Tune In, Toke Up & Rock Out

Remembering High Times Records’ one and only rock release.

If you’ve seen the ads for Smoke DZA’s new album Rugby Thompson in our past few issues, you may have thought to yourself: “High Times Records? They have a record label now?” Well, yes — but its current incarnation (run by Nature Sounds head honcho and former HT graphics wiz Devin Horwitz) is actually a revival of an imprint launched a decade ago. The original was discontinued in 2004, but not before putting out a few solid discs, including T.H.C. — The Hip-Hop Collection and an album very near and dear to my heart, High Volume: The Stoner Rock Collection.

Back in 2002, when the stoner rock wave was at its peak, former HT Records president Mike Esterson and I decided to put together a quintessential compilation featuring original tracks from some of the genre’s top bands. A number of lesser-known but deserving groups (such as Bad Wizard, Suplecs, Sea of Green and Bottom) were quick to jump on board, while other, bigger names (like Clutch, Orange Goblin and High on Fire) took a bit more convincing. And then there was Corrosion of Conformity, who — being at the height of their commercial success — held up production of the record by almost a year while their lawyers and label execs rewrote the contract four times.

Meanwhile, I was keeping busy with the art direction, designing the overall package and scheduling a photo shoot for the cover. With my famous friend Mistress Juliya — host of the Fuse channel’s popular metal show, Uranium — graciously consenting to be my model, I was sure we had a hit on our hands. I hired a photographer, booked some time at Gig Lizzy rehearsal studios in midtown Manhattan, and proceeded to pull off one of the sexiest rock ‘n’ roll shoots ever.

The shots were so hot, in fact, that I decided to turn the CD booklet into a foldout centerfold of Juliya. But just as I was finalizing the design to ship to the printer, I got a call from her lawyer saying that I couldn’t use the photos. It seems that despite her assurances to the contrary, Juliya’s contract with Fuse forbade her from doing anything associated with illegal drugs. If I went ahead with the photos, she’d most likely lose her job, and we could face a lawsuit.

After some tense negotiations, I was granted permission to use the shots, on one condition: I couldn’t show Juliya’s face. So much for using star power to boost sales; instead, we’d have to rely on pure sex appeal. Since her face was out of the question, I put her crotch on the cover instead — more specifically, the pot leaf tattoo just above her … um … you get the idea.

With the sleeve art finished and the last contracts signed, the project went into production at last. When the first batch of finished CDs came in, I was beyond proud. All the hard work had paid off — I’d produced my first album, and it looked and sounded perfect. And with the killer slogan “Tune In, Toke Up, Rock Out,” all that remained was to get the word out. But that, I soon discovered, would be the final, fatal problem.

Just before the album’s release, Esterson took a bath on one of his other business ventures, and thus so did the promotional budget for High Volume. Instead of taking out ads in all the major music magazines, we could only run ads in High Times. So, despite great reviews and two years of effort, the compilation never really made it out of the gate.

Shortly thereafter, the label folded — that is, until now. Hopefully, this time around, HT Records will take off … as for High Volume, I’ve long since accepted its status as nothing more than an obscure cult classic.

High Volume is currently available on Amazon and iTunes.

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