/ Cassettes

Billie Holliday - At O.SB [UNKNOWN]

I didn't want to make another post quite so soon, but neither did I expect that fate would decide to have such a strange turn a few days back. You see, I was going to a pizza joint that just opened up near me on a rainy day, and on the way there I spot someone dropped some sort of electronics on the street. I take a closer look.

I reel back. It's a Nakamichi DR-3. I've never even seen a Nakamichi "in the flesh", and here it is on the street, in the rain. I immediately double back, get home, and dry it up. I check inside - head looks clean, pinch rollers look pristine.

I pray that it works, and I focus entirely on this, mostly ignoring the tape that was stacked on top of the machine. I go to buy some tapes the next day to test, since I can't really trust that it's any good, even considering that it's one of the fancy Maxell Type IIs. The record store owner is baffled that I'd pick out tapes so fast, so I tell him the circumstances that led to this moment, and he's taken aback. He says, and I quote, "finding cool shit on the street like that is a 90s thing". Heck, he's probably right, it's not even the season to find anything like this on the street. I pop one of the tapes in when I get home and I find out it works perfectly - absolutely gorgeous sound, and if you have Dolby NR it executes it so well, you barely even hear any tape noise. It's a spectacular, well-built tank of a deck. I love it.

A picture of the Nakamichi DR-3 on top of a ceramic stove
Here it is in my kitchen. No, that's not where it is now.

After I came back down to planet Earth from the high of having one of the best tape decks ever made land in my lap by fate, I realize - the tape! I gotta find out what's on it! I take one look at the label - "Billy [sic] Holiday at O.SB". I try to find anything on the net about this - nothing. Turns out her live recordings are very prized due to their scarcity which, as someone who grew up listening to Billie Holiday compilations, I can respect. I put it on, and try to identify the recording it by comparing it to any live album I can find...also nothing. They come from vinyl probably based on the surface noise, but she performed mostly in an era before magnetic tape recording really took off, so that's not that surprising, they could be radio transcription discs. I hear a song I definitely recognize, It Might As Well Be Spring, but it's an instrumental, and I can't find any evidence of that on any record of hers either. The plot thickens until a very non-1950s fadeout happens, and after the next track (which I don't recognize), a very modern FM radio voice says "That was Billie Holiday..".

That's when it hits me. This is someone's personal Billie Holiday mixtape, and they used Type II tape to record it. They spent good money to get the best quality possible, and probably recorded it on this very deck. These are deep cuts - I recognize basically none of these recordings, and the ones that sound familiar are new takes I've never heard before. It's wondrous. It's lovely. It's...exciting. They even nailed the recording level dead on - there's plenty of room at the top and no clipping at any point, but it's not quiet either. I don't know who the previous owner of this tape deck was - even if I went back to where I picked it up, it's an apartment building - but based on this tape, they must have been a pretty cool cat!

I don't know the circumstances here. I wish I did, I wish I understood why fate has decided that I am now a Tape Guy. I wish I could thank whoever has left this behind, that I can compensate them, even if just to tell them that it's going to a good home. There's no way that a perfectly working Nakamichi DR-3 ends up on the street for happy reasons, but if nothing else, at least it now will be somewhere it'll get lots of love.

Now, I ask you, the reader - please help me identify these songs. I have no idea where any of these recordings come from. She's one of the most written-about American singers of the 20th Century, rivalled only by Ella; there's plenty of Billie Holiday scholars out there. So I ask, can you help?

And for Boston readers specifically: Do you recognize the radio host? What station is this? "OSB" also brings up no results other than a baseball station, so I can tell you I have no clue who's playing this. You can skip to 47:03 to get what I think is the clearest sample of the radio host. Every instance appears to be the same guy, so I think these were all recorded closely apart from one another.


No Track List this time. I recognize like two songs on here - these ain't the hits, that's for sure, but what a selection! The trumpet player on the first cluster is out of this world.

Get the rip here! Normally I embed a YouTube video, but I had to compress the music a lot to get it to fit in my workflow so this time please just download the file. You'll be happier.