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From the Mississippi Delta to Dumfries and Galloway, and back again
February 6, 2013 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Third Man Records, the US label owned by Jack White, is collaborating with Document Records to release vinyl-only remastered versions of blues artists. Document Records, run by Gary and Gillian Atkinson in Scotland, holds the largest known pre-1945 blues, jazz and country archive in the world, with 900 titles and around 25,000 tracks.

Scotsman: Gary said he was taken aback by White’s apparent nervousness about speaking to him, until the singer explained how much the label meant to him: “He very, very excitedly told me about how, as a kid, the first bunch of albums he bought were from Document Records, and he had been a big fan of the label ever since. The thing is that his attitude reminded me of how I felt when I first started collecting as a boy.”

BBC: "I had been looking for Blues records when I was a teenager and the older ones seemed to have been kinda swallowed up," Jack explained to 6 Music's Elizabeth Alker. "They were few and far between and the 78s were non-existent. At one point in Detroit a whole Blues collection was dropped off at this vintage record store, so that's when I first bought a whole batch of Document records - Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey, Roosevelt Sykes - I'd never seen those records on vinyl before."

Deadline: The first three, vinyl-only albums, will feature remastered recordings by blues legends Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton and the Mississippi Sheiks ... Gillian said she thought White was “taking a chance” on the reissued recordings but added: “He told me there had already been 900 pre-orders per title.”

Exclaim: Each of the records will be called The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, meaning that these releases will aim to collect all of the artists' respective recordings.

Jack interviewed on NPR. Third Man Store online, and a promotional video and Charley Patton sample.

Charley Patton - Spoonful Blues
Mississippi Sheiks - Sitting On Top Of The World
Blind Willie McTell - You Was Born To Die
posted by Wordshore (43 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
For some reason, I don't own a record player, and as much as I appreciate the culture and aesthetic around vinyl I wish this would have a digital release. But I suppose that defeats the point, and I am glad Jack White is doing this.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Excellent post.

And Jack White is a goddamn hero.
posted by four panels at 3:07 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hey, that's great news. And big kudos to Document Records, they've been providing us with so many glimpses of our musical heritage for so long. A great little company that seems like a dear old friend.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:11 PM on February 6, 2013


Looks like these are going to be regular LPs and not singles.

I bought the special 78 RPM Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Tom Waits record issued ~2 years ago. I understand the attempt to make it extra-retro by mimicking the old 78 RPM format, but what they actually released was a strange hybrid: 78 RPM and 10", but on vinyl and microgroove. The only way to play that record without ruining it is to use a 33/45 (microgroove) needle on a record player with a 78 setting. Old 78 players/gramophones will destroy it. Typical 33/45 players will be too slow.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love vinyl, I love my weird and strange collection of records, I love my turntable -- but I don't understand reissuing lost treasures as vinyl-only.
posted by incessant at 3:27 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because if the release were electronic one would not be able to shake and break the Charley Patton record OR hang it on the wall.
posted by mr. digits at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I don't know. I really appreciate Jack White's love of vinyl and all its trappings, but I think that it's a shame most people will still never know this music exists; it kinda bumps the material up from total obscurity to semi-obscurity. I feel much the same way about Centipede Press, a great publisher of (mostly) long out of print horror and science fiction titles -- the books are fucking beautiful, really nice hardcovers with typically amazing illos, but they have tiny runs and the prices tend to be higher than the casual reader would think about...and there's no digital editions. So the books become a slightly more accessible curiosity than they were before, done up in grand fashion, but largely beneath the notice of potential readers. This is a little different, because the albums appear to be affordable, but they're still (to my mind, unnecessarily) limited to a niche market...and why?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't understand reissuing lost treasures as vinyl-only.

So we can lose them all over again!
posted by BungaDunga at 3:44 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've loved these recordings since I was young and collect Document Records whenever I find them. If you want to hear some amazing restorations, I recommend Pristine Classical's versions. The Charley Patton and Skip James tracks are revelations.
posted by le_vert_galant at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2013


These aren't necessarily "lost" treasures -- labels including Document have been re-issuing these artists on CD for decades. So it really doesn't do any harm to have vinyl releases too.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live where the Mississippi Delta begins, but my paternal family originally hails from Dumfrieshire. Yet another reason to visit!
posted by grimjeer at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2013


This bit from the BBC article speaks to why they're not doing this digitally:

"At Third Man Records, we don't really care. We just want to create things that we want to see exist and if it breaks even, we're lucky - if not, it doesn't really matter."

All of the recordings will be re-released on remastered vinyl, with White adding: "I think it's the most reverential format because you're very involved, you're dropping the needle yourself, you're part of the mechanics of the music.

"When we pop this iPod on we don't really see any moving parts, so it's not very romantic to us, it just becomes a machine, like a microwave or something. You don't really know why it's working, you just know when the food's hot."

posted by mannequito at 4:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You don't really know why it's working, you just know when the food's hot.

I have no idea how amplifiers work. I stick a plug into a record player, and into an amplifier, and into a speaker, and sound more or less magically comes out. Unless you're playing music entirely mechanically, there's some fancy magic electromagnetic voodoo no matter what you're up to. Not that I can't appreciate the aesthetics of vinyl- aesthetics are important. But I'm not sure it's any more reverential or less machine-like. It may be analog but it's still a highly engineered machine playing disks pressed by even bigger, highly engineered machines, playing music very probably remastered using digital, highly engineered machines.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


mannequito's quote captures Jack White's general attitude about music. I don't know a ton about him, but I've seen "It Might Get Loud" where he displays this compulsion to make music in the most physically demanding way possible. It always struck me that he was confusing effort and results, but maybe I don't get it.
posted by Horselover Fat at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It may be that he finds constraints a boon to his artistry -- many do -- but I don't know if that's the case with White specifically.
posted by mr. digits at 4:24 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vinyl is also problematic in that it's getting difficult for those who don't already have a decent turntable to find a new one that is reasonably priced and doesn't suck. But maybe that's not a problem for this particular collection.

[White] displays this compulsion to make music in the most physically demanding way possible. It always struck me that he was confusing effort and results, but maybe I don't get it.
Neil Young went through that whole trajectory too. Maybe more than once over his career. White is still a youngish guy, and given that the music and the musicians he admires it makes sense to me that he'd struggle with how important that particular flavor of authenticity is.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:27 PM on February 6, 2013


I prefer Amoeba's approach to re-releasing lost music: Digitize music released only on shellac and vinyl and sell the rip as a downloadable MP3s. It's less romantic but more accessible.

That said, I'm sure the music in this new collection will be exceptional.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 4:29 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


While I am usually indifferent to Jack White's musical output, every interview I read/listen to with him makes me respect him more, and little niche projects like this only make me happier he's out there. Good on him, keeping grumps like me happy, in spite of ourselves.

(I just spent two days refurbishing my Maratnz amp and my Thorens turntable and I can't help but feel like somehow Mr. White was waiting until I got done to let me know about this so I can feel that much more self-satisfied. In the meantime I'm playing some quasi-legal reissues by Mississippi and Django to tide me over.)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vinyl is also problematic in that it's getting difficult for those who don't already have a decent turntable to find a new one that is reasonably priced and doesn't suck.

It all depends on your definition of "reasonably priced" and "doesn't suck", but Audio Technica turntables are fine, and replacement parts are easy to come by. The AT-LP60 is less than $100. The AT-LP120 is around $200.

IMO, anything that looks "retro 50s", has built-in speakers, folds into a suitcase or is manufactured by Crosley is going to suck. Anything USB powered is going to suck. But there are still plenty of inexpensive record players that are going to sound just fine.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:51 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read a great article on a local website about a record collector making a pilgrimage to Third Man Records, but I can't find it. I love how he issued the last album by Lanie Lane.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:53 PM on February 6, 2013


For the pedants: Document already has most of this music available for digital download.

Not a big Jack White fan, but this is an elegant way of paying it back/forward. Also, this means Gibby Haynes and Stephen Colbert will now be on the same label as Blind Willie McTell.
posted by lowest east side at 5:04 PM on February 6, 2013


"At Third Man Records, we don't really care. We just want to create things that we want to see exist and if it breaks even, we're lucky - if not, it doesn't really matter."

All of the recordings will be re-released on remastered vinyl, with White adding: "I think it's the most reverential format because you're very involved, you're dropping the needle yourself, you're part of the mechanics of the music.

"When we pop this iPod on we don't really see any moving parts, so it's not very romantic to us, it just becomes a machine, like a microwave or something. You don't really know why it's working, you just know when the food's hot."


I think it's great that JW releases what he'd like to have, but, frankly, I find the attitude described in the last two paragraphs hipsterish. To me it's about the music itself, not how you listen to it. But hey, this way some people get vinyl rereleases and I can go check Document's online catalogue*. Win win.

*it's good.

posted by ersatz at 5:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the complete catalogs by these artists are available from several different labels on CD. This is simply another reissue, on vinyl, which is something that continues to happen periodically even now. We're this not Jack White this would not warrant any press at all. It isn't a genuine contribution to the preservation of old music, it's a vanity project. Old Hat Records, or Dust to Digital, or, you know, Document Records, make genuine contributions to music preservation.
posted by OmieWise at 6:01 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong, I welcome every release of songs by these guys, but here's a partial discography of reissues of Blind Willie McTell material that runs over 120 items. He's been reissued to death. So, why is this news, and what is the contribution here?
posted by OmieWise at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2013


" I find the attitude described in the last two paragraphs hipsterish. To me it's about the music itself, not how you listen to it."

I agree the wording used is hipsterish. But the vinyl listening experience is definitely more involved on a couple levels.

Firstly, for "visual learners," vinyl gives a nice big album cover, but also lot of information with just a quick glance at the record: how much time is left in the current track, how long the track is in relation to the other tracks, number of remaining tracks. If the side isn't too long, then the grooves are spaced enough that you can also spot the breakdowns, quiet parts, loud parts, etc (sort of like looking at the waveform on Soundcloud).

Also, with any physical single-disc/album media player, there's a little more attention given to each disc just because of the effort involved in changing the disc (and vinyl is a tad more of a process than CD), so it sort of trains you to be less "ADHD" in your listening habits if you have a habit of over-shuffling in iTunes. With vinyl, you also have to be aware of when the side is over (unless you have an auto-stop turntable), so you can't just leave it playing and forget about it.
posted by p3t3 at 7:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it's great that JW releases what he'd like to have, but, frankly, I find the attitude described in the last two paragraphs hipsterish.

What is inherently wrong with being 'hipsterish' if it includes someone as awesome as Jack White? Or have you just discovered him and his authenticity fetish? Hell I wish he were more authentic and wouldn't work with the Kills or ICP.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:18 PM on February 6, 2013


Yeah, uh, so if this stuff isn't "lost treasures" then this is ... a vinyl reissue of material that was already readily available which is noteworthy why?
posted by incessant at 8:52 PM on February 6, 2013


So, why is this news, and what is the contribution here?

... a vinyl reissue of material that was already readily available which is noteworthy why?


While not disagreeing, per se, with the sentiments expressed in these comments, my feeling is this: many younger listeners who may be unlikely to pay much attention to old, acoustic, prewar blues recordings unless triggered by a contemporary hero like Jack White may actually become enamored of the music. You know, because Jack White pointed them to it in the first place. I think that, then, would be precisely the contribution here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:09 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is all well and good. Though I wish it did not take Jack White and his weird Goth scarecrow slash preacher schtic to get people to search out the roots of American folk. Harry Smith did a better job of it well before White was even born. But hell, anything that gets anyone as far from the asinine faux folk of The Lumineers as possible should be given a medal.

Only tangentially related.. but I am officially to the point where any article proclaiming the return on the vinyl format elicits a combo eyeroll slash angry glare.
posted by mediocre at 10:54 PM on February 6, 2013


Yeah, I tend to agree that it's an overall good for the music when someone high profile like Jack White recommends it, but that's a relatively modest contribution. I guess the weird thing for me in all this is that Document has already done the work here, and JW is doing something cool that he can do because he's JW, but not something that is particularly exciting to people who already care about these things. (No one is writing posts about how JSP ripped off another batch of Document records (or Bear Family records) and released them as a CD compilation.) But the breathless presentation makes it seem like there is much more there there. I mean, the guy from Old Hat found Paramount 13123, the lost Blind Blake sides, and that's a real contribution! Not to mention his great re-issues of stuff* that has only been available in very limited quantities in other places. I understand that these things are not mutually exclusive, but the hype here is only possible if people don't know about the lay of the land or don't care.

*Or see the incomparable work done by a real first-run reissue label like Yazoo, especially something like The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.
posted by OmieWise at 3:58 AM on February 7, 2013


You don't really know why it's working, you just know when the food's hot.

I like Jack White's music, and I love the blues, but I have to say: speak for yourself, buddy.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:34 AM on February 7, 2013


In downtown Jackson, Mississippi, so it's told, there was a music store that opened in the 1920s. For it's first 30 or 40 years of business, it was a hopping and popular store, apparently a place where the races mixed fairly freely and the selection served both sides of town. In the 1950s it was one of the few places where kids could get "race records" in town. Another thing about the store was, it never threw away unsold merchandise. The back shelves teemed with dusty blues 78's and the back room had posters from every musician that performed between Memphis and New Orleans for 40 years.

Unfortunately rock-and-roll became mainstream just as the owners were getting ready to retire and the store began to decline in the 1960s. By 1970 the store was a shell of it's former existance, a small, lingering cult of record hounds spent hours combing through the back stacks looking for the gems. According to the legend, it was about this time that a big name band (big for the time Bread I believe?) came rolling through town on their way from/to Memphis/New Orleans and lured by tales of the store's back stacks. They made their way through the stacks immediately finding rare jewels, the band asked the owner about the posters they'd heard about. The owner showed them the back rooms.

It was about this time that the offer was made. Not an astronomical sum of money, but enough. The owner agreed. The store closed the next day. A few weeks later a truck arrived and people boxed up the whole place. And like that, it was gone, a massive archive of blues, jazz, and early rock and roll, gone who knows where?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:45 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


...a big name band (big for the time Bread I believe?) came rolling through town ...

Bread? Fuckin' BREAD? Damn.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on February 7, 2013


It may not have been Bread, but that is who I remember it being. Of course the whole story could be an semi-urban (Jackson's not that big) legend, I have no evidence either way, but I have heard the story relayed several times by different people in different situations, one being a prominent businessman in town and closet blues collector who had no obvious reason to lie to me.

I should add, that whatever the band, it was not one who'd you expect. It wasn't someone like Eric Burdon or Rare Earth even.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:10 AM on February 7, 2013


I agree the wording used is hipsterish. But the vinyl listening experience is definitely more involved on a couple levels.

Oh, I like vinyl itself, especially the sleeves, and if using vinyl makes some people pay more attention to the music, even better. It's just that, for me, music is more important than what format I use to listen to it and in debates about formats, people stop talking about music. Just like I am now.

What is inherently wrong with being 'hipsterish' if it includes someone as awesome as Jack White? Or have you just discovered him and his authenticity fetish? Hell I wish he were more authentic and wouldn't work with the Kills or ICP.

You had discovered him before he was cool? ;) I first heard of him about a decade ago, like most people, and I liked some of his music, but I didn't probe any deeper. Fetishism might be a good word. I grew up in a household where a turntable was what you used to listen to music. What is more authentic, 33 1⁄3, 45 or 78 rpm records? Why not phonograph cylinders?

posted by ersatz at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2013


Why are you whispering?
posted by Wordshore at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2013


Hell I wish he were more authentic and wouldn't work with the Kills or ICP.

The Jack White-ICP collaboration makes perfect sense in the context of them sharing solidarity as Detroiters rather than White being a secret Juggalo. Detroiters have a loyalty to music from their city. As an anecdote, I've met black kids from Detroit who were White Stripes fans but don't care for many other white musicians. "Who's Bob Dylan?"
posted by riruro at 9:47 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm confused, what does "authentic" mean in this context?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:03 PM on February 7, 2013


"Who's Bob Dylan?"

Ignorance is never cool. Not *liking* Bob Dylan (or anyone else) is fine. But wearing absolute ignorance of him (or any other artist) as some sort of badge of pride is just sad and stupid.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:42 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are you whispering?

I met the devil at the crossroads at midnight and we made a deal. He would make me play the blues, but in exchange I wouldn't be able to close 'small' tags again.

posted by ersatz at 7:08 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


10th Regiment: Is it possible it was Canned Heat? They did help Joe Bussard get his swimming pool after all.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:03 PM on February 8, 2013


Aw, well, yeah, Canned Heat were blues hogs, that's what they were all about. So, that wouldn't be surprising at all. But 10th Regiment did say, upthread: "whatever the band, it was not one who'd you expect."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:59 PM on February 8, 2013


Jack is great for promoting the project, but Johann Ferdinand Parth's story is much more interesting to me. An Austrian who fell in love with jazz and blues and spent much of his life working with other similarly minded fans to share old, nearly lost music.

Here is Document Records' page on Discogs. It seems that neither the Jazz Perspective nor Hot Club De Vienne labels have pages on Discogs yet, but that's not too surprising for short-run record labels from the mid fifties.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:06 PM on February 26, 2013


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