For nearly 50 years, Stooges die-hards had wistfully accepted that this monumental performance had all but disappeared into the ether. As it turns out, they were wrong – the entire performance was actually recorded on soundboard, and the story of its discovery is as absorbing as the live set itself. I spoke with Third Man Records co-founder and vinyl archivist Ben Blackwell via Zoom about the very recent release of Live At Goose Lake: August 8 1970 to gain some insight into how such a long-lost spectacle emerged from obscurity.
My first question is a bit of a doozy: I ask whether the recording was found buried in a barnyard, not knowing what a barnyard actually was, nor seemingly the fact that these generally contain farm animals and not 1/4” two-track tapes.
Blackwell bursts out laughing. “That’s good! Not a barnyard, though. When we initially read the liner notes, we didn’t know the specifics of the place. I knew it was somewhere I wasn’t familiar with in Michigan. It’s been called a farmhouse, but it’s actually a 170-year-old mansion, called the Rogers Mansion, in Wyoming, Michigan.” Turns out ‘farmhouse’ was probably the word I was looking for.
He tells me how the same family – across multiple generations – had lived in the mansion for the entire 170 years, and that when they decided to sell the property in 2015, they made a rather fortuitous discovery.
“In the selling of it, they basically had to clear out 170 years of family junk. And in that pile, they found a box of tapes that had Goose Lake written on them. The people that found the recording basically waltzed it through the front door, and said ‘Hey, we know Third Man, we like what you do; this may be up Third Man’s alley.’”
Blackwell’s passion for his work is palpable, as he talks about the significance of getting his hands on the final recording of the original Stooges outfit. “That was amazing”, he reflects elatedly. “That was the moment where I was like ‘Oh, this is what you work really hard for and you grind it out’. You kind of pause and realise you’ve inserted yourself – not out of a sense of ego – into the story of something that’s really significant that you hold in your heart.”
Assuming the initial soundboard recording quality may not have been Sir George Martin standard, I ask the vinyl aficionado a bit about the restoration process, courtesy of six-time Grammy Award-winning producer Vance Powell.
“I sat with Vance for a couple of hours in his studio. It’s not like mixing where you can turn the bass up or lower the vocals; you only have so much that you can really manipulate. What Vance did was basically like a really intense, detailed EQ job, where he’s clicking different EQs to raise and lower. In an individual song, there may be hundreds of different choices of those.
“It’s funny though, because it’s not a job that happens very often, where you’ve got tapes but you don’t have multi tracks, and it’s not stereo, nor pre-mixed and ready to go. It’s still got to be finessed.”
It’s worth noting that, despite the pedantic restoration and mastering process, the sonic rawness of Live At Goose Lake is perhaps its most alluring feature. ‘Fun House’, the studio LP’s title track, features the late jazz saxophonist Steve Mackay, and is arguably the zenith of the live set. Mackay’s shrieking saxophone is matched by Iggy Pop’s howling vocal take, while Scott Asheton’s drum kit cops an absolute belting. The Stooges, quite evidently, harboured an approach to creating and performing music that was hitherto uncharted.
“From The Stooges,” Blackwell notes, “is an attitude that doesn’t seem to be apparent prior to their emergence on the scene.” He explains that, while this attitude took some time to become commercially palatable, its influence is enduring.
“You just hope, as a musician and artist from my end, that somewhere down the line it clicks on a level that really makes a difference. And I would say that The Stooges really make a difference, but oftentimes the people they were influencing were maybe 10 or 15 years down the line before they actually got acknowledged for that.”
Blackwell’s appreciation for music is panoramic. Whether it’s bringing seemingly lost live recordings to the fore, or working on more contemporary projects, the Third Man Records co-founder elaborates upon the origins of the label, as well as its driving philosophy.
“The initial idea of Third Man was to reissue the White Stripes’ catalogue, primarily on vinyl; it hadn’t been on vinyl in the US for around three years. And it kind of just snowballed from there.”
On its uniqueness as a label, the Detroit native tells me “What I love about Third Man – I don’t know if it sets us apart as such – is that we’re real deep fans of what we put out. Of music in general, but also we try to really work with stuff that we love.”
Blackwell, who’s the nephew of Jack White, talks about working with the garage rock icon, who also co-founded Third Man. “We just try and keep up with him – he’s got a thousand different ideas at once and they’re 99 percent great ideas, and it’s just about finding all the hours in the day to make them happen!”
I also find out that the former White Stripes mastermind has been revisiting one of his earliest creative outlets.
“He’s been spending a bunch of time in lockdown doing the most insane, beautiful, artful upholstery work.” I’m told that before White was a professional musician, he was a professional upholsterer: it also turns out that the name of his first one-man furniture company was Third Man Upholstery.
“He’s got his shop set up and he’s doing things to really explore the creative side of that craft.” From unearthing 50-year-old Stooges recordings to crafting furniture, it’s easy to see how the eclectic ingenuity of Blackwell and White makes Third Man the revered label they are today.
The Stooges – Live At Goose Lake: August 8, 1970 is out now via Third Man Records.