Last Saturday was Record Store Day, but for Josh Rosenthal, any day could be a record store day. The San Francisco resident and music-business lifer has been working in the industry since taking a job at Columbia Records in 1989, and he’s been a determined record collector for even longer. During his sojourn with the label, he worked on promotional campaigns for 3rd Bass, Jeff Buckley, and Robert Johnson. Subsequently he started his own record company, Tompkins Square, which over the past decade has amassed a similarly eclectic catalog. And he has just published The Record Store of the Mind, a book that compiles artist profiles, critical musings, and crows of crate digger’s triumph.
Tompkins Square has released new material by free-jazz revenant Giuseppi Logan, old-time music revivalist Frank Fairfield, and 13th Floor Elevators lyricist Powell St. John, as well as the first LP by local singer-guitarist Ryley Walker. The label has released multidisc compilations of gospel music and murder ballads, and it’s reissued albums by country picker Roland White, slick pop architects Prefab Sprout, and early American Primitive guitarist Harry Taussig. The label has doggedly advocated for solo acoustic guitar music, releasing seven volumes in a series titled Imaginational Anthem, which have helped get out the word about revivalists such as Jack Rose and Wes Tirey and reintroduce veterans such as Max Ochs (brother of protest singer Phil) and Suni McGrath. Rosenthal devotes much of The Record Store of the Mind to artists whose work he first found during long hours digging through bins of used records, and who subsequently recorded for his label—among them fiddler Smoke Dawson, English guitarist Michael Chapman, and folk rocker Bill Wilson, who knocked on Bob Johnston’s door one night and persuaded the producer to make an LP with Wilson backed by Bob Dylan’s sidemen from Blonde on Blonde.
Wherever he shops, Rosenthal writes in his book, “I’m always seeking out the soul of the city, especially as it relates to its music history. That’s why I reissued the Dino Valente record.” (Valenti, also known as Chet Powers, sang for Quicksilver Messenger Service, an influential psych-rock band from San Francisco.) During his visit here, Rosenthal will read about Harvey “the Snake” Mandel, a former Chicago resident who played with Canned Heat at Woodstock and who’s just recorded a new LP for Tompkins Square with members of Ryley Walker’s band. Rosenthal has also tapped a different solo guitarist to join him at each stop on his promotional tour. “You can only read for ten minutes,” he explains. “People lose attention.” Michael Vallera, who plays in Cleared and Luggage (among several other local projects) and who contributed to Imaginational Anthem Vol. 7, will play what he describes as “a set of original, minimal compositions for solo electric guitar.” The reading begins at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, April 20, at City Lit Books.