Saturday Single No. 13

Originally posted May 26, 2007

Record collectors talk a lot about the big score: walking into a heretofore unknown shop and walking out with a stack of long-sought 45s, or wandering into a regular stop just as that rare LP is placed in the sale bins. Every record collector I know has a story, and when the tales are told, the collector’s eyes light up just as they must have done at the moment the subject of the tale was spotted.

Sometimes, as it happens, the tale is not so happy: More than once, I’ve entered a record shop and seen another shopper carrying around a record I’ve long been looking for. There’s a temptation at those times to follow the other shopper around like a used car salesman, hoping vainly that he or she will decide otherwise and leave the record on a side shelf, like a grocery shopper leaving an orange next to the baked beans.

Of course, the truly big score in record collecting would be one of those fabled items that collectors hear about but never really see except in auctions or in someone else’s collection. One that comes to mind is Introducing The Beatles, an LP released on the Vee-Jay label in the U.S. because Capitol was uncertain the Beatles would be all that popular outside of Britain. Nearly every copy of that album that shows up these days – forty-three years later – is a fake.

One also hears tales of – and sees on auction sites, very occasionally – vintage 78s that command high prices. Without really digging into the topic, I would imagine that the most sought-after of those would be early blues sides, from the 1920s and 1930s. I know that 78s by Robert Johnson and Charley Patton – to name just two performers – command high prices on the rare times their records are available. It’s not likely there are many out there left to find, but that wasn’t always the case. Gayle Dean Wardlow was one of those who scoured the South during the Sixties, looking for old blues records. His book, Chasing That Devil Music, is a fascinating read and comes with a CD of the most notable of his finds.

I’ve never found anything monumental, but I’ve had some good days and built a pretty good collection of rock and pop rock LPs from, oh, 1960 to 1985. I’d picked up a few blues records along the way, but until December 1998, I really hadn’t dug too deeply into the blues. And then, on a Saturday morning, I got a call from the manager of a Salvation Army store that was about five blocks from where I lived in south Minneapolis.

“You asked me to call you if anyone ever dropped off a lot of records at one time,” she said. “Well, someone just brought in what looks like about twenty boxes. You might want to get over here.”

I poured my coffee in the sink, bundled up, got my bike from the basement storage unit and headed down Pleasant Avenue and over to Nicollet. There were in fact twenty boxes of records on the floor near the front of the store, and another gentleman was digging in them, grinning. I sat on the floor at the far end of the cluster of boxes from him and started digging, too.

My guess is that, frankly, someone had died, and in these days of the CD, his or her relatives had no idea what to do with the record collection. Whoever had owned these records was, I would guess, an audiophile who would buy a record, tape it and then put the record back in the jacket and leave it there. Every one of the inside sleeves was upright, not on its side to allow easy access to the record. And every one of those records had the sheen of newness, a look that’s hard to describe but easy to see.

I began to dig. Records from the 1950s and early 1960s by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I found Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Willie Johnson. Albert King and Leadbelly. John Lee Hooker and Etta James. Anthology after anthology of Chicago blues, country blues, Delta blues. And the five double albums Columbia put out in the early 1970s: The complete recordings of Bessie Smith, in pristine condition.

In addition, there were – relatively – more current records: stuff by the Allman Brothers Band, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and more. I already had those records on the shelves at home, but I grabbed them anyway.

The other gentleman and I crossed paths midway through the cluster of boxes. We nodded, each of us looking as casually as we could at what the other was carrying. I saw a few things in his pile that it would have been nice to have gotten to first; I assume he saw the same in my pile.

By the time I made my way through the boxes, I had fifty albums. At fifty cents a piece, that was $25, and – times were a bit rough back then – that was about the limit of what I could spend that day. I double-bagged the records for their ride in my bike’s saddlebag baskets, thanked the manager profusely for calling me and headed home. There, I sorted through the records, setting aside those that were new to me and looking at the ones that duplicated albums already on my shelves. After lunch, I began comparing copies I already had with copies from that morning’s haul. After keeping the best copies for myself, I put the duplicates in bags and headed out to two of my favorite record stores.

I sold those twelve duplicate albums – including my previous copies of the Bessie Smith recordings – for about $50. So I ended up with thirty-eight new albums – the vast majority of them classic blues – and a profit of about $25.

Among the performers whose records I found that day were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, long-time folk blues artists I knew little about. I bought more of their stuff over the next few years, including the 1973 LP Sonny & Brownie, one of the last albums the two ever released before their partnership ended acrimoniously in 1975. (They performed and recorded together for several years despite not being on speaking terms.)

And it’s on that 1973 album that I found one of the funniest songs they ever recorded, with John Mayall adding his piano and sharing the vocals. Its title, if not the lyrics, kind of describes me that morning at the Salvation Army store. So here’s “White Boy Lost In The Blues,” today’s Saturday Single.

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 13”

  1. An Anglo-American Effort « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] an album from the list after purchasing it. It was a Monday in December 1998, two days after the Great Blues Bonanza. I’d been making my way idly through the country albums at Cheapo’s when I came across an LP […]

  2. Sunday Is Vinyl Record Day! « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] 1900: Sonny Terry by Sonny Terry, December 5, 1998, Minneapolis. This was part of the Great Blues Grab at the local Salvation Army store. As I wrote once before, the manager of the store called me when […]

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