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Dad Builds A Recording Studio, Sons Make A (Lost) Classic

Courtesy of the artist

Like many American dreamers in the 1970s, the Emerson brothers — Donnie and Joe, from tiny Fruitland, Wash. — thought they had what it took to start up a band and record an album. Unlike many however, the Emersons' father, Don Sr., was willing to plunk down $100,000 earned in the lumber industry to build his sons a home studio where they recorded their only album, Dreamin' Wild, in 1979. They had no real plan, certainly no distribution. Instead, they sat on a stockpile of the LPs save for the occasional copy that made its way out into the wild.

It's easy to see how one might have passed up on the LP had they found it sitting in a Spokane thrift store bin: Donnie and Joe have a weird David Cassidy-meets-Elvis-meets-Evel Knievel-meets-Siamese-twin thing going. Until you drop the needle on the vinyl, though, you'd never guess that a pair of white teens from rural Washington could pull off an album that's part garage-psych, part blue-eyed soul and part sunshine pop, and that all parts would exceed expectations.

This is no one-tracker — the entire album is remarkably diverse and listenable — but the ballad "Baby" rises above the rest. Maybe it's the buttery background croons, maybe it's the earnest simplicity of the lyrics — more mumbled than sung at times — but "Baby" has an almost atmospheric grace to it despite also sounding like the exact kind of song a pair of teenage boys might riff on in their living room studio, visions of rock stardom dancing beneath their feathered hair.

In 2008, record blogger Jack Fleischer came across a copy of Dreamin' Wild in Missoula, Montana, took it home and wrote about it. Within months, it became a cult hit amongst other collectors, and the Emersons suddenly began fielding queries from around the country for original copies of the LP. This month, the L.A.-based reissue label, Light in the Attic, re-released the album for mass consumption. It took 30 years but the Emerson brothers finally have their hit record.

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Oliver Wang is an culture writer, scholar, and DJ based in Los Angeles. He's the author of Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews of the San Francisco Bay Area and a professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. He's the creator of the audioblog and co-host of the album appreciation podcast, Heat Rocks.