700 West's Moe Whittemore gets reissue 

click to enlarge Moe Whittemore, at 700 West, his home studio - ARTUR SILVA
  • Moe Whittemore, at 700 West, his home studio
  • Artur Silva

When we compiled our list of the 100 Best Hoosier albums ever released last year, four LPs on that list came from New Palestine resident Moe Whittemore's 700 West studio. Among those four Whittemore-produced entries were Beech Grove psych rockers Zerfas, Indy funk greats Amnesty, proto-metal pioneers Primevil and Whittemore's own 1976 solo outing First Album. 

First Album is the subject of an excellent new reissue package on the Greek label Anazitisi Records. I caught up with Whittemore to talk about the LP's return. You can catch my full interview with Whittemore along with music samples on the radio edition of Cultural Manifesto this Wednesday at 9pm on WFYI 90.1.

NUVO: During the 1970s you ran the 700 West studio out of your house. It's not a particularly large house, and I was fascinated to see that you'd used the living room area as the recording space for the tremendous catalog of music you produced. Since visiting you, I've always been curious what was it like raising a family while the loudest rock bands in Indiana were playing in your living room?

Whittemore: The family eventually got used to it. I remember my daughter had a China horse collection on a shelf in her bedroom which was located above the area where the groups used to play. I was recording a band called Dutch. They were extremely loud and the horses just walked right off the shelf and smashed on the floor. Yeah, they were loud. [laughs]

The other thing that would freak them out was the horn overdubs. You wouldn't have any loud music, then all the sudden out of nowhere at two o'clock in the morning you'd here "ba-da-da-ba-da-daaa." But the hardest part was keeping the kids quiet during acoustic gigs. "No TV and shut off the dishwasher!" During acoustic gigs I'd even shut off the furnace so we could get it as quiet as possible. 

The kids loved it. They still talk about it. It gave them an appreciation for a lot of different kinds of music. We recorded bluegrass, white gospel, black gospel, we had a Vietnamese group come out, and we even did audition tapes for classical musicians trying to get into Juilliard. 

NUVO: Anazitisi Records in Greece has just reissued your 1976 solo LP First Album in a really beautiful package. There are liner notes, lyrics, archival photos, and you even unearthed some previously unreleased bonus material. One of the things I find most interesting about First Album is the diversity of sounds on the LP. It's almost aggressively eclectic. There are several experimental art rock pieces featuring your "electric oboe" that recall Eno or Soft Machine. There are electronic sounds, straight up country tunes, and even a sweet soul ballad "Check Me Out."

Whittemore: Each track was an experiment. "Well, let's try writing in phrygian mode. Let's try the cycle of fifths." In fact "Check Me Out" was written in a cycle of fifths, which is why it never quite seems to finish up. It just keeps going. This was left over from my music schooling. There's a track written in 5/4 time. [That] was influenced by the Sons of Champlin, who were one of my favorite groups from that period. 

Why is the album so eclectic though? I don't know, I guess I just listened to a lot of different music. That album is a collection of publisher's demos. It was stuff I'd sent out trying to get placed. I'd play some of the music to musicians who came out to the studio to record and they'd say, "Wow, you gotta put that out." But jeez I didn't have any money. So I pressed 200 copies which was the minimum order you could place. 

NUVO: Despite the fact that you pressed the record in such a small quantity First Album went on to circulate among music collectors around the world. How does it feel seeing your only solo release now back in print after nearly 40 years?

Whittemore: What can I say? It still sounds pretty good. I never dreamed the music would have the underground following that it did. Gee whiz, it really humbles you.


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