The Musical Kaleidoscope Story

by Don Robertson

Part 2 - The Journey Begins

I began collecting records when I was 3 years old. My first were classical music 78rpm 10- and 12-inch singles, along with a few 78rpm albums. In addition, my Uncle Ernie Schlenzig, who had a jukebox business in Denver, would bring me boxes of used records from his jukeboxes. The classical-music records were provided by Grandma Robertson, who supported my love of music by taking me on what she called “bats”, our special record-buying shopping expeditions.  

Don Robertson

1944 - My Favorite Records When I Was Two-Years Old

My 78rpm album set of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

My favorite records were the four 78rpm 12-inch records in the Beethoven Fifth Symphony album that Mom and Dad owned. Mom told me years later that everyone puzzled at how I always knew the order in which the records were to be played, as I was only two years old and had not learned numbers. This is how I did it: each record had a different amount of groves, leaving the area between where the groves ended and where the label began different for each side. I memorized the proper order of the sides by looking at the lengths of this area, equating the size of these with the days of the week, the order of which I had already learned.

1948 - The First LP Records Arrive Next-Door

A typical label for a Colombia Records classical music LP record

Walter Slagle and his family lived directly behind our home. He owned the Denver dealership for Philco, the company that produced early 33-1/3rpm “LP” record players. One day in 1948, Mrs. Slagle summoned me to her home and introduced me to perhaps Denver’s first LP record player, with records that had been produced by Columbia, the inventor of the LP record format. I spent many hours every day in her home listening to music. I marveled at how slowly the records turned, compared with the 78s, and how much music was on each one.

1949 - My First 45 RPM Record Player

In February, 1949, the RCA Victor Corporation introduced the 45rpm record player, creating a third format for commercial recordings. Two months later, for my birthday, my Grandmother Robertson bought me one of these early players, along with a stack of RCA Victor classical record albums: box sets of 45rpm red-vinyl records. Over the next six years, my collection of 45rpm records continued to grow.

1950 - My First Tape Recorder

In 1950, my father gave me an Eicor tape recorder, one of the earliest commercial tape recording machines. The 1/4″ tape onto which it recorded was grey colored and made of paper. Soon, the brown-colored plastic tape that became standard for all tape recording became available.

The following year, my parents gave me a 3-speed “record changer” for my birthday. It played records of all three standard formats: 45rpm, 33-1/3rpm LP (long playing), and 78rpm records.

1950 - The Knight-Campbell Music Company

The Night-Campbell Music Co.
Denver, Colorado ca.1950

My Grandmother Robertson used to take me shopping. We rode in her big Cadillac downtown to the Charles E. Wells Music Company and the Knight-Campbell Music Company, Denver’s two premiere music stores, and then, following this, we always had a fantastic lunch at the Denver Athletic Club, where Grandpa was one of the directors. I loved going to the “DAC” because of the piped-in music provided by Muzak. Music from Muzak in those days had not yet become the “elevator music” that the company would especially create for dining and shopping ambiance in later years. Instead, classical and semi-classical records from RCA and Columbia were featured.

1951 - Milton Shrednick's Record Rack

LP Sampler Album
November, 1951 - From Mr. Schrednick

About 1950, Denver band leader Milton Shrednick opened a record shop on East 8th Avenue, about a mile from my home. I went there any time that I was able, and I probably drove poor Mr. Shrednick crazy. In those days, you could listen to records in listening booths that record stores provided, and I did just that. I was intent on hearing every record in the store, if possible. This photo shows one of the classical music promotional records from Columbia that Mr. Shrednick gave me every month after he was finished with them. Every penny of my allowance went toward buying 45rpm single records from Milton Shrednick, but LP record albums were beyond the means of my youthful budget.

1952 - My Neighborhood Radio Station

All of my records were stored in individually numbered, professional sleeves.

I catalogued and assigned a number to each single in my collection. I purchased the same green sleeves that “real” radio stations used and stored all of my records on a shelf in my bedroom radio station. Meanwhile, my childhood friend and home radio-station co-conspirator, Rob Wilfley, sat at his fathers’s typewriter and wrote letters to every major record label in the USA, requesting their free demonstration record service, as was the practice in “real” radio stations. For about a year, we received every popular 45rpm record that was issued by the Dot and Coral record companies.

A Musical Kaleidoscope VIDEO:
Forgotten Dreams by Leroy Anderson

1952 - My Aunt's Record Player

My mind was always filled with music. I composed new music in my head, humming it, trying to mimic the sounds of various instruments of the orchestra. I could replay complete records in my mind also, exactly as they sounded when I played them. All of this was a big part of my inner world. On a family trip to visit my Aunt Dorothy in Cape Cod, my aunt asked me to pose for a photograph. Being a painter, she wanted to create a charcoal portrait based on this photo. I asked her if I could sit for a photo in front of her record player. Here is the result.

1955 - Lou Morgan Music

About 1955, a new music store appeared near my home in Denver. Located at 339 Holly Street, it was operated by the wife of another Denver bandleader, Lou Morgan, and she was just my kind of lady. Fascinated with me, my radio station, and my love for both classical and popular music, she would go to any length to find records for me. She was my source for records that nobody else in Denver sold. She called executives at record labels to find a rare pop 45 or 78 RPM record that I had heard only one time on the radio. My 45 and 78 RPM record collection expanded greatly, thanks to Mrs. Morgan. One time, it took months for her to locate the original German 78-rpm records by piano player known as Crazy Otto. Another time, the distributor for Mercury records did not have copies of a record that I liked by A&R director David Carroll, and so she got the record label to send me a free copy of the 45-rpm record.

1959 - Jazz Guitar

Don Robertson playing guitar while in the U.S. Navy

With the arrival of Elvis Presley in 1956, I abandoned all forms of music except rock and roll. However, I discovered the guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1960, and that year I turned from rock to jazz. In September, I joined the US Navy. I continued to collect records, but now it would be Jazz that I was interested in. In late 1961, I rediscovered classical music. After I was discharged from the Navy, I started using money that I made playing guitar in bands and combos to augment my growing classical record collection. After my nearly four-year Navy hitch, I enrolled in the music school at the University of Colorado in Boulder and formed a jazz/blues trio called The Contrasts.

1966 - World Music

Don Robertson playing the Chinese pipa
Venice Beach, California

In early 1966, while attending the music school at the University of Colorado, a man who worked in a Boulder record store on University Hill introduced me to North Indian classical music and the great North Indian musician Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Immediately upon hearing this music, I realized that I had discovered a very important music tradition. It had such a profound effect on me that I decided to study it seriously. That summer I enrolled in the School of Ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles (now the Herb Alpert School of Music). There, I was introduced to the music of great classical music traditions from around the world: India, Japan, Greece, Persia, China, Africa, Java, and Bali. Only a few recordings of what became known as “world music” were available in the US at that time, and I searched for them diligently.

I also began studying the Indian musical instrument, the sitar, becoming a private student of Harihar Rao.

Nature Boy (1968)
Jack Sheldon (trumpet) & Don Robertson (sitar)

1966-68 - New York City

In 1968, I wrote the first instruction manual in the Western World for the Indian drums called the tabla. It was published by the Peer-Southern Music Corporation in New York City.

In the fall of 1966, I moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music. I played guitar, tamboura, tabla and sitar on recording sessions for national TV commercials and on albums by artists such as Harumi, Bobby Callender, Chamaeleon Church, and Ultimate Spinach. I studied privately for two years with composer Morton Feldman and was among Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s first American students. I continued collecting records. At a store in downtown Manhattan called Sam Goodies, I purchased imported record albums from all over the world. It was in this store that I first found the great recordings of the master vocalists of North Indian classical music. The records that I purchased from this store form the heart of my Indian music collection of recordings. I continued to collect North Indian classical music in the form of LPs, CDs and cassettes for many years to come.

Don Robertson – Tabla Lesson

 

1969 - The First New-Age Album

In 1968 I moved to San Francisco to study tabla with Pandit Shankar Ghosh and to prepare for my own first album called Dawn. I had been signed to Mercury Records’ subsidiary Limelight label and worked with Abe “Voco” Keshthe producer of the first heavy-metal band called Blue Cheer and guitarist Harvey Mandel. In this album, I created what I was calling New Age Music. I also unveiled my discovery of “positive and negative music”. Side One explores the positive side of music, opening with a long improvisation on zither using the pure pentatonic scale – the most harmonious scale that exists. Side Two features the duochord – a term that I had coined to represent the root chord of discordant music – and my ultimate heavy-metal “bomb” that anticipated the negative music that would later arise from heavy metal bands in the 1980s.

This album, now a classic, was re-released on vinyl and CD in Italy in 2001. 

1970 - The Kosmon

I moved back to my home state of Colorado in 1970. There, I teamed up with childhood friend and graphic artist John Fresques to create our self-published book called Kosmon. In this book I detailed the reality of positive and negative music and warned of a coming onslaught of heavy-metal music, the negative music that used distortion to create discordant overtones. I presented in this book for the first time the theories that I had been evolving since 1962 concerning historic cycles in music and art, a theme that I will further expand in 2005 with Music Through the Centuries. In the Kosmon article Musical Numerology, I discuss the numbers 3,6, 9 that 40 years later I will discover were the special numbers of Nicola Tesla and the number pattern 142857 that during the 1980s will become the basis of vortex math. In the Kosmon, I also presented ideas about climate change, organic food, and ancient civilizations.