SEVEN-INCH VINYL - Donald Riggio
An ongoing factor in the collective mission statements of nearly all who had been involved in the growth of the record collector industry that transpired concurrently with the overall resurgence in rock and roll brought about during the onset of the so-called New Wave/Punk movement in the mid-1970s has been the pressing need to repair the considerable amount of damage that was done by the revisionist history of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The prevailing train of thought during that most counter-productive of eras was a mandate generated by the movement’s self-appointed “visionaries” to live in the here and now. This is of course a substantial misappropriation of the Rokes’ and Grass Roots’ unintentional clarion call of Let’s Live For Today. Such posturing was promoted by emphasizing such periphery as chronology and peer pressure, thereby placing the music into (at best) a secondary status. The resultant lockstep, flavor of the month perspective under the guise of “do your own thing” became the ultimate expression of hypocrisy.
Sadly, such developments transpired when the conventional mass media was the primary means of communication. As such, it has taken a legion of musicologists, collectors, musicians and academicians more than four decades to undo the damage brought about during that era. However, the rise of the internet and such vehicles of communication as Facebook and YouTube in recent years has leveled the playing field and has given the rescue movement a voice that it was firmly denied when the damage was being done.
Thankfully, there are those who number themselves among those academicians, collectors and musicologists who have maintained the foresight to persevere through those relatively recent channels of communication. In doing so, they have concurrently endeavored to further the cause through the more conventional media outlets that had previously been denied them.
One such individual is the Las Vegas, Nevada-based author, Donald Riggio. His debut novel, Seven-Inch Vinyl has more than bridged the gap between reality and revisionist history through the unlikely juxtaposition of fact and fiction.
Seven-Inch Vinyl is largely the saga of the fictional, New York-based record label entrepreneur, Joseph Rabinowitz and a cast of characters that include an ill-fated army colleague (Danny Cavelli), his sister and Rabinowitz’s future wife (Janet Cavelli), a veteran blues musician (McKinley “Chanticleer” Williams), a flaming star (Teddy Boyette), an aspiring vocal group (the Du-Kanes) and an enterprising retailer (Leo Klein).
The (appropriately enough) forty-five chapters of Seven-Inch Vinyl span the crucial years 1953 through 1969. Therein, Rabinowitz is discharged from military service. Upon his return from overseas duty, he is musically inspired by Williams and the developments in popular music.
From there, Rabinowitz meets and marries Janet Cavelli, forms a business partnership with Klein and launches a record label inspired by Williams’ nickname. Rabinowitz and Klein ultimately oversee the careers of Boyette, the Du-Kanes and others and watches that for which he and Klein worked so hard subsequently withstand the onslaught of the negative cultural changes brought about by the aforementioned revisionist historians.
“The character of Joseph Rabinowitz matures through the narrative from being an angry young man who finds new direction for his life through R&B and rock and roll music”, said Riggio.
“He becomes the owner of an independent record label, songwriter and producer, until his success is threatened by the pressures celebrity brings and the uncontrollable events in the music business; i.e. the British Invasion.”
If Riggio’s cast of characters seem to tread the fine line that often separates fact from fiction, it is because each seems to be based on individuals and corporations that were integral to the development of rock and roll. To wit, Joseph Rabinowitz is as much equal parts Onyx Records’ Jerry Winston and the Celeste label’s David Levitt as Leo Klein is the sum total of the most familiar attributes of Rama, Gone, End and Red Bird cofounder, George Goldner and Commodore Music Shop CEO, Milt Gabler.
Likewise, McKinley Williams is as much an amalgamation of Hank Williams mentor, Rufus “Teetot” Payne and folk rock pioneer, Huddie William “Leadbelly” Ledbetter as the Du-Kanes are the personification of any of the pioneering groups who recorded for the aforementioned labels. Even so, Riggio prefers to err on the side of caution with regards to any such comparisons.
“The fictional characters and performers are indeed composites of real life people” said Riggio.
“However, none of my fictional characters’ actions should be attributed to any specific real performer or group, no matter how similar they seem.”
To Riggio’s considerable credit, he has successfully interwoven their saga amongst various cultural landmarks, including the Korean War, the rise of rock and roll radio, the space race, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War and ultimately the rise of the so-called counter culture hypocrisy that fueled the aforementioned revisionist history.
Riggio’s ability to sublimely walk that fine line is best illustrated in the thirty-eighth chapter, in which the author perfectly exacerbated the prevailing lack of reason that typified those factions. He did so by highlighting one of their most familiar missteps (invoking as scapegoats the Monkees, who, as of this writing, are at the midpoint of an immensely successful international tour, celebrating their forty-fifth anniversary as a band) as justification for their questionable logic (indiscriminate use of narcotics and cavalier and/or extra-marital intercourse with only perfunctory regard to long term consequences). It was, to borrow from the words of Charles Dickens, the worst of times, making a project such as Riggio’s at once both a necessity and a blessing.
So are the circumstances that befell Joseph Rabinowitz an inevitable byproduct of such societal developments? Or would he be more likely to call upon the ongoing inspiration of his original mission statement to rise above such circumstances, as he did in Richard Nader-like fashion in the final chapters?
“(Joseph Rabinowitz’s) re-birth as, as you put it as a ‘Nader-esque’ entrepreneur correctly signifies his and the Du-Kanes revival in the business”, said Riggio.
“Seven-Inch Vinyl is an overall tale of rebirth, reunion and revival.”
To that effect, Riggio’s work has to date resonated well with those who have labored in the trenches from the onset and who deservedly continue to reap the benefits of their endeavors. He has earned hearty accolades and endorsements from such musical giants as the Flamingos’ Terry Johnson, Sha Na Na’s Jon Bauman, Jay and the Americans’ Kenny Vance, the Delicates’ Denise Ferri, the Earls’ Lawrence “Larry Chance” Figueiredo and the beloved and highly respected Starlets cofounder, Julia and Laurie label veteran and one-time Angels lead vocalist, Bernadette Carroll.
“The historical references were initially used as a device to move the multiple story lines ahead, so I wouldn't have a War And Peace-type tome trying to follow them all day by day”, said Riggio.
“The more I used it, the more I began to fall in love with the device and sought to use it often. I think I did pretty good job with it!”
Indeed he has. In the words of Bernadette Carroll, Riggio has, “tapped into the essence of what it was like”. Most assuredly, with Seven-Inch Vinyl, Riggio has expertly balanced fact and fiction to make a definitive statement of musical vindication.
My Thanks to Michael McDowell of Blitz Magazine for this wonderful review. - Donald Riggio - Author