July 13th, 2009
Having a hundreds of Genesis shows in my collection surely qualifies me as a geek but this guy has me beat in the music geekery department.
That’s John Heneghan who collects blues 78s and was recently profiled in the New York Times.
JOHN HENEGHAN tugged a large shellac disc from its brown paper sleeve, placed it on a turntable and gently nudged a needle into place. Behind him, in the corner of his East Village apartment, sat 16 wooden crates, each filled with meticulously cataloged 78-r.p.m. records. The coarse, crackling voice of the blues singer Charley Patton, performing “High Water Everywhere Part 1,” his startling account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, rose from the speakers, raw and unruly. The record is worth about $8,000.
Heneghan and others like him spends tens of thousands of dollars on 78s because they’ve just gotta have those hyper-rare bits of Son House and Charley Patton on shellac.
Mr. Heneghan, 41, is part of a small but fervent community of record collectors who for decades have hunted, compulsively and competitively, for 78s: the extraordinarily fragile 10-inch discs, introduced near the turn of the 20th century and made predominantly of shellac, that contain one two- to three-minute performance per side. At a time when music fans expect songs to be delivered instantaneously (and often at zero cost) online, scouring the globe for a rare record — and paying thousands of dollars for it — might seem ludicrous. (A rarer Patton record could command $15,000 to $20,000.)
Wisconsin even gets a nod here:
A furniture company in a largely white Midwestern suburb is rarely evoked in these reveries, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s Paramount Records — an arm of the Wisconsin Chair Company, a manufacturer of wooden phonograph cabinets in Port Washington, Wis. — became an unlikely home for blues legends like Patton, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and Skip James. Paramount’s blues releases — especially its “race” records with label numbers in the 12000s and 13000s — are among the most coveted records in the world.
“There are some people who would kill their own mother for the only copy of a Son House record,” Mr. Heneghan said. “And they sure as hell would kill your mother, and you.”
These guys are hardcore.
I attended a lecture on Paramount Records at the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum back in 2006 and you check out the highlights of the evening at another post. Paramount was also mentioned in the seven-part PBS series The Blues and I think it was in Wim Wenders’ “The Soul of a Man”.