The Sound and the Fury

February 7, 2019

Getting “Real Gone”

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Real Gone Records strays away from the beaten path with reissues of quirky, rare records supported with high-quality sound and packaging

I DISCOVERED THE REAL Gone Music label when I was putting together a round-up of Christmas releases last year, and producer/author Pat Thomas clued me in to the groovy stuff being reissued by the company: The Complete Christmas on the Ponderosa by the cast of Bonanza. New Carols for Christmas: The Rod McKuen Christmas Album. A twofer of John Klein’s A Christmas Sound Spectacular/Let’s Ring the Bells All Around the Christmas Tree.

What a bounty! And Real Gone’s website reveals that the label puts out a lot more than Christmas kitsch; a quick perusal brings up names like Ann-Margret, the Germs, Flaco Jiménez, Artful Dodger, Clint Eastwood (Cowboy Favorites), and the soundtrack of The Matrix. Obviously, this was a label that didn’t shy away from diversity. I decided to investigate.

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Real Gone Music was launched in 2011 by Gordon Anderson and Gabby Castellana. “Gabby handles the operations and the money side of business, and I’m the A&R guy,” Anderson explains. The two had previously worked at Collectors’ Choice Music, but when the company was sold and the label side of the business was shut down (Collectors’ Choice remains an online retailer), they decided to strike out on their own.

From the beginning, the label wanted their releases to be as wide-ranging as possible. “Real Gone is proudly eclectic and boldly goes where no other reissue label goes,” says Anderson with evident satisfaction. “But there’s also a populist element to it. I don’t pretend to know everything. So, unlike some other reissue labels that very much reflect the tastes of their principle A&R person, I’m open to ideas from all quarters and all genres.”

Seeking to make an impact with their first releases (“We wanted to land with a splash”), Real Gone started by reissuing records from the Grateful Dead Dick’s Picks series of concert recordings. “Some of them had only been out through the Grateful Dead’s website; we actually went backwards, starting with Volume 36, because the later volumes didn’t go to retail, ever.”

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It was typical of the approach Real Gone would take; seeking out records that weren’t readily available. Such as putting out the first vinyl reissue of 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians; reissuing Seductive Reasoning, the first album released by Maggie and Terre Roche, prior to their being joined by sister Suzzy; singles collections by Connie Stevens, Joanie Sommers, and Shelby Flint with material previously unavailable on CD; and Close, “a very obscure solo album by T.S. Bonniwell, of Music Machine fame.”

“And we started doing Christmas right away,” Anderson adds. “We did an Ed Ames Christmas twofer [Christmas with Ed Ames/Christmas is the Warmest Time of the Year] which is still in print lo these many years later. The one thing about the Christmas genre is that you can get away with putting out artists for Christmas that you can’t otherwise, because people are so sentimental about it. They’ll say, ‘Oh my God, my parents and I listened to that record at Christmas time when I was growing up, I’ve got to have it.’”

With the label’s emphasis on rarities, it’s something of a surprise to find that Real Gone’s best seller was a hit album back when it was originally released; none other than SSgt. Barry Sadler’s Ballads of the Green Berets. “It’s the best-selling title in my career that I’ve done, and it’s continued to be,” Anderson says. “It was by far the best selling one at Collectors’ Choice; it was such a good seller I re-directed it for Real Gone. At the same time, I hasten to add we’ve also put out stuff like David Peel and the Lower East Side’s Have a Marijuana. So, we’re not only eclectic stylistically, we’re also eclectic politically.

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“We stray from the beaten path. We did another cult classic recently, by Coven, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, which was an out and out black magic kind of the thing; they even conduct a Satanic mass on the record. We seemed to have tapped into something with that, because it did very well. Real Gone, we look for things that are real gone!

“The main thing is, whatever we do, we try to do it right. So that means good sound, good annotation, attractive packaging. You’ve got to give someone a reason to buy a physical product these days.”

Which brings up an interesting topic. Real Gone’s releases are available on CD or vinyl (or both), but Anderson sees some potential changes for the CD format on the horizon. “We just had two consecutive best years ever in sales, so there’s no slacking in the demand for physical product,” he says. “What I will say, though, is that the infrastructure for getting compact discs made is becoming more and more rickety. And there’s some evidence that suggests the major labels are ready to move on from CDs in short order. All three of them have just moved manufacturing over to Mexico, which has caused a lot of problems; it actually caused us some problems on our recent Badfinger releases.

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“And one of the things about the music business that’s kind of weird is that stores and wholesale accounts can return CDs; vinyl LPs are a one-way sale. So, the inclination to handle the returns and all the work that goes along with that seems to be lessening. I don’t think the CD box set’s going away because the labels like the big ticket. But single CD titles, I don’t know; you’re seeing a lot of contemporary releases not even coming out on CD. So, I think the CD is shaky. But there’s certainly still a demand for it. And when you come up with the right project you can sell a hell of a lot of them. It’s still a big part of our business.”

Anderson adds that the CD remains a popular format with collectors due to its greater storage space, which allows reissues like Badfinger and Wish You Were Here to feature bonus material. “They are really, really amazing records, that got completely overlooked when they were originally released,” he says. “But they’re some of the greatest power pop records of all time. We’re awfully proud to have been able to put those out in a deluxe fashion.”

Meanwhile, on vinyl, you can expect a reissue of Timothy Leary’s Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out album. “I’ve always had a particular interest in that era and that sort of subculture,” Anderson explains. “I’m intrigued by cult classics. We’d put out releases by counter-cultural icons like Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski, so I was looking into other records of that ilk. We did some research, and it seemed like other people were looking for Leary’s record too. It’s kind of spoken word, but it’s also got these very trippy Indian music jams.

“Another one I’m really excited about is John Hartford’s Backroads, Rivers & Memories. It’s 27 tracks, 19 of which have never been released, and eight of which are really super obscure singles he did with a bluegrass trio. But the bulk of the collection are demos that he did from 1965 to 1969, including a bunch of songs that nobody’s heard, and then songs he later did in more orchestrated fashion on his records. He’s very much another guy that I don’t think quite gets enough attention.”

And there’s more fun to come in 2019, with the Cleopatra Jones soundtrack on vinyl, a third volume of Cheap Trick rarities on CD, and Rain Parade’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip on vinyl. Not to mention getting ready for Christmas. “I’ve already got some titles submitted that didn’t get cleared last year, but hopefully will this year,” Anderson says. “And they will be every bit as old timey and old-fashioned as the ones before.” I can’t wait.

One Comment

  1. EddieG

    The mastering on their recent Badfinger reissues is awful.

    Something went badly wrong there.

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