In May, members of Vinyl Me, Please Essentials will receive an exclusive reissue of Free Yourself, the debut LP from Experience Unlimited, a jazz/funk/go-go band that was an underground sensation in Washington, D.C., in the ’70s and ’80s. Vinyl Me, Please’s new reissue was cut from analog tapes direct to lacquer by Bernie Grundman. You can read an essay on the album here, and sign up to receive it here.
Below, read why we picked Free Yourself and the details of our reissue.
This album has been on our radar for close to two years, I think. I remember getting a Slack message from you in the middle of the night — that I saw the next morning — where you were like, “Have you ever heard of this? The cover is crazy” and you sent me a link to the Discogs page for this album. It’s been batted around since then, and is finally landing in May.
Cameron Schaefer, Head Of Music & Brand: Yeah, I was searching Discogs at night as I do from time-to-time, and the cover was just so wild. You could tell it was some ’60s, ’70s Afrofuturistic artwork, so that was enough for me to try to figure out what the deal was with this. And then it’s always a great thing when your Discogs searching leads you to an incredible album that sounds as amazing as this. I sent the link to you, Egon at Now Again, and a couple other folks just asking if they had ever heard of this, and Egon was like, “Well, it’s funny you should mention this. We just started talking with Plunky — who owns the label now and was the leader of Oneness of Juju, another band on the label — about doing reissues of these titles.” And then we found out the whole story of the label and the bands — where they were inventing new music, and pushing stylistic boundaries and playing political protests in D.C.
We contacted Plunky and he was very interested in the story of Black Fire being told through our five reissues — the Record of the Month and the four exclusives — and when you’re able to communicate directly with the right people at a label, as happened here, we were able to get our hands on the original master tapes, so we were able to have the lacquers cut straight to tape by Bernie Grundman, the guy who has shaped mastering over the last 30 years. And he did that for three of the Oneness of Juju titles as well. This edition sounds incredible and really pays homage to the importance of this music.
This is probably our deepest “crate-digger” Record of the Month in Essentials in the last year or so.
Yeah, this is definitely a “discovery” title for our members. I’d be surprised if more than 1 percent of our members have heard of this band before this. But this is a great record and I think any music lover, once they hear it, will identify so much about this to love. It sounds great and is an incredible album.
Doing this with the Oneness titles really feels like this is a VMP way of approaching this: It’s not just this one-off album for Record of the Month, it’s also four other albums that complete the story of the evolution of this music from free jazz to go-go.
Yeah, this really could have been a VMP Anthology when you think of it; but the idea to do these came along before that was an idea we had. It’s a complete story through multiple albums.
I also like that this is the first we’ve done in a minute that’s not on streaming services at all. Any pointers for people hoping to listen before they make the decision on this one?
Head to YouTube (laughs).
As mentioned, we got this cut all analog by Bernie Grundman. 180-gram vinyl, pressed at GZ, and it’s on bronze vinyl in a tip-on jacket. In addition, we have a liner notes booklet that tells the story of Black Fire records.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.