My Summer with Tequila

I was standing in the record shop across the street from my apartment deliberating. $45 seemed like too much to spend on an original copy of Exile on Mainstreet. I had craved one, why I don’t know. Original pressings aren’t really all that great.

Let’s say that the first master of the album is the best, which isn’t necessarily true. If you’re able to get your hands on one of the first 1,000 copies, before the metal on the press begins to degrade under the pressure of repeated stamps, you may have something there – as long as it’s completely mint. Which means don’t put it on your shitty turntable. Chances are you won’t pick one of those up anyway unless you’re using your record collection as an IRA.

While the instrumental first take of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ played off a MacBook over the wireless speaker system I clutched the double LP in my childlike paws. Recalling how I passed one up for the absurd price of $36 a few weeks before. I had regretted it, and in that moment regretted it further. Summer had started, albeit in Los Angeles that is more of a ceremonial distinction, and Exile is my summer record.  I couldn’t make up my mind.

Killing time in the shop I glanced through the new arrivals. Summer had coincided with it my decision to drink more. Tequila specifically. Whisky was boring me with its baroque cocktails and pretension. Pale Ale was resting around my abdomen like a friend who claims they’re just visiting.  If I was going to drink more, and I was hellbent to make sure I would, I needed a new date.

Flipping through the stack, most of the records that attracted my attention I already owned. I figured if I could find some other albums I wanted I could use them as leverage with the EDM hipster staring at the floor of his failing business. Buried behind copies of Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits and Honky Chateau was a copy of Wes Montgomery’s Tequila. Too perfect. I dropped my $45 and left with both.

You don’t read a lot of pleasant thoughts on Wes Montgomery’s stint with Verve. He is often painted as a sell-out. Jazz aficionados are worse than the punks, man.  Even AllMusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine claims that the guitarist’s work for the label needed  “salvag[ing]” from the “pop-oriented covers and orchestral sessions” featured on many of his albums for Verve. Cook & Morton eviscerate Montgomery for attempting to secure a future for his kids by following his passion for the guitar.

When you buy an old LP what you’re holding isn’t only music. It’s history, and history is a difficult subject. It’s tough to tell how much boils down to recitation. We have no way of perceiving the information but through the lens of another. History is informed by history, out of necessity as well as intellectual laziness. Erlewine isn’t the voice of dissent against Cook & Morton and either way is probably too informed by them informed by them to try. So, a fact becomes created. Wes Montgomery shunned his rightful place as artist and genius, and tried to cash in for radio play.  All I can add is Tequila has two sides and like its liquid namesake I find both supremely enjoyable.

I spent my summer half in the bag listening to and drinking Tequila. Stumbling and ‘Bumpin’ on Sunset’, tearing pages out of my pathetically robust collection of record reviews hoping someone had heard what I was hearing. And when I reached the bottom of the bottle, it struck me: What does it matter? Tequila goes down easy and sticks to your chest. It belongs in any collection of guitar music along with Chet Atkins, Link Wray, and the Ventures.

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