In Arlington, the Eight-Track Cartridge Lives! No, Seriously. Just Ask Cheap Trick.
That Cheap Trick eight-track cartridge Stephen Colbert was holding up last week? Made in Arlington. Hand to God. By mom-and-pop's KTS Productions, to be specific -- though you'd never know it from reading recent stories concerning Cheap Trick's expensive gimmick, which'll set you back $30 should you pre-order a copy of the band's latest, The Latest. A Globe and Mail story about the eight-track from last Friday's been making the rounds -- it bounced onto BoingBoing Sunday -- but it only says that the band's manager, David Frey, "finally found a small plant in Dallas, Tex., for the retro-fit."
It took a few calls, but finally Frey's office got back to us: Not Dallas, sorry, but Arlington. Which is news to the Texas Music Office, which doesn't even list KTS Productions in its Texas music business directory.
Turns out, Kathy and Dan Gibson may be the last of the eight-track-tape-makers -- other local CD and cassette replicators to whom Unfair Park spoke earlier this week found just the concept unfathomable, given its demise 'round 1988. Said one old-timer out in Fort Worth, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of." Dan and Kathy Gibson, who run KTSP, would most assuredly disagree -- and they've got Cheap Trick's business to prove it.
"I guess they just went to the Web site," Kathy tells Unfair Park, giving her first interview since news of the Cheap Trick eight-track started spreading. "Not a lot of people do that, but they contacted us, and we said we could help them. That was about a little over a month ago, and it was very exciting -- one of those things we'd been hoping would happen. We're trying to bring kind of an obsolete format back from the dead, bring it into the 21st century. So, yeah, it was exciting. That's one of those thing where you have to shout a little bit when it happens."
Initially, the Gibsons were simply into the eight-track collecting-and-selling business, which they started about 11 years ago over at Kate's Track Shack. Most of that collection came from Bucks Burnett, the former proprietor of 14 Records on Greenville Avenue and, once upon a long time ago, one of the subjects of the So Wrong They're Right, a doc about the last of the format's true believers. (In 1998, Burnett's band, The Volares, released its debut on eight-track as well. But when I asked Burnett earlier this week who might have made the Cheap Trick tape, he was stumped, as he too didn't think anyone still made 'em.)
"We sell tapes all over the world," Kathy says. "All kinds of stuff. They're just fun, and we've met so many people through the eight-track. We've met people all over the world. Last year, we sold we sold one to Russia."
She says it was just natural to move from collecting to manufacturing, which she insists wasn't difficult -- they already had the shells and the other necessary "pieces and parts." Besides, this was her dream all along, as she puts it: "to see new eight-tracks being produced." It didn't take long to get some business -- from Tesla, for whom the Gibson's produced a version of the covers collection Real to Reel.
"It's time-consuming work," Kathy says. "One of the things we kind of had a little issue with working through with the Cheap Trick folks was trying to put the songs in the order they wanted and in an order we needed to have them so they didn't have a ton of extra time at the end of the tracks. That's how it was done back in the day: You try to keep your first and last tracks the same as the album, but sometimes you have to tweak the program so everything comes together smoothly."
At the moment, Cheap Trick's taking pre-orders for The Latest eight-track -- and Kathy warns it's a small number, so hop to should you want one of the collectibles. (Frey has suggested in several articles that the item is really more of a novelty intended to get the attention of radio-station programmers who'd likely blow off yet another Cheap Trick release at this late date in the band's career.) But if the band needs more, she says, "we'll produce more."
Because, see, she and Dan believe this to be a potentially thriving business. And why not? Players are plentiful and inexpensive -- eBay's loaded with the suckers. It's the Gibsons' preferred format: Kathy says that's pretty much all she and Dan listen to when they're out working in the garage, and she's got a player in the dashboard -- how very spirit of '76. And though media coverage has so far neglected to mention the makers of The Latest, word has spread through the music business that, believe it or not, there's somebody in Texas still making the eight-track. So business is picking up, slowly but surely, and the Gibsons are now on a quest for better manufacturing equipment to meet the need.
"Sure we're hoping to see more," she says. "We've already been contacted by several other folks who want their CDs put out on eight-track. At this point, they're smaller acts, I would say, but Cheap Trick's doing interviews, and, as they go on tour and promote it, I think we'll see more. So we're looking to get molds and dies to make the shells ourselves, and we're always looking for people who have that old technology. We're looking for any of the old things that made the eight-track the eight-track."