In 1985 my pal, Jane Rovente, and I were the music directors of KCSC - a small college radio station in Chico, CA. We used to go to the post office, pick up the bins full of promo LPs in their cardboard mailers and proceed to listen to everything to decide whether we would add the
music into rotation, if it should be passed on to a specialty show or if it should go right to the used record store. I remember an early lesson in stupid assumptions when Chris Hickey's debut album, Frames of Mind, Boundaries of Time, crossed our paths. At first, the austere black and white cover and simple graphics made us assume there wasn't much of worth inside. The note that it was recorded on a Fostex X-15 4-track cassette recorder gave us an image of some guy who didn't care enough about his music to do it justice in a real studio (although it turns out it was mixed at Eldorado Recording Studio in Hollywood with engineer Tom Root). How wrong we were. At first listen, the rawness of the recording and the "folk singer" vibe led us to dismiss it as something "not cool enough" for college radio. Then we heard "There Was a Time." With its haunting, sad melody, simple drum machine pattern and R.E.M.-ish feel we knew two things: It was a great, classic song and, yes; it would fit well on our radio station. We added his album into rotation, and I bought a copy of the record direct from Chris. Hickey's second album, Looking for Anything, came along in 1987 and I bought a copy as well. More great songs
recorded at home on 4-track cassette - some with fuller sounds and arrangements.
After this album he formed the short-lived "folky" trio, Show of Hands, which had a 1989 album (now out of print) on IRS Records produced by David Kershenbaum. I remember buying this back then and not enjoying it much, as only some songs were sung by Chris and the production (strings and too many other overdubs) actually ruined the record for me - especially on the re-recording of "Another War" from Looking for Anything which seemed to change from direct, questioning protest to easy listening. Maybe I was learning what I liked about records and production. By now I also had my own 4-track recorder (courtesy of a girlfriend who talked my parents and friends into pitching in for a very surprising Christmas
gift) and was constantly recording music for the band I was in, as well as my own songs.
The band Uma showed up a handful of years later, born out of Chris' late-night sessions with drummer Andy Kamman at Sonora Recorders in Los Angeles with producer/engineer Jeff Peters. Studio owner Richard Barron traded these off-hours sessions for a percentage of the album; it ended up on Refuge/MCA Records, with Sally Dworsky joining the band as well. Don Gehman produced their album Fare Well using some original recordings but mostly re-recording everything, and touring soon followed. This 1997 album (now only on iTunes) works better for me than the Show of Hands album, but it still doesn't feel as compelling to me as the home-recorded records.
In 2003 Chris' CD Release came out. A collection of home and studio recordings, it was produced by Jeff Peters. A nice balance of sparse songs and tastefully restrained fuller arrangements, it works really well in showcasing the songs - which, as always, are well-crafted works.
In 2009 Chris released Razzmatazz. "I wrote and recorded a song, each day, for about three weeks in March 2009. Sixteen songs, just vocal and guitar, recorded in my bedroom on a hand-held [Edirol] digital voice recorder." The record is simple, austere and real-as-hell. You feel as if Chris is right there singing to you. No budget, no studio, and pure musical connection.
Looking back, I think accepting the first Chris Hickey album's production and DIY-style changed something inside of me. I learned that some low-budget recordings can capture, and even reinforce, something that might get destroyed in a proper studio setting. I began my path of bringing our band and music into various studios, as well as working with other engineers and producers. Recently getting an email out of the blue from Chris announcing that all of his solo albums were now available as $5 downloads sent me back to this material. Floods of emotions and feelings connected with hearing and enjoying these albums 20-plus years ago came over me. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same. You can't kill great songwriting or performances. That much I know for sure now. (www.chrishickey.net) -LC