Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notes from a World Music Catalog, part 3

John Storm Roberts with Betty the bookkeeper and Penelope the duck in front of my 1969 Beetle

An occasional series about the heyday of World Music, analog recordings, John Storm Roberts and Original Music.
Part Three, Buying the LPS.

In the 80's, JSR and I used to go down to Manhattan every couple of months to pick up Latin and Haitian music and eat at a Peruvian restaurant in the 40's, near Kubaney Records before they expanded and moved downtown to a bigger, flashier place. I always had corvina encebollado and a wedge of curried tuna fish pie with a chilled mashed potato crust , and a lovely corn soft drink. John usually tried something different each time.

At that time, there were many different Latin music distributors over on 10th Avenue, and though we would drive to Brooklyn to pick up the latest Haitian albums, one of the Latin guys, GB Records, had a special pipeline to CDs of Tabou Combo that we could get nowhere else. He also sold all the Fania recordings - Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco et al., latin jazz, and Cuban stuff. It was a small place - narrow with racks of LPs stretching up to the ceiling. I would go into a trance staring at all the album covers and lose track of any conversation, and John would joke with the guy that I was a "poet".

The Fania musicians must have come in there often because even though we went infrequently, I can remember seeing some of them. I once recognized Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez chatting away at the front counter, and another time, after I had heard someone yell "Johnstormroberts!!" John called me over to meet Yomo Toro.  I was right in the middle of my Asalto Navideno obsession, so this was possibly the most star struck I have ever been!  John had known Yomo for ages and gotten some good gigs for him. He signed Asalto Navideno for me and he and John teased each other about getting old - he would point to old LPs on the wall and say "look how skinny I was!" - which was kind of funny since he was just about as wide as he was tall. He introduced his band and said he was bringing them in to hear "some old stuff", to educate them; turned to them and said they should pay attention to him and John and listen to the old guys play.

A fabulous cover for a fabulous record

"To Carl from your friend Yomo - Good Luck!"

At one point we found a place in the 70's, near Broadway. I think it was near one of the network buildings but I'm not sure. Big as a supermarket. They had all the latest CDs (and still a lot of LPs) on the ground floor, racks of cassettes of cumbia compilations and Mexican brass bands, and gleaming posters of tousled pop stars. Absolute heaven. At the far side of the room were the cassettes I was interested in - the beginnings of Carl's Cassette Corner were no doubt stirring in this place! We would buy one copy each of everything unless we were sure about it or it seemed like a vanishing item, and spend a glorious ride back contemplating the things we were going to hear.

John discovered a basement, large and neatly stuffed. There was rack upon rack of old LPs, each in enough quantity to collect and sell. I don't know where they got them all from. Some were clearly relics of bygone pop times, trends that had faded before they could move all the records, but others were from obscure African artists on labels even I had never heard of.


Possibly one of the best ever!  It is not possible to say enough about Lisandro Meza.

Venezuelan covers of classic rock hits - see if you can spot them all!

I don't know who Tohon Stanislas is, where he comes from, or what a "New Style Tchink System" might be, but this is glorious.

We never did sell all that many of the LPs we found there. The market for LPs was dwindling and even our customers were moving to CD, except for collectors and these were not collectibles. Customers can be funny. Very few of them ever really appreciated the crazy things we would find. John was more successful as he knew more, and he wrote better catalog descriptions than I did, but most of our obscure pop discoveries were best appreciated in OMHQ. Sometimes we would each play our latest finds loudly in our offices so that the two records collided in the large drive bay in the center of the barn.

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