*Note – this actually a pic from my collection
Anyone who has been digging in the field as long as I have, has definitely had run-ins with the “old timers“. They probably own records you’ve only heard about; they may think your taste in music is awful; and they most likely collect extremely specific sub-sets of genres and labels. We usually laugh and say to ourselves “Man, I’ll never end up like that!” But has anyone really interacted with them?
While searching for info on George Clinton’s pre p-funk singles, I came across a guy on the internet that was collecting records before my mother was born. He was always willing to share his vast knowledge of 60’s soul music so I decided to reach out and ask if he would be willing to answer some questions about records and collecting.
He reluctantly agreed, only on the contingency that he remain completely anonymous as the value of his collection could easily make him a target for theft. He asked that he simply be referred to as an “old time collector” originally from the US.
Despite an age difference of 30+ years, I found that we actually had a lot more in common than I thought. We don’t have the same taste in records, but the way he answered the questions are probably very similar to what I would have said. It got me thinking that everyone with the intrinsic need to collect vinyl has the same underlying, common bond.
So the next time you’re at a record show and see an old timer arguing that an obscure, mono, private press 45 released on some no-name label out of “middle of nowhere USA” is better than anything released in the past 50 years, strike up a convo with him. You may be surprised what you learn. And in a few years, you will probably be that guy!
What was the first record you ever purchased?
My parents asked me what I would want for my 7th birthday in 1953, and I told them, the following records:
- • “If I Can’t Have You” – The Flamingos
- • “Crying in The Chapel” – Orioles
- • “One Mint Julep” – Clovers
- • “Over The Rainbow” – Checkers
- • “Sixty Minute Man” – Dominoes
- • “The Glory Of Love” – Five Keys
One day, with my mother, at The Salvation Army Thrift Store, I saw records for sale. 45s were 5¢, 78s 10¢, and LPs 25¢, instead of the 49-59¢ for new singles and $2.50 for new LPs at the record shops. So, from that day on, I never had to ask my parents to buy me records. I soon started buying scads of records from a regular route of hitting thrift, junk and furniture stores, and record shop bargain bins. I also helped record shop owners and managers after school and on weekends to get my choice of bargain bin records for free.
At what point in your life did you make the transition from buying records for music to “collecting” and why?
I don’t think I ever made that transition. I just kept adding records to my stash. I guess that I have always loved the music, AND I have been a collector from getting my first 78 (first record). There was no point that my feelings about them changed. I would never want to give up a record that I liked. Each one is like an “old friend” to me. I have a photographic memory (as do so many other collectors of various types of things). I can see in my mind’s eye, myself first picking up (finding) each record (exactly where it happened (lo those many years ago). I still can recall and state, without looking, the label name and catalogue number, and often the songwriters, and music publishing company, and usually, the producer and arranger.
What are a few of your favorite records from your collection?
Loving many thousands of recordings from 1936 through 1970, it’s nigh onto impossible to choose even 500 of my absolute favourite (perfect) songs. My favourites change every day, with my mood. Here are mine that come first to my mind, off the top of my head, today:
- • “Grand Spanish Lady” – Royal Ravens (1963)
- • “It’s Been So Long” – Leaping Flames (1963)
- • “Young Boy” – Barbara Green (w/Dells) (1964)
- • “I’m Yours” – Flamingos (1954)
- • “My Saddest Hour” – Five Keys (1953)
- • “Lucky To Be Loved By You” – Emanuel Lasky (w/group) (1964)
- • “Come On” – Distants (1959)
- • “Cry” – Majestics (1964)
- • “I’ll Come Running” – Carolyn Crawford (w/Andantes) (1964)
- • “Liberation” – Afro Blues Quintet +1 (1965)
- • “A Tear From A Woman’s Eye” – Temptations (1964)
- • “Crying In The Chapel” – Orioles (1953)
- • “Oh No, Not My Baby” -Maxine Brown (1964)
- • “Talking ‘Bout My Girl” -Parliaments (1965)
- • “Listen Here” – Eddie Harris (1966)
- • “Need Your Love” – Flamingos (1956)
- • “What Time Is It?” -Jive Five (1962)
- • “Can’t Help Loving That Girl Of Mine” – Hideaways (1954)
- • “The Glory of Love” – Five Keys (1951)
- • “I Love You So” – Crows (1954)
- • “A Little Too Long” – Wanderers (1960)
- • “Found True Love” – Billy Butler & 4 Enchanters (1962)
- • “Nobody Knows” – Richard Wallace & Stars of Bethlehem (1962)
- • “I’ll Fly Away” – Staple Singers (1964)
- • “Chicago Bound” – Jimmy Rogers (1951)
- • “Walking By Myself” – Jimmy Rogers (1952)
- • “Teraplane Blues” – Robert Johnson (1936)
What are your favorite genres to collect/listen to?
My favorite types of music (those that I collect) are: Folk Blues, Delta Blues, City Blues, Chicago Blues, Gospel, Ragtime, Boogie Woogie, Be Bop, Avant Garde Jazz, Rhythm and Blues Vocal Group Harmony, and ’60s Soul. But, I also like vocal group harmony Surf Music (e.g. 1962-65 Beach Boys/Jan & Dean/Ripchords etc. style), Irish medieval and 17th-19th century Folk Music, ancient Chinese and Japanese Music, Scottish, Irish and Bulgarian bagpipe music, and some European “Classical Music“.
Before the interview, you had mentioned you stopped listening to the radio in 1966. What happened that made you stop?
Funk Music started in 1966, with James Brown and some others. I liked his earlier music as James Brown and The Famous Flames, but didn’t like this new, beat-driven, much less melodic-driven music. I stopped listening to Soul music on the radio in late 1966, as there was a lot less I liked to listen to. I had to wait 10 songs to hear one I liked. I didn’t like the sound of the false and way too electric sound of the instruments. I like acoustic music best. I could live with the early style of electrification of guitars in the early ’50s Chicago Blues, but by the end of the ’60s and into the ’70s, I didn’t like the sound of the instruments and, more importantly, the recordings. I did listen to Jazz radio stations after that (into the 1980s or so, but only sporadically, and not with the anywhere near the same interest as in my musical heyday.
Do you still do any collecting or do you just enjoy being a knowledge resource for others?
I haven’t really added to my collection in any kind of numbers since early 1972. I get a few CDs from CD companies for whom I do research, provide records to make new masters, provide label scans, and/or edit writing blurbs for the CD packages.
What records DON’T you have that you’ve always wanted?
The rarest records from each of the many record labels I collect that were never really released commercially (e.g. pulled back, or never pressed up except a few test pressings). There are way too many to mention. But they all cost in the many thousands of British Pounds Sterling. And being a North American, I resent that The British Northern Soul collectors bid up their prices very high, which made Brits come to USA to grab most of them up, making it impossible for us locals to get them, when we’d otherwise likely have gotten many of those 45s for 5-25¢ and LPs for 25, 50 ¢ and $1, eventually. I also resent The American Vocal Group Harmony/Doo Wop collectors for bidding up the prices of that genre, having a similar effect. I had gathered up thousands of 45s and albums, but there were many more I wanted, and never did get. But, I have been able to get everything I want on tape, CD and digital format now. So, at least I can listen to it. But as an historian and researcher, I’d like to have the originals, to fit on the shelves in the label runs, where they belong.
What are some of the weirdest/funniest records you own?
I’m sure I have a few funny songs on record, but I am only interested in the musical sound of the songs. I never cared what the words are. So, I can’t think of many. I have a couple records I kept for their comedic value, and don’t consider part of my collection. I have a few by Dora Hall, the wife of a rich businessman, who funded her singing hobby. Her husband was the owner of a major water cooler cup company, and her labels were Calamo, Reinbeau, and Cozy, out of Chicago. He even funded a TV special with her as the star, with Frank Sinatra Jr. and Rosey Grier as guest stars. She sang in several different genre styles, but was really terrible at it.
I also have a make-your-own record of an amateur father of a Bar Mitzvah boy, singing with a paid semi-professional band behind him. He must have been roaring drunk, and it is very funny. It was recorded in New York, and is titled “Sail, Sail” by Solomon and The Muskets. It is one of the worst attempts at singing and worst records I’ve ever heard. Despite remembering faintly how it sounds, every once in a while I take it out and play it, and almost wet my pants from floor-rolling laughter (no matter how many times I play it).
How does it feel knowing you bought all these records when they came out for a few bucks, and now people easily spend hundreds to thousands on them?
I don’t like it, because it denies the average person from obtaining the little pieces of history. But, it has had a good side, in that it has brought the great work of many ordinary people to the ears of thousands of people many years later, and these artists, at least get some recognition for their efforts, many years later. And, the music will be around for new youth to hear, at least for a while.
When it comes time to leave this earth, what’s going to happen to your records?
With good luck, I will not have to auction off more than the most valuable few rarest records I have, to finance my upkeep if I ever run out of funds. My heirs will get all the rest (or, perhaps ALL of them). They will probably auction off the few hundred most valuable, themselves, and then have a dealer auction off the rest. None of them care about them as I do (not surprisingly). I had hoped to put my collection together with those of some others, and operate an African-American Music Museum in my adopted country (where it would be appreciated much more than in USA). But, to this point, efforts to do so have not turned out promising.
I would like to thank the “old time collector” again for taking the time to answer some questions and hopefully help bridge the gap between this generation of crate diggers and his. Without people like him continuing to spread the knowledge, a lot of musical history would be lost.
I also wanted to add that for the last interview question, I made joke about being buried with his collection. To my surprise, he provided a great anecdote that his Uncle, was in fact buried with his favorite record! It got me thinking that I may want to go that route one day. But depending on the record, someone may try to dig me up haha.