Industry Profile: Miriam Linna
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Miriam Linna, owner/co-founder Norton Records.
On her own for the first time in nearly four decades, musician/archivist Miriam Linna oversees a sprawling cultural empire which encompasses a label (Norton Records), a book publishing imprint (Kicks Books), and the Norton Record Shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
On May 12th (2017), Norton Record’s highest-profile release to date, Dion’s “Kickin’ Child: The Lost Album 1965,” noisily entered the world.
A vital release in America’s musical history, the album focuses on Dion DiMucci’s mid-60s recordings for Columbia Records in which the iconic Hall of Famer moved away from his R&B doo-wop roots toward folk-based rock. The recordings, however, were rejected at the time by his label who wanted him to remain true to his past.
A long-time drummer (the Cramps and Nervus Rex) Linna, and Billy Miller, a musician, and a fervent rock ’n’ roll archivist, together as a couple co-founded Norton Records in 1986. The two also played together in the Zantees, and then the A-Bones.
Among collectors that Norton Records reflexively targeted, the label became a beacon of musical scholarship and excellence, renowned for releasing and reissuing rare recordings by both acclaimed, and often commercially overlooked rock ‘n’ roll, soul, rockabilly, country, and garage rock artists.
Among the acts with recordings released by Norton are the Ramones, the Sonics, Doug Sahm, Lou Reed, Del Shannon, Bobby Fuller, former Shangri-La’s singer Mary Weiss, ex-Crystals singer La La Brooks, the Pretty Things, Box Tops/Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, Hasil Adkins, Sky Saxon, Esquerita, Andre Williams, Mighty Hannibal, Charlie Feathers, and Kim Fowley.
Miller died Nov. 13th (2016) from complications of diabetes and multiple myeloma. He was 62. “Kickin’ Child” was the last album he worked on, and it is Norton’s first release since his death.
What is the magic in hearing or collecting a 45 rpm record? It’s certainly not the sound of the recording. Either it evokes a memory, or it’s about the song itself?
It’s the song, yeah, but the whole deal with the 45 is that you pick it up, and you look at it. You study all of the information on the label. Everything about it is interesting. It’s not like a CD that slides into the machine or this invisible music. There is a beauty in radio, of course, because radio is discovery, certainly in the era when we were listening to radio. When there were real disc jockeys who had personalities, and they were telling you about stuff, and you were along for the ride, being all excited and everything. With a 45, it’s your moment with the song, with whatever you get off of that thing. That search for 45 revolutions per minute, that perfect speed, going back atcha. It’s between you and it. You can party with it. You can cry over it. It’s an emotional... I don’t know what you would call it. It’s the key to the whole deal.
For me, it can be the color of the label, reading the label. and recognizing the producer or songwriters involved. I like following the careers of producers and songwriters with releases that may, perhaps, later be re-recorded and be hits. Or an artist releases a record that stiffs, and years later it become a hit. Like Tommy James and the Shondells on Snap (1964) with “Hanky Panky” that became a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit two years later.
Well, that Tommy James’ record is near and dear to our hearts because we issued his very first record “Long Ponytail” (from 1962) and the whole Snap story came into play because of Mad Mike (disc jockey "Mad Mike" Metrovich). We did three compilations albums with him, and I am working on the fourth one of the “Mad Mike Monsters” series. Mike is the fellow in Pittsburgh who was behind the Snap record, who really started playing it. All the jocks in Pittsburgh then started playing it after Tommy had thrown in the towel, got married, and had decided that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t for him. They brought him into town, and the Raconteurs, who were a local band, were matched up with him, and they went on to become the Shondells. The liner notes in the first three volumes of the series are 10,000 words each. I'd like to issue the notes as a paperback with our Kicks Books imprint after volume 4 and 5 are out.
I love your story of meeting Neil Young and having an original single of “The Sultan” with his Winnipeg band, the Squires.
A fantastic moody instrumental. When his movie “Greendale” came out (in 2003), it played at the Lincoln Centre, and we were invited. Just as we were about to go out the door, I said to Billy, “What if Neil is there? You should bring the record.” Billy said, “You are not taking my Squires’ record. What if he sees it?” Billy knew that Neil didn’t have it at the time. Artists are often like, “Oh, I don’t have this record.” I’m like, “Well, you can’t have mine.” I took my autograph book along because I’m a big autograph hound. I also pulled an old empty 45 rpm) sleeve, and stuck it in my purse, and off we went.
It turns out that there’s a little meet-and-greet beforehand, and we met Neil and (manager) Elliot (Roberts), and Neil was still married to Pegi. A photographer I knew introduced us to Neil. As I shook his hand, I said, “I’m from Sudbury,” and that was the magic word. He said, “Sudbury.” He looked at me with something between total pity, and weird fascination. Then I told him about the record and asked him to sign the sleeve. He looked at the sleeve, and said, “This is the original sleeve, isn’t it?” It’s a plain brown sleeve. “I said no. He said, “Yes, it is,” and he opened it up, and he called Pegi over, and he said, “Peg, this is the original sleeve.” He seemed to not hear me. He signed the sleeve and the autograph book. Later on, when we were having some quality snacks, I felt someone watching me. I turned around, and Neil was burning holes into the back of my head. I waved at him, and he sort of smiled. It was a magic moment because I totally love Neil Young.
[About 300 copies of “The Sultan” b/w “Aurora,” produced by Bob Bradburn at the CKRC-AM studio in Winnipeg, were pressed in 1963 by V Records (V-109). V Records in St. Boniface, Manitoba, with its distinctive yellow label, specialized in releasing local ethnic music, notably Ukrainian polka. Its top act was Mickey and Bunny (Sklepowich). Owner Alex Groshak had hoped that the Squires would help his label capture a share of the youth market. However, the record stiffed.]
At what age did you start playing drums?
Why? Trying to create an identity for yourself?
No. I had no inkling that I was ever going to be playing drums. But it was in my plans at that time with (husband and wife) Lux Interior, and Poison Ivy. We formed this idea for a band. It was going to be called the Cramps. They got (guitarist) Bryan Gregory--Greg Beckerleg--from Detroit in on it. I had seen them at the Piccadilly Inn in Cleveland when Rocket From The Tombs was playing. Pere Ubu and Television had come to town for the first time. Peter Laughner from Rocket From the Tombs had brought them into town. They were playing at The Piccadilly, which was a very cool teenage and early ‘20s kind of nightery on the top of the penthouse of this hotel in Cleveland. I had seen them in the elevator, and what not, and had smiled. And my sister Helen and I would come to New York on spring breaks to see bands at Max’s (Max's Kansas City and CBGB, and they saw us at a burger joint. They came over and said, “Hey aren’t you girls from Cleveland?” I said, “Actually. I am in Canton (Ohio) and I’m getting out.” They said. “We’re in Akron, and we are moving to New York. Can we come and visit you?” A couple of weeks later, they were doing their move and they came over to my house in Canton. They said that they were getting out, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well I don’t know. I’m going to try and find a job. Maybe, I’ll move to L.A.” They said, “You ever play drums?” I said, “No.” “Would you like to play drums?” Two months later, to make a long story short, instead of L.A., I came to New York, and they said, “Here are your sticks, let’s go.” That’s how it happened.
You aren’t on any of the Cramps’ records, are you?
I’m not on any of their records. I’m on their demos which were recorded (in June 1977) by Richard Robinson. A great guy. He did the Flamin’ Groovies, and I was the president of Flamin’ Groovies’ fan club. It was such an honor to have the guy who had produced the Flamin’ Groovies producing the Cramps. We recorded 8 tracks at Bell Sound, but they have not been out officially.
The Nervus Rex tracks have been out.
They’ve been out, but not with me. Yeah, I’m famous for being recorded but not being released.
You had to be in the Zantees, the A-Bones, and also release your own solo albums to be heard on record.
With the Zantees (named for an “Outer Limits” TV episode) that was Billy’s band. That was entirely his band. When I met Billy on October 3rd, 1977, I just fell head over heels in love with that man and stayed that way to this very moment and beyond.
[The A-Bones—named for the 1964 Trashmen song “A-Bone”-- released two 10" EPs, “Tempo Tantrum” (1986), and “Free Beer for Life!” (1988), followed by four full-length albums between 1991 and 1996. Miriam has also guested on recordings by Maureen Tucker, and Figures of Light.]
You and Billy met at a record fair. He was selling, you were buying. You were looking for “You Must Be a Witch” (1968) by the Las Vegas garage band, Lollipop Shoppe. Billy had the record and invited you to drop by his apartment to pick it up. You two obviously immediately clicked.
I left Nervus Rex immediately and joined his band, the Zantees, and we were together 39½ years.
When you merged your record collections, he threw a bunch of your 45 singles out the window?
He surely did.
How could you let him do that?
It was a nail biter. I just closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I said to myself, “This guy is just so wonderful and cool, but then he’s making a big mistake.” I reminded Billy about that over the years because all of those early punk rock records just seemed to fall into my lap because I worked for (former New York Dolls, and Suicide manager) Marty Thau. At Red Star Records, for awhile, I was his first and only employee.
While I am someone who has kept a lot of promo records over the years and bought a lot of records, I don’t consider myself a collector. Are you a collector?
I don’t like that word, collector. That whole idea is that if I start describing the way of gathering it does sound like collecting. I know how it goes. You know how it is. We were just talking about this with 45s, where you just see a name, you see the Fortune label (from Detroit), and Billy was obsessed with getting every Fortune record. As time went on, it got more and more difficult. He was very much into that. The very first label that I collected was Cameo, and it was because of an article (on Cameo/Parkway) written by Greg (Shaw) in an early Bomp! (fanzine Who Put the Bomp!, later renamed Bomp!) where he did the listing. It didn’t matter if the records were known for being big records, you wanted to get them and listen to both sides, and see what was it about them that made them put this thing out.
Cameo, and its affiliated Parkway imprint, were ‘60s’ labels with wildly diverse catalogs. Allen Klein’s company ABKCO owns it today. As you know, they haven’t released much of the Cameo/Parkway catalog over the years.
Well, I’m good friends with Teri Landi who is the chief engineer at ABKCO. And ABKCO has always been very good to us.
[While ABKCO reissued Cameo/Parkway recordings in the early 1970s, it basically then allowed them to fall out of print. Few Cameo/Parkway recording were officially available in any format from 1975 to 2005. In 2005, ABKCO released several label compilations, and well as reissues of recordings by Charlie Gracie, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, the Dovells, the Orlons, and Q (Question) Mark & the Mysterians. Since then ABKCO has licensed repertoire out to other labels, but many Cameo/Parkway recordings remain officially unavailable.]
I have a great photo—because I ended up with Terry Knight’s scrapbook. It’s all clippings. I think probably his girlfriend at the time or his wife put it together.
Of course, Terry Knight and the Pack morphed into Grand Funk Railroad with Terry managing, but he was also a popular local DJ as well, first at WJPK in Detroit, and then CKLW in Windsor.
He was a DJ. The scrapbook has got all of the DJ stuff. There’s photographs and autographs from the Yardbirds that are really cool, and there’s a great picture of Terry with Marty Thau (who was a Cameo Record promotion executive) and all of the key kingpins at Cameo at that time. Just shortly before Marty passed away (in 2014) I told him about the photo. He said, “You’ve got to send me the picture.” I sent him a picture, and we talked about it afterward. He said, “Oh, those were the days.” But the main thing with Cameo to me was that there was such an injustice done with one of my most super favorite stars, Q (Rudy Martinez) of Q (Question Mark) and the Mysterians. He is such a great guy. Knock on wood, right now, he’s not doing so well, but when that band did their comeback a few years ago (1997), and they were playing they blew everybody out of the water. They were still so great.
A lot of the Detroit-based acts like Bob Seger, SRC, and Teegarden & Van Winkle played Toronto in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Alice Cooper, then living in Pontiac, Michigan, recorded in Toronto. Soon after being hired at the Nimbus 9 Studio, Bob Ezrin was asked to check out the band at Max's Kansas City in New York. Despite not having any production experience, he convinced his boss Jack Richardson that he could work with Alice Cooper, and Richardson gave him the chance.
Alice Cooper is so underrated. I was mentioning that to a kid 20 years younger than me who was around yesterday. I told him, “You don’t understand Alice Cooper. I graduated high school in ’72—every year of my high school year there was a #1 record from Alice Cooper.”
Alice Cooper had both hit singles, and deep FM radio tracks. Tracks like “Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels,” “School’s Out,” "Elected,” “Only Women,” and "Hello, Hooray" were played on both Top 40 and rock FM stations. That was rare in those days. The band was cool to both AM and FM audiences.
I was just about to say that.
Maybe the FM success came because they had first recorded for Straight Records, a label formed in 1969 to distribute discoveries of Frank Zappa, and his business partner/manager Herb Cohen.
(Their debut) “Pretties For You” (1969), what a great album.
It’s interesting that a lot of the Motown people started out at Jack and Devora Brown’s Fortune Records in Detroit, and that Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. was a fan of Devora’s raw production style which packed considerable emotional power.
Yep, and what a sound that was. You know that Billy was working on the book for several years (with rock writer/musician Michael Hurt) and we are coming out with it hopefully next year. I want to put as much into it as possible because he surely did. Every artist who was still alive and findable he and Mike went out and tried to find every one of them. The interviews are unbelievable.
Andre Williams is still alive. He was a prolific songwriter, co-writing “Shake A Tail Feather,” as well as Alvin Cash & the Crawlers’ 1965 hit "Twine Time".
Andre Williams is still alive. He’s not doing all that well, but he is still with us. He’s not touring or playing anymore. He’s a very dear friend.
Andre’s “Bacon Fat” is such an unbelievable record. It reached #9 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1957.
“Bacon Fat,” “Shake A Tail Feather,” “Going Down To Tijuana” (released under the moniker, the Five Dollars). So many great records. He was amazing. We were so thrilled to be able to release “The Greasy Chicken”, which was the first record that was put out when he was pulled off the streets from addiction and drinking. The late (producer and label owner) George Paulus from Chicago found him.
While Fortune primarily specialized in R&B, blues, soul, and doo-wop, the label also released pop, big band, hillbilly, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, and polka recordings. A stretch from releasing Nolan Strong & The Diablos to Cal Davis and the Tennessee Kings. Fortune Records and its subsidiaries, Hi-Q Records, and Strate-8, released some 400 45-rpm records, as well as albums, during its existence.
They even did gypsy music, and the gypsy music is fantastic. Oh yeah, we had (musician/archivist) Lenny Kaye here when Billy was still with us, and those two had a Julio Bella album on Fortune. It was all crazy emotional gypsy violin music. Absolutely spectacular.
Does the Brown family still own the Fortune catalog?
Yes, they do and there haven't been any legitimate releases of the Fortune stuff at least Stateside at all. As you know, it’s somehow open season overseas.
Due to a different set of copyright limits.
That’s right. It’d be a lovely thing to be able to issue that material, but that is not an open door, unfortunately.
An aspect of so many small American indie labels like Trumpet, King, Sun, Chess, Duke/Peacock, Modern, Fortune and others is that the owners ran a number of businesses at the same time. They tried to launch records onto local and national charts but, being embedded in their local markets, they recorded whatever came through the door. Whatever they thought would sell.
Yes. That is true. And they seemed to have a lot of incredible people walking through their door.
You and Billy started the magazine Kicks in 1979. Were the influential Bomp!, and Jamz fanzines an inspiration?
Absolutely. (Bomp! publisher) Greg Shaw was a great friend and a super supporter from day one. And Alan Betrock, he had Jamz (1971), and The Rock Marketplace (1973), and started New York Rocker (1976). But it was his early research with Jamz that we were really stoked about. Greg, like Billy, was a juvenile diabetic from when he was 20. Another person who was a juvenile diabetic was (the late producer, researcher, and Brownsville Station guitarist)) Cub Koda (who died in 2000). He was super close friends with us. He and Billy were like brothers.
What year did Kicks stop publishing?
The magazine went to 1986.
How many records has Norton Records released to date?
It is probably 250 or 260 with the albums. With the 45s, probably about 300 releases.
Why launch the label?
It was supposed to be a one-time thing. Just like the magazine was supposed to be a one-time thing. We just did it because we had information, and we had other friends that had information, and we thought we’d compile all of it. That was how Kicks #1 happened. The label had started because Billy had done a story on the (West Virginia) hillbilly cat Hasil Adkins. And the first book that we did was Andre Williams. That was a one-shot.
So many things in your life have been spontaneous.
That’s right. There’s never been a master plan. The master plan was to go ahead and do everything that we wanted to do and have a great time. We had such an incredibly great time doing everything.
Why release Hasil’s music when he had 15 little-known singles, none of which were released on an album.
Nobody knew Hasil. There was nothing out on Hasil at all. But there was some rockabilly interest in Germany.
In the late ‘60s, I studied journalism at Centennial College in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. I discovered years later reading Goldmine magazine that my head instructor Frank Thayer had been a rockabilly star...
Wow. No way. We put Frank’s stuff out when we did all of the Southwest (music compilations). I know Frank. He’s living in New Mexico. We did Bobby Fuller, and then we started getting deeper and deeper. We bought the Yucca label (in Alamogordo, New Mexico).
The major part of Frank’s career has been in journalism education, with 11 years in Canada. and over two decades as a professor at New Mexico State University. He’s currently professor emeritus of the mass communications department at NMSU.
Frank was unbelievable. He’s really one of my favorite artists. He is such a talented guy. Frank had such great tracks including “The Troubled Streets,” and “Long Grey Highway.” We did all those volumes of southwest (music) We also did 13 volumes of the northwest including the Sonics, and the Wailers and a bunch of groups that nobody had ever heard of, but were killer great.
I’ve compiled reissues, and I found that it can be difficult finding tapes and ownership information. Do you have the same difficulty?
We do, but I don’t think of it as a difficulty. That’s the challenge, and that is the excitement...
Not finding original source tapes or ownership proof can be an obstacle.
Well, it is an obstacle to issuing a record. You just can’t put something out. I suppose you can call it an obstacle, but I don’t think we have ever referred to it as that. It’s about trying to track the people down, and then it’s, “Oh, my Gawd, get them on the phone.” Generally, with many of the things like we bought labels or we bought masters rather than licensing, it was such a thrill to meet with people at where they work, and talk about stuff. The in-person thing is always an amazing thing.
Even with heirs who might say, “I don’t know what’s in storage in the garage, go look through it?”
I can’t say that’s been the case. It’s usually been people who own the label. Like with Yucca that was the case. Like when we were dealing with Doug Sahm’s early masters (for “Doug Sahm, San Antonio Rock: The Harlem Recordings 1957–1961,” Norton, 2000). It was going down and dealing with label owners who were really ornery old-school people, who would give you a little bit of a hard time. I enjoyed that. Billy would often send me. “You go to Texas.”
Well, I interviewed the infamous Huey Meaux, “The Crazy Cajun,” who produced the Sir Douglas Quintet, Barbara Lynn, and Freddy Fender whom he also managed.
Do you know about Satan and Disciples?
Freddy Fender’s early group?
There is this album “Satan and Disciples.” It is Freddy Fender. Maybe one day we can put this (1969) album out. The cover is these long-haired, hippie-looking guys. It’s a Satan looking thing. It’s a really cryptic obscurity. It’s on the Goldband label. That was the first tip-off on it. It’s a religious record. It’s all this overtone of “ha ha ha ha, the devil.” That album is incredible, and it is Freddy Fender.
How do you find things like the Lou Reed release with the Jades, the high-school band Lou had played in? How does that material with songwriting credit by Lewis Reed come to you in order to release “Lou Reed, All Tomorrow's Dance Parties EP” (2000)?
Generally, it’s not landing in our laps. It’s usually looking, and scrounging through stuff, and trying to find it. With Lou Reed, it was me probably more than Billy early on. I was a Velvet Underground fan. Just digging into where they were coming from. Lou was from a part of Brooklyn but raised on Long Island. Billy was a Long Island guy. So you know how fascinating it is to find somebody that made records from your crazy little town that nothing happens in. With Billy, being a Long Island guy, and being a New York State guy, he was really taken with anything that has to do with New York. The scenes that happened. They happened either because there were military bases or where there were colleges around where radio was great. That was the fascination in trying to track down all the stuff on Lou. The Pickwick City record “The Ostrich” (with the Primitives) and beyond.
How did Dion's “Kickin' Child: The Lost Album 1965” come to be issued by Norton Records?
As you probably know there was a total falling out between Dion and the label (Columbia Records). He had been signed there for an enormous amount of money. The first rock and roll star there. They had an idea of how he was going to be. He was going to be the front man. He said they wanted him to stay as the front man with no guitar because front men then didn’t play guitar. The band was incidental, and was behind singers and so on.
Columbia wanted more “Ruby Baby” and “Donna The Prima Donna,” both 1963 chart hits.
They wanted hits. They wanted those kinds of hits. What would be young adult kind of things rather than what was starting to happen in 1965 and before. That music was really changing, and (impacting) people who were talented songwriters like Dion. He was hanging out in the Village, and he was hearing all this stuff, and he had a big say in his career.
Columbia, perhaps, should have kept him away from producer Tom Wilson who was a catalyst of much of that musical change with his productions of Simon & Garfunkel and then Bob Dylan. He was gone from Columbia by 1966 because he had signed the Mothers of Invention at Verve Records.
Tom Wilson was an unsung hero. I think that he’s going to start his due. People are talking about him now.
After hearing Dion’s music from those days who did you call at Sony Legacy?
I called first and foremost our friend Rob Santos (VP, A&R Sony Legacy). He said to call Gina Aceleres in licensing there with whom we had done licenses with years before. We had gone there to do straight reissues (for related EMI Music Publishing owned by a consortium led by Sony/ATV Music Publishing) on Gene Vincent or Esquerita, I think, for the Capitol reissues. We did limited pressings on the Capitol label.
Have the major labels opened up more to outside licensing in recent years? At one point they wouldn’t consider licensing to an outside label. Today, they can easily, and cheaply, stream tracks.
I think they probably thought that there was no way that it (“Kickin' Child: The Lost Album 1965”) was going to happen. I think that if I asked Rob about that he would say that was the case. We called him, and he said, “I really don’t think that is going to happen. It very hard.” Blah blah “We tried before with Dion, and it fell though. But if you can get him to say yes, we will go along with whatever he decides.” Billy was quite ill at that time. He had come home, but he had ended up in the hospital a couple of times with emergency situations. He was in the hospital at the time. As it happened Scott Kempner from the Dictators, who had played with Dion in the Little Kings, was in town. He came to the hospital to visit Billy. We asked him in passing, “What’s the deal with this great unissued Dion stuff from the ‘60s?” Scott was like, “Oh, my God. That stuff has to come out.” We told him Rob had said that if Dion would go along with it so would they. So it was a friend thing. It’s always a friend thing. You know somebody, and they know somebody.
It’s all about relationships.
It is. So Scott spoke with Dion. A couple of days later I’m walking to the hospital and my phone rings, and it’s Dion. “You want to put this record out? How come?” Oh my, it was so fantastic. That’s basically is what happened. Billy and I had discussions with Dion, the three of us talking about this stuff. “Yes, I want you folks to put it out.” Billy was like, “Please try and make this happen.” Billy was bed-ridden at this point. He had had an amputation. His neck was broken. He had hip replacements. He was very fragile.
You were born and grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. Growing up in Northern Ontario, you’d be listening to CKSO and CHNO radio. You also didn’t speak English until you went to public school?
That’s right. My brother and sister Helen were born in Finland. I was born in Canada. I was the first born here. My sister is six years old, and my brother is 9 years older.
When were you born?
Your parents were from Karelia, a province of Finland.
Well, it’s long gone now. It was yes.
What led to your parents coming to Canada?
Canada was one of the Commonwealth countries that accepted Finns after World War II. They could no longer go back to their homeland so the Karelians came into Finland proper. My mother was a teenager at that time. She and her mother were taken in. Finns would take in all of these refugees from Karelia. When she met my father they got married, and there was an opening for Finns to be able to go to Australia, England, and Canada. There already was a Karelian population in Sudbury. In the North America, it was either Sudbury, Duluth, Toronto, Lakewood, Florida, or Vancouver and the northwest. Birds of a feather (coming together) largely because of the language, whatever nationality people were from. A lot of Ukrainians came to Canada at the time. The U.S. had strict regulations about who was coming into the country.
In the immediate post-war period, immigration controls remained tight in many countries including the United States and Canada, while pressure mounted for a more open immigration policy and a humanitarian response to the displaced persons (DPs) in Europe.
I did not know that. I thought it was open season in North America.
[Immigration restrictions were still in effect in the United States at the end of World War II, and legislation to expedite the admission of DPs was slow in coming. Between 35,000–40,000 DPs entered the U.S. between Dec. 22, 1945, and July 1, 1948, under provisions of the Truman Directive. In 1948, Congress passed legislation to admit 202,000 DPs to the U.S. The entry qualifications were so stringent and privileged certain refugees. Congress amended the law in 1950.
In those days, it was literally worlds apart growing up in Canada in a working class town where everybody was basically the same. Everybody spoke a different language at home whether it was French, Ukrainian, Polish or Finnish whatever, but there were very few people different from you. You were different in that respect, but similar in the way that you were being brought up. Strict parents and you had some kind of a church going on. I certainly did. School was just so different back then. You raised your hand. You respected the teacher blah blah. I don’t look back at a lot of things because I don’t really like the whole concept of nostalgia, but I look back at those years growing up in Sudbury like it was some kind of a beautiful dream
Were you collecting records in Sudbury or were you too young?
I really was too young. My sister and my brother did. When they weren’t around I was sneaking into their 45s. My sister Helen was a huge Beatles’ fan. She was into the Beatles, and that was it. She got a portable record player for Christmas in ’63 and a tiny Sony transistor radio for the next Christmas. She played records all day and had the radio glued to her ear all night
From Sudbury, Helen could pull in signals from such AM powerhouses as CHUM in Toronto and CKLW in Windsor playing the Top 40 of the day.
Yeah, and stuff (music) came in. Stuff by the Beatles came into Canada before it came to the States. That was something cool.
[It was Capitol Records of Canada A&R executive Paul White who positioned Canada as a Beatles’ trendsetter. As part of his duties, White reviewed releases from EMI Records in the U.K. for possible release in Canada. In Jan. 1963, he received a stack of singles, including the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” which had been released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. on Oct. 5, 1962. Bolstered by White’s support, Capitol Canada released “Love Me Do” on Feb. 4, 1963, to little response from radio. Two more Beatles singles, “Please Please Me.” and “From Me To You” followed, but sales were also tepid. The next single, “She Loves You” exploded at Canadian radio became a huge seller in Canada.
Capitol Canada had resisted releasing the Beatles’ first album, “Please Please Me.” However, with the success of “She Loves You,” a reworked version of their second album, “With The Beatles,” was issued in Canada as “Beatlemania! With The Beatles” on Nov. 25, 1963.
It was the first Beatles album released in North America.
Ottawa Journal entertainment writer Sandy Gardiner was responsible for the name of the album. Gardiner, a native of Glasgow, had visited Britain in early ‘63 and had written an article suggesting that the Beatles were poised to take the world by storm. He called the phenomenon, “Beatlemania.”
White also released U.K. recordings in Canada by the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Yardbirds before they surfaced in the U.S.]
But I wasn’t collecting. My brother and sister were. My brother was more into the “greaser” music because that’s what he was.
“Greaser” being that he was more into R&B and garage rock music.
Yeah. More of that. He also, as crazy as it was because I ended up becoming such a huge fan, was a Trashmen fanatic. I ended up inheriting his 45s on Apex, the Canadian label. I would go through his records, “Oh I have to have this.” My brother and sister got me really started with records because they had me selling their records at school.
[Established in 1921, Apex Records was a record label owned by the Compo Company in Canada. After Compo began a distribution arrangement with Decca Records in 1935, the Apex name was dropped. Apex was revived in 1942 to market Canadian recordings. Decca bought Compo in 1951, and Apex began issuing recordings from various American indie labels including such acts as the Champs, the Chancellors, the Chordettes, Ritchie Valens, the Everly Brothers and others. Compo was renamed MCA Records (Canada) in 1970, retaining the Apex label for a few years before phasing it out.]
You were 11 when your family moved to the U.S.?
To a very small town called Ashtabula (in Ohio) right on Lake Erie. (Beat author) Jack Kerouac mentioned Ashtabula (in “On the Road”). Bob Dylan mentions Ashtabula (in “You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” on his (1975) album, “Blood on the Tracks.”) It’s the tiniest, tiniest little burg. The reason that we moved there was because I had great aunts, the few relatives that I had in the new world. One of my great aunts became ill, and we were taking care of her in Canada, and she wanted to go home. We ended up moving with her. That was a really traumatic time to move in the middle of the 6th grade. Jan ’67. So it was 50 years ago.
As well 1967 was one of the most notable years in Canada. It was the centenary of Canadian Confederation with a year-long celebration.
That’s right. The flag changed, and all of that stuff. I was pining for beautiful Sudbury (laughing).
While living in Ohio you started buying records at the Salvation Army, and the Goodwill stores as well as from the cut-out racks of the five-and-dime stores, Woolworth's and Kresge's.
Yes. Very much so. That was the way to go. Being on a total shoestring budget that was the way to go.
While 45 singles were then priced from 35¢ to 79¢ at music retail, you could pick up singles for a nickel to a quarter in the cut-out bins.
For a quarter or less, and it was that discovery that same thing that rules supreme now which is picking up a record you don’t know and there is something about it that you know is going to be great. And as you said earlier, it is either the color of the label or there’s a name on there that reminds you of something or you think that you have read it before. Those records still exist, you know. That was like the guiding force for me all along. Just being able to get records that I didn’t know what they were. Or if I found something that was great and I was able to snag it for a few pennies, then it was that. But it was always about the discovery of something that everybody else didn’t know about. That was the thing.
In the early ‘70s, I had supper with Joni Mitchell’s parents in their home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. While I turned down her mother’s offer to see Joni’s room which was untouched from when she had lived at home, I jumped at her offer to look at Joni’s collection of 45s that came in a handled, poodle-decorated box. You can tell a lot about a person looking through their music collection from their teen years.
On that note, when we visited Bobby Fuller’s home (in El Paso) when his parents were still alive, his mother showed us his room which was untouched from July 18th, 1966 (when Fuller was found dead in an automobile parked outside his Hollywood apartment). His clothes were still there. The whole house was untouched since 1966. The kitchen was exactly as it was. (His brother) Randy gave me one of the little handle boxes of 45s that was Bobby’s collection. Looking through that I totally agree. There’s nothing that will tell you more about a person than looking through their little box of 45s.
Betcha there was a Buddy Holly record in there
There sure was. There also was a Yardbirds’ record in there, believe it or not.
[Linna co-authored with Randy Fuller, the biography, “I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller,” published by Kicks Books in 2015.]
Tell me about visiting the music store Record Rendezvous with records painted on its glass facade on the edge of in Cleveland’s black community.
Well, Record Rendezvous was owned by Leo Mintz. It was kind of like the Mecca for records. Everybody went there. If you were in Cleveland, and you were a rock ‘n’ roll fan, of course, you’d go there just to be in the store. It was always bustling and there was good stuff there. It was a beautiful place to be. I’ve got an original poster on the wall here, “Sponsored by Record Rendezvous, 300 Prospect Avenue, The Moondog House Party.” That was Alan Freed’s show. I point out to people that (it says) that blues, rhythm, and jazz was the “Moondog House Party” nightly 11:15 PM to 1 A.M. on radio station WJW. You can tell that they weren’t shooting for the teenage audience. This was likely a black audience, and definitely an adult audience at that point.
[Leo Mintz, who died in 1978 at the age 65, was a tall, thin Damon Runyon character who wanted a Cleveland outlet for music that he sold at Record Rendezvous. He turned to Alan Freed, a popular Akron radio announcer who hosted a classical music show for Mintz on WJW radio. Freed turned him down. Mintz persisted. At 11:15 on an early summer night in 1951, Freed went on WJW with the “Moon Dog House Party” with records picked by Mintz, who was at his side in the studio. Rival station WSRS, then hired Buffalo's "Hound Dog," George Lorenz, to compete. "When all the hip black people heard what we were doing on the radio, they went crazy," Lorenz said, years later. "That's where rock 'n' roll as everybody knows it got started."]
You hit the nail on the head with the AM and the FM (comment) before because that was exactly the time that it was happening. I will tell you that in Cleveland the AM to FM side of things. In Cleveland it was WIXY and, of course, CKLW by the time I came to the States. The first FM station I listened to was WNCR. It was right before WMMS started (in 1970). They got away with total murder. It was FM so nobody was watching them. They would be talking about drugs with these English bands that would come around talking about psychedelic this and that.
My first big thing with radio was in 1971. WNCR had a “Pink Floyd Dream Contest.” They said to write in with your craziest dream. and you might win a complete collection of Pink Floyd albums. I am a voracious dreamer. I wrote out my dream and I sent it in. I didn’t think about it again. One afternoon my sister was driving to school at Kent University--I was still in high school—and she peeled into the parking lot in her red Chevrolet Vega saying, “They just read your dream on the radio.” I missed it, but I called the station, and they said come down. I was so thrilled because I was a winner. Ten years ago, I did some midnight googling and found that someone had written a big story about the dream contest. I got in touch with him, and he ran off the whole show with my dream, and with Pink Floyd being there for an interview.
Does it surprise you that sometimes you are seeking information on some obscurity only to find it on the internet? Or even on YouTube.
Yeah, and it is something that changes day by day so even if you don’t find something one day it may turn up. I have had so many weird things that happen. It feels sometimes that a machine is tapped into my brain, and I hate it (laughing). It’s like this creature seems to be tapped into what’s going on in my head. I have found some very weird things on hunches; not even knowing a record exists. Just by putting in some keywords and up it comes.
In 1973, you and your sister went to London. You were 17, and you met up with David Bowie.
We saw (David) Bowie in oh so many places all through England. We had seen him in Cleveland, of course, Cleveland had broken him pretty much in the States. We had to go to Trident Studios because it was near where the picture on “Ziggy Stardust” (“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972), was taken (in front of the former K. West furriers at 23 Heddon St.). There was the sign and standing next to the sign was David’s bodyguard Stuart (Stuart George, aka Stewie) who we knew through the Cleveland days. “What are you guys doing here?” he said, and we told him. “Why don’t you come back later (to the studio) after 5?” When we did, we walked up a long flight of stairs upstairs. David had pretty well finished “Pin Ups.” We walked in, and there was David sitting there. He said, “I want to play you some stuff. We heard “Pin Ups,” and then it came out while we were still in England. He asked us if we wanted tea and we were absolutely shell-shocked. “YES.’ In comes a young man, Howard Thompson, who was our age, and he served us our tea. I later met Howard again at Bronze Records in London when I was working for Marty at Red Star.
How were the two of you able to cope with all of your business activities with Billy having diabetes and then multiple myeloma?
Because we were totally positive that Billy was going to be able to get better. There wasn’t a moment that I let an iota negative thought enter my mind. He was like, “When am I going to be able to walk again? When is this going to happen?” I said, “Take it easy. One step at a time. You will get back on your feet.” People say it’s good to have hope. It wasn’t hope. It was absolute confidence he was going to be alright. Billy was a determined person. He had dealt with diabetes years before. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 10 years before it came down and took his kidneys.
He had this prosthetic, but for the first time he used it at the hospital it broke a hip. That’s why he needed a hip replacement. Then he tried it the second time, and his hip went again. He was never able to get on his feet again. They said that he would and we had him working with a physical therapist. Then his neck broke. This is what bone marrow cancer is like. It’s everywhere. When it happened it was such a shock to me.
Meanwhile, your warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn was flooded in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, destroying most of the label’s 250,000 records, along with paperwork, master tapes, and much of the stock of Kicks Books.
Everything. The first words I said when we went into the warehouse and opened that door...the electricity was gone, and I said, “It’s over.” Billy said, “It’s not over.” And I never said “it’s over” about anything again. He just said, “It’s just one day at a time.”
Why was the damage so extensive?
We were in a gigantic brick 1865 warehouse with a cast iron door that had never been affected by anything in over 50 or 100 years. When Hurricane Sandy hit, it was a perfect storm with a full moon, and it came in through the river going into Manhattan. The cast iron doors just went flying in, and the water just surged. The warehouse completely flooded. There was 6 or 7 ½ feet of salt water that came into the warehouse and stayed there; roiled and roiled (stirred around), and when the tide went, it socked everything back. There was still about three feet of water that stayed and everything was floating in and around. But the shelves came flying down, and those things (on the shelves) had been underwater overnight. It was insane. Things that we knew that were in the back of the warehouse were at our feet in the front. A 2,200 hundred-square-foot warehouse. I had my Flamin’ Groovies ‘fanzines from before I met I met Billy. I had the mock-ups. I had put a picture of Pete Townsend’s head and glued it on a friend’s body who was wearing a Flamin’ Groovies T-shirt. That little one-inch image of Pete Townsend’s head was loose and lying at my feet when we walked. I knew what it was. I saw it and I shone the flashlight on it and I said, “Oh my Gawd that’s the layout to Flamin’ Groovies’ Monthly #5.
Afterward, you released your first solo album, “Nobody's Baby,” on Norton in 2014, followed by the LP, “Down Today,” the following year.
I can’t explain that. You know there’s an early Bowie song on the second album. It was unreleased from his early days, “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving Me.”
The label recovered enough that you and Billy opened the Norton Record Shop early last year in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood.
The record store was a year ago January. Here’s what happened, I had this dream when Billy was in the hospital that we’d have a little record store with a jukebox and Queenie, our little dog, there. I brought it up to Billy who said, “No. We never want a record store. Other people have record stores. We have the label.” I said, “Look, Billy, when you get back on your feet you are not going to be able to go to clubs and run around because you are going to be fragile. At least while you are recuperating in a record store you are protected by the counter. You can go in for an hour or do whatever you want to. You can hold court and talk records with your friends, and then come home. “He said, “Man, that’s a great idea. See what you can do about that.” I found a 120 square foot triangular little shop on Washington Avenue. A 10-minute walk from where we are. That is the only reason that we opened that shop. He got to go there in a wheelchair three times. He sat in there and said, “This is going to be so cool.” When Billy passed, I wanted to close it. Friends said, “If you don’t have to close it, leave it open. It’s more important for you and Billy right now.”
How do you view the store now?
I feel like it is like a tiny little testament to determination because we thought that Billy was going to be able to be there. And in a way he is. His picture is on the wall there, and the music is all related to what Billy would want in there. I don’t how long it will stay open but for now, it’s about living day by day. Everybody has told me that’s the way to do it.
It’s been five years since October that the Sandy hurricane came, and several things happened. The whole struggle after Billy being ill; things getting progressively worse, but we didn’t see anything happening progressively worse because we fought so hard to try to make things get better.
The name of the game is that I can’t explain it except that together we were kind of a force of nature. I know that because when one was down, the other would stand up. And vice versa. There were many times I would think “We can’t do that,” and Billy would always say “Do it.” After he was diagnosed ten years before it came now 13 years ago, they told Billy he would have three months to live. He was 49. We had the biggest 50th party that you ever saw. We had everybody there. The Mighty Hannibal, Andre Williams, Rudy Ray Moore. All of the R&B stars, in particular, he had there. We had a great, great party, and Billy was being tested every three months. For years, nothing changed.
With Billy passing at home on Nov. 13th (2016), do you find yourself thinking, “I need to ask Billy about this?” or “Billy will know that?”
It’s constant. I’m always talking about “us” and “we”, and “This is what Billy would say.” I did that when he was alive with friends. But (his passing) it’s a heartache in every way. I continue to go through hard times.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.