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ROBERT HILBURN

Hendrix And 'Toga Party' Available Now--on Cds Only

March 14, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Pop bulletin No. 1:

Attention, Jimi Hendrix fans: Rykodisc is releasing a live Hendrix album early next month that features Hendrix's only non-bootlegged recording of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." The 71-minute collection--taken from a series of shows in 1968 at Winterland in San Francisco--also contains such familiar Hendrix numbers as "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady."

Pop bulletin No. 2:

Attention, party animals: Dunhill Compact Classics has just put together a 43-minute album that will be ideal for your next madcap bash. Appropriately titled "Toga Party," it features 16 oldies, including the Kingsmen's essential "Louie, Louie" and Mitch Ryder's "Devil With a Blue Dress On."

There's just one hitch: Both albums are available only in compact disc.

The Hendrix package, especially, is a dramatic example of the small but growing trend of CD-only releases. While the preponderance of albums will continue to be available in vinyl and cassette, aggressive CD-only firms like Rykodisc and Dunhill are developing collections with the CD audience in mind.

There are, of course, several LPs by Hendrix on vinyl and cassette. But "Live at Winterland"--which has never been released on vinyl or cassette--is only the third Hendrix album released in this country on CD (although virtually the entire Hendrix catalogue is available on CDs from Polydor in Europe). The original multi-track recordings of the San Francisco concerts were transferred to digital 24-track and digitally mixed and mastered for the Rykodisc package.

Alan Douglas, who oversees Hendrix recordings for the Hendrix estate, said he released "Live" on Rykodisc because he thinks the album will receive more custom attention and promotion than it would have at Warner Bros., which holds the CD rights in the United States to most of Hendrix's recordings.

"I felt Rykodisc was a young, aggressive company," he said this week. "I was impressed with what they did with the (Frank) Zappa catalogue and felt that we (needed to get) more involved in the CD revolution. . . . I'm sure Warners will get around to releasing other Hendrix albums on CD, but they've got a lot of other albums on their mind."

A Warner Bros. spokesman said the company indeed intends to release more Hendrix albums on CD. Tentatively scheduled for September: "Axis: Bold as Love," "Electric Ladyland" and "Smash Hits."

Dunhill Compact Classics, based in Northridge, and Rykodisc, headquartered in Salem, Mass., saw the potential of CDs early.

"The major companies and retailers didn't really create the compact-disc market," said Marshall Blonstein, president of Dunhill Compact Classics and a 20-year veteran of the record business. "It was created by the consumer. The majors looked at CDs as something like quad (the ill-fated four-speaker experiment of the '70s). . . .

"So they were caught short when CDs took off as a mass item. The first thing they did was rush to fill up their plant capacity with current hit product. That left a void for companies like us. You had consumers coming in looking for what we like to call 'all your old friends' on compact discs--the albums they had loved for years in vinyl."

Blonstein and partner Bobby Roberts, a co-owner of Dunhill Records in the '60s, saw an opening. Rather than simply duplicate what was already on vinyl, they created special albums with emphasis on high-quality sound and longer playing time than most vinyl LPs.

Among the company's 26 releases: a 57-minute Judy Garland collection (featuring music from her '60s TV series), the "Cruisin' " re-creations of early rock radio (with two of the original albums on a single compact disc), and a rockabilly "Legends" series featuring the early work of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other Sun Records artists.

Rykodisc--which was in the CD market almost two years before Dunhill--prides itself on the good-natured slogan, "The Record Company That Doesn't Make Records." The firm was formed by three partners--Don Rose, Robert Simonds and Doug Lexa--during a 1984 music conference in Europe. Simonds and Lexa were involved in importing Japanese albums into the United States, and they saw the growing interest in CDs in Japan.

The company contacted artists--such as Frank Zappa--who owned the rights to their old recordings and petitioned record companies to lease old recordings. Major labels were hesitant, but Rykodisc struck deals with smaller firms.

The company's catalogue now totals 38 releases, including 10 albums by Zappa. Other releases include folk compilations from Rounder Records, a reggae sampler from Heartbeat Records and two collections by the Residents, the San Francisco experimental group.

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