A year ago I published a piece on the legend behind the mysterious Chicago acid house producer James “Jack Rabbit” Martin. I had it posted here without much fanfare. In truth it was a bit more rushed than I would have liked; it felt a bit light. It’s a thing that happens when you live with print deadlines. But it caught on anyway, almost entirely through acidheads searching Google for more information on the legend of Jack Rabbit.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “He only existed on his records. He was pure legend. Even the experts didn’t have much of a clue as to who he really was; just that he recorded a total of 29 songs, that he died young, and that he was the greatest.” – Martin Scorsese on Robert Johnson [/quote]
The story was an attempt to address two separate audiences that have two very distinct understandings of James Jack Rabbit Martin, and to do it one text.
The first audience represents people in Europe and elsewhere, who only knew James Martin’s records.
The second represents people in Chicago who only knew James Martin as a person (or knew nothing at all), and had little knowledge or understanding of what these records actually mean.
If you’re in either category, you can probably learn a little bit about the man, the myth and the records from my original story on Jack Rabbit Martin.
And of course neither of these things are absolute truths. Many of Jack Rabbit’s re-issues have originated from fanatics in this city. But broadly speaking, there’s a small cult in Chicago that knows who he was and a smaller one that understands how truly amazing his records are.
This time, I just want to address the latter. Mostly, I just want to play his records. After wrapping up a long piece on a commercial disco artist which should appear here soon, I felt the need for a purge. Nothing scrubs down the synapses like acid, and nobody made better acid house than Jack Rabbit.
These are a handful of Jack Rabbit’s tracks, which nevertheless make up the majority of the very few records he made before he tragically died young, but which together rank him among the greatest:
RABBIT TRAX I (The Next Generation)
People will disagree with me, but the first “Rabbit Trax” from There Are Dreams And There Is Escape is what gets me going. I like “Land of Confusion” more than “151” and I like “Rabbit Trax I” more than “Rabbit Trax II”.
If people went more mental trying to figure out how Armando Gallop made “Confusion’s” notoriously complex 303 webworks than they did to the song, that’s doubly true of “Rabbit Trax I”. Computer metaphors – the white drafting table in graphic design apps, the visual composition aids in ProTools and Ableton – have simplified a great number of rigorous tasks in creative work. I just don’t think they would help much in remaking “Rabbit Trax I” in 2014. The sounds seem to bleed into one another, like ink onto paper that spreads a bit beyond where the printer head presses upon it, creating from two distinct tones a mysterious third.
RABBIT TRAX II (The Next Generation After)
This is the moment when you begin asking, okay, who the fuck was this guy? How did he not write the entire Summer of Love songbook? Why is this not as well known as Armando’s shit, or DJ Pierre’s shit?
I think it’s the rarity of the records themselves that have hemmed in Jack Rabbit’s legend from achieving the monstrous proportions his work deserves. There Are Dreams… sells for several hundred dollars, and that’s if you can find a willing seller. Even the boot from Kstarke that appeared in 2007 and includes “Rabbit Trax” and the acid remix of “Only Wanted To Be” sells for nearly $100.
There’s something quasi-religious about a good acid house record, or at least an acidhead’s reaction to it. How some people feel about, say, Barbara Tucker or Loleatta Holloway’s vocals – that’s what how we feel about a solid 303 bassline. It’s the kind of thing you’ll travel across town and stand in line for an hour and wait all night sipping watery drinks amidst bad company to hear. This won’t make sense to your friends, or to you, Unbeliever. True faith never does.
Let Us Have Love (Step By Step) (Club Mix)
Let Us Have Love (Step By Step) (Step By Acid)
One of the many hundreds of Chicago records from this era mastered by Bud Pressner in Gary, Indiana. “Let us Have Love (Step By Step)” was Jack Rabbit’s stab at a “normal” track, or at least that’s how I like to think of it. The vocal is oddly disconnected, like those Italo records in which you can tell the vocalist doesn’t really understand English and is singing the words phonetically. And really with that climbing bassline and spartan chords, it does remind me more of an Italo record than anything else in Jack Rabbit’s catalog.
For the acid remix, you have simple drum patterns and a 303 line – relatively simple by Jack Rabbit standards – vibrating like a rubber band. But note that little 2 note rise buried in the mix that throws the whole thing awry again and then takes over entirely just before the fade at 4:00. This is a more subtle track than the pyrotechnics of “Rabbit Trax” – and still raw as fuck.
Only Wanted To Be (White Label Acid Version)
It wouldn’t be a legend if there wasn’t the rare b-side obscurity. And this is a rarity among rarities. The white label from UK label Westside Records was released with 200 copies to start with and obviously that number has dwindled significantly since 1988. Phuture’s “Your Only Friend” is an obvious reference point with that demonic voice of the River Styx that takes a bit too much satisfaction in calling you out and rattling in the steel ribcage of this incredible track. This is nearly the only track with those creepy vocals from the era that doesn’t sound kitschy today. It sounds terrifying.
The total price for the 3 records mentioned in this piece: $939, per discogs – nearly a thousand dollars for 5 tracks.
People will call that insane (and it is) and unconscionable (and they’re right) – but it’s also real. Unlike practically every other “legend” in the “legendary” House Music re-issue racket, there is no industry behind James Martin. There’s no Jack Rabbit, Inc. There’s not even a cottage industry. There’s just the frenzy of a crowd of acid fanatics and vinyl lovers.