A Blues and Country Collection for Collectors A new CD gathers rare early blues and country records, including some that have never before reached the general public. Richard Nevins, who compiled The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, tells Debbie Elliott about the collection.
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A Blues and Country Collection for Collectors

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A Blues and Country Collection for Collectors

A Blues and Country Collection for Collectors

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Mr. JOHNSON: (Singing) (Unintelligible) Hot tamales and they're red hot. Yes, you got 'em for sale. Yes, you got 'em for sale.


That's Mississippi blues man, Robert Johnson singing They're Red Hot. Johnson was one of the most famous and influential blues musicians ever to pick up a guitar. But you won't find any of his recordings on the new compilation, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting.

It's a collection of some of the rarest early blues and country records, including a few that have never been heard before.

Richard Nevins compiled the set. He joins us now from our New York bureau. Hello, there.

Mr. RICHARD NEVINS (Producer, Records): Hi, Deb. How are you?

ELLIOTT: I'm good.

Now, just to give our listeners a sense of what's included here, let's right off the bat talk about one of these songs and hear a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of song)

ELLIOTT: There's a song by The Kentucky Ramblers that is so rare, you say no one even knew it existed until it was found?

Mr. NEVINS: Yeah, a lot of stuff, there are old ledgers of company records that alert collectors that they're missing certain key things and they look for them and search for them for years hoping to find them. But this was a case where there were no company ledgers surviving. Nobody knew that it even existed and it just popped up one day and it's a really delightful, wonderful record.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) Ain't going to dig no (unintelligible). Ain't going to hunt no (unintelligible). Ain't going to do a doggone thing but love my dear sweet mama. Oh, you can read my mind. When you think I love you, mama, (unintelligible) all the time.

ELLIOTT: Now, when was this recorded?

Mr. NEVINS: That was recorded in late 1920s. Most of the 46 tracks on this two-CD compilation are from that vintage, which was the hey day of the recording of American music, because a lot of roots stuff was still very strong and vital and ten years later it had been very much compromised by mass radio and play, and people just started to copy what they heard on the radio and on other records. But this was still virgin territory at that time, so there are a lot of pristine styles from enclaves all over the United States that were preserved during the late 1920s.

And you hear that in that recording. They don't sound like anybody else.

ELLIOTT: You named the collection The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting. Pretty powerful, almost mystical language there.

Mr. NEVINS: A friend of mine suggested that line from the Maltese Falcon, which you may remember at the end of the movie that Humphrey Bogart, somebody asked him, What is this statue? He said, It's the stuff that dreams are made of. And those are the kind of tones that record collectors talk in when they get carried away, which is most of the time. Thus we needed some kind of vehicle of an anthology to put out and we stumbled upon the idea of just poking fun at collectors as a vehicle for issuing some really great music.

ELLIOTT: Your liner notes are even illustrated with all kinds of collectors like the lady who has something like 40,000 wishbones.

Mr. NEVINS: Forty thousand turkey, duck and chicken wishbones that she happened to amass. Collectors are certifiably crazy.

ELLIOTT: Including you?

Mr. NEVINS: I'm atop of the list.

ELLIOTT: So, let's talk a little bit about these records that you found that inspired you to put this collection together.

Let's start with Son House. What did you find of his?

Mr. NEVINS: Another collector in the Midwest came across this record of his that had never been heard before, and this is Big County Farm Blues, it's just a stone cold masterpiece. And it's very, very, very fortunate that it was found because of that, because it's such an important recording.

Everybody who loves Robert Johnson recognizes Son House as a precursor to Robert Johnson.

(Soundbite of song Mississippi County Farm Blues)

Mr. SON HOUSE (Singer): Wish I was a babe in my mama's arms. Wish I was a babe in my mama's arms. (Unintelligible)

ELLIOTT: That's Mississippi bluesman Son House singing Mississippi County Farm Blues.

Richard Nevins, what do you hear when you hear Son House singing that?

Mr. NEVINS: Well, I've always been very, very seduced by American traditional music, backwoods kind of music. It's very, very potent stuff. Emotionally powerful. Full of great emotional content and that's why I have always gravitated toward it. That's why I collect the stuff.

ELLIOTT: So, these records have come a long way. There must be some really good stories about where they've been and how you found them.

Mr. NEVINS: Yeah, there are lots of great stories. Traveling around the country looking for records. A lot of the best stories happened quite a long time ago because these records in the 1960s were still in the houses where they were purchased and those of us who started way back then actually did what was called canvassing, just knocking on doors asking people if they had any old records they didn't want any more. And that's where the real mother lodes of these things were turned up.

In later days, that sort of vanished, that romantic traipsing around has vanished and its pretty much just auction lists and collectors selling to other collectors. It's an underground network of fanatic people.

ELLIOTT: So tell us how you found the Georgia Pot Lickers record, Up Jumped The Rabbit.

Mr. NEVINS: That came out of a Nebraska junk shop last year. Some woman had just come to that junk shop and dropped off a bunch of furniture and some records. The woman who ran the junk shop gave them to a guy to put on eBay. And actually, he didn't put that one on eBay at first. He put some others, which gave me the notion that there was a one chance in a million that might have been there, because there were other records very close, released within a month of that on the same label.

So I told this guy, who was a collector of silverware, a dealer of silverware, there's a collector for everything, I told him, You know, you better go back there and check, because if there's one record there that's there, that might be there, although it's a shot in the dark, it would be worth a lot of money to you and the woman at the junk shop.

So he goes back and leaves a message for me at work the next day, Oh, yeah. I found it. Give me a call.

And I says, Is this guy's pulling my leg? I mean, he can't be serious. Just waltzed back in the next day and there it was. It's a wonderful addition to my collection.

ELLIOTT: Let's listen now to the Georgia Pot Lickers, Up Jumped The Rabbit.

(Soundbite of song Up Jumped The Rabbit)

GEORGIA POT LICKERS: (Singing) Up jumped the rabbit with a great big smile. A hound dog running was on his mind. His foot slipped and he said, Oh, me. I know right now that the joke's on me.

Mr. NEVINS: That's what you would hear at the Saturday night square dance and you just can't help but shake a leg. You've got to get up and dance when you hear that kind of back beat.

ELLIOTT: Get your feet stomping.

Mr. NEVINS: Absolutely.

ELLIOTT: Richard Nevins, it just so happens we have learned that you just received a new shipment of 10,000 vintage records from overseas. What on earth do you do with 10,000 records? Are you going to play them all?

Mr. NEVINS: If you read the notes, I poke fun at collectors saying that all collectors never play most of their records. I mean, they can't wait to get them and then they -- and this is true of other collectors, not just record collectors. No sooner have they got that one thing that they had to have, then they're on to the next thing they have to have. And that's the perversity of collecting.

I play them all the time, but how can you play 10,000 records? It's more than you can play. I use them a lot in doing historical reissue projects like this one. So I sort of ease my conscience from my collector lunacy by knowing that I'm doing some good with the stuff.

ELLIOTT: Richard Nevins is the president of Yazoo Records. Its new release is The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. NEVINS: Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of song Up Jumped the Rabbit)

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