Eilon Paz used to be an amateur DJ in Tel Aviv, as well as a photographer. He moved to New York in 2008, and began photographing and interviewing record collectors in their record rooms, largely for “something to do’. He was soon introduced to a whole community of record collectors, although he claims he is himself “only a casual collector’. He started up a website (www.dustandgrooves.com) to showcase his photos and interviews, and the idea of making them into a book was suggested by Philadelphia DJ, producer and Saturn Never Sleeps label owner King Britt, whose records Paz used to play in Tel Aviv. He set up a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign and secured more than 600 backers, and now Dust and Grooves the coffee table book, featuring 250 photos of 130 vinyl collectors and 12 interviews, is the Official Book of US Record Store Day 2014 and being launched in Brooklyn on 19 April. It’s a lavish book full of endless delights for the vinyl fetishist. With a forward by the RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, who reveals he spent a ridiculous “several hundred dollars’ on an original copy of James Brown’ film soundtrack Black Caesar (which I got at a street market in Paris last year for 3 Euros, and it ain’ much to write home about) and blew 10 K on records a single trip to San Francisco in 1997, and now has only a “modest stash’ left of a collection of 10,000 records “partly due to flooding, theft and giveaways’, things only get better as you go along. Jeff “Chairman’ Mao, of Red Bull Music Academy Radio, the creative collective Ego Trip and hip hop magazine XXL, uses the royal “we’ to speak about record collectors, claiming the practice is “a beautiful, lovingly-constructed and heartfelt celebration of a senseless and punishing neurosis’, but that is all about possession rather than music, and that (with apologies to Lou Reed) “you are your record collection, it’s your mirror, it reflects what you are (in case you don’ know)’. Fortunately Tehran-born, London raised Brooklyn resident Sheila Burgel is on hand to combat these displays of machismo, as general editor, and contributing a fascinating interview about her 60s collection of US, UK, French and Japanese women artists. She spent three years studying Japanese to further her interest in Japanese music, and when asked by Paz why there are so few women record collectors, has the following to say, and it’s worth quoting in full, even if Montreal-based collector Will Straw happens to be a friend of mine:
I’ve been wracking my brain for years trying to figure out why there appear to be so few female record collectors and I’ve found that Simon Reynolds seems to have the most convincing theory in his mind-blowing book Retromania. HeÂ quotes a dude named Will Straw who suggests that men have this inherent need to assert their masculinity and if they are â€œalienated from or feel inadequate to the more traditional masculine ideals (leadership and physical strength, for instance),â€ they will find other avenues to assert their masculinity, becoming â€œauthorities through their taste and cultural expertise.â€ I think the same can be said for women, although without the resulting need to flex our muscles and prove expertise, show off, become an authority, etc. Growing up, I felt completely alienated from traditional feminine ideals like the insane emphasis on meeting a man, beauty, exercise, shopping, diet, child-rearing, etc. Sure I like finding an awesome dress or putting on eyeliner, but I wouldn’ say I’m particularly interested in fashion or makeup. My life is music, and once you move beyond simply liking a few bands to becoming obsessed to the point of collecting, you, as a female, realize you’re entering a very male domain. Your love of music is equally deep, yet you share little of the desire to show off about it or engage in the “who has more records/who has more knowledge/who can get more obscure” competition. I think at some point I did attempt to work my way into the male domain, showing that I could â€œtalk the talkâ€ about obscure records, labels, and dates just as well as the boys, but I quickly found the whole one-upmanship just as dull as sitting around with women discussing their preferred diet routine.
“Might there be more female record collectors out there than we imagine? I think so. They may just have little need to make their collecting habits public. There’ also very little room in the traditional collecting world for women. It’s a boy’ club, and if a woman can’ play like the men, she’ rarely encouraged to join in. Because in the record collecting world, you have to meet a certain criteria. You’d hardly be taken seriously as a collector with a small collection. Quantity matters. So does rarity and your knowledge about what you collect. What girl wants to bother being held to such silly standards when we’re already judged on just about everything else in our lives?’
Sheila Burgel with one of my favourite 60s records, Annette Funicello’ Muscle Beach Party soundtrack
Burgel is also a Megadeath fan, and her partner has no interest in music, only complaining when she puts on a thrash metal record. She has complete discographies of the Chiffons, Lesley Gore, France Gall and Francoise Hardy. She is the only woman amongst the book’ 12 interviews, but there is more female company amongst the photographs, such as Hawkwind and prog fan Margaret Barton Fumo, 45 singles collector Natasha Diggs, funk fan Melissa “Soul Sister’ Weber from New Orleans, samba fan Alexandra Henry, London-based Joni Mitchell fan Colleen Murphy, jazz and blues fan Melissa Logan, Debra Dynamite, who colour-catalogues her 7 inches, and strictly country 78s collector Rebecca Birmingham. I know that’s not a lot out of 130, but it does show that the number of women vinyl collectors is steadily growing. Interviews with Fumo, Birmingham and Henry, along with 70s fan Jess Rotter are included on the website. So it’s not all macho weirdos, although this photo, of an Italian dude and his father, is my favourite, showing that a lot of guys consider records on the same level as trophies.
Other interviewees are BBC DJ Gilles Peterson, who claims to own 30,000 records, started his collection with a 70s Caravan record, is into Sun Ra, but otherwise a bit of a tosser, and Kieren Hebden (aka Four Tet), also a Sun Ra fan, who owns a rare live recording of Ra live at Praxis, Athens, in 1984, and whose first record was the Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom’. The questions Paz asks tend to be the same throughout, and Hebden reveals his father was a sociology lecturer who traded vinyl at record fairs and car boot sales, and his first words as a baby were “Decca’ and “Parlophone’! He also cites Licorice Pie records in Melbourne as a good place for vinyl diggers. The 6’6â€ DJ Rich Medina from Philadelphia is a completist who has entire collections of Fela Kuti, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, whose 2 year old son is already learning to scratch, and whose weirdest album is “Muhammed Ali and his Gang vs Mr.Tooth Decay’.
Probably the world’ most well known collector of 78s, Joe Bussard, should need no introduction, having been the subject of a documentary film Desperate Man Blues (a reference to a track by John Fahey) by Australian director Ed Gillan in 2003. With a basement full of 15,000 78s, Bussard claims that “jazz music ended in 1933′, “in 1958 country had its last gasp’, and ” most of the music they’re getting for free ain’ worth a penny anyhow’. He is famous for acquiring a box full of rare Black patti 78s for $10 – they are worth tens of thousands now – and his collections of Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson – he is pictured below with an ultra-rare 78 of “Cross Roads Blues’ (sic).
British library music fanatic Jonny Trunk, author of book and CD The Music Library (2007), which features covers of weird library music records from around the world, and owner of Trunk Records since 1995, reveals his taste for French and Italian porn movie soundtracks, spoken word and instruction records. The soundtrack of the Peter Sellers 1960s film The Party set him off, and he’ a big fan of the soundtrack from the Monkees’ bizarre 60s film Head.
Eothen “Egon’ Alapatt is into Iranian soul, Ethiopian jazz, 70s Zambian zamrock and Brazilian psychedelia, but stops short of the “psychedelic rabbit hole’. He states “there is nothing worse â€¦ than a record collector who doesn’ actively listen to his records’, a sobering thought, despite the gender bias. His digging pals have included Cut Chemist and Madlib, and he is friends with Galt McDermott, the creator of 60s musical Hair, who went on to become a musician.
“Digging in Ghana with Frank Gossner’ is an account of a very uncomfortable trip into remote parts of that African country by rickety bus with a grumpy German collector with a portable record player who is only interested in Afrobeat, funk and disco, and who advertises for private record sellers with colourful posters. They meet a 90 year old father of 24 who has not heard his record collection for 30 years, and he eventually becomes quite animated when they lend him the portable player. Dante Carfagna has 4,000 LPs and 4,000 45s, most of them “ungoogleable’ black soul music from Ohio. He specializes in “outsider music’ in the sense ofÂ music “created solely by and for the person making it, with little to no attention given to the resulting object as a commercial entity. That they would choose to manufacture multiple copies of their art provokes more questions than answers. These are faint voices from the wilderness of sound, small peeks into the windows of people you would probably never encounter in your daily life’. He also likes Northern Greek folk music and music played on the Sardinian launeddas, a “bagpipe without the bag’. The Gaslamp Killer (aka William Bensussen), a hip hop DJ of Mexican extraction, got his name from the downtown district of Detroit where he used to DJ until it became gentrified. A friend and label mate with Flying Lotus, his first record was the Specials’ “Ghost Town’, and he is now into Morricone and Italian library music. He has also moved on to Serato, finding vinyl “too limiting’.
Dante Candelora is by far the weirdest person in this book, and that is saying something. Dante, aged 28, collects records and memorabilia related to Sesame Street, which he has been collecting since he was 7. When Paz and April Greene finally tracked him down along with his brother in a record store in Philadelphia, he arranged for his parents to bring his record collection along in the car so the book editors could arrange a roadside shoot. For Halloween he dresses up as Bert and gives treats to the kids. Bert is his favourite character because “he’ smart like me, and yellow. Yellow is my favourite colour.’
The book’ final chapter relates a fairly unproductive trip along Highway 61 into the deep south, where Paz and two female companions discover a record store filled with all sorts of other junk called Aikei Pro’ Record Shop in Holly Springs, which has a population of 7,500, and is 30 miles north of Oxford, Mississippi. The most distinctive collector in the book is Patrice Caillet from Paris, who specializes in collecting records with defaced covers. He has a website featuring them (http://approximatif.free.fr/index.php?page1) and has published two books of his “recreational discographies’. He also organized an outdoor exhibition for Paz when he visited him in Paris.
Patrice Caillet behind some of his re-designed record covers.
Dust and Grooves is a fascinating book, which also includes a number of collectors outside the USA, from countries such as Turkey, Israel and France, and a couple of Japanese collectors, although the majority seems to be male DJs from New York. The website takes us even further into the ever-intriguing world of vinyl collectors of almost all music genres (but no classical). Highly recommended.
A comment about primate collectors? Bengi Berksoy in her record shop in Istanbul.
All Photos by Eilon Paz fr