Steal like an artist.
This week at Trenchermen we are proud to host Billy Helmkamp, co-founder and general duty filler for multifarious Chicago cultural institution The Whistler, Logan Square’s now infamous neighborhood cocktail bar slash art gallery slash music venue slash record label slash print publication slash everything a modern-day finer-things enthusiast might find appealing. Helmkamp was kind enough to open the doors of his new home in suburban Logan Square to my camera-armed curiosity, here serving as a preview to the records he’ll be playing on Monday May 20th, 2013 at our casual appreciators hang in the Trench Bar.
Not more than a couple months since he and his wife Cole squatted, it’s a new home in flux with minimal decor. Nevertheless the record storage area boasts plenty of pizzazz - safari scene and all.
Kitty was on a safari of sorts too, circling me in gazey wonder.
He had a couple recent listens out near his turntable, including this self-titled Wilderness LP, an old Jagjaguwar release that took me back to my Bloomington days. Helmkamp threw it on, and as we listened recalled that this album topped his closet year-end list in 2006. He also had a good story of Wilderness delivering hard at the Empty Bottle in 2008, when he dragged a bunch of skeptical friends out to see the show and was “totally validated” by a ripping performance.
Next he gave a general summary of his archiving structure - which quite impressively has an entire shelf dedicated to holiday music. Apparently the Ray Conniff Singers have a special place in his family tradition; his childhood Christmases in Akron, Ohio were scored by an annual exposure to We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
Conniff wasn’t the only instance of duplicate. Much of his record collection was foraged or handed down from someone somewhere, so multiples tend to happen. He has enough copies of Boz Scaggs‘ Silk Degrees to fan himself on a hot summer day.
At this point the Wilderness LP had spun out, so Helmkamp broke the silence with this Mike Hurley album, a fine pressing with a quenching lot of liner notes courtesy of the curators for the Smithsonian’s Folkways series. ”The Tea Song” was the one that drew Helmkamp to Hurley, a really beautiful living room tune that resounded like a higher-pitched, former-day Bill Callahan diddy.
His excellent and appropriate follow-up selection was this Little Wings record, postdating music that for him predates (possibly inspired?) his Hurley affinity. One of Helmkamp’s most cherished live music memories was seeing Little Wings (Kyle Fields) play in his own home in Portland (“The Birdnest,” where Fields and several other artists who gave themselves bird-ish aliases resided).
The subject of the Pacific Northwest and the K Records family took us to the fine tale of Helmkamp’s origination of involvement in the Chicago music scene. In 2002, shortly after he moved to Chicago, and after years of fandom for Olympia, Washington’s Phil Elvrum, he saw a Chicago-sized hole in The Microphones’ tour schedule, prompting him to email an inquiry to email@example.com, even though he’d never booked or ran a show before. Within only a few hours, Elvrum himself called Helmkamp’s phone asking for help putting the show together. He rose to the occasion alongside his future partner in The Whistler, Rob Brenner, going all out on a 180 degree video installation for the show, and doing it well enough to become the go-to Chicago promoters for a slew of Northwestern artists from K, States Rights, and Marriage Records.
I wasn’t hip to States Rights Records, so he brought out this wacky as hell Jib Kidder album and threw it on. Jib Kidder is apparently the shape-shifting type, a super psychedelic genre-jumper who doesn’t have much of an attention span. Steal Guitars is his interpretation of late ’50s AM radio country, but I am pretty sure I heard some Kris-Kross samples in the mix (RIP).
States Rights doesn’t use numbers to catalog releases, they use places. Steal Guitars is States Rights Bakersfield.
Before we wrapped up, Helmkamp was obliged to tell me about the first of the many vinyl releases he’s been involved in through his lifetime, which was Through the Eyes of the Children, Peace is Possible, the output of his elementary school class that was coordinated by his uber-hippie music teacher.
It was the mid-1980s, still within the range of the Cold War, so one of the songs (penned by “lots of kids”) was a plea for glasnost titled “Dear Mr. Gorbachev.”
What a charming little nuclear holocaust-fearing lad he was, right in the middle there.
Collection Selection, vinyl listening party at Trenchermen (2039 W North Ave, Chicago, IL), every Monday night from 8pm - close.
TUESDAY MAY 21 2013 at BAR DeVILLE
A smoove tune by Actual Rhinoceros, Chicago cats who are the feature of the Instrumental Music Series this coming Tuesday night. The group is comprised of Danny Andrade (saxo/clari/flute), Matt Roberts (drums), Spencer Jenich (Rhodes piano), Chris Kimmons (guitar), and Eli Namay (bass), bonding to form an entity that serves as an improvisational and productive summit for its creative parts, the majority of whom are more active in alternative, non-jazzy scenes, such as the bustling old-timey folk jubilees of Old Lazarus’s Harp.
Actual Rhinoceros will perform two sets of original and improvised music, vinyl selections by Joe Darling will be heard before, between, and after.
The Instrumental Music Series at Bar DeVille (701 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL), Tuesday nights from 930-midnight.