Sunday, January 24, 2010


JANDEK is a tremendously popular under ground and avaunt guard musical artist.

One day in the mid-eighties, I was in the that used record store that was on Westheimer east of Montrose, next to a drapery company that was very cranky about you parking in their half of the lot. I think it was called Record Exchange but I'm not sure.

In any event, I was asking one of the clerks about any used albums from local Houston bands, past or present. She said well, this is sorta current, a couple of years old, and it's local because this guy Jandek supposedly lives in Houston, and it's different. Some of it is sorta traditional and some is sorta avaunt guard, so since it was like $1 or something I decided to get it.

I listened to it. It was interesting. Some of it was even kinda cool. It wasn't what I played or listened to, and I have been a fan of many genres of music in my lifetime.
Classical, symphonic, orchestral, jazz, country, folk, latin, blues, rock, pop, soul, r&b, rap and all kinds of things that are in between.

It was this guy, probably recording on a 4 track cassette (which was state of the art home recording gear in the early 1980's), with a guitar tuned to some obscure or personal tuning scheme. And it wasn't so much the guitar playing, although the guitar music certainly contributed to the overall sort of angsty feeling of the album, as the voice.

Here's what wiki says about Jandek:

Although never formally confirmed, it is widely accepted that Jandek's real name is Sterling Richard Smith (probably born October 26, 1945); a review of Ready for the House in OP magazine, the first ever national press given to Jandek, refers to the artist as Sterling Smith,[1] checks written to Corwood come back endorsed by Smith, and Smith is listed as the claimant in the copyright records for Jandek's albums at the Library of Congress. Despite this evidence, Corwood never uses the name in connection with Jandek, and, in turn, many of Jandek's fans respectfully maintain this separation. He is widely believed to live in the area of Houston, Texas, as this is the location of the post office box (No. 15375) which has been used by Corwood from the beginning. There is also a telephone number for Corwood Industries listed in the phone book for the area. Corwood happens to share the number with "Sterling Smith Corporation", which appears to be a stock and securities broker.


Jandek's first album, Ready for the House, though obviously a solo work, was originally credited to a band called The Units. As explained in an interview in the first issue of Spin, Smith was forced to change the name by an identically named Californian group already in possession of a copyright. All reissues of this first album and all subsequent Corwood releases have been credited to "Jandek". In Trubee's interview, Smith claims he came up with the name Jandek while on the telephone with a person named Decker during the month of January.[4] Smith's initial use of a plural band name (and Corwood's curious tendency to refer to Jandek as "a representative from Corwood Industries") has led some fans to suggest that the reclusive artist intended his oeuvre to be perceived as the work of an anonymous collective rather than that of a single man. Indeed, though roughly two-thirds of his records are solo affairs, the other third have variably featured female vocalists, different male vocalists, bass guitar, electric guitar, drums, and accordion.

One could conjure all sorts of images of what kind of guy was making this obscure and sparse music. The post office box was at a South Houston zip code and one could imagine Jandek living in some sparsely furnished wood framed ramshackle house in a not so nice sketchy part of town.

The music was unique for sure, and about a year or so after I first heard his stuff I read an article in an 1980's original music magazine about him

Jandek was unique because from the beginning, he is his own record label. Way back 30 years ago he did it all. He recorded his own albums (initially using vinyl for many years before moving on to CD's and DVD's). He took out some ads in some original music magazines and had the albums pressed himself and then sold them at very reasonable prices via mail order.

Jandek became a darling of the college radio set as well as Pacifica and independent radio stations. I don't care what college station (at least in this state) you listen to, if you check the play list for a month long period, there's gonna be some Jandek on it just as sure as there will be some UB40.

You can check out the wiki page, which has links to a very interesting Texas Monthly article about Jandek. Lately, he's been playing select gigs, changing band members often, at locales around the world. You can get DVD's and CD's off of the site he runs, called CORWOOD records.

Here's a wiki-quote about him:

Since 1978, Jandek has self-released over 60 albums of unusual, often emotionally dissolute folk and blues songs without ever granting more than the occasional interview or providing any biographical information. Jandek often plays a highly idiosyncratic and frequently atonal form of folk and blues music, often using an open and unconventional chord structure. Jandek's music is unique, but the lyrics closely mirror the country blues and folk traditions of East Texas.

I got to give it to the guy. I like some of his bluesy and folk stuff, the less atonal stuff, but he's really made a worldwide name for himself, and in pre-internet days. Way pre-internet days. He started his own record label, handled his own sales and presumably advertising and everything else. If I recall correctly, his inventory lists are still typewritten.

So whoever he is, I salute him for doing something with his music. As a native born Houstonian, I'm always damn glad when some musician or performing artist "makes it". Although Jandek is not a mainstream success, I'm guessing based on his rabid underground popularity for several generations has generated some cash for him. And I would hope so.

I've always noted that his prices were entirely reasonable, even going back to the days his ads were running in the now defunct new music magazine OP.

I'm not so fascinated with who he is or what kind of car he drives or any of the other stuff some people like to know, I'm more fascinated with him using, probably more successful than anyone else in his day, a mostly self-designed and self-executed alternative music career.

Who knows how many bands out there that have made great music but who never got a break could have gotten some fan base had they exercised the same work ethic that Jandek did? I've heard lots of bands over the years, from that same 1980's era, and some that I was a member of, that made great music.

Music that could have been played on college and independent radio stations, and perhaps advertised in the few new music magazines of the 80's. But we didn't do what he did, which was persevere and take charge of everything. Make your own albums. Sell your own albums. No middle man.

More on Jandek later.

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