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Vinyl Archivist Gilles Peterson 'Digs America'

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Vinyl Archivist Gilles Peterson 'Digs America'

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Vinyl Archivist Gilles Peterson 'Digs America'

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And hold on to your old vinyl, dear listeners. There might be something quite valuable in that pile of records. You remember records, the ones you've been meaning to take to Goodwill? Producer Derek Rath met with a guy who makes his living hoarding old records, and he's released a new collection of rare jazz and soul grooves called "Gilles Peterson Digs America."

(Soundbite of traffic)

DEREK RATH reporting:

I'm standing on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, just a few feet from a secret world, a world of unfulfilled desires and wishes inhabited by connoisseurs, some say fanatics. Actually, I'm at Record Surplus, an inconspicuous portal to the realm of the record collector, the vinyl junkie. Having (clears throat) never crossed such a threshold before, I am glad to be in the company of one of the world's greatest aficionados, Gilles Peterson. I join him inside.

Mr. GILLES PETERSON (Record Collector): Well, currently I'm in the collectibles section, which tends to be where I automatically end up.

RATH: I have to ask, is record collecting an obsession or is it lodged in the genes?

Mr. PETERSON: Well, it's certainly in my genes. You know, I was one of those boys who collected marbles, comics, and eventually I found my ultimate dark sides, you know, the vinyl obsession.

RATH: Gilles Peterson, who owns Brownswood Records in the UK, teamed up with Ubiquity, an American label renowned for its releases of jazz and soul music. Ubiquity bought a vast private collection of records and gave Gilles first pick for this compilation.

Mr. PETERSON: And they wanted it to be the Brownswood USA sessions. So it was really about finding rare American releases of which there's so many. So we're not talking about any labels that are now owned by major labels. We're talking about very independent private collections or private pressings.

(Soundbite of song)

WORLD EXPERIENCE ORCHESTRA: (Singing) Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah...

Mr. PETERSON: My favorite track on the album is by the New World Orchestra, which was the ultimate modal jazz prayer and the kind of record that I sort of dream about. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The band is the WORLD EXPERIENCE ORCHESTRA, not the New World Orchestra.]

WORLD EXPERIENCE ORCHESTRA: (Singing) Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah...

RATH: Finding these obscure artists and getting reproduction rights is quite a story, as are the stories of the artists themselves.

Mr. PETERSON: And interestingly enough, there's one track on this album by an artist called Dorando called "Didn't I." It sounds a little bit like an Al Green sort of thing, a little bit more spaced out. No one knew anything about Dorando and they obviously found who he was, and they ended up going to San Francisco. You know, he was a pimp and he was all kinds of--he's got a great story of his own.

(Soundbite of "Didn't I")

DORANDO: (Singing) Ooh-ooh. Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-doo. Didn't I treat you right? Didn't I? Didn't I do the best I could? Didn't I?

RATH: Many factors make records collectible: the artist, the label and historic significance.

Mr. PETERSON: Historic significance, yeah. And, you know, obviously the amount of copies that were made. I mean, one classic artist to always look out for is Sun Ra, for example, because he also pressed his own records and in between shows the band would actually paint the artwork. So you can quite easily get an original piece of art with great music. And he'd do really limited runs of maybe a few hundred pieces.

RATH: We continue our search for that elusive vinyl gem, arriving at the movie soundtrack section.

Mr. PETERSON: I'm looking for--trying to go through the U section 'cause there was an Italian composer called Umiliani. He made some really...

RATH: Gilles Peterson's eclectic approach to collecting enables him to recognize a jewel when he finds one.

(Soundbite of "Ode to Africa")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Africa...

RATH: This next cut on "Digs America" meets all Gilles qualifications. Well, almost.

Mr. PETERSON: The "Ode to Africa" track is actually an odd record for this album because it was a French pressing, but it's an American artist. So we kind of broke the rules a little bit because all the stuff on this album was fundamentally meant to be American small labels. Well, of course, this is an American artist with a great track, and--using some sensational French musicians, actually.

(Soundbite of "Ode to Africa")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I sing an ode to Africa, Africa...

RATH: Record collecting can take over your life. Some rarified singles sell for thousands of dollars. Gilles Peterson eventually had to move his family to another house. His previous home is now a warehouse for his vinyl. What started as a hobby has become his passion. And as we step out of this emporium of illicit desires into the sunshine, Gilles is unrepentant about his life's mission.

Mr. PETERSON: Amazing how my memory for music is so good. But try and learn a language and, you know, I can't get anywhere, you know. It's like, but when you really care about something, you know, your brain does work.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: You just heard snatches of songs in Derek's report. You can actually hear full-length tracks from Gilles' album at our Web site. That's npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Keep on learning. Soldiers, keep on warring...

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. We've got more to come on DAY TO DAY.

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