom Cruise, and Ewan McGregor - who starred in Long Way Round, a BBC documentary following him biking across the globe.

Steve McQueen, who died from lung cancer in 1980, starred in one of Hollywood's most famous motorbike scenes in the 1963 film The Great Escape.

A MCN spokesman said: "The survey is a revealing insight to the biker's mind.

"Despite numerous celebrities currently riding motorcycles, a 44-year-old image of McQueen sat on a Triumph is instantly recognisable by many generations, rivalling that of The Beatles on the Abbey Road zebra crossing."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Steve McQueen part 3

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Steve McQueen Day

March 24, 2007

Visit Steve McQueen' boyhood hometown on his birthday. Sponsored by the Slater Chamber of Commerce and the City of Slater. Events that are currently being planned include: Film Festival, Car & Motorcycle Show, Tours (Plans are still being developed) that will include his boyhood home and the school he attended while living in Slater. Steve's wife and her publisher have agreed to attend for a book signing and sign unveiling ceremony. More plans will be announced as they become available.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Poor Old Lu news!

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This is going to interrupt my string of Steve McQueen posts, but it's worth it:Scott Hunter is back, singing for the first time ever (to my knowledge) in a band that's NOT Poor Old Lu (or bellbangvilla, or For Fear of His Splendor, which are the same thing anyway).

Wow! This music is seriously exciting. I was under the impression that Scott wasn't interested in a music career beyond Poor Old Lu, but even the demos for This Diminishing West are better that what most bands put out in their final form, polished and shiny. They deserve the 5 minutes of your time it takes to listen to "Flight 191".

Steve McQueen part 2

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Steve McQueen's Dream Movie Wakes Up With a Vrooom!

Published: May 14, 2006


Steve McQueen, foreground, with the actor Ted Markland and their motorcycles, in a photograph taken in California at about 1969.

WHEN Steve McQueen died 25 years ago in Juarez, Mexico, he left behind two children, some 30 movies and a legacy as "The King of Cool" (the title of a documentary about him). He also left behind two custom-made trunks containing 16 leather-bound notebooks full of drawings, photographs from period magazines, and a detailed script continuity — a screenplay without dialogue — written in a kind of hyper-stylized poetry. These materials were his plans for "Yucatan," the vanity project he yearned, but failed, to make.

A heist film and adventure epic, it would have married the sprawling canvas of films like "The Great Escape" and "Papillon" with the chase-scene histrionics of "Bullitt" (transferred to motorcycles, McQueen's lifelong passion) along with some ancient history and visionary science thrown in for good measure.

The trunks sat in the basement of a house in Trancas Canyon in Malibu, Calif., until they were unearthed by McQueen's son, Chad, 10 years ago. (His daughter, Terry, died in 1998.) "If I'd handed this to the wrong people. ..." Chad McQueen said in a telephone interview, his voice trailing off. "Man, I don't need that."

He said he had planned just to "sit on it and let my kids deal with it down the road." But luckily that wasn't necessary, thanks in part to Lance Sloane, now a producer of the project, which is working its way through the development system at Warner Brothers, with a genuine shot at being made.

Mr. Sloane, Chad's best friend from high school and godfather to his son, spent much time at the McQueen household. The two families met at the Indian Dunes motorcycle track near Valencia, when a young Mr. Sloane was yelling at his mother. Steve McQueen, who spent some time at the Boys Republic reformatory in Chino, got out of his car and scolded this complete stranger for disrespecting his parent.

Later, after the two boys had blown up a neighbor's mailbox, McQueen administered some rough punishment, putting a boot to Mr. Sloane's backside that lifted him in the air and across the room. Mr. Sloane called his mother to come get him and walked up a hill to meet her. There he found McQueen leaning against the hood of her car, having convinced her that her son would be better off with a man's supervision. Mr. Sloane stayed with the McQueens for months at a time.

While growing up with Chad, Mr. Sloane said, "I learned a lot of things you learn at that age from his dad, and if there's somebody I want to pay back in life, it's" the McQueens. Much later, when Warner executives, pleased with a skateboarding movie he produced called "Grind," suggested he look for new properties, Mr. Sloane remembered those earlier tales of buried treasure.

What he found when he got the trunks to his office floored him: 1,700 pages of hand-typed material, written by Steve McQueen over a two-year period from 1969 to 1970. It amounted to a proto-PowerPoint presentation for a finished film, in which an archaeologist from the Museum of London enlists a renegade Navy diver, who works for the oil companies and races motorcycles on the "shores of the Mojave," in a plan to explore the cenotes, caves in the Yucatan jungle that reveal underground lakes. Here, a millennium before, Mayan priests sacrificed virgins covered in gold and precious jewels, a fortune rumored to still adorn their skeletons at the bottom of these sacred wells.

The writing is filled with a reverence for nature and sympathy to the class struggle in Mexico, and there is a motorcycle chase spelled out in illustrated storyboards that McQueen planned as the most elaborate ever committed to film. In William F. Nolan's biography "McQueen," the actor describes the film as follows: "Our story will center on a guy who takes his cycle into the Mexican wilds on a personal treasure hunt. Naturally, I'll play the guy on the cycle."

Asked to work with a supervising producer, Mr. Sloane went to the bungalow next door to his on the Warner lot to talk to David Heyman, the producer of the Harry Potter films. Mr. Heyman instantly lent the project credibility, thanks to both the $2 billion he has grossed for the studio and his respect for his source material. He set aside 45 minutes to read the journals on a flight from London and ended up staying with them for three days. "My role is to protect McQueen's vision," Mr. Heyman said. "But I think everybody on board feels that way. I've rarely seen a writer, let alone an actor, who's done this much preparation. There's just a tremendous amount of reference." To write the screenplay Mr. Heyman tapped Paul Scheuring, currently riding the crest of his Fox TV series "Prison Break," who claims to have seen "The Great Escape" 500 times and has the charming habit of referring to the actor as "Mr. McQueen." His screenplay reflects the latest politics, such as the Zapatista uprising, as well as technology — including portable marine submersibles and the practice of injecting carbon-dioxide-eating microorganisms directly into the bloodstream, an experimental process used by competitive divers — that was speculative science when McQueen first included it in the original.

Mr. Scheuring compares the tone of the film to the scenes in "Papillon" in which McQueen finds refuge among coastal Indians, or to "Sorcerer," William Friedkin's mid-70's remake of the French classic "Wages of Fear," about soldiers of fortune transporting nitroglycerine through the South American jungle. And he is adamant that McQueen receive story credit. "If I'm sharing a marquee with him," Mr. Scheuring says, "that's fine by me."

McQueen planned to make the film through his production company after the 1971 race car drama "Le Mans" but lost his moment and momentum when that film ran over schedule and over budget. Chad said that a painful mastoid problem with his father's ear in later years precluded him diving and curtailed the project, although the novelist Bud Shrake, a writer of "Tom Horn," remembers him trying to revive it as late as 1979. According to Mr. Shrake, McQueen discussed it with Sam Peckinpah, with whom McQueen made two and a half films ("The Getaway," "Junior Bonner" and "The Cincinnati Kid," from which Peckinpah was fired).

So far, the producers said, at least two of Hollywood's top stars — whom they declined to identify publicly — have read the journals and are circling the project. And it's easy to imagine directors sparking to the material, though no filmmaker or star has become attached while the script work goes on. "The fastest way to slow things down is to tie someone up on your project," Mr. Sloane said.

The notebooks are housed in a safe in Mr. Sloane's office on the Warner lot, where they serve as a road map to the kind of broad adventure plus intense character study the studio system has rarely made since the 1970's.

For the McQueen fan the notebooks, more than just a map to a movie, represent a rarely seen side of the actor.

Here's how McQueen closes his final meditation on "Yucatan":

He was parting the curtains on tomorrow
A commando on the liquid frontier...
The inheritors of that emerald planet
That jewel on the finger of the firmament
Ringed by its creator with sapphire seas
For the exaltation and the ultimate salvation of the Dominion of Man.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Modern Marketing of McQueen

Steve McQueen part 1

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I know some of these will be old news for a lot of people, so you don't have a to post a comment to tell me.

Dalton Watson Fine Books is now taking orders for Barbara McQueen's upcoming photo book, Steve McQueen - The Last Mile.

The 240-page book, priced at $95, is a special limited edition run of 2,000 and is signed by Barbara McQueen and her co-author, Marshall Terrill. The limited editions will include a slipcase and a 45-minute compact disc of the superstar going over script notes as he prepares to film Tom Horn.

The November 2006 release date for Steve McQueen -The Last Mile coincides with the 26th anniversary of the actor's death and also a McQueen auction of memorabilia hosted by Bonham's and Butterfields ( at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The photo book contains approximately 150 pictures documenting Barbara McQueen's three-and-a-half year relationship with the movie icon, which includes candid shots from 1977 to 1980 – McQueen's years out of the spotlight. It chronicles Barbara's early history and modeling career; her years with McQueen at Trancas Beach and Santa Paula as well as behind-the-scene photos on the sets of Tom Horn and The Hunter.

Terrill said the photo book is written in passage form, weaving Barbara McQueen's personal history, her relationship with her famous husband and the stories behind the hundreds of candid pictures she took. It will also include a special foreword by Pat Johnson, McQueen's close friend and karate instructor.

The publisher plans to sell a mass market version of the book in March 2007.

To order a limited edition copy of Steve McQueen - The Last Mile, please use the order form in the Shop section on Surface shipment is free world-wide, but outside Europe and the USA, if airmail is required it is US$25 extra.