If one person's trash is another's treasure, then the inverse is not only true but far more common. For every hyper-rare Velvet Underground acetate found in the bargain bin—you may remember the buzzed-about story of such a thing being found for 75 cents and selling for around $25,000 back in 2006—there must be thousands of musical relics lost to the milk crates of time, buried in dust or outright destroyed through ignorance. Luckily, of those thousands of could-be-lost pieces of history, one recently found its way into the hands of Harmonia Piano School founder JJ Frank: two inauspicious boxes of reel-to-reel tape with track listings, running times, studio information and the name of pop music giant Carole King.
Frank found the boxes in a dollar bin of records in a Goodwill in Marin County, California, in 1999. Inside each box was a tape reel which looked to be masters for a studio album, but he had no means to listen to them. They remained mysterious until just this year, when he caught the attention of Jono Manson, owner of the Kitchen Sink Recording Studio here in Santa Fe, a longtime professional musician and engineer. Manson's daughter takes regular piano lessons with Frank, and during one of these lessons, he let Manson know about his ancient treasure.
The two met at the Kitchen Sink and listened to the find. Frank describes his shock at hearing not rough tracks but a sequenced and polished full album.
"I thought they had probably de-magnetized, the last thing I thought is that we would put them on the reels and they would play and be this phenomenal album," Frank tells SFR. "I went down there and we put them on the reels and we were just blown away, because there was an entire in-full analog fidelity. It was a really stunning moment not only experiencing an analog-sourced recording from back in the days of tape and all the richness, but the fact that her music just spoke through these decades of darkness and all of a sudden were in the light and playing. It was very moving."
In his studio, Manson explains the telltale signs that what they held was likely a complete two-track master of a full length album by Carole King.
"It was immediately clear that these weren't demos, this was a fully produced record," Manson explains in his studio. "The levels from song to song and the spacing between them and everything about it was consistent with how you would prepare a reel to go to master to cut an acetate for a vinyl album. Everything about it said this is a master reel."
The question he shared with Frank was what to do next. Manson, who even played in a band that King would occasionally sit in with in New York City in the 1980s, made use of his professional connections to get the attention of the tapes' owner or even King herself.
"I posted a very short video [on Facebook] of me just playing the tape for maybe 20 seconds," Manson says. "I wanted to get people's attention, and I did."
Manson says that within hours, King's management had contacted him requesting that he remove the video and images of the tapes because the master was indeed the intellectual property of someone else—Lou Adler, the Grammy award-winning producer of King's iconic 1971 album Tapestry and founder of Ode Records.
Speaking to SFR by phone, Adler corroborated Manson's theory that this was a complete unreleased album, though not exactly the only copy of the record in existence.
"A few months ago we ran across a cassette that had most of these songs on it which we then called The Lost Album because that album was never released," Adler says.
In 1984, he remixed the album with Hank Cicalo, who engineered several of King's albums, including Tapestry.
"We mixed the album not knowing that there were any other mixes, and have talked about plans to release the album as a lost album," Adler tells SFR. "Then not too long ago comes Jono's story and what would be considered two-track masters of the album if I hadn't remixed it."
As far as how the masters wound up in a Goodwill in California, Adler offers the theory that it happened when Crystal Mastering, the company that oversaw the mastering of the album, went out of business.
"Albums that they had and tapes that they had probably ended up in weird places like this one did," he says. "The key to us is that it falls in the hands of someone like Jono who knows what they are and realizes these might be the masters of an album and tries to get it to who owns these masters. It just falls into the history of this lost album if and when we decide to release it."
It seems like the time is right for the recordings to be brought into the light. With the smash success of the Carole King Broadway musical Beautiful continuing to fill seats, and King receiving Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, she continues to resonate with listeners. SFR was able to hear some snippets of the songs, and they fit the bill for King's signature style of sublime '70s California pop. The sound is crisp, the instrumentation immaculate, and her voice cuts through everything in her sunny, truthful timbre. It's an excellent addition to her oeuvre, and hopefully can be heard by a mainstream audience.
While the mystery remains surrounding the disappearance and resurfacing of these tapes, and likely will not be solved any time soon, what is certain is that without JJ Frank's curiosity combing the bargain bin records in a Marin County Goodwill—only to sit on his curious find for almost two decades before making the appointment with Manson—we likely would not be talking about this album at all. What was considered a lost album to Ode Records could have been an album lost to everyone. Manson and Frank have mailed the tapes back to Adler, and we have yet to see the conclusion of the story.
"In the old days you'd … sit and listen to the whole record," Frank says, describing that first listening experience with Manson. "It's not like today where you listen to tracks and pieces here and there. It was like that; just two guys hanging and listening to a Carole King record in 1976."