Jeff Angione has a rubber soul–and for a music lover, that’s a good thing

Jeff Angione

Mesa Aupperlee

Jeff Angione

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Jeff Angione’s brain is a turntable.

He’s the circulation coordinator in the Willey Library.

He also oversees JSC’s radio station, WJSC. Some might say he’s responsible for its resurrection.

Before that, he owned a record shop in town, Tones, which closed in 2001, and a store of the same name in downtown Burlington.

He’s also spent many years as a DJ.

But his first and longest occupation?

Music lover.

Do you still buy vinyl?

I still buy vinyl, personally… but I’m not buying to re-sell. In the 90’s I had a record store here in town that was completely independent. Yeah I stocked some of the Top 40 stuff, but my major focus was independent artists, and I tried to broaden the scope of music that was available in this area, i.e. not so much jam bands and classic rock. Maybe more of an eye-opening collection.

What’s eye-opening?

Well, let me ask you: What’s your passion?

Film.

When you’re watching films, do you go for high-budget, glossy films that go to the theater by Steven Spielberg, or are you an IFC [Independent Film Channel] guy?

Both. But you’re strictly independent.

Well, I still love the Stones. But I’m 51 years old—why do I want to hear the same songs I grew up with? I heard this survey done about 10 years ago. It said that between the ages of 14 and 23 – nowadays I think it’s a bigger scope – but between the ages of 14 and 23, you are in your experimental prime. After the age of 23 or 25, if you haven’t tried sushi, chances are you aren’t gonna try sushi. So the idea that you experiment with opening your horizons in your time period is what’s going to influence you down the road.

When I went to the hip hop show Saturday night, me and the two buddies I was with, we were probably the oldest guys there. But it was the real deal. It was real hip hop with a full band and a rapper. Most people my age don’t understand hip hop or rap or the difference between the two. And hip hop has been around for 30 years, so why is that?

You’re just trying to keep people’s tastes developing.

I’m just trying to push stuff on people to try and see what sticks. And that has always been my mantra, from owning the record stores to being a DJ.

When I started DJ-ing at the college radio station 20 years ago, it was like, “Okay, I just got 14 new 45s in, and some new CDs that just came out,” but they weren’t like Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Alanis Morrissette, or Sheryl Crow, or Hootie and the Blowfish—they were bands like Rough Francis or Detroit Cobras or Man or Astro-Man or the Mekons.

One of the big things is that if a lot more people gave themselves the opportunity to open up to new things, music-wise, they would be amazed how they wouldn’t have to spend half a week’s pay or half a day’s pay to go see somebody live. The show Saturday night cost me $10. You go see a reunion show of Goodie Mob and Sir Mix-a-Lot, they played Foxwoods, and you know it was a $100 ticket to get in and see them, whereas this was $10, and it was three hip hop groups, and it was fantastic—and there was about 50 people there. Because they weren’t Whiz Kalifa or Lil Wayne or all the other pseudo-wannabe bigger people that everybody knows.

I wonder where popular r&b went, and people tell me it evolved into hip hop…

The thing to remember about hip hop is that hip hop was basically born out of reggae, DJ reggae: dudes with beat boxes, dudes doing beat box on the street, a dude rapping. That’s what it was. What you wound up getting after that was a movement, mostly on the coast, of gangster rap stuff, NWA, that kind of stuff, that was putting forth a message that was a viable message… but then it denigrated down into misogyny, and stuff about smoking weed, or guns. Then you end up in the early 2000s with crunk.

Whereas this guy the other night—not to fault him: he kind of touched on the white boy side of hip hop, as opposed to groups like Jurassic Five, or Blackalicious, or Run DMC—those guys all had fun with it! They were all having fun with it.

R&b is rhythm & blues. I don’t really find that Rihanna is r&b, or Alicia Keys, for that matter. So when I’m saying rhythm & blues, or r&b, I’m talking about stuff that basically was the precursor to rock ‘n’ roll. Between r&b and rockabilly, you end up with rock ‘n’ roll. You end up with this bastard stepchild of music.

Who the hell listens to rockabilly any more? Very few people, and those people who do listen to it take it very seriously, and they dress the part. It’s the same thing with soul music. Going to a soul show, like Lee Fields, people are dressed up, man! And mostly because the singer, he comes out on stage, dressed up. The whole band? Dressed up. They’re not in jeans and a t-shirt—they take their art seriously. They take it to the next level.

I think that’s a big thing missing out of music. Everybody just wants to sit around with a guitar and strum mid-tempo songs—what happened to all the horns?  What happened to the diversity?

Are you against the mainstream, or are you just against people settling for the mainstream?

I’m against settling for the mainstream. It’s people my age that, in my opinion, ruined radio.

How did that happen?

When I was growing up, if you tuned into the radio, it was free-form radio. There might be somebody like myself on, playing new stuff, and then the next guy might be playing classic rock, and then the next guy was playing reggae, and so on. They went in, they pulled out their records, and they did their gig.

Somebody had the bright idea that we can automate all of it, eliminate the DJ, and subsequently that’s why we still hear Foreigner. Why would we still hear Styx on the radio? They’re not a viable group. They didn’t do anything for the music industry other than cheese everybody out on to this bad 80’s music. In the 80’s music really went downhill.

The other thing that I think people don’t realize is that the majority of music out there is influenced by black music. For example, I’ll use the disco era. Prior to disco, which was really a white thing, that became homogenized, it was funk being homogenized and synthed-out and just cheesy, whereas when you actually go back and listen to Funkadelic and Parliament, you see a big difference between James Brown and the Bee Gees. Every single genre of music, except for maybe bluegrass and rockabilly, gets reinvented.

In the 90’s, when you were a kid, Brian Seltzer came and brought back swing. Swing got reinvented. We’re talking about from the 1940s, swing was king. Not only was jazz swing big, but country swing was big, all across the country. Now we look at swing as old music. They don’t see it as, “Oh, if a band was playing swing, hey, I’d like to go down and see it,” they just see it as old music.

Interlude—Angione on today’s country:

Mainstream country, which is a lot of bands that aren’t country—Taylor Swift—it’s easy listening, with a violin, or a pedal steel. You know, if you were a real aficionado, or even if you’re not an aficionado, if you listen to music, if you get outside your comfort zone and listen to music, you would realize a lot of that stuff is talking about pickup trucks, God, sensitive love issues, and drinkin’ beer, in a not-so-funny way, either. Just kind of cheesy! When I [DJ], of course I’m playing classic country, I’m playing George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, a lot of the cornerstones of country music, but I’m also playing Bottle Rockets, and Steve Earle, and Billy Joe Shaver, and Hank III—trying to turn people on to the fact that, wow, there is all this available there that nobody’s even heard of! Because why? We play Taylor Swift five times a day.

There’s still good country being made, there just isn’t good country being played. The closest thing we got is Jamie Johnson. But he’s not clean-shaven, and he’s got a beard, and he sings songs about real life, not fantasyland.

Now back to Angione on today’s radio:

[A local station] is a good example. How many albums do you think they actually play on the air? Probably a total of 25, and they’re all greatest hits. They play the same songs every day, by the same artists! They have this altar of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Bad Company, Rolling Stones, the Who, Styx, Supertramp, the same 25, 30 people, and they don’t get deep into the album cuts. They just play the same stuff. It’s always been my [question]: “Why? Why are you doing that?” If you really loved music you would play as much diversity as you could possibly come up with, even if you wanted to be what you call a “rock station”—there’s plenty of great rock being made still. It’s just not being heard. You have to dig deep for it.

They realized it was a lot cheaper to operate when it’s automated, but in that automation process, what they cut out was creativity. When I was 15, 16 years old, the stuff you hear on [local stations], that was what we were listening to, and that was new! It hasn’t changed! They haven’t even cracked the shell.

What are we hearing that’s new on the radio? Someone is filtering it down. Who’s making the decision to say, “This is what you should be listening to,” or “This is what you gotta buy?”

All the technology that’s being invented today, especially iPods, is geared toward helping you stay in your comfort zone.

That’s right.  Here’s another example.  [Another local station] used to be a really great station.  I can remember coming home in the early 90’s from my restaurant job—I was managing a restaurant in Hanover—and hearing Champion Jack Dupree on the radio at 11 o’clock at night, or hearing George Thomas who used to do a jazz show on NPR—he also had a show on [that local station] at night called “Let the Bon Ton Roule,” which was all zydeco-cajun, New Orleans-style music. They did away with it because they were trying to change the direction of the radio station. So they ended up getting bought out by somebody who had very similar likes to Clear Channel [Communications, a mass media company], and so it ended up becoming this Grateful Dead, jam band, angry chick rock, and Red Hot Chili Peppers [station]. I mean, have you listened to [the station] lately? They’re still playing Tears for Fears! Who listens to or buys a Tears for Fears album? That’s like mid-80’s music!

On the direction of WJSC:

Basically, the underlying idea of the station is very little rock… basically, r&b, soul, reggae, funk, blues, folk. Some of the griping I get from some of the managers, or some of the stalwart DJs there, is “That’s not what the kids are listening to. They don’t want to hear that at late night.” My suggestion is they get a radio show so they can play whatever they want. Because I don’t put limits on the DJs. You want to come in and have a political talk show? I’m fine with it.

You’re in college. You ought to be trying to absorb as much as you possibly can right now. I understand that there’s a certain comfort zone. You gotta get out and actually see stuff. I was talking with someone who works here, and they said, “We went to see the Detroit Cobras and they sucked.” Well, at least you gave them a chance.

Angione’s philosophy, in a nutshell—or a record store:

When I was running my record store, everyone was buying the new Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, whatever. Then, about three months later, those things would start getting traded back in. They realized, “Oh, they only had that one song they played on the radio that got stuck in my head,” so when I owned the record store, it pissed a lot of people off, I’d say, “You don’t want that. You want this,” and I’d try to give them a record that they’d treasure for the rest of their life.
And a lot of people have come back to me over the years and said, “You know, you were an asshole when you were running the record store—but you were right.”

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