Discaholic Corner interview series , april 2012
Are you an official discaholic? Is there such a thing?
There certainly is such a thing. And I admit to being one, although I have been in remission for the past several years, due to financial contraints. My days of perusing rare record lists has been put on hold while I am paying for my kids’ education. Now my daughter has only four years of university left, so I can see “the light at the end of the tunnel,” as it were.
What else would you call yourself?
Well, at one point Thurston started introducing me as an “archivist” and I thought that had a nice professional ring to it. Consequently I have been using that term to describe myself when such things are called for. But, truly, discaholic is a lot closer to the fact.
Does format matters?
Sure. It is very difficult for me to form any sort of emotional attachment to a CD. Unless the packaging is spectacular I keep thinking I should just send any CDs I actually want to hear regularly to someone who cuts lathes, so that they can be filed properly and exist in a format that makes fucking sense.
Glossy or matt?
Well, I ususually prefer the feel of a matte jacket, but if I’m buying a used record there are times where it’s all but impossible to remove the price sticker (especially an older one) without fucking up the cover. This is a real dilemma. You need to use just the right amount of lighter fluid to massage the damn thing off without staining the area underneath. There are certainly a lot of great looking glossy covers, but I usually associate such things with dogshit labels like CTI, where the glossy visuals could almost trick you into trying to listen to one of their crappy Grover Washington albums. What I reall prefer is the old semi-glass finish on ‘60s LPs. Although UK ‘60s pressings are glossy as fuck. Hmmm…I guess can’t really go one way or the other on this one.
Stereo or mono?
Depends when its from, but I usually prefer the power of a mono mix. Even on a record like “Axis Bold As Love” where the panning plays an important role in the stereo sound, the mono mix (which I think was German only) is still a beautiful thing to hear. On lush psych material, however, the stereo is better. I only have one functional ear left, but even I can appreciate such things.
Limited or unlimited?
Unlimited is an illusion. What you generally want is a first pressing of anything, and that is always a limited proposition.
photo: thurston…. monica l….byron
When did you start collecting?
I started when I bought my first LP, “Hey Little Cobra and Other Hot Rod Hits” by the Rip Chords In April, 1964. I never looked back from that moment on. And whilst I have sold my entire collection more than once, I’ve always held on to that LP. Which I paid an extra buck to get in stereo, as the pricing scheme in those days demanded. The mono sounds good too.
Was vinyl the first thing you collected?
Hard to remember exactly. But I have the feeling some of my other manias developed at the same time. My passions as a lad ran to Playboy magazines (along with any items related to them) and slot cars.
Can discaholism be cured ?
It would crazy to even try.
What was the first record you gave to your kids?
I started off both my kids with Michael Hurley’s “Hi Fi Snock Uptown.” It seemed like a very lazy way to get them interested in simple, easily understandable tunes. But I let them both go whichever way they wanted after that, and have supplied them with ample selections of records in whatever genre they express an interest in. It is my contention that almost every genre has its highpoints. 95% (or more) is shit, but the good stuff is good. If you help your kids to understand what is good, it will save them a lot of heartbreak and purchases that are soon consigned to the dustbin of history.
By genre, which record is the best hidden secret/ forgotten masterpiece in:
LEONARD LONERGAN / HANNIBAL PETERSON “The Universe Is Not For Sale”
Smackdab Records SD1001 (1981)
(there are so many, but here’s the last one I played)
Pygmy Unit “Signals from Earth” no label LPS-3460 (1974)
Motor Boys Motor s/t UK Albion ALB-111 (1982)
Soggy s/t FR Memoire/Neuve MN-002 (2008)
The Decayes “Ich Bin Ein Spiegelei” Imgrat 2400-001 (1978)
Do you look differently at collecting records today, when you have a shop/ label?
I’ve been working in record shops off and on since 1969, and releasing records since 1984, so I do feel a little jaded sometimes. But it’s always exciting to open a new box of shit from a distributor, or to have someone bring in a used record I’ve never seen before. Even if it’s somewhat dull looking, I just have to hear at least a bit of it. Obviously some things are hard to get worked up about, but it’s always cool to hear new stuff.
How do the ultimate customer in your shop look like? How does he/ she …acts… dress… talk… walk…smell???????
The best customers are discaholic women. I mean, I enjoy shooting the shit with any customers who actually know a lot about records and are interested in things they don’t know about yet. But there’s something about a woman who comes in, picks out a big stack of vinyl to take to the listening station, then comes up with a few great things t buy. I never really knew any such gals when I was younger. About as close as I can recall was when my highschool girlfriend, Sharon, read a review of the Prestige two-fer for King Pleasure in Creem, and said, “this sounds like something you’d like.” Even in the pre-cassette days I would make mix tapes for girls I liked, of course they’d have to come over to hear them on my Uher. And I’d take dates to concerts, but there were really no women who were into the stuff the same way I was. My wife and I have been together for 32 years now, and I’m sure some of that stems from the fact she had Fugs records in her collection when we first met. Ha. As to scent, I haven’t actually sniffed any of these customers, but most of ‘em look like tough chicks, so they probaby smell like musk. And there aren’t many of them, but they are always a pleasure to behold. Alternately, I like guys who bought a lot of records off me over the years who then decide to sell them for whatever reason. A guy came in a few weeks back with a huge pile of Majora, Siltbreeze, Shock and that kind of stuff, all of which he’d bought from Forced Exposure mailorder. It’s always great to look through those kinds of things.
Why would you give a discount ever?
I give discounts on used records to any regular who doesn’t have a crappy attitude and actually buys a good batch of stuff. I like to encourage such people, and the mark-up on used stuff gives me plenty of leeway.
Who would you throw out of your shop immediately?
I don’t really throw anybody out. I should sometimes, but unless somebody’s stealing stuff, I try to refrain. The worst customers are guys who come in with their girlfriends and try to impress them by loudly talking incorrectly about various things. Some guys just confuse me. We have a lot of good shit on our store. Thurston and I both dump our weeds there, and I have many old customers from previous stores who do the same. I price the shit reasonably, and yet there is a whole group of mooks who come in, look at literally every record and never buy a thing. I understand there are no steals there –- I mean, I know what ‘most every fucking record is (at least conceptually) and what it’s worth, so there are no super bargains. But I feel like –- shit, man, what the fuck are yo looking for? There is so much great music you’re flipping right past, and I know you don’t have all of it. What the fuck are you after?
Can customers be taught?
Sure. In store play is good. And there are guys who come and quiz me about stuff. What’s a good Mingus record to start with? I really like Can, but I hate Amon Duul. What of this Krautrock would I like? I like Cromagnon, is there any other psych like that? I’m always happy to point in what I think is the right direction, and generally I’ll tell them if the record doesn’t measure up the way I said they can bring it back for full credit. Thankfully, most people who bother going to record stores have a pretty active interest in music, or so it seems.
At home: alphabetical or by genre?
What record is closest to sex?
Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats” 45 or the Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good & Evil” 12” version
Which one is no sex at all?
Mauricio Kagel’s “Acustica” (DGG) or William Burroughs’ “Call Me Burroughs” (original French edition from the English Bookstore)
What vinyl gems are you still looking for?
Oh my god…so many. I recently got the record I’d had on my want list the longest, the German press of “Witchi Tai To” single by Topo D Bil. I’d love to get some of Kevin Ayers’ BBC transcription discs. I also need the Dragon Brothers LP on ESP-West and the test press of the Jacques Coursil ESP album. First press of Fahey’s first LP. Residents’ “Third Reich & Roll” box. Bird Notes LPs. The list in endless.
What record are you definately NOT looking for?
Rick Derringer’s “All American Boy.” Thurston must have dumped 7 different pressings of that at the store. I’m sick of seeing it.
Are you at all looking for any Swedish vinyls? Finnish vinyls?
God who isn’t? Any Silence, Caprice, Gump, etc, I don’t have. Lotsa early MNW. I think there’s a Vesala I still need. I had a fairly complete Swedish punk collection at one point, but I broke it up in the ‘90s. I think I still have some Finnish stuff – Lama, Widows, Terveet Kadet, and so on. A really great one is that first KTMK record.
How do you find your records? Or do the vinyls finds you?
As noted before, I mostly just see what comes through the store. Although folks do still call me to buy collections, so I see those too. When I buy large piles of stuff, I usually put a few things aside for further perusal. Should be getting Jack Rose’s collection next week. Probably some interesting stuff in that. But know a lot of musicians and they all know I’ll pay them as much as I can for stuff, so I do get to go through some extraordinary material. Most folks only get rid of this stuff when they have to, so I try to give them a real price for the shit no matter how much there is. I’m actually happy when someone brings in stuff with a price sticker still on it, and the shit is solid enough that I can actually pay them more than they paid for them. You need to reward good taste.
Describe a perfect shopping/ hunting day!
Well, all my friends keep telling me about Japan, but I haven’t been there since the ‘70s. Probably my best overall day happened in ’89. My wife and I went down to Australia and New Zealand for 3 months, right before our son was born. Before leaving I had asked my friend, Bruce Milne, who ran the Au Go Go store/label in Melbourne what records he wanted. I sent a couple of boxes of singles down to him, and when we arrived he handed me about 5 grand. Bruce had just bought another record store and he took me in one night and said, “take anything you want.” The place had a lot of Euro improv stuff, mostly second tier, but interesting titles on Ring, Ego, Mood, Calig and the like. Anyway, a few weeks later we went to Sydney and stayed with a guy named Simon Longeran who edited a fanzine, B-Side, I wrote for. He pointed me to some stores downtown and there was one place where I spent two full days. In ’89 people hadn’t really started collecting prog or folk or free jazz, and this place had full bins, plus two rows of understock that weren’t in the bins. Because of the VAT in Australia, I could get the records shipped out of country for the same price as if I bought them there, so I pulled out about 300 LPs from the place in two days. The guy gave me an insane discount and I ended up with all kinds of crazy shit – Rainbow Generator, Fringe Benefit LPs, C.O.B. LPs, just fucking insane. My wife just left me there and went around to bookstores. It was pretty fine. Craziest thing was when we were in New Zealand we went down to the bottom of the South Island, and there was a bookstore that had the two volumes of the “Chess Genesis Box” didn’t have. How the fuck they ended up there I’ll never know. But that was choice. Also picked up a signed copy of Wyndham Lewis’ “Apes of God” there. Good times! Ha.
Who is Father Yod?
Tom Baker. Health food nut and cult leader from L.A. The guy died in a hang-gliding accident! Amazing. Sky Saxon was one of his followers, and after that Capt Trip box set came out, I heard Sky had some of the singles that came with it. I got his email and wrote him, not remembering that in those days my email read “Father Yod.” He freaked out. Thankfully, I was able to placate him and still got a bunch o the singles. But I’d started using the name when I put out the Spaceman 3’s “Taking Music to Take Drugs” LP. It had originally been planned for Forced Exosure (FE 9), but they signed with an American label and rather than have to hassle that out. I decided to do it as a boot. On Father Yod. Around that same time I was doing a radio show at Harvard and MIT called ‘Father Yod Presents Mystic Eyes’. Our theme song was Stackwaddy’s version of “Mystic Eyes’”and “Father Yod” was my engineer, aka Conrad Capistran (later of Sunburned and Sound of Pot).
Who is Arthur?
Arthur was an L.A.-based free tabloid that Thurston & I did the “Bull Tongue” column for, I believe the name was taken from a 1960’s female haircut.
What records do I wanna steal from your collection?
I dunno. You got the silkscreened cover test press of Ornette’s ESP LP? You were at the Yod space that time and didn’t steal anything as I recall. There’re some good recs there, but probably nothing you don’t have. Weirdly, Pinotti has been bugging me about my copy of Elysian Fields, which I don’t even like. What else? Soundtrack to Robert Downey’s “Pound” is a good one. You could tease O’Rourke with that. I used to have a pretty complete set of US, AUS, & Swedish punk singles. And yeah, I mean complete-as-known-at-that-time. But I had to dump them in the early ‘90s when my wife was out of work for a year. Pre-Ebay. Bummer. Still, probably my craziest records are obscuro punk things. My free jazz stuff is extensive, but not that insane. I have the same Ra wants as everybody – Celebrations for Dial Tunes, a clean Antique Blacks, some singles. But you’ve seen it all at this point, sir. Might be some ‘60s stuff, although I also did a huge weed of that stuff when money was required. That, however, is one of the great things about records. I mean, you need 50 thousand bucks to get by for a year, you can pull a couple of boxes of records and make it happen. They are just the greatest!
What is the most spectacular vinyl find you have ever done?
Weird one, but I started working for Rhino Records in Westwood (L.A.) in 1981. I had been going there as a customer since moving to L.A. that year. Nels Cline was the indie buyer and at that time I was getting a promo copy of every record that Rough Trade distributed in the US. The sister of my an old girlfriend had opened Rough Trade in SF, and I would help them out with promo shit in L.A., so I got a huge box of crap (or two) every week. The fact that I was bringing in as-yet-unreleased import stuff every week made an impression on Nels and Steve Wynn, who also worked there. We became friendly, and when Steve was leaving to do the Dream Syndicate, I was hired to take his place. I’d never been to the bathroom there, but the first time I went in the whole room was covered with Father Yod and Ya Ho Wha LP covers. I’d been buying these in the ‘70s when I lived in SF, but there were a bunch I’d never seen. I went up to the front and asked my work partner that night, the pianist Richard Grossman, what the story was. He said, “Well, we just like to have crazy LP sleeves up. But those ones are getting kinda old.” He told me if I could replace them with other nutty ones, I could have whatever was there for 50 cents apiece. In a week I had the whole bathroom redecorated. When I moved back to Boston in ’84, I ended up trading the LPs for a Volvo station wagon with the dealer, Chuck Warner.
What is the least spectacular vinyl find you have ever done?
At the first FMU record fair I found a copy of the second Harry Bertoia record for $80 about three months before Ron Lessard scored those many boxes of ‘em from his widow.
Or, upgrading a copy of Robbie Basho’s Wyndham Hill LP.
Is looking for vinyls with fellow discaholics the most fun you can do with your clothes on?
As long as the competition isn’t too hot. I seem to recall that when Thurston found his copy of the Black Unity Trio LP you were not too happy!
Is trading records the ultimate intimacy?
Trading records naked with a woman is best.
What is the first section you hit, while arriving to a vinyl shop, where you have never been before?
Folk. This is still an area that yields surprising finds. Like Loren Mazzacane’s early solo LPs.
Rock. There are still “rock” records that have escaped notice. It’s as though if they’re not on popsike they don’t exist. But they do.
New Age (for krautrock) or Jazz (although since the ‘90s started you really have to be lucky. I remember in the ‘80s, at Stereo Jack’s in Cambridge, where I had an open account thanks to Chuck Warner, who had taken those Yod LPs, they would laugh when I came in and say – “Oh, we have some ones YOU’D like.” All their free jazz was priced at $4 or less. They were a jazz-centric store, but that stuff was beneath their contempt. Even though the owner had seen Ayler play. ‘The one free player I could really admire.’ I am sad those days are gone.) Now, it seems as though most genres have been mined.
The section where you would never look in?
Polka. What good could come of it?
What is your favorite record shop in the world?
Rhino was a great store, but I would have to say in general that the Bay Area in the late ‘70s was just an amazing place to buy vinyl. I supported myself by buying jazz at indie stores, punk at soul stores, folk at rock stores, and whatnot, trading them to other stores for credit. I spent two years doing that. Selling psych records to Greg Shaw for his mailorder, doing Goldmine, and just hanging out at great stores like Rather Ripped and Aquarius, where the people knew so goddamn much about what they were selling (Bruce Ackley from ROVA was the jazz guy at Aquarius) that you couldn’t help but learn.
Almost everything I know about records I learned at record stores. When I was a kid I just loved those know-it-all motherfuckers. And when I started working at them myself, I loved passing it along. REAL record stores, where the guys/gals know what they have and why they have it, are just so cool. I’ve spent my time also working in chain stores in malls or wheverer, just punching time and setting ‘em up. Those places were always bogue. Not real record stores. A real one is a hang-out, a place where you go to hear new sounds. To talk about music with somebody who gives a shit. It’s kind of a clubhouse. And nerdy in the way that suggests, but man, let’s face it. we’re nerds of a sort. Dionysian as fuck, perhaps, but nerds nonetheless.
Give us a list of your 5 favorite:
“I can´t even hold this idea, it’s too slippery” - 7”´s:
unsettled society “diomand studded cadillacs”
solger “raping dead nuns”
fuckin’ flyin a-heads “swiss cheese back”
churchmice ‘college psychology on love”
mc5 “looking at you”
what is this a misfits collector quiz!
Record label logos –
Caroline UK (1500 series)
ESP (that weird collage one for the Parker & Powell LPs)
Patrick Sky’s “Songs That Made America Famous” (Adelphi) first press only
Chuck Norris films –
Since I wrote the book on Chuck, choosing faves would be like choosing a favorite organ. Who could do it?
ALL OF THEM!!!!!
Is this interview too long?
Is “A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die” the best rock album all time?
Yeah, I think so. I love the way chris phrases his lyrics (Meltzer called it “Blabbermouth Lockjaw of the Soul” along with Darby from the Germs. And he was right) and that band was just amazing. John Doe on bass. DJ Bonebrake on marimbas. Dave Alvin on guitar and Bill Bateman on drums. Steve Berlin on sax. Damn. The album is fucking unbeatable. I moved out to L.A. right when it came out, and became the band’s tour manager. That next line-up was great, too, but the one on this LP (they only played two shows as I recall, the second of which was the first show I saw in L.A. – with Blurt and the Fall – at Myron’s Ballroom, where my wife and I would see Sun Ra the next night)
Is “Fun House” the best free jazz record all time?
Well, I will never give that crown to anything other than “spiritual untiy” or “unit structures”. My friend, those spots are not movable
Is the The Stooges “fun house” box set and the beach boys “Smile” box set – a sick or genius idea of a release?
I bought 10 copies of the funhouse box when it was announced, because that is the record whose creation most mystifies me. I love that record so much and still have no real clear idea how it happened
Is a jukebox the ultimate machine?
If not it’s certainly close.
What is your favorite jukebox model?
One we could afford
What is your ultimate machine?
What is your favorite rpm?
33 I love the long play
Is Jack White pushing it with 3 rpm?
Jack White fucked the label that really gave him his start, so I can’t really bother myself with his hijinx.
How does your mix tape of today looks like? What is currently spinning on your turntable?
Have not cut a mix tape in a while, due to time contraints and the fact that I don’t really have many records at the house anymore. Lately, have been listening to tapes of Mars at Irving Plaza and Jack Ruby stuff – insane no wave this & that
Do the world need a complete rare-free-jazz-on-vinyl-guide? Or can we do without?
Would be useful to have, although it would really destroy the mystery once and for all, wouldn’t it? Be better to have something that would start a lot of arguments. Thurston & I have been talking about doing one like that. ha.
Which record can save the world?
Sixth Groundhogs album, of course.
Which record will not save the world?
Any organ jazz.
How many vinyls per day keeps the doctor away?
As many as you can swallow.