58-year-old folk musician John Gorka offered music fans a chance to step inside a time machine with his latest release, Before Beginning: The Unreleased I Know – Nashville, 1985. The album, which was released in July 2016 with Red House Records, consists of recordings from when Gorka was 25 years old. Prior to this summer, the material wasn’t available to the public, but it had a journey of its own.
“Well, the tapes kind of traveled around from Nashville to Pennsylvania to New York City, where I was living at the time, and then I took them back to Pennsylvania,” said Gorka, who spoke to the News-Press from his home in Minnesota.
“Eventually, when I moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, I sent them to my manager’s house in Michigan and a few years ago he brought them out here to Minnesota. And they were in the garage for while and I said ‘Maybe I should see if these things will still play.’”
He took the tapes to Rob Genadek at The Brewhouse Recording Studio in Minnesota, who “baked” the tapes with a hair dryer so that the magnetic particles would not flake off. Then they transferred what was on the tapes to a digital format.
“Then, when we listened to them, we thought ‘Hey, this sounds pretty good.’ And so we made a new mix of it…I thought the tracks had a lot of life to them and it might be interesting for people to give it a listen,” Gorka said. “I’m never going to sound like that again and there was a lot of nice playing on the record. So it was almost like mixing somebody else’s record.
“It almost didn’t seem like me. It had been so long since I had listened to the original mixes.” The songs on Gorka’s latest release, which were versions of songs that he would eventually record for his debut album I Know, got shelved because they didn’t live up what he wanted to hear.
There’s a theory from the radio host and producer Ira Glass that artists go into their chosen fields because they have good taste and the things that they like eventually inspire them to try to make something of their own. But then the artist is faced with the dilemma that what they are making doesn’t match the ideal or standard of the art that inspired them to create in the first place.
“I think back when I was trying to make my first record, I thought it was good at the time, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right kind of good,” Gorka said. “So I was just kind of finding my way in music and the recording world and all that, so it got set aside and I knew I had the tapes, but I didn’t know that they’d ever come out as a record.
“But in the end I thought it was worth a listen and I think there’s a lot of life on the tracks. And it’s different enough from what came out on I Know that it’s kind of an alternate universe. Of what could’ve been.”
Gorka, who is working on new material (he said his favorite place to be is in the middle of a song), received a warm reception from his fans, many of whom have been on board since I Know. “It’s gotten a good reception,” Gorka said. “I think in the end I probably made the best decision back then, but I thought that there was enough good back then that people who liked I Know would like this as well.”
Gorka said that he doesn’t know how much of Before Beginning: The Unreleased I Know – Nashville, 1985 he’ll play at his show on Saturday, Dec. 10 at The Birchmere. He is co-billing with Cheryl Wheeler, so the show will be more a jam than a set, but he expects to play at least some of the songs.
• For more information about John Gorka, visit johngorka.com.