Save Yourself

There is a scene in Almost Famous in which young William Miller, a stand-in for the director and former Rolling Stone scribe Cameron Crowe, discovers a secret stash of LPs. In a different film, it could have been a stack of Playboys--the way William caresses each cover, reveling at the art inside, his reflection in the vinyl. It's a scene that would be lost on anyone under 20, anyone who grew up without classic cover art and fold-out albums, anyone who hasn't handled their music delicately and with both hands. It would not be lost on James "Big Bucks" Burnett.

Burnett is a rock-and-roll fanatic who has made the curation and creation of that art form his life's work: In the '80s he worked for former Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane; later he became one of the foremost collectors of all things Tiny Tim and hosted a massive festival celebrating Mr. Ed called "Edstock"; in the '90s he ran the supremely quirky 14 Records on Lower Greenville, which stocked rare first pressings alongside National Enquirers; in 1998, under the name The Volares, he released his own well-received record of original material, The Night We Taught Ourselves to Sing. On Wednesday, May 18, The Volares release their second offering, Godvertising, 11 tracks of lovingly re-created late-'60s and early-'70s rock, featuring contributions from such friends as Joe Ely and Small Faces' Ian McLagan.

It took seven years to write the songs on Godvertising and three years to record it, in a small cottage in England as well as Dallas' Echo Lab. But upon first glance, what is most apparent is the painstaking attention to album art detail: a 20-page color insert (one page is pictured above); an all-paper digipack instead of a cheap jewel case; no bar code, no FBI warning.

"Why did I do it? Because I care," says Burnett, who shelled out hundreds of extra dollars for the packaging, which includes art by Allison V. Smith and Guy Juke. After all, Burnett was raised on albums like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which came with posters and stickers of the band, albums like the Stones' Exile on Main Street, which came with 12 postcards. "I'm so tired of lame-ass packaging that I won't be a part of it." It's not that he thinks all albums stink; Burnett, for instance, loves the album art of Ryan Adams' new Cold Roses, a bas-relief flower that opens up to reveal a lovely sunset photo. "He did everything right," he tells me one afternoon as he sits at Deep Ellum's Allgood Café. "Except for the FBI warning label. Man, those FBI warning labels ruin an album." Burnett comes to the Allgood almost once a day, but he has started something new on Saturdays. That's when he holds his Rock 'n' Roll Redemption Sale, featuring crates of his CDs and albums for sale. "Most of it's gold," he says of the table of rare and collectible items. "But some of it's crap." He holds up a live DVD of 'NSync. "This is crap," he says with a shrug. "But hey, it'll sell."

As you might have guessed, Burnett is a bit of an eccentric, although one charming enough to become good friends with Jimmy Page, whose Web site he's currently handling. Not surprisingly, Burnett chose an eccentric motto for his band. He calls them "the smallest band in the world."

"No one has ever wanted to claim last place in rock and roll," he explains. "If any bands wanna come around and say they're the smallest band, we'll out-small their ass so quickly they won't know what out-smalled them."

On May 18, Burnett hosts a CD release party for Godvertising at the Sons of Hermann Hall. Because he doesn't like to perform--"I suffer not so much from stage fright, but from stage disinterest"--he's asked bands like Barry Kooda & the Big Guns, Codger, The Aspens and Shibboleth to interpret his songs for him in an Austin-style hoot night. That works well for a band that draws from disparate influences and likes to keep its rock music fun and unpredictable.

"I initially designed this band to be a pretend band," Burnett says. "And I don't give a fuck about making it in the business." He adds, "Even if we somehow went mega-platinum, we'd still be the smallest band in the world."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sarah Hepola