Some years back, an unusual and astonishing album began circulating among record collectors and fans of lo-fi music. Will Louviere was one of the first to hear it. A Bay Area vinyl dealer, Louviere is an authority on private-press LPs from the 1960s and 1970s—records that were self-produced and released by amateur musicians and destined, in most cases, for the bins of thrift stores and flea markets. In a year, Louviere and his fellow collectors across the country might buy one thousand of these obscure albums between them. Of those, maybe ten would be artistically interesting. Maybe one would astonish.
This record had been sent to Louviere by a collector, but still, his expectations weren’t high. The group was a duo, Donnie and Joe Emerson. The cover featured a studio portrait of them: teenagers with feathered brown hair, faces dappled with acne, sincere eyes meeting the camera. They were posed against the swirly blue backdrop you’d see in a school photo, with the album’s title—Dreamin’ Wild—written above them in red bubble script. Both boys were dressed flamboyantly in matching spread-collared white jumpsuits, like the outfit Evel Knievel wore vaulting over Snake River Canyon, though the jumpsuits had name patches on the chest, like a mechanic’s work shirt, an odd counter to the attempt at showbiz slickness. Donnie, posed in the front, held a Les Paul and looked a little stoned.