Originally created 09/12/99

Musical treasures unearthed



NEW YORK -- Alex Miller, head of the recently revived Buddha Records, views his new gig as a five-day extension of his weekend.

"It's like sitting around playing with your record collection -- except it's one of the oldest collections in the world, and it holds a million-plus recordings," Mr. Miller, head of the new reissue label, said cheerfully from his new Manhattan office.

"That's a lot to dabble with."

Like what? Try everything released in this century by labels like RCA, Arista, (the misspelled) old Buddah and Kama Sutra. Try an assortment of rumored but rarely heard live performances by artists from Frank Sinatra to Fats Waller. Try everything from classical to classic rock.

Already out: albums by Waylon Jennings, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, the Flamin' Groovies, Daryl Hall, Harry Nilsson (produced by John Lennon), Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington.

By the year 2000, Buddha will have 60 CDs in the market. One of them will be a time capsule disc, released this November, that will mingle music with dozens of sound bites dating back to 1908.

"One of my first questions was, `Is there any genre that I can't be involved in?"' the 41-year-old Mr. Miller recalls. "And the answer was no. Country? Yeah. Jazz? Yeah. Pop? Rock 'n' roll? Yeah."

THAT'S QUITE A

change for Mr. Miller, who was hired away earlier this year from his job at Sony Classical (where he helped the Titanic soundtrack peddle more than 10 million copies). His new boss is BMG, which has control over an assortment of labels.

The job has turned Mr. Miller and his four-person staff into musical archaeologists, poring through the vaults of various labels in search of something special.

Initially, they studied catalogs and studio sheets, and eventually wound up digging through boxes and carefully handling ancient acetates.

"An old jazz guy once told me, `I was too busy making a living to know I was making history,"' Mr. Miller relates. "That's kind of the situation we found ourselves in.

"People were too busy making music for here and now in 1935 to think that this Benny Goodman record was so special that 64 years later, its release would make history."

The fruits of those searches include Sinatra as you've never heard him before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey band before a live audience, and Waller rocking the house in a 1938 radio broadcast.

Those two albums are part of Buddha's "Stop Time" series, a collection of rare and historic records unearthed by Miller & Co. Glenn Miller and Louis Prima rarities also were in the first wave of these releases.

"I can't tell you how many times we've asked scholars, archivists, people in the studio, `Have we heard this before?"' said Mr. Miller, who was stunned at how often the answer was, "No."

"TO FIND A NEWBenny Goodman, a Duke Ellington, early Sinatra ... what a treasure."

The originals were closer to tragedy than treasure: ancient 16-inch vinyl records, 15 minutes of music on each side. If discovered a decade ago, Mr. Miller says, they would have been historic but flawed.

Technology changed all that.

Engineers were able to keep the music while losing the snaps, the crackles, the pops. It was time consuming: Sinatra and the Dorsey Band were rescued by a five-day-a-week, 2 1/2 -month process to save the music while losing everything else.

"I had some sleepless nights," Mr. Miller confessed. But the final results were impressive.

The label will feature two other categories: "Original Masters," a series of re-releases (often with bonus tracks), and "Compilations," collections of like-themed tunes.

A pair of typical "Original Masters" releases: Daryl Hall's collaboration with guitarist Robert Frip, 1977's Sacred Songs and Harry Nilsson's 1974 collaboration with Lennon, [filtered word] Cats.

THE LATTER, RATHERinfamously, was recorded during Lennon's separation from Yoko Ono -- his alcohol-fueled "lost weekend" in Los Angeles. Who drummer Keith Moon and frequent Rolling Stones collaborator Bobby Keys joined in the fun.

Both new versions come complete with special bonus tracks. Mr. Fripp, contacted by Mr. Miller, agreed to do new liner notes for the Hall album.

"Compilations" kicked off with several volumes of "Big 12 Inches," remixes of classic songs from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The first three releases included a cross-section of dance hits, from Black Box's Everybody, Everybody to Vicki Sue Robinson's Turn the Beat Around to the Andrea True Connection's More, More, More.

Buddha's first incarnation dates back to the mid-1960s, when the label released more than 700 singles and hundreds of albums by The Lovin' Spoonful, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Melba Moore and The Trammps, among others.

Why resurrect the old name? First, it's an opportunity to spell B-U-D-D-H-A the right way. Second, it fits a label that's reincarnating music, Mr. Miller says.

He adds that the label's first batch of releases reflected his musical tastes more than any marketing program.

"We did what any music fan would do -- we picked our favorite records," he said with a laugh. "We're approaching this from a music lover's perspective."

A music lover with a very, very large record collection.