John Corbett interview

Mar.31, 2012


NB. additional info 2019 :  check the new book out by Corbett:

a HILARIOUS study of the 70s!!!!




JOHN CORBETT, writer, critic, art gallerist and musician


Discaholic Corner Interview  —- John Corbett , march 2012.

-Vinyl freak or discaholic?

Technically, I’m a freak.  Which means my love is uncontrollable.  But I’m a music freak, most of all, and I’ll take it as I can get it.  I love my iPod and my CDs, too.  I’m an equal opportunity obsessive.

-Black or colored vinyl?

Generally, like my decaf, I take my vinyl black.


-7” or 12”?

I swing both ways.


-Glossy or matt?

Matte is often my preferred surface, like a hand-silkscreened ESP Ayler, though the sheen of an Impulse original can get my heart racing.


-Stereo or mono?

I’ve never cared.  Give me the music.


-Why do you collect?

It’s how I’m wired.  I buy one thing and immediately start looking for companions, for connections, for more.


-When did it start?

I was 11 years old.  Before that, in reverse order, it was baseball cards, stamps, butterflies, frogs.  Never coins, I don’t care about coins.  But records stuck.  Now I collect art.


-Will it ever stop?

I don’t buy vinyl actively anymore.  I have enough in my collection to constantly surprise myself.  I do love to browse, however.  And I love to buy for other people.

-How do you sort your collection, alphabetical or by genre?

Alphabetical, by genre, but a few labels (FMP, Hat Hut, Bead) all by themselves, and a few specialties segregated, like Swedish and Japanese jazz.


-Will you ever change that order?

Not likely.

-What is your favorite vinyl format?

I like all of them, including 78-rpm.  I have loads of singles, though, and find them always fascinating.


-Is the smell of the vinyl important to you?

Sure, I like the whole package, including the odor.  Unless they’re moldy.  I’m allergic.

-Is the visual aspect important to you?




-How do you rank the following, by importance?

Smell, feel, visual, music, rarity, obscurity, weight, text/ liner notes, weirdness?






Text/liner notes






-What record is closest to sex?

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Theme De Yoyo.


-Which one is no sex at all?

Anything by Men Without Hats.


-What vinyl was the first one you bought for your own cash?

Elton John, Greatest Hits.

-Which one is the latest vinyl you bought for your own cash?

The Louvin Brothers, Satan Is Real.  It was a gift for Jim Dempsey, a real country gentleman.


-How do you find your records?

In stores or other people’s collections.


-Are you as active hunting for vinyls today as 20 years ago?


-What records do I wanna steal from your collection?

Some delicious Italian jazz LPs (Schiano’s If Not Ecstatic We Refund), some El Saturn originals, a Milford Graves/Don Pullen duo with handmade cover, my unique 78-rpm acetates of the George Davis bands from the 1950s, my hand colored original of the Sonic Youth “Kill Your Idols” 7-inch, with B-side “I Killed Christgau With My Big Fucking Dick,” the two first 7-inches by the Ex, my original Black Art LP of Lee Perry’s Double-7, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey’s debut LP on Decca, my original Mbiri copy of Julius Hemphill’s Dogon A.D., and a ton of blank-label reggae singles from the ‘70s.



-Have you ever been carrying boxes of Saturn records in just pyjamas?

You know me well…


-What is so appealing with Sun Ra and Saturn records?

The fact that they made their own, they were real DIY before those letters were ever put together.  And the music is so killer.  And the vinyl is so incredibly rare, in many cases.  There is still much to discover, things on El Saturn that nobody’s seen.  I found a copy of the first Saturn single, “Saturn,” on eBay, but I missed buying it.  I think that might have been the only copy in existence.  I love the way the early Saturns are connected to the ethos of Chicago in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.


-Do you have a complete Saturn collection? Including poetry books and 7”´s?

No, but it’s pretty hard to have all the Saturns.  I’m not sure anyone even really knows what that would mean.  But I’ve got a lot of them, probably, including dupes, about 150 or so.


-You were donating a huge Saturn collection, with written material, film footage and music recently to the University of Chicago, how come?

Because we were just stewards for the material, it needed to be in an institution, for safety, for accessibility.  And for us it was a burden, even though we loved it.  I still have a few keepsakes from it, just discovered a Sun Ra drawing that I didn’t know I had, one that the library had missed!  The original cover design for Other Planes of There.  I’m happy to have it.


-Is that archive material accessible to the public? Can interested people make their own research in that collection?

Yes, it’s absolutely open to the public.  And there are many scholars who have already spent time in it, using it for their research.  Which is especially nice, because Saturn was alternately known as Saturn Research.  Ra and his manager Alton Abraham were very interested in research – they had a study group called Thmei Research, too.


-What is your fav Saturn record?

It changes from month to month.  But I dearly love Bad and Beautiful.


-Which one is the rarest, most uncommon Saturn record you have?

I have a test copy of one of the early singles, which is crazy.  And I would say that When Angels Speak of Love is perhaps the most rare of the regular issues that I have.  I only know a few folks who have copies of it.  Do you?


-What is the most spectacular vinyl find you have ever done?

A single by the Portuguese group the Korean Black Eyes, covering Sly & the Family Stone’s “Higher.”  Found it in the basement of a going-out-of-business store in Lisbon.  Also, finding a copy of the Ping single with Von Freeman and the Andrew Hill Group, which I gave to you!


-What is the least spectacular vinyl find you have ever done?

Men Without Hats, Folk of the ‘80s.

-What records are you still looking for?

Ones I don’t really know about, mostly.  And a very few European improvised music records.  I’d go out of my way for a copy of Derek Bailey’s Taps, but that’s tape, not vinyl.  Also want the ultra-rare Japanese solo Bailey that you’ve got (one I will somehow steal from you, someday!).  Still trying to find a copy of the Brötzmann FMP box that includes a poster with a Paik fragment.  One came up on eBay recently, but went for obscene money.  I could imagine trying to collect all the variants of Ayler’s Spiritual Unity – blue-on-red, orange, screenprinted, offset, black and white, booklet, no booklet, etc. – but I’ve never tried.  Lucky Thompson on ABC-Paramount.  Any of Harry Partch’s Gate 5 originals.  Mainly, I’m looking for things that surprise me.



-Is looking for vinyl with fellow discaholics the most fun you can do with your clothes on?

I’ve never been record shopping in the nude, so it’s hard to compare.  But I would say that listening to records with my fellow discaholics is a rare treat, maybe more fun than hunting.  I’m getting old.  And I’ve paid my dues in record stores.  Now I prefer a living room to pounding the racks.



-What is the first section you hit, while arriving to a vinyl shop, where you have never been before?

First rule:  Hit the wall.  Always look at what’s hanging behind the desk.  I used to shop at Wax Trax in Chicago in the late 1970s, and it was amazing what was strung up around the room on the walls.  There were always goodies that you couldn’t find in the bins.


In the glass display case, below the cash register.


Jazz section, because you can usually tell how the store is organized by looking at how they display their jazz records.  And it will tell you whether there’s going to be anything good anywhere else.

-The section where you would never look in?

I’ve found great shit in the most unexpected places.  Children’s records, I would rarely look there, but you never know…



-Are you aware of the expression “Hit the Wall”?  From a discaholic´s perspective…

I just used it.  It’s a mantra.

-What is your favorite record shop in the world?

These days I love to shop at Dusty Groove America.

Two reasons: it’s a killer record store with great vinyl and an enticing selection of new and old CDs, and it’s right downstairs from my place of employment, so I can visit anytime, day or night.


-Give us a list of your 5 favorite:

Here are some lists, subject to change (at any time)


– Rock records

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

The Fall, Dragnet

The Flying Burrito Brothers, Burrito Deluxe

Michael Hurley, Hi-Fi Snock Uptown

Funkadelic, Cosmic Slop

– Improvised music records

Peter Brötzmann Octet, Machine Gun

Bailey/Parker/Bennink, Topography of the Lungs

Altena/Christmann/Lovens, Weavers

Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Music

Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity


– Best flexi disc releases

The ICP multiple flexi release, which is all five of the best!



– Best listening while cookin

Gene Ammons, Preachin’

Paul Gonsalves, Cookin’

Sam Phillips, The Fan Dance

Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)

Gal Costa, India

– Favorite songs ALL time!

No way, too many possibilities!


– Record labels


Po Torch





– Record label logos

The homemade inner labels for Brötzmann’s BRO releases of For Adolphe Sax and Machine Gun

FMP, circa 1970s

Hat Hut, circa 1979

Black Ark

Aristocrat 78-rpm inner labels


– Record layout artists/ visual artist working with design of vinyl records

Blue Note (classic era covers)

FMP (Brötzmann’s covers as well as the original King Alcohol)

Argo (especially Leroy Winbush)

Whoever designed the American Music 10-inches from the 1950s (probably Bill Russell)

Klaus Baumbärtner



– Jazz writers / critics

Kevin Whitehead

Gary Giddins

Francis Davis

Art Lange

Peter Margasak



-Can discaholism be cured?

Only like a salami.



-How many hours per day do you spend listening to music?

4 or 5.


-How many hours do you spend now per day sorting/ categorizing your records?

Hardly any, maybe 1 hour per week.


-20 years ago?

At least one hour per day.



-Where is your preferred listening experience, at home, in the car, at a live concert, in the bathroom?

Live concert, at home, at a friend’s house, the car, at work, walking with the iPod, in that order.


-Is this interview too long?

Just getting started!


-Which one, according to you, was the very first jazz record?

They say it was Original Dixieland Jazzband, but I wonder if there weren’t some very jazz-like 78s before that…


-Which one, according to you, is the very best jazz record?

Depends on what kind of jazz, but I prefer Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity.

-Is jazz dead (which is reported in the media from time to time)?



-Is there a final document of recorded jazz? Many people is referring to “Ballads” by Derek Bailey to be the final document of jazz…

That’s silly.  There are great jazz records being made right now.


-What is jazz?

I’m not getting too deeply into this here, but it’s a magic potion.  Seriously, there is no simple litmus test for jazz.  It is music made in a particular milieu.  I like the notion that there’s a list of possible, but not absolutely necessary, component parts – swing rhythm, improvisation, blues-oriented melodic language, interplay of solo and ensemble – that might be present in jazz.  But there is also jazz that includes very little of these technical elements, and we know it’s jazz because of the context in which it was made.


-Did Ken Burns capture the history of jazz well, in his series?

Parts of it, yes, but in a very skewed and distorted way, especially the most recent 40 years of the continuing history.


-What book has captured the essence, the soul of jazz, the best?

I don’t believe jazz has an essence, I think it is an organic, flexible, expansive notion.  But I love Kevin Whitehead’s New Dutch Swing because I think it gives such a detailed and nuanced account of a particular jazz scene.  I wish there were more books like that.


-What is your favorite rpm?

I guess I prefer 33 1/3, for convenience’s sake.


-Why is the vinyl, as phenomena, returning now? What is it in vinyl pleasure that attracts people so much?

Because it associates music, an ephemeral thing, with a physical, material object.  And no matter how digital things become, we still love objects…

-Which record can save the world?

I’m afraid the world will not be saved, in the long run.  But Joe McPhee’s Tenor will help slow down its demise.


-Which record will not save the world?

Most of the recent jazz CDs I review.



-How many vinyls per day keeps the doctor away?

Seriously, I believe that listening to records has improved my health, kept me focused and calm, increased my libido, toned my upper body strength, and helped me avoid needing eyeglasses.  Sun Ra told me that I could tell friends from enemies by putting on his music in the background; if a person came in the room and the music got quieter, he said, beware of that person, but if the music got louder, that was a true friend.  Whenever you get in the car, I’ve noticed that the music gets much, much louder!

-Can we stop now? I need to go hunting!

Let’s hit the wall!