Back in the mid-’70s, in the days of vinyl and cassettes and 8-tracks, I went through high school and the first couple of years of college in Wausau, Wisconsin — a town of about 50,000 (after you add all the burbs).
Though there were more than two radio stations in town, we really only had a choice of two.
The AM station, WRIG, was top-40 pop. However, it inexplicably also chose to air “The National Lampoon Radio Hour,” an irreverent, sophisticated, cutting-edge comedy show that set the tone for “Saturday Night Live” — which hadn’t yet debuted. It also shared many of the same cast members. But we’ll come back to that another time.
The FM station, WIFC, was top-40 rock. Until 10 p.m. at night, that is. That’s when it became one of those free-form stations that seem to have passed into legend. After 10, the WIFC jocks played anything and everything. David Bowie and Uriah Heep followed by Gil Scott-Heron and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This, in central Wisconsin, mind you.
At midnight, it was time for “The Midnight Tracker.” Nothing complicated about this. Drop the needle on a new album, play the first side, flip it and play the second side.
This went on for some time, until — the way I heard it — the record companies worked themselves into a tizzy about the prospect of people taping new albums off the radio!
OK, I confess. I did that. Here’s how it worked. I’d get out my portable tape recorder, pop in a blank 90-minute cassette tape, grab the microphone and hold it right up to the radio speaker. You can imagine the sound quality.
Things improved once I got a receiver and a tape deck and went to direct input. By then, though, “The Midnight Tracker” had been reduced to one side, not the whole album. The DJs winked at this change, often playing the other side on another night. So if you were patient, you might get the whole album. It wouldn’t take long.
In that spirit, we are delighted to revive “The Midnight Tracker” for your listening pleasure. We know you would never, no not ever, tape this off your computer speakers. That would be wrong.
Tonight’s offering: Side 1 of “El Rayo Live,” a six-song EP from David Lindley and El Rayo-X, released only in Europe in 1983. From what I can tell, it’s rare. I don’t know whether a 1990 CD release with the same name is the same thing.
Lindley was a highly regarded session player in the ’70s, most notably with Jackson Browne. Just check out his extensive resume. He put together El Rayo-X in the early ’80s, recording three delightful albums that “integrated American roots music and world beat with a heavy reggae influence,” according to his official bio.
It sounded good to me then, and it sounds good now.
The cuts, in order: “Wooly Bully,” “Turning Point” and “Talk to the Lawyer.”
The first and third cuts were recorded at Hop Singh’s in Marina Del Rey, California, on Dec. 11, 1982. The second cut was recorded at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California, on Dec. 3, 1982.
“Wooly Bully,” “Turning Point” and “Talk to the Lawyer,” David Lindley and El Rayo-X, from “El Rayo Live,” 1983. It runs 17:09. (Still available over at The Midnight Tracker.)
Let me know what you think of The Midnight Tracker.
If you’re good, you might get Side 2 soon.
4 responses to “Hail, the Midnight Tracker”
A fine idea. Who among us didn’t mike the radio until we discovered the jack plug?
I like el rayo live, but being european I already own the vinyl. Give your fellow americans side two, especialy Rag Bag is great!
YES! I lived in Central Wisconsin in the early 1980s and I do remember the Midnight Tracker on 95.5 WIFC. What a great line-up!: Duff Damos, Captain Jim, and Dave Apple made WIFC a fun station to listen to.
I have (somewhere) lots of tapes from PBS live shows. Live at Wolftrap, etc. It’s how you got good stuff they wouldn’t play on radio, New Grass Revival, John Hartford, etc. And the piano stool was just the right height to get the recorder next to the speaker. And then … simulcasts. Boy, I’m dating myself.
I’m ready for side two!