September 19, 2004

The World's Strangest Record: The Inscrutable Mystery of Wee Willie Shantz

For anyone whose a fan of Incredibly Strange Music on the web, this is sad news indeed… As of the end of September, Oddball Auditorium, one of the great online repositories of “unusual tunes in mp3 format” will be taken offline. The site, which started way back in 1998, is devoted to those vinyl bargain bin / thrift store finds that make you do a double-take the moment you read the label or gently place a stylus into their crackling grooves. By today’s “mp3 a day” standards, the postings were fairly sporadic (once a month at best) but the accumulated selection is blessed with some memorably offbeat tracks, like a pro-capitalist kids’ song by Janeen Brady, the cloying Zionist pop of Joshua Tenne, a 1979 flexidisc of McDonalds motivational material, and song-poems galore

But the postings that Oddball Auditorium is most “famous” for are Coo Coo Bird and Hush Puppy Hush, two tracks of rambling backwoods vocals buried underneath a borderline-psychotic sound collage. The tracks are from a battered old 45 by Wee Willie Shantz, which site curator John Fitzpatrick has called “The World’s Strangest Record”… Here’s his description of it:

Can you imagine John Cage jamming with Negativland inside a moving boxcar full of victrolas... or perhaps an old backwoods codger, swigging mash whiskey from a facejar, has been working on these songs for 40 years and he finally got a chance to record them, but the only band he could find was a family of occultists who live at the junkyard. Anyway this record has it all -- prepared sound objects, recording manipulation, sing-speak vocal somewhere between nursery rhyme and shaman ritual, semi-aleatoric stringed instruments, and even a sublime saxophone solo.

About this record, all that is known is that it was recorded in St Louis (and that renowned St Louis alto sax player Leroy Harris performed on one of the tracks). When it was recorded and who the hell Wee Willie Shantz is, are complete mysteries – even to John Fitzpatrick! (His postings of these recordings conclude with a plea for any information… To date, four years after they initially went up, nothing has been unearthed…)

So, while you have a chance, head over to the Auditorium and download Wee Willie, and the oddities that remain. (If you want to get your hands on the ones that have gone off line, you can purchase a CD-R compilation.)

Posted by Warren at September 19, 2004 07:37 PM | Outsider