Posts Tagged ‘NortonRecords’

Norton Records, Still Rocking……

May 11, 2017

BEN SISARIO 5/09/17 NYTimes.com

Six months after the death of Billy Miller, his wife, Miriam Linna, still keeps his ashes in their only appropriate place: next to the couple’s gigantic collection of 45 r.p.m. records.

For nearly 40 years, Mr. Miller and Ms. Linna reigned as the king and queen of New York record collectors. They hunted for rare rockabilly singles, chronicled lost scenes in their magazine Kicks, and founded Norton Records to reissue some of their greatest and most bizarre finds, with liner notes that had scholarly depth but also showed the excitement of true fans.

When Mr. Miller died in November, at 62, of complications of multiple myeloma, kidney failure and diabetes, Ms. Linna was left to ponder her life alone as well as the future of their sprawling business, which includes not only the label but a book publishing imprint and the tiny Norton Record Shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

“People say, ‘You’re independent, you can do this on your own,’ but that independence thing was two people,” Ms. Linna, 61, said in a recent interview at her Brooklyn loft. With jukeboxes, pulp paperbacks, records and B-movie posters everywhere, the apartment doubles as a virtual museum of rock ’n’ roll ephemera.

“Working as a fan, as a label owner, magazine publisher, whatever — it’s always been side by side, and having a blast with it,” she added, holding back tears. “It’s a little harder having a blast by yourself.”

This week, Ms. Linna is pressing on with perhaps Norton’s highest-profile release: Dion’s “Kickin’ Child: The Lost Album 1965,” a collection of folk-rock songs that represented a maturing phase for the singer of “Runaround Sue,” but were mostly rejected by his label at the time, Columbia Records.

“Kickin’ Child” was the last album that Mr. Miller worked on, and it will be Norton’s first release since his death. The label worked closely with Sony Music, which owns Columbia, to prepare and manufacture the album, but by Dion’s choice it is coming out on Norton.

“Passion’s worth more than money in the music game, and I know they have passion,” Dion said of Norton and the couple behind it.

If record collectors have storybook romances, Ms. Linna and Mr. Miller lived it. They met at a record fair in 1977 and soon began publishing Kicks, following a path laid by earlier fanzines like Bomp! in digging excitedly into the little-known corners of rock history.

By 1986, when Ms. Linna and Mr. Miller started Norton — named after Jackie Gleason’s neighbor on “The Honeymooners” — they had already started to dig much deeper than most, and the Norton catalog swelled with unusual artifacts like reissues of the wild one-man band Hasil Adkins and exhaustively researched studies of regional garage-rock scenes.

“I think of them like archaeologists, going through the layers of this music to find its root source,” said Lenny Kaye, the guitarist, rock historian and compiler of the 1972 album “Nuggets,” another precursor to the Norton method. “They have found just beautiful, beautiful people whose purity of expression is why we listen in the first place.”

Norton’s taste has attracted superstar fans like Elton John and Robert Plant, who was named the label’s customer of the year in 2006. Norton also became a precursor to what is now a broad field of young labels, like Light in the Attic and the Numero Group, that specialize in tasteful, “curated” reissues of obscure recordings.

But Ms. Linna, whose blond bangs hang just above her eyes, loathes the highfalutin word “curator,” and she isn’t wild about “collector” either. Waving at the wall of records she accumulated with Mr. Miller, she alternately calls it junk, stuff and “crapola,” which she means lovingly.

“I can guarantee you,” she said proudly, “that every record in there is good.”

As an example, she pulled out a Velvet Underground disc that she believes may be the only one of its kind: An acetate record containing the song “Heroin” that she said Mr. Miller found while poking through a box of doo-wop records. When talking about their work together, Ms. Linna sometimes catches herself still referring to her husband in the present tense.

Mr. Miller’s death is not Norton’s first setback. In 2012, its warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, destroying most of the label’s 250,000 records, along with paperwork, master tapes and much of the stock of their book imprint, Kicks Books.

“It took a lot of gusto out of the game to see stuff floating around there,” Ms. Linna recalled. Drawing on decades of good will in the business, they got much of the label’s catalog back into print, and Norton now sells discount “Sandys” records — jacket gone, vinyl fine — in bins outside the shop.

Last year, they heard some of the tracks that Dion recorded in 1965 with Tom Wilson, Bob Dylan’s producer, and were stunned. Songs like “Now” had keening harmonies and a crisp sound that only die-hard fans knew about. Through a mutual friend, Scott Kempner of the band the Dictators, they got in touch with Dion, who told them that he had planned an entire album.

“Columbia said, ‘What are you doing?’” Dion recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m making music that cannot be denied.’ And they said, ‘These aren’t hit records,’ and they just tossed it aside.”

Norton worked with Dion and Sony to assemble the album, using original mixes that in some cases have never been released.

 

When Mr. Miller died, the Dion project was in midstream, and Ms. Linna said she was considering whether to close the shop. Then the vultures started swarming, asking if she wanted to sell the label. Even now she sounds surprised at how defiantly she responded.

“I got a little bit ragged but righteous with them,” Ms. Linna said. “I did tell them, in no uncertain terms, that we were going to be a label” — her voice rose to a yell — “long after they were going to be food for the cockroaches and dinosaurs! I don’t even know what that means, but it was like, good-bye!”

The store remains open, and Norton is going full steam. The next project is to produce expanded reissues of some of the label’s landmark albums, like Mr. Adkins’s “Out to Hunch,” Norton’s first album. Next year, Ms. Linna plans to release a book on the Detroit label Fortune Records that Mr. Miller spent seven years researching, with the musician and writer Michael Hurtt.

“I know without a doubt in my mind that if it was me not Billy, Billy would not let go of the dream,” Ms. Linna said. “And the dream is not like something far off in the future. This is the dream. We’re living it.”