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Hardly Strictly Jazz

Your Past Will Come Back To Haunt You: Omnivore and Dust To Digital - Two Record Labels That Matter

By Published: October 9, 2012
"That was for Record Store Day," explains Pawelski. "The coloring book was commissioned by Buck and made in 1970. No one is exactly sure if they were ever released back in the day, but they have been sporadically available at the Crystal Palace, Owens' Bakersfield dancehall, steakhouse, and museum. (Owens estate administrator) Jim Shaw helped us obtain the original books. I knew about it because I bought a copy on the collectors market years ago—I collect all sorts of music related ephemera too—and that's how I knew about it. I don't know how many were initially printed but we picked up around 3000 more or less, and we did the flexidisc to go with it. We also put a download card so people wouldn't have to pull it apart. Putting a flexidisc in there made it more authentic to 1970 than if we'd just put a download card, and it made the whole thing"—she pauses—"just right. In the context of a Buck Owens coloring book from 1970, what could be more appropriate than a flexi?"

"We don't do just one type of format" she continues. "Each project has its own context, and that drives what the format will be. I mean"—she points to a copy of Neon Art that sits between us on a coffeeshop table. It's a red neon vinyl LP of Art Pepper that consists of two extended live performances taken from a 1981 gig. The album cover is diecut to reveal the colored vinyl, which tints Pawelski's cheek orange as she picks up the LP and holds it to the light—"Look at this. Somebody maybe even who doesn't know who Art Pepper is, why wouldn't they look twice at this? If we can get some seventeen year old kid to check out Art Pepper and read (Pepper's autobiography) Straight Life, how cool would that be?"

(If it keeps them 'em off drugs...)

Arriving at context is often as utilitarian as it is aesthetic.

"In the cases of some of what we put out, we might have the rights to vinyl but not digital," she continues. "Some stuff, it might not really make sense to do LP's but CD's are fine, or—if it's something really ephemeral, a digital-only release might be best. If it's something like (seventies Bay Area soul singer) Darondo, the audience for that is vinyl at least as much as CD, so why not? And, if you're gonna do vinyl, why not colored vinyl?"

Ledbetter agrees.

"Some of these things—especially since we do things that have extensive packaging like books—define themselves. We're right now trying to get everything we have that's LP-only into digital, and we're talking to our pressing plant about download cards and that stuff. But there are some things that reveal themselves when you're putting one of these projects together, and you're a fool if you don't let that take control."

Dust To Digital's third release, Fonotone Records Frederick, Maryland (1956-1969), anthologized an obscure label run by legendary 78's collector Joe Bussard, whose encyclopedic collection of pre-war American vernacular music (hillbilly, blues, Cajun, jazz etc) has made him an essential caretaker of American music history. Bussard is one of the guys who owns the kinds of records of which there are five or fewer known copies, and his basement is probably the greatest roots music listening room in the United States. He is a 40,000 volt character in battered decades-old bedroom slippers, screaming alternately about how awful new music is and how stupid Democrats are. His diet is egregious, and only in recent years has he given up his trademark cigars. He is however one of the most knowledgable collectors I've ever been around, but he's unlikely to write a book about what he knows. Instead, he does a comprehensive and entertaining radio show for which he is relatively subdued (and which is available as a free podcast on itunes).


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