“Feel the Music” – an interview with Paul Major
“It evolved into being about my life in music, my record obsession, my role in discovering mysterious LPs, bands I was in, my early days in NYC… a capturing of my human being vibe overall.”
Paul Major has lived resolutely on the vanguard of musical culture for nearly a half-century; as a pioneering record collector turned eminent rock and roller, his influence is vast, far-reaching and woefully unsung – until now. Feel the Music traces Paul’s singular trajectory from his early days in the Midwest, through his years in the New York punk scene, and headlong into his trailblazing career as a connoisseur of the weirdest records of all time. Illustrated throughout with unseen photographs from Paul’s personal scrapbook and eye-popping rare record covers and animated by Paul’s witty, inimitable storytelling style, Feel the Music is a deluxe tour through the farthest-out reaches of rock and roll history. [http://anthology.net/]
Your new book is absolutely fabulous, especially for a guy interested in collecting the “real” stuff.
Thanks man, freaks me out that such a book could exist and that the pre-internet secret society of collectors has grown into a worldwide scene. The “real” stuff that only hundreds of people were into back in the day sometimes hits hundreds of thousands on Youtube. While the book features lots of more famous psychedelic LPs it’s the more bizarre private pressings that are the things that I feel like I had the most to do with saving from the scrap heap of history.
Was it difficult to remember all the details from the past?
Not at all, once I started thinking about those days the floodgates opened up out of my mind. What is in the book is a tiny portion of the seemingly infinite amount of memories stashed in my brain.
Did it bring any (almost) forgotten memories?
The section on Village Oldies brought out a huge whirlwind of memories. That section alone could have went on for an entire book, just a few of the tales from those days are included. There could have been in depth stories of the Moldy Dogs and The Sorcerers… my early 1977 days in Los Angeles… and of course endless memories of the adventures I had searching for buried treasure on vinyl when nearly all of these LPs were still unknown.
What was it about music that made you want to start collecting records?
The initial spark was the first time I heard a fuzz guitar in 1966. That coincided with my seeing an article in Life Magazine about LSD and hippies where there was a picture of a guy who thought he was an orange. The mixture of garage punk and psychedelic mind voyages combined and launched me into inner/outer space simultaneously. As soon as I started getting those classics like “Psychotic Reaction” and “Talk Talk” I had to have more… so I checked out every obscure record I could.
You started collecting records when the psychedelic rock was still hot on wax. It must have been exciting to search locally through stacks of unknown records?
It was thrilling, like taking off in a spaceship. Psychedelic rock was the trend and all the major labels put out tons of it. The chart failures which are today’s classics were available months after they came out in the cheapo deletion/cut-out bins. Silver Apples, Velvet Underground, Morgen… for like 44 cents sealed! Then I started looking in used record stores and head shops and discovered that lots of LPs were local or self-made with no connections to the music biz. I would look closely at each LP to decide if it might be a mind blower, return home with a pile and enter the twilight zone when I got them on the turntable.
Times changed and modern record collector has most of the information available on internet. Do you think there are still lost “treasures” that may surface? Or do you think that the majority of interesting private press records were already discovered?
Back in the late 1970s thru the early 1990s loads of discoveries were made but I think most LPs from the 1960s/70s era have now been found or are lost forever. I’m sure in the future more will be discovered but the best ones are known, back in the day dozens of major discoveries were made every week, nowadays it’s a few a year. The internet has changed things, every used record shop now checks every private press out before throwing it in the bins. They used to automatically put the privates and obscure into the cheapest junk section up until the internet got going.
Do you still go out and dig through piles of records these days? What are some of the latest finds?
Whenever I have the chance, but since the internet and discogs it is rare to find a place that hasn’t been cleaned out, even of the most obscure things that would have been passed over previously because they look worthless. Not many finds, did dig up an unknown circa 1970 UK hard rock psych acetate with 4 excellent tracks.
You found so many amazing records that were at the time pretty unknown but now thanks to you they got a legendary status among fans of rock music. Were you always on the look for the psychedelic sleeves? How did you decide what to pick and what not since there was little to no info available back then and lot’s of amazing albums have “boring” or misleading cover art.
I was constantly on the lookout for psychedelic sleeves and also any sleeve that had some bizarre vibe to it, especially the primitive homemade ones. Back in the day they were all so cheap I’d buy everything obscure that had some interesting aspect… pictures, crude art, odd song titles, anything off the wall. I did go through many that looked great but were losers. Also many that looked like losers but were great. I had a pretty good instinct for smelling out a heavy one.
What will our readers find in your latest book?
It started with an idea to reproduce all of my old catalogs but the realization came that the book would be over a million and a half words, twice the length of The Bible. Way too much. It evolved into being about my life in music, my record obsession, my role in discovering mysterious LPs, bands I was in, my early days in NYC… a capturing of my human being vibe overall. Other key people also wrote sections. I realized I couldn’t be too closely involved in the resulting book, start thinking about myself and go down the rabbit hole, so I handed over to the editors a bunch of materials and they brilliantly put it all together. When they were done they showed it to me page by page and I made spontaneous comments into a tape recorder that are used as captions to the photos and the rare LPs included. You’ll find a lot of crazy stuff in the book, that’s for sure.
What was a process of becoming aware of private press releases for your like?
At first I didn’t make a distinction between big label LPs, small label LPs or privates, even though I already had obscure stuff early on. Then in 1977 the Kenneth Higney LP made it all fall into place, the whole “real people” thing, the added mystery that lost in time unknown private pressings gave me a more pure glimpse into the artist’s mind. I became obsessed to know what these people’s lives were like. My perception of all the famous psychedelic records, all music, had changed, too. As a kid the bands seemed like bigger than life gods… but the private presses exposed to me that they are just humans like me and you. In my head Peter Grudzien is a similar size to John Lennon… Lennon got more done and made a huge mark on the world but Peter doing his thing is just as real.
A split with your band from 1970s, Sorcerers is also included. That’s pretty cool…
The Sorcerers track is from an old rehearsal tape circa 1979 at Sunset on Grand Street if I recall, the studio Johnny Thunders operated out of… I remember having a long talk with Sid Vicious’ mom there when she came over after he killed Nancy, jammed with Johnny and others there, too. Passed on shooting the drugs, tho’. The Endless Boogie track is a portion of a jam recorded on cassette in the old Chavez rehearsal space on Attorney Street… lower east side, probably from around 2005 or so.
“Sometimes the treasure would be so astonishing I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t lost in a fever dream.”
Your catalogues were actually way more important than it would seem like at first. You captured so many bands and without those catalogues lot’s of it would be gone. How do you feel now that Anthology made a book out of it? Those catalogues were actually short little reviews/notes that really helped most of us to understand what it’s all about.
I was into it early on when nearly everything was unknown, so it was natural to discover lots of great stuff since I had good ears to single out what was special. The catalogs didn’t seem very important to me back then except as a way to do record deals and pay the rent but I think my love of the music comes across. Obviously I had a blast writing them and am happy they helped bring this music into the light. Others were doing it but maybe my style was a bit more flipped out. I think these LPs would have been eventually discovered even if I never existed. I was in the right place at the right time. It was a total ‘kid in a candy store’ reality then. Going searching for buried treasure and knowing I would find it every time. And sometimes the treasure would be so astonishing I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t lost in a fever dream.
You said you love fuzzy guitar sounds that we can find on many heavy psych albums. Let’s do this again (our previous interview); what were some of the albums you would pick today for a perfect evening with a couple of beers?
For intense guitar action I never tire of LPs like Morgen, Bent Wind, Marcus… and also the famous classics… my personal top psychedelic LP if I had to pick one would probably be Are You Experienced?… far and away my favorite Hendrix LP. But if I’m sipping a brew I may mellow out to some psychedelic Donovan as well or decide I have to hear Music From Big Pink again. I’m all over the map on this question… too much pops in my head at once to sort it out without going on endlessly.
What are some of the most interesting records in your collection?
I’m a channel rather than a collector so I’ll answer this by mentioning some LPs I discovered that I still like today, some of the most interesting things that I was key turning on the world onto… New Dawn, Dark, Marcus, Peter Grudzien, Stonewall, Kenneth Higney, Ray Harlowe & Gyp Fox, Fraction… here again my head gets logjammed… there are so many.
Is there an album that has profoundly effected you more than others?
When I was very young and heard the first Hendrix, the first Doors, Surrealistic Pillow, Revolver, Velvets, MC5, Stooges… all those great LPs of that era… I got to experience them as a kid around the time they came out. They sounded like a leak in from an alternative dimension. They all affected me and set the stage for finding the unknown mystery music that filled my catalogs later. Looking back, this question is impossible to answer with any one LP. I probably did play Are You Experienced?, The Doors, Sunshine Superman, Velvet Underground & Nico more than most others. For obscure LPs it gets even more confusing so I’ll use this chance to mention that I am utterly floored by the Clap LP and I Feel The Need To Carry On by Darius. They profoundly affect me every time I hear them. It’s endless.
Unlikeliest places you’ve found records? Memorable dollar-bin finds?
I found Fraction when I went to buy a copy of Higney from a guy I knew who had one of the three copies Ken had sent to us in New Jersey in 1977. He had no other interesting unknown LPs but he had Fraction because he had managed a country rock band that the bass player was in later. Dollar finds (and cheaper) are many… Azitis was a dollar, Fredric a dollar, Darius a dollar… well there are a zillion since all the best stuff used to always be in the cheapest garbage section of every used shop. I found a mono first Velvets in a dumpster once. I used to get incredible records at the main headquarters of the Salvation Army in NYC. Thrift shops and flea markets. The best thing for me, though was by the time I started making the catalogs I had contacts in cities all over the place and told them to buy every cheap weird looking local LP they ran across and just send them to me. I’d pay them well for the winners and throw out the losers. I discovered lots of LPs this way, just having people send me piles to listen to and determine what as special. That’s how I got into South American stuff in the 1980s… I wrote to a guy who was advertising South American Beatles and Madonna pressings and said I wanna buy groups from there that sound like Jimi or Cream or The Doors etc. When the first box of 50 LPs arrived it had Traffic Sound, Aguaturbia, Pappo’s Blues… mind melting stuff all taken on chance. Well there were crap bands in there too, but they cost like 10 or 15 dollars each.
Do you own anything else which is widely unheard by others?
Yeah, there’s a few secrets I never let out of the bag, and maybe never will.
Do you have records you can’t have enough of, even after you’ve heard them a thousand times before.
Plenty. I’m all over the map. Most LPs have a shelf life with me but certain ones always do the trick. I won’t name names as there are too many, but sometimes part of it has to do with how that LP fits into my own personal time frame of life. Those key early LPs when I was kid probably get a magic boost due to their timing going into my brain.
“… but I’ll mention a special LP I had for a long time that recently I realized is like no other, so are-discovery bumping up the totem pole… the initials are G.V.S. sorry I’ll be a shit and not say the name, just give a clue.”
What would you say is your latest discovery?
I’m blanking out on this one… but I’ll mention a special LP I had for a long time that recently I realized is like no other, so are-discovery bumping up the totem pole… the initials are G.V.S. sorry I’ll be a shit and not say the name, just give a clue.
What are some of the latest records you bought?
I haven”t bought many as my life has been a bit tumultuous lately and I”m more concentrated on Endless Boogie now than old records… but that solo LP by Robert Kidney of the Numbers Band is great.
And what are you spinning right now on your turntable?
Nothing right now but “Season Of The Witch” has been running thru my head all day… you know how it goes when your inner turntable lays sporadic fragments of a song on you and they won’t go away. Fortunately it isn’t a Billy Joel song or something.
What is the most pleasant experience while record digging?
Plowing through massive dusty piles of LPs and being stopped in your tracks by something that looks so bizarre it shouldn’t even exist. Then getting it home and it’s even better than you hoped.
Thanks for your time Paul. It was wonderful to talk with you again. Your knowledge is incredible and it’s a real honour. [Endless Boogie is spinning in the background]. What’s the current plan for the band? Any upcoming touring plans?
Endless Boogie is in Europe all through September, check the show dates on our facebook page or No Quarter page… or just google Endless Boogie and the info will magically appear quickly. Thanks Klemen, was a blast doing an interview with you again! Oh… and thanks again for finally getting the lowdown on Stonewall! (Interview here)