Old Camp Swig record gets new spin, this time on CD

"Shir Mi-libeinu: A Song From Our Heart" was recorded during the summer of 1984 in a makeshift recording studio in a staff cabin at UAHC Camp Swig. Song leader Gordon Lustig wrote about half of the songs on it and co-produced it.

This being 1984, it came out on vinyl. And by the time producers were finished mixing it, camp was over, so even some of the campers who appear on it never got a copy. A change of directors caused marketing to fall by the wayside (these were the days pre-Internet).

After all the effort put into it by Lustig and his song leader colleagues Barry Diamond, Jason Gwasdoff, Sim Glaser and producer Michael Levin, "we always were frustrated that people didn't hear it," Lustig said.

Now, 17 years later, "Shir Mi-libeinu" has been granted a second life on compact disc.

And finally, those people plus a new generation of people will get to hear it.

Lustig, now 41 and living in Van Nuys, remembered well the recording sessions for the original. The cabin of a staff member was made into a recording studio. With the exception of a bit of trumpet and drums that was added later, the recording was all done by campers and staff.

Lustig recalled that when he and Glaser were writing the arrangements, they added whichever instrument they wanted.

"We rented whatever we needed," he said. "We had a lot of freedom to do whatever we wanted."

Although they put down the obligatory tracks of the entire camp — which has 400 campers singing at once — to capture the camp atmosphere, they aimed for a more professional sound, so most of the CD is sung by soloists. On it, are Swig classics like "Ten Lo Mishelo," "Od Yishama," "Lo Yarei-u," and "Shir Hama-alot."

The master tapes from the recording sessions that summer were put into the safe at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations headquarters in San Francisco.

But when Levin, a San Francisco media producer who does Swig/Newman's promotional videos, asked for them several years later, they had disappeared.

"I went through the whole basement under their building on Market Street, as well as camp itself," Levin said. "We never turned them up."

Luckily, Levin had the foresight to make backup copies of the masters. And about three years ago, he felt it was finally about time to dust them off.

Initially, he said, there was scant interest in resuscitating an album that was seen by some as a relic. The camp administration did not contribute, and even some of the musicians who appear on it "felt they had moved on, and asked 'What are you doing that for?'" he said. "I wanted to do it because I wanted to do it, but I didn't care what other people thought. I knew there was a demand out there."

Calling it a "labor of love," Levin did it on his own time, for no money.

While he has an editing studio, he had to track down equipment to do the initial transfer of the master tapes.

Luckily, he had also saved the unmixed tapes. "In one case, a tune was so degraded, because the tape falls apart as it sits, and it had fallen apart," he said.

As it turns out, Levin was right about the demand. Randee Friedman, president of the San Diego-based Sounds Write Productions Inc., which is handling the marketing of the CD (www.soundswrite.com), said it was selling extremely well.

Friedman was also at camp the summer of 1984, as the wife of the camp doctor.

For the rerelease, she compiled into a booklet the print work on the CD cover, which includes the music for the songs as well as the chords.

"A lot of people who had been part of camp over the years buy it for nostalgia, or they want their kids to have it," she said. Then there are the campers who go now, whose parents want to get them jazzed before camp begins."

Sounds Write is also selling "Shir L'Yom Chadash: A Song for a New Day," the Camp Swig CD that was released last year.

Josh Miller, who was one of the producers of "Shir L'Yom Chadash," said the money from that disc helped to pay for the cost of this one. And the sales of this CD will go into a fund that will pay for camp music projects in the future.

He too was excited about the rerelease of "Shir Mi-Libeinu," although his participation in it was nominal in comparison with "Shir L'Yom Chadash."

Lustig said it's strange to have something he did so long ago get a second life, even though the work he did back then is still remembered. When he attends Jewish music events, he said, people who remember him as a song leader from 20 years ago sometimes approach him.

"I just want to tell you that the songs you wrote on that album are some of the best," they tell him.

"It's so complimentary," he said, "that they're so excited about the stuff I was doing when I was 19."

Camp Swig will sponsor a reunion for its Bay Area alumni at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 25. It is also plans simultaneous ones in Los Angeles — at Temple Leo Baeck, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd. — and in Boston and Jerusalem.

For information, email 2001reunion@home.com or call (415) 392-7080.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."