70s Portland album ‘Neighborhoods’ gets revamp, critical praise

Special Reports

Artist Ernest Hood remembered as pillar of community

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ernest Hood’s “Neighborhoods” is a nostalgia-focused album that quickly fell to obscurity after it’s initial limited 1975 release. That makes its remaster and re-release by Freedom to Spend records an unlikely success story–one that Pitchfork called “Best New Reissue.”

The album layers found sound, synth, and zither to create a precursor to the ambient genre. It’s an attempt at capturing a collective childhood reminiscence.

That the music has lasting appeal is consistent with the legacy the artist built throughout his life.

“He had to think outside the box because of his disabilities,” Laurel Hood, Hood’s daughter, told KOIN 6 News.

Ernest Hood was a pillar of the Portland community who adapted to varying instruments–seen here playing the zither–when polio inhibited his movements. Photo from 1972 (photo credit: Oregonian/Jim Vincent).

Early in life, Hood had a promising career as a jazz guitarist, cutting his teeth with his brother Bill Hood at Portland jazz clubs like The Chicken Coop in northeast Portland and The Cotton Club on N Vancouver Ave, Laurel said.

Though Ernest Hood’s ability to play guitar became sidelined by polio, Bill went on to a fruitful career as a musician, for acts like Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker.

Hood switched to zither, a lap held string instrument that was easier for him to handle.

Having spent a year of his youth in an iron lung, Hood took a strong interest to radio, as well as observing and treasuring his surroundings, Laurel said.

He was the co-founder of KBOO radio in Portland where his son, Thomas, later became chief engineer.

In addition to music, Hood collected sounds from around Portland, which he recorded using a wire recorder, an analog technology that’s largely been phased out.

Hood would layer the zither music and found sounds — things like crickets chirping, children at play, or a screen door opening — to create an atmospheric musical experience that was only enhanced with the later addition of electronic synthesizer, Thomas said. The album was recorded over the span of about 1969-1974.

“I think he intended to pull people in and to make people focus by putting these sounds, these found sounds that everyone has around them in their neighborhood, all together,” Thomas said.

Hood died in 1990 and was the public face of the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon after post-polio syndrome took away even more of his mobility, his son said.

Interest in the album would not peak again until the age of the internet, when bootleggers spread copies of the original 1,000 pressings across the web. It also gained a cult following of music fans in Russia.

Thomas said he was then contacted at KBOO about the album which spurred the siblings’ search for the original masters.

The reissue of ‘Neighborhoods’ by Ernest Hood sees the material spanning two discs for the vinyl format, giving a much higher quality sound. November 21, 2019 (photo courtesy Freedom to Spend records).

Hood had been an avid archivist of historical sounds and even received an award from Oregon Historical Society for his documentation, Laurel said.

His large sound archive was given to Laurel, who kept it in temperature-controlled storage for many years. The collection was ultimately stored in a shed at Laurel’s vineyard in Yamhill County — the location of Ernest’s childhood farm — where the early masters were finally tracked down.

Russ Gorsline, the original sound engineer for the album, was able to return to work on the reissue, which he used as an opportunity to give the vinyl pressing a much higher quality treatment by spanning it over two discs.

“The new issue, because they’re putting half as much content on each disc, can be much more robust,” said Gorsline, who works for an audio production company in Portland called Rex Post.

He explained the vinyl reissue contains more bass information this time around.

Gorsline said he isn’t surprised the album resonates with modern audiences, adding it still moves him to this day.

It’s appropriate that the album should receive a revival in today’s age, in which micro-genres of music based on the sounds of the past — such as vaporwave — seem to crop up every other week on the internet.

The universality of Hood’s music was expressed in his poetic liner notes, which were faithfully reproduced in the reissue.

“It hardly matters in which neighborhood you sprouted. The games we played, the mocks, the terminology and the feelings we experienced are tantalizingly familiar,” Hood wrote. “How familiar, how indelible the pictures are: aromas of soft velvet days, strong friendships, fears, hates, loves…the music seems a little bittersweet, well…isn’t that the taste of nostalgia?”

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