A wide variety of tunes on Our Thing, from avant-leaning ructions, a latin swinger, and some pacy post-bop. So I’ve opted for the cinematic sweep and modal quality of the Dorham composition Escapade.
Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Andrew Hill, piano; Eddie Khan, bass; Pete La Roca, drums, recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 9, 1963; released April 1964.
Our Thing was Henderson’s second title for Blue Note, released six months after Page One. He returned to Englewood Cliffs with Kenny Dorham and Pete La Roca from the Page One line-up, but introduced avant-leaning Andrew Hill in place of McCoy Tyner. This kicked the dynamics in quite a different direction. Gone was McCoy Tyner’s all-embracing rhythmic propulsion, in came the more cerebral and uncompromising internal dialogue of Andrew Hill.
Dorham remains firmly anchored in the bop tradition, but with Hill ‘s angular landscape and Henderson increasingly adventurous use of space, Our Thing moves futher “out” – both Hill and Henderson moving outside the chord changes, more free, and sometimes dissonant. Add to the chemistry, Eddie Khan on bass. Khan is found on many outside-leaning titles – Bill Barron’s Modern Windows Suite,Freddie Hubbard’s Breaking Point, Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond, Eric Dolphy’s Ironman/ Conversations, and on Hill’s next title for Blue Note, Smokestack.
Blue Note collaborations between Henderson and Hill in the early to mid-’60s sometimes alternated with Hill as leader – as on Black Fire and Point of Departure, while Henderson brought Tyner back for his next Blue Note album, In ‘n’ Out. In his years with Blue Note Henderson led five albums of his own, but appeared as “sideman” on over twenty others, honing his personal and distinctive sound and vocabulary, such that you can usually call out Henderson within half a dozen notes.
I had to remind myself how many great Blue Note albums Joe-the-Sideman appears on: Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas, Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father, Grant Green’s Idle Moments, Duke Pearson’s Wahoo!, Pete La Roca’s Basra, McCoy Tyner’s Real McCoy. What a joy.
The faux-romantic title in sugar-pink,”Our Thing“, seems ironic, or perhaps a nod in the direction of The NewThing. Reid Miles puts Joe’s blue-lit portrait right in your face, and sponsored by Specsavers… It reminds me of Andrew Hill’s deferred Blue Note, Andrew!!! recorded just two months later (pictured right, in shrink). The smiling boy-next-door image on the cover concealed something musically much darker inside.
Billboard (May 23, 1964) awarded Our Thing (only) three stars – “moderate sales potential” – signalling commercial reservations about the appeal of adventurous hard bop to the jazz audience of the day. Could those covers have been intended to reassure them?
Vinyl: BST 84152 Van Gelder stereo master, original NY label on both sides, 144gm vinyl, no ear. Liberty pressing, with an original stereo cover from the Blue Note stock room.
There is something odd about the labels. The blue ink colour of Side 2 label doesn’t match Side 1. The fonts and typesetting are Keystone, but it seems to belong to a different print run. Liberty did a lot of juggling of old and new labels with this pressing – further exploration in Collector’s Corner.
This copy is not in the greatest condition. I hesitated to post on it, but take the rough with the smooth, listening wise, posted for completeness of the Henderson Blue Notes. I shan’t rush to upgrade this title for the sake of an ear, it’s in another price league, like other Henderson original Blue Notes (see Collector’s Corner below for more options)
The Henderson Blue Notes are a journey in their own right, starting with Page One, heading for Mode For Joe, several steps along the way. They are all iconic pieces, must have in any shape or form.
The original Our Thing attracts a similar price-point as Mode For Joe and Page One, topping out at over $600 in premium collector condition, and for once the deep groove claims are correct. Well, half correct.
The mono is as the original should be, however the groove status of the stereo is not catalogued by Fred Cohen, only the mono. There is some more work required, for another day – Original Stereo Blue Note Guide!
Search For Best Value, Not Original
WARNING! This is a deep dive!
Usually we search for original pressing status, which usually means the highest price, and battling your way through competing claims of “original status”, not all of which are true. For a change I thought I would look for best value in vintage pressings, and take Joe Henderson’s Our Thing for a test case, looking closely at the history of its various reissues and editions. On the way we will discover a few tricks of the trade. I mean, if you can’t trust a used
car salesman record seller, who can you trust?
First, let’s address the front cover: all the original and vintage issues and reissues front cover look exactly the same. That cover has not aged well, lots of seam-splits and tears, stains, grubby. It was one of the first unlaminated covers, when lamination stopped in early 1964. A premium condition cover is going to be rare and expensive.
Identifying different editions will be through labels, back cover, and our old friend the inner sleeve (quiet at the back, cynics) and other circumstantial presences.
I found only a handful of auctions, in the hundred and seventy I looked at, that included a picture of a Blue Note inner sleeve, two cases by my estimation the correct inner sleeve for 1964. Correct, based on month of release and probably month of manufacture, not quite Fred Cohen’s catalogue number grouping, which assigns the 25 Years sleeve to slightly later titles 4159-4177. However catalogue numbers and release dates cross-over each other and some of this higher number titles were manufactured at the same time as 4152. However it is entirely possible the mono had a different production cycle to the stereo, and the originals were bagged with different inners. A known unknown, perhaps we are both right.
Our Thing was released April 1964, confirmed by Billboard, and likely manufactured in the preceding months. A previous owner of my cover even wrote “1964” on the back next to the catalogue number, and the front.
The Original stereo copy below has the Plastylite ear, the original stereo cover – catalogue number ST 84152 in large capital letters top right and the “correct” inner sleeve – 25 Years – (Little Johnny C pictured column 1 row 5). I can’t tell if it has deep groove from these photos.
The other auction with an inner sleeve (below) shows the same “25 Years” inner peeking out the jacket. Just coincidence, huh? Original cover with large catalogue ST number, and a better shot of original labels, which confirm no deep groove. This beauty with “ear” set the lucky bidder back $400. Or was that the “lucky seller”?
Liberty often reissued only stereo editions, which by 1966 was the stronger seller, however they did occasionally reissue a mono edition, and I found one for Our Thing, (below) Side 1 NY label, Side 2, Division of Liberty. To prepare a mono, it looks like they wanted to use up the remaining stock of mono covers and run down remaining mono NY labels, which they saw as of no lasting value. Nice decision, I would grab one of these if I saw it.
There is a Liberty stereo reissue (below), also mixing up NY old stock Side 1 label with Division of Liberty new-print label Side 2, but not the original stereo cover. The liner notes bear the new Liberty Blue Note small logo top left and small catalogue number, top right. Nice cover, shame if something should happen to it. The cover would have worn better if Blue Note had continued laminating.
Enter Liberty UA Inc.,(1970-2) below, the hybrid West Coast black/ turquoise label, with benefit of Van Gelder metal. I guess Bert-Co print labels from the signature SIDE 1/ 2 in capitals.
Another oddity was the number of copies still in shrink. I am sceptical that original Blue Note were ever factory sealed. I have examples of Liberty being in shrink (copy of Andrew!!! above in the post ). Searching for knowledge regards sealing practices threw up a bit of guesswork on Hoffman Forum, but little else. The nerds knew nuffink. However it didn’t take me too long to establish the likely contents of “sealed” copies of Our Thing – being sold for their mystery value, and promise of virgin-status, “Still Sealed!”: early ’70s Liberty UA Inc., LA. The evidence is there for anyone to see – if they know where to look.
Oddly missing, United Artists blue label/ black or white note edition (1973-6) , none I could find, trail goes cold. Beyond here are more recent editions, where the lineage to Van Gelder metal is broken.
Summary: what to look for, what not.
In summary, it looks like Our Thing went through three pressings:
One original Blue Note 1964 mono and stereo edition, definitively must have the ear, now very expensive.
a Liberty 1966/7 reissue, all Van Gelder metal, first cannibalising old stock mono and stereo covers, old stock NY label pairs, then mixing old stock NY and newly-printed Liberty labels, and then reprinting covers, with Liberty logo. The labels and covers are simply consumable items, the vinyl is for practical purposes the same, and Van Gelder metal throughout. Sellers routinely “overlook” the absence of Plastylite ear to suggest it is the 1964 original, which it is not.
An early 70s Liberty UA Inc. edition (black/ turquoise label), also Van Gelder, peak value for money, source of shrink-protected covers.
The mono first ed. is the most sought after. For that first edition, to have Plastylite ear and a top condition cover , you pay up to ten times the cost of the Liberty UA. The Liberty UA offers great value. If you are a cover condition person, it is a good thing to find a Liberty UA still in shrink. Personally I have a weakness for the Liberty mono with original Blue Note cover and no ear, it’s a real niche thing.
Nothing in life is always neat and tidy. There are often loose ends which don’t fit the basic narrative, because you may not have got the narrative right, or there things went on that present state of knowledge can’t explain. Publish and be damned. The search for knowledge continues regardless. But I declare some loose ends.
Loose end 1:
Looks like old stock NY label, just one side pictured (what’s on the other side? NY or Liberty?) Blue Note original old stock stereo cover, but New Liberty Inner Sleeve. Frankenstein would be proud, bits of everything.
Loose End 2:
Described as an “original stereo Van Gelder”, seller notes NY labels and Van Gelder but carefully avoids mention of “ear”. I notice a third party pressing die common in the Liberty era, found on about 10% of Liberty Blue Notes, large central die circle, Keystone labels. Nothing like that ever came from Plastylite, no claim of “ear”, so not 1964 “original”. There are a good number of copies like this around. I think Liberty booked extra pressing capacity from Nashville, but no one knows for sure, but it is a Liberty, not “original” whatever that overused word means.
Loose End 3
This auction was loaded with traps! It is a mono, looks like an original Blue Note mono cover (which we know Liberty had stocks) both mono NY labels (which we know Liberty had stocks). However it is in shrink, practice only by Liberty, not Blue Note, and accompanied by an innocent looking 27 Years inner, which was used only mid 1966 and transferred in large quantities to Liberty and used in their reissue programme latter half 1966. Got dozens of them among my 90 Liberty pressings.
Most important is what is not said. No mention in the description of…the ear, neither as present nor as absent, just “RVG! NY!” They had to know. And seller couldn’t resist, “in shrink!” , and was probably unaware of the significance of the inner sleeve. Received over $300 for a 1966/7 Liberty.
There are probably more loose ends, but three is enough to go to press with.
This is what happens when you start to drill down into the detail of record manufacture in the ’60s and ’70s, using photographic evidence, not just written description, which routinely conceals important.. Fred Cohen trailed the mono original pressings. This is how to sort the wheat from the chaff in the five or so years that followed. I’ve learnt a lot, hopefully you have, or at least found a cure for insomnia.
If you followed this so far, bravo, and if you can add anything, staying at home, we are all potentially vinyl-detectives now. There are few better things to waste your time on.