Guitarist, curator at the Alan Lomax Archive, producer of Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard
In June I was in Whitesburg, east Kentucky, in Letcher County. I was told that a woman outside of town had some records she was looking to get rid of—a friend of a friend found her niece’s number in the phone book; the niece passed on her aunt’s. Met the woman at her son’s place, back in a cove near the community of Uz (pronounced “You Zee”). Her son was the county’s commonwealth attorney, and the records were individually wrapped in sheets of local newsprint, a few of which, I was told, featured mug shots of some of her son’s convictions. She was asking $10 apiece for the 78s, which had belonged to her husband’s aunt, an old maid. I saw plenty of Roy Acuffs and Blue Sky Boys, some Riley Pucketts and Uncle Dave Macons, and one red-labeled Champion disc bearing the soul-stirring phrase “race record”—it was Sam Collins doing “Midnight Special” and “Dark Cloudy Blues” under the pseudonym Jim Foster. It wasn’t in great shape, but it was far from trashed. As I’ve never spent more than $15 on a 78 and have heretofore been lucky (or dilettantish) enough to decline to, I was tickled by the price. Maybe ten copies are known to survive. I also bought the Macons and the Pucketts I didn’t have, plus a not-great white vocal group on Paramount. She said the money would be used to support her son-in-law, who had been fired from his coal-hauling job due to an eye condition.
Founder of Canary Records, producer of To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929
Pretty much my favorite record ever is the Okeh Laughing Record, recorded in Berlin in 1920 and released in the U.S. in 1922. It was a huge hit—it must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over decades. I’ve owned a half-dozen copies myself. It’s a record of people laughing, but that doesn’t do it justice—you might as well call the 13th Floor Elevators’ Easter Everywhere a rock ‘n’ roll record. The Laughing Record also spawned dozens of knockoffs, and I’ve been collecting and learning about those. The grail for me for, like, eight years has been the Okeh Crying Record. My buddy Steve Shapiro pointed out a copy on eBay. Thirty fucking bucks. Ridiculous money, but I had to have it. I got a few other laughing records with it, plus a record that’s one side of coughing backed with a side of sobbing. It’s a big beautiful world, full of surprises!
Producer of Charley Patton: Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues (Revenant) and The Bristol Sessions (Bear Family)
A few years ago I took my wife and three-year-old daughter to Istanbul for vacation. I had no intention of seeing any 78s, let alone buying anything. However, I learned from the owner of a rug store on the west side of Istanbul that on the east side there was a “Street of Gramophones” where one could see “many old stone plates” (the term for 78s in Turkish). We crossed the Bosphorus the next morning, and after I’d gone though piles and piles of picked-over 78s, I entered a shop where the owner had just gotten in a stack of discs with very curious Greek lettering (the terms made no linguistic sense). I bought them all, and the owner packed them for me in a good box, so for roughly two weeks I was haunted by this stack of discs that I had not heard and could not play. When we arrived back home in Virginia, I don’t think I even brushed my teeth before I sat down in my record room to listen to them. They were otherworldly, profoundly emotive, unvarnished, and raw, a music the likes of which I had never heard before. One disc among the many that stood out was a 78 by Kitsos Harisiadis Mirologi Arvantico (“Albanian Lament”). I had stumbled upon a stash of incredibly rare music from the Epirus region of northern Greece and southern Albania, recorded in the early 1930s. The last three collections that I have put together have featured 78s only from this area. I have traveled to Epirus and Albania twice more and amassed the largest collection of this music, including 78s by Alexis Zoumbas, who was from Epirus but immigrated to and recorded in New York City.
Founder of the blog excavatedshellac.com, producer of Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM
With blues, jazz, and country, there are discographies, books, and a myriad of collectors who have set the canon, so to speak. Everything is known. This is not true in the slightest with early music from around the world—most recordings are not yet known, certainly not in English-speaking countries. You have to be willing to take risks—sometimes that can hurt financially, yet it can also provide unparalleled thrills if you’ve got an open mind. Recently I picked up a 1934 disc by Luperce Miranda called “Segura o Dedo” (“Holding the Finger”), released in Brazil by Victor Records. Early 78 recordings of Brazilian string bands and choro soloists are so rare that most collectors have probably never even seen one. If they turn up, they’re often in tragically poor condition. Luperce Miranda was a master of the bandolim, active on 78 mainly from 1927 till 1934 (though his career continued for years). Introduced to him through another collector, I was lucky enough to acquire a copy of this, one of his most impressive compositions. Somehow it manages to be a virtuosic masterpiece and utterly carefree at the same time.