Bye Bye Blackbirds

If you had to go away for awhile and you could only take five of your favorite albums with you, which ones would you choose? Yes, we know it isn’t a fair question, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking music fans who happen to be recording artists in their own right. This edition of Desert Island Discs comes courtesy of Bradley Skaught of the Bye Bye Blackbirds, whose latest release, Fixed Hearts, is out now. Visit their site to stream the whole album — after reading Bradley’s Desert Island picks, of course.

Clearly, the most dangerous enemy on a desert island is boredom. It’s not enough to just stuff your lifeboat full of your favorite records, books and movies, you also have to find ways to engage with all that media in thought provoking ways so that you don’t go crazy and realize that you really should’ve brought your favorite bottles of water, canned foods and flare guns. Life is going to be short on the desert island, so keep it interesting!

Right before I start eating my own left arm, I’m going to be thinking about my beloved adopted home in the Bay Area and organizing the list of my five favorite albums recorded in the Bay Area:

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

The Danny Whitten-era Crazy Horse is such an amazing, strange band. Raw and ferocious, but far more sophisticated than the overdriven caveman Crazy Horse of later years. There’s a certain amount in common with the psychedelic jamming that defined much of the SF scene at the time, but Neil is always doing his own thing and it’s the songwriting, along with the almost monochromatic focus on the sound of the band, that makes this timeless. That Neil escaped from L.A. to hide out here and be himself is the classic Bay Area story. Some places are the fountains of creativity and some places are the facilitators — the Bay Area seems like the kind of place that allows you to transform whatever you bring with you into something magical.

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Turf Talk – Street Novelist

Bay Area hip hop has always had a hard time making itself regionally identifiable to the rest of the world. Like most Bay Area scenes, it’s mostly made up of a collection of strong individual personalities. The short-lived Hyphy phenomenon was kind of an exception and it had the added value of roping in enough older local legends like E-40 and Too Short to feel something like an acknowledgement of legacy and unity. It burnt out pretty quick and didn’t leave much trace, but this record is a stone classic. Turf seems like a mysterious dude — like he’s a lot less showbiz than some of his peers. He doesn’t make a lot of cameos, he doesn’t turn up much for the industry grind/hoop jumping. Bay Area genius Rick Rock lends some really dazzling production.

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Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – Tiffany Transcriptions (volumes 1-10 — take your pick)

The Bay Area is as much country music territory as the rest of California, even though the ideological and social divides have strained that relationship over the years. The greatest contemporary practitioners of country music in all its varieties, Red Meat, are an SF based band and the Tiffany Transcriptions, one of the great documents of the creation of modern country music, was taped in a ballroom on Nob Hill. A lot of the great Bay Area bands, the Dead and The Beau Brummels come immediately to mind, have country and bluegrass embedded in their DNA. If it’s in the water, it might have trickled into the bay from the sweat of the migrant workers and farmers out in the valley and delta or through the pans of gold miners in the foothills. It might also have been left there by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.

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The Loud Family – Interbabe Concern

Finding out that this record was recorded in a living room in the commuter city of San Bruno is a lot like imagining Wallace Stevens, insurance executive and genius poet, jotting notes at his desk in Hartford. A work of imagination this dense, sprawling and overflowing with energy seems like it must require an equally electric locale to inspire, and maybe even contain, it. But the landscape of Scott Miller’s mind was enough, apparently, to generate this masterpiece of lyrical adventurousness and sonic experimentation. There are plenty of precedents for wild musical exploration in the Bay Area, but the psychedelic inspirations of the Summer of Love aren’t quite the launching point for this kind of exploration. Maybe this is more in line with the seekers down in Silicon Valley, shuffling the fragments of information that combine in unexpected ways and seem to create, as much as reflect, our dreams.

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Creedence Clearwater Revival – Pendulum

As desperate for credibility as Creedence were in their time, it seems they still don’t get a lot of respect. The, admittedly, pretty crappy “tape experiments” that end this record don’t go very far towards establishing them as artists in any kind of convincingly psychedelic way. Nor is this record even one of the loaded-with-iconic-hits classic LPs from their catalog. It’s an underdog fighting for a chance, loaded with fiery rockers and amazing grooves (and even a ballad you wish Bobby “Blue” Bland could’ve gotten his hands on: “Just A Thought”.) That working class mystique and chip-on-shoulder grittiness is so very East Bay — and that desire to identify yourself as something more recognizably legitimate in American culture (bayou boys, country folk, the workin’ man) also seems to reflect the inferiority complex of the cities living in the shadow of the mighty San Francisco. Pendulum’s genius is that it so clearly reflects the struggle — Fogerty’s pushing the limits to make the case for himself and his band. His considerable talents and genuine soulfulness guarantees that it all works. The guitar tone on “Hey Tonight” alone should seal the deal!

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