Second-to-last part (I promise!) of the Impression reissue saga…
It only took one sentence in our conversation to flip the script –or at least take it to an unexpected place.
When Zenbar asked me if I had a copy of Impression, I had to admit I never did, my obsession for this particular 12’’ being based on hearing it once at a dance, and a million times off the two same videos on Youtube. « I’ll get you some sent, » he promised. To which I felt free to note: « You really should consider reissuing that tune… It goes for crazy money on Ebay, and you see none of it. » He kept silent for a sec, and nodded, I imagine. “Yeah, that’s a good idea”… The next day, Zen’s childhood friend Linell Hilton was emailing me, asking for my address. Two weeks later, a package showed up at my door. It was unusually big for just containing a couple 12’’, I thought. And heavy, too.
Linell had done it: following Zen Bow’s instructions from Atlanta, he had gone to Zen’s ex-wife’s place (Linell still lives in CT) and after a reportedly heated negociation process, had found the records to send me, on the same shelf in Zen’s former living room than where he put them 25 years ago.
But wait, there was more… When I opened the package, I understood what was anchoring it : besides a few brand new copies of Impression, and a couple of Zen Bow’s other 12’’ (Big, Black and Beautiful, King Culture label), it contained a 2-inch reel tape. The. Original. Impression. Tape. Wow.
I called Linell. « Zen told me to send it to you, so I just did, » he confessed. May next phone call was to Zen.
– « Well big man, you said it should be reissued, right ? » Zenbar laughed, amused by my puzzlement.
– « Well, yeah, but… by you ? »
-« If you found me all the way from France and knew that song, I thought you wanted to do it yourself, » he continued. « Do what you gotta do. Keep on trucking, Sebastien ! »
At this point, it was really hard not to see it as a sign. The sign. The one that pushes you on the other side of the line, the one that parts the fantasy reissue label you’ve been dreaming of for years, and the reality of daring to make it happen.
How to follow up, once you manage to pass the initial shock, and honor, of such a gift?
It took me a minute to learn the process. It might be common knowledge amongst studio people, but there are basic things I didn’t know. Such as : did you know a 2-inch reel has to be baked before being legible again ? I sure didn’t. And finding a proper baking machine in Southern California in 2011 wasn’t the easiest of the processes. I even ended up calling Ampex’s headquarters to help me find one –I know, I should have searched on Facebook, rah rah rah. Ampex still had a « baker » dude on file in the Bay Area, a legend of sorts who happened to not really know -or really care at all, let’s be fair- what he was doing (long story).
When I brought the baked tape to the studio I had found in the LA area, their reel machine, I got informed as I reached, just crashed the night before, we-re-so-sorry-but-it’s-gonna-take-months-before-we-get-it-fixed. Back to square one, once again. As I was going to wonder if «the sign» was maybe one of doom, finally something good happened out of the mishap. The people at this studio knew of somebody specializing in tape restoration and transfers. A real man of passion for this kind of thing, who charged decent rates. “He works with Motown, vintage Def jam rissues, has amazing ears and equipment,” they said. That was the sun ray I had hoped for. And that’s how I met John Stroher at Penguin Studios…
(Continued in Part V aka “the last episode”. Stay tuned!)