The new music sounds like the old music. And that’s a good thing.
These were the first thoughts that entered my mind upon listening to the opening track off Present From The Past, the latest record release by Miami’s own Nuclear Valdez.
A few weeks ago I learned that the band was releasing this album on vinyl on April 22nd (otherwise known as Record Store Day, the annual celebration of independent record stores that facilitated the revival of vinyl records). Early that morning, I ventured out to my favorite record shop, Sweat Records.
I walked around passing the various genre categories handwritten on white placards on the shelves: indie, hip hop, rock, punk, world, re-issues. But it was at the new-releases section where I held my breath. There it was, Nuclear Valdez’s first album in 26 years(*), enjoying top-shelf status, a little product-placement bonus love by shop owner Lolo Reskin and the rest of the Sweat gang.
Present From The Past is a compilation of never-released music that Nuclear Valdez wrote and recorded in the late 80s/early 90s.
Listening to the album time-traveled me back to 1989 when these four local boys, sons of Cuban and Dominican immigrants, landed a record deal with Epic, the label that counted among its artists the likes of Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, and Sly & The Family Stone. That same year they released their debut album, I Am I. Their first cut “Summer” included a music video filmed in Miami that reached MTV daily-play honors for several months. It was that first cut, a political song about repression in Cuba, that established their identity.
“If you were from Miami and born to Cuban parents, you were a Nuclear Valdez fan,” said a friend the other day as we chatted about the band. The Nukes embodied the angst, emotion, and political expression of the Cuban-American experience.
Growing up Cuban-American, life inside the hyphen that separates the two nationalities wasn’t so level. Musical tastes varied. A lot of the music that I heard as a child was either Cuban or heavily tilted towards the island 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Celia Cruz, Willy Chirino, maybe a few tracks by Miami Sound Machine. It was the music of our grandparents and our parents. But I and others came of age in America, the birth place of rock & roll. The music in our hearts and minds was different, a product of our youth, our environment, our identity, our American identity. Nuclear Valdez was the first to fill the space inside the Cuban-American musical divide with their politically charged, soulful sound, channeling contemporaries like U2, The Fixx, and Midnight Oil.
After their debut album, the band released a second record in 1991 called Dream Another Dream. But the pure, folk-influenced sound changed. They brought in electronic machines and synthesizers. The music seemed excessive, over-sized. I lost a little interest in them and could only hope that a third album would resurrect them. But reportedly they were dropped by Epic after Dream. “It didn’t make sense for them to stay with us or for us to stay with them,” said an Epic representative in a February 1994 article that appeared in the Miami New Times titled “The Local Rock Scene is Dead.” (*)
So what happened? A press release on the band’s website states they got left in the cold by the record company as a result of the emerging grunge scene in Seattle (Epic would go on to sign Pearl Jam and release their iconic album Ten in 1991.).
The press release continues, “Disillusioned, we decided to pack it in, much to the disappointment of our many fans.”
This latest record aptly named Present From The Past chips away at the disillusion, like a gift from an old friend who once abandoned you, and it’s a reminder that this local band once displayed some real chops but more importantly still own their rightful place in Miami’s music history.
Welcome back Nukes.
Here is the video for “Summer” from 1989.
(*) End Note: A reader rightfully pointed out that in 2001 the Nukes released a third record after Epic but with only three members of the original band.
Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami
Last Saturday was Record Store Day, a day to pay homage to the vinyl record and the independent record shop. The idea for Record Store Day (or RSD) was born in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners in Baltimore, Maryland: their mission was simple – maximize awareness towards an industry and culture that was racing towards extinction. According to www.recordstoreday.com, RSD is a day “for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Guess what? Its worked. This year marked the 7th consecutive year for RSD. Approximately 2,000 record shops from around the world celebrated with parties and concerts and opened their shops to larger-than-normal crowds of record enthusiasts looking for new releases or re-issues. Miami’s finest record shop – Sweat Records – reported on Twitter witnessing “MADNESS” this past weekend (the vibe, not the London band with the 1982 hit single “Our House”); hundreds of record fans stood in line and braved the early morning showers to get their vinyl fix. Similar RSD enthusiasm was documented in cities across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
Vinyl record sales have been trending upwards each year. Its very common today for musicians to once again include vinyl record releases of their music. And demand is growing. Record sales figures are projected to reach $9 MM this year, up from $6 MM in 2013, and $4.5 MM in 2012. Yes, those are small figures compared to the number of iTunes downloads but nevertheless a remarkable and impressive achievement in this digital age.
Nostalgia aside, plain and simple, there has always been something unique about record buying and record playing that far exceeds the joy one gets (or I get) from the CD or iTunes. I’m talking vinyl love here; real, tangible love.
Back when I was a kid, this is how I spent the best parts of most Saturday afternoons at the mall, while my mother shopped at the woman’s clothing store next door:
Maybe you have a similar memory.
Flipping through the latest albums on display at the record shop, pulling one out to view the cover art or the song list before placing it back and flipping some more until the next one catches your attention. Finding the one or two albums that made all the sense in your little world.
On the car ride home, new record on your lap, you tell your mom to drive faster. You secretly curse every red light along the way.
At home, you remove the plastic wrapping, pull out the record sleeve, study it – the graphics, the liner notes – and when you’re ready to hear the music, you tilt the sleeve to let the record slide out onto your hands. You hold it firmly but with care from the sides so as not to tarnish it with fingerprints. You might even inspect the record for any dust particles still hanging on to it.
You turn the record player on and gently place the disc on the platter fitting the center over the spindle so that it pokes through and secures it for what’s next. The turntable is ready. You press the spin button, turn the volume way up, place the needle on the record, and await the bull-rush sensation when the needle comes in contact with the first sonic groove.
I love vinyls. Around 1997, I began a deliberate effort to ‘collect’ records and curate my own collection for years to come. I thought the days of LPs and 45s were numbered. So I began a buying spree. Local libraries, garage sales, estate sales, and small record shops from as far away as Toronto. I made it a point that every business trip include a visit to a neighborhood record store.
However, today the majority of my collection is comprised of three separate private collections that I acquired from previous owners who either passed on or just wanted to move on. I have given each collection a name as a tribute and token of my appreciation to its previous owner. They are:
1. The Steve
2. The Lourdes
3. The Raul
As an ode to Record Store Day and vinyl love, in general, I will be posting a story about each of these collections in the coming weeks.
The first post will feature the most recently acquired.
The Raul Collection
[New York club DJ/record producer 1978-1988]
Principal Genres: Disco, Freestyle, Soul