How a lost musical hard disk in 1988 boosted Tracy Chapman’s career

Originally published at: How a lost musical hard disk in 1988 boosted Tracy Chapman's career | Boing Boing


i could not imagine walking onto a stage in front of 80k disappointed people.


So her set hadn’t included Fast Car already? That seems odd. Or did she do it again but differently?


She played the same set twice, but this time in front of a larger crowd.


The song gets better every listen. This version in the post above, where she’s almost inaudible for the first few words, seems to literally encapsulate her “finding her voice.” Here’s a six minute listen:


I’m surprised that, with so many musicians on site, that they couldn’t put together an impromptu jam with Stevie Wonder. It seems such a missed opportunity.Still, massive props to Tracy Chapman for putting herself out there like that.


Stevie Wonder could charm the audience just himself and a pair of spoons, but it sounds like the loss of the disk hit him hard.

UB40 were finishing their set on the main stage, and Wonder’s equipment was set up, plugged in and ready to be rolled on after a 10-minute act on a side stage. He was about to walk up the ramp to the stage when it was discovered that the hard disc of his synclavier, carrying all 25 minutes of synthesized music for his act, was missing. He said he could not play without it, turned round, walked down the ramp crying, with his band and other members of his entourage following him, and out of the stadium.


Others may have only planned to play “plugged in”… something that would have taken a while to set up I imagine. (Or perhaps some “plug in” bands can’t do impromptu.) Stevie Wonder’s setup would have been simple: He; his keyboard; accompanying hard disk music. With just her voice and guitar Tracy filled a huuuuuge gap in the lineup. As I recall, she was one of the few that formed the vanguard of the resurgence of folk music.


Always loved this song. A lot of time I don’t prefer live versions, but this is fantastic.


A hard disc with 25 minutes of music in 1988. It must have been the size of a car tire and weighed 50 pounds. I wonder how it was lost.


I thought it implausible, but it was the hard-disk with the patches and sequences for his Synclavier musical instrument, so it is very plausible.

((It wasn’t recorded or sampled audio data, it was data with instructions for the synth about making what audio when). Our Synclavier in 88 was a standard “full height” drive bay, so 3+1⁄4 inches (82.6 mm) high, 5+3⁄4 inches (146.1 mm) wide, and up to 8 inches (203.2 mm) deep. Most of our work was saved on Floppies, so a hard-drive of just 30MB would save some swapping of disks over the course of a set.))

Over the next several sets enough stellar band musicians offered their support that Stevie Wonder did later go on and perform with an impromptu band before the end of the event.


… and cost a million dollars :grimacing:


A friend posted this about a week ago and I’ve re-watched it 4-5 times since then. Goddamn.She doesn’t falter.


It seems to me that over the course of the 80s, there were ever more women singer-songwriters coming to prominence and that by the late 80s, it paved the way for artists like Chapman or Sinead O’Connor, among others, to get the recognition they deserved, but might have been over looked…


I’ve always considered this a nearly perfect song. Wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it without the drums sweeping in. Turns out the song doesn’t need them at all, and she filled that stadium on voice, guitar, and talent. I love this song. Happy to have learned more about it.


Less than a year before that she was doing free shows at the Nameless Coffeehouse in Cambridge. I remember going to see her a couple of times, and trying to talk her into doing a weekend at our college cofeehouse. She didn’t want to go to Albany. I went back and told our manager, you have to try to get her now, in a year you won’t be able to.

Nanci Griffith, Christine Lavin, Cheryl Wheeler, Patty Larkin, Shawn Colvin, others whose names I can’t quite get a hold of after several decades. There was indeed a lot of talent floating around in those days.


I wonder how much Kate Bush inspired them all?

Also… Nanci Griffith…

I miss her.


Stevie Wonder did play later, still unannounced, after Whitney Houston (and a short Salt-n-Pepa “set”).

According to gossip he was not a happy man though.


Yeah. We had her at our coffeehouse for a weekend in c. 1985. She was wonderful. She did a great show and she was one of the nicest people ever.


It wasn’t prerecorded music. He had a fully rehearsed set with full band, but was missing the drive(s) with sample data for his synclavier II. He has always been into bleeding edge electronic instruments. And the synclavier allowed him to tour with all the sounds that were previously on TONTO, a room sized system that he had to travel to for recordings .

And being blind, he’s so at the mercy of instrument techs, which makes it that much worse.

I stumbled over him demoing the synclavier on The Cosby Show a couples year’s earlier - but it was his main rig for a long time.

They could have plopped him at a piano and he would have killed, but I could see not wanting to wing it for a Mandela memorial and he had to be pissed and heartbroken, he was at the height of his career when it comes to concert draw. And he did come on and play later, probably with an hour or so of backstage rehearsal of a modified set.