“Music doesn’t have to have anything to do with records. records were a vehicle and a means of capturing musical output in a certain way. there’s a lot of cultural heritage in that form of carrying music and of course there is a lot of culture that still revolve around records. Digging is part of that culture, so is being a completist or having pristine vinyl cataloged in a home library or being around freaky weirdos at a record show. but this has more to do with records themselves than music. the fact that I am really into records doesn’t make me a musical expert at all, and it doesn’t mean that I know more than someone who has huge mp3 files, or no mp3s at all. Everything is music and everyone curates their own sound…. whether its recorded, live, birds chirping, train wheels turning, a cash machine’s cha-ching, or the sound of silence. I think the one thing we all have in common is a 9 month period of listening to our mother’s heartbeat. Its no surprise that rhythm has an infectious effect on people’s bodies. We have a common denominator of universal rhythms.” ~ Tony Larson.
ere we are again. Photographing diggers, digging for records, traveling, drinking, and most important.. getting exposed to new music, and to people’s thoughts about it.
Tony grew up with Cosmo Baker in Philly. He is a true digger, and a genuine free spirit.
So, my friends Kevin and April and I took the bus to Philly and stayed there 3 days, with two main missions: going digging with Tony and having a real Philly cheese steak. Both missions were successfully accomplished.
we hit the first spot and it was a bit dull. too late, or too cold, or it just wasn’t the day, but all he got was that cool colorful LP from the Staple Singers.
This time it was a different story.
We met some of Tony’s old digging pals, friendly dealers and some others who are less friendly.
We started digging, and I just couldn’t hide my excitement. All that cool music concentrated in these dusty crates, straight out of the U-haul truck. I just saw great music waiting to be purchased. Tony, with miles and miles of digging experience, had some other feelings attached to this excitement. He showed me this picture frame of a couple which was hidden in one of the crates, pointing out the sad truth that this collection had once belonged to a real person, a family or a couple, and now, for any kind of unfortunate reason, it is making it’s way to its next destination. C’est la vie.
Mark started to do his routine, sorting out the good stuff from the common stuff, with skills of a professional dealer, while Tony was keeping away from the hot spot , unsuccessfully hiding his resent to what’s going on.
on the way, in one of the storage rooms we bumped into Al, who deals with all kinds of stuff, electronics, clothes, and god knows what else. I just couldn’t resist taking his portrait.
Q: name, age and city you live in?
A: Antonio “Tony” Larson, 34, Philly
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I’ve always worked with youth. For the last five years, I worked for a university but was full-time in high schools developing a youth development program focused on nutrition. So basically, I trained and paid teens to teach cooking in the community, trying to make them civic leaders and understand how central food is to health, environment, politics, culture and all that. Now I’m finishing up a masters (at the same university, so its free) and rehabbing vacant houses to be energy efficient. My living is working on Philly sustainability issues and all my efforts tie into that.
Q: What prompted you to start collecting? What age did you start?
A: Hip-hop got me interested in older music looking for samples. In college, I was actually around people who were serious collectors. So by twenty years old, I was hooked.
Q: What was your first album?
A: Well, my parents had records so I used to play their Beatles and Rolling Stones records when I was five. The first notable record I picked up on my own was a copy of Cymande’s first album. This guy John used to sell records outside of the library near my house and would talk your ear off. So I got that from him. I remember walking home with it and this pool hustler from the local arcade saw it and was like, “What you know about Cymande?” It was more of a statement than a question.
Q: Why vinyl?
A: Mystique? I don’t know. When I started collecting seriously, in the early ‘90s, the internet wasn’t around like that and a lot of things hadn’t made it to CD yet. It was even hard to get golden age hip-hop joints like Paid in Full on vinyl. I would go into Sound of Market and they’d say, “Awwww, you ain’t gonna find that.” So it became kinda challenging and also satisfying to find records. Also, they are very tactile. It’s like like holding pieces of art. I also think all the spines lined up on a shelf are beautiful.
Q: How many LPs do you own? 45s?
A: I heard someone say in an interview once, “Too many, but never enough.” I always liked that. I’ve been getting rid of records a lot more frequently of late, so I don’t even know. You’ll just have to look at the pictures.
Q: Any specific genre? What attracted you to this specific genre?
A: Hip-hop attracted me to being open to every form of music. But I mostly collect funk, hip-hop, jazz, rock, soundtracks, kids records, Latin joints, European stuff, and African and Brazilian records when I can find them.
Q: How do you organize your collection?
A: I try to keep it off the floor, roughly categorized into genres I guess. Black artists go in soul, white artists go in rock (just kidding!).
Q: What is your partner’s reaction to this obsession?
A: I’ve had girlfriends who have not appreciated me getting up at six in the morning on weekends. But I’ve also had girlfriends who wouldn’t mind going to flea markets and thrift stores, either to look for records or clothes. But you can’t take a girl to a record store or god forbid, a record show. Hell no. Mostly I’ve got my obsession in check, so girlfriends just think its odd that I have so many records and wonder what they are for (since I don’t DJ).
Q: So really, why are they there?
A: That’s the million dollar question! umm, to listen to. to look at. to put in different piles. I like how all the spines look lined up on a shelf. they remind me of different adventures, people, places and periods in my life. album art is beautiful. mildew is an underrated air scent. occasionally I play out, and I don’t own an iPod or Serrato. and finally, cause records are heavy to move, and occasionally you need a different kind of work out.
Q: What part of your monthly budget do you spend on records?
A: Not a big part any more. Plus, I fund my habits by selling doubles.
Q: Can you name some stores, flea markets, thrift shops or record conventions?
A: I can’t give you names of my regular spots!! You got to hit up everything to find stuff!! I still go to WFMU once in awhile. Everyone should get to the Austin Record Convention once in their life. In New York, I will always stop by Good Records and Big City Records. They are run by real solid people who I consider friends and they have top notch records in stock at all times.
Q: Is there an album / 45 that you are trying to find, unsuccessfully? What would you give for it?
A: I haven’t been able to catch a particular Byrdie Green LP. I’d like to pay under a hundred, but its gonna be tough. I know that as soon as I drop loot on it, I’ll find it for a dollar somewhere. There’s a 45 I like a lot too- Sidney Owens’ “Sputnik.” Its got this amazing, unique sound. Real weird. That’s gonna cost me a lot, so I’ll try and trade with someone. Both have been reissued lately, but I’ll resist and stay on the hunt for the originals. I’ve been looking for both easily over five years.
Q: Why do you insist on originals rather than going for the re-issues?
A: That’s the other classic question. why not have them all on mp3s? I’d definitely save some space (and money). I think that’s less about the music and more about the thrill of the hunt.
I used to care more if I was picking up originals…not sure why, but I think its some elitist bullshit…anyone can go pick up the reissue, but I went to the trouble of tracking down an original copy. pretty corny really, but maybe that was in the back of my head. these days, I don’t really care as much…but its more stubbornness, I don’t really NEED more music in my life, so I can definitely wait to find something. And its a great feeling coming up on that white whale you’ve been hunting for years. These days, reissues cost more than I’d hope to pay for a record anyway too. I want to find it for a dollar or set up a trade where i can trade something i copped for a buck. Makes me work for my habit a little, whereas just running to the spot and grabbing the reissue is on some instant gratification shit. I’m not knocking it though…I’ve bought reissues and there’s some reissues of joints that are just absolutely impossible to find. Sometimes I wish there was no recorded music and everyone just knew how to bust out congas and guitars and sing songs together. KUMBAYA MUTHAF*%KAS!!!
Q: Out of your collection, there must be a record that you like going back to any time. What is it? What makes it so special to you?
A: Curtis Mayfield Live and Air (on the Embryo label) are two absolute timeless favorites. They both have a sensitivity and soul that is rooted in passion and love of the people and world around them, but they remain humble. I hope if I keep listening to them, they will influence me to do the same.
Q: What is your favorite album cover?
A: Lynn Christopher is pretty great! I love brunettes! JoAnn Garrett is gorgeous, too.
Q: Is there a record in your collection that you feel ashamed about? If yes, then why do you keep it?
A: There’s no shame in my record game. Sometimes I grapple with justifying all the time that I put in looking for records, all the mornings that I get up early. But like I was telling you, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps that going. And being able to sell records and make a little cash justifies things to an extent. But spending time marinating with good music is the ultimate justification for spending a lot of time looking, for shelling out dough once in a while or for having some record that other people would raise their eyebrows at (I’ll still rock Alphaville’s Forever Young from time to time…that’s my joint!)
Q: Tell me about a record that has healed heartbreaks! Name one that made them worse!
A: Ummm, I don’t know about that. There are some that are intensely personal to me because of who I was listening to it with at the time. I think Manu Chao’s Clandestino is like that for me. I tell people that’s my shit and some people dismiss it as overplayed and such. Still, for me, it reminds me of joy, pain and heartache…so i get all sentimental with it. But, its a great album regardless.
Q: Tell me about a record to impress a special lady with! And one to impress her mum!
A: LOL…I don’t know if any lady i thought of as special would be impressed with any record. It probably wouldn’t be that exciting to a record nerd. Something like, “You’ve got Roberta Flack’s first album!!! Woooo!” But for real, I’m not really bringing girlfriends around my records until they are ready to really be inside my brain. I mean, I’m always listening to music, but my record room, where I get all ADD and zoned out and emotional…that’s not some first date shit. I’d be scaring girls away.
Q: Now, what about a record that would scare the shit out of her mom?
A: The Demon Fuzz Afreaka cover is pretty startling!! My peeps on Soul Strut made a little icon that has the character on the cover saying “This is not S&M; or robbery related” or something like that. Shit is hilarious. But that cover might freak a mom out and the music is completely godly in my eyes but if you weren’t really listening, it might sound satanic or straight out of a pagan ritual. But I’ve known some open minded mothers.
Q: Have you ever had a dark moment when you felt that your collection is closing down on you, that you have spent your best years gathering together all this dead weight rather than having fun or sorting out your life? A moment when you considered getting rid of all these records?
A: Not really. Only when i start thinking about the collapse of the American economy and survival mentalities do i think of trading them all in for canned goods or bullets or something. But these days, I’m just planning on having a solar panel that can power my stereo so i’ll be able to enjoy my music even when the apocalypse hits and roaming bands of mutants are scouring the urban landscape for cats and dogs to eat.
Q: Who has the toughest record collection that you have ever seen?
A: Shit, I don’t know…I’ve seen some crazy collections, but the real insane ones, it’s not like you can sit there really grasping everything that’s there. I met this guy in Arizona and we clicked right away…he was real into rock breaks. He had an insane amount of rock records for being a hip-hop head. He’s in the old collage of the Aeiou 2 CD (they took that panel out in the reissue)…but he was a serious dude. Tim from Phoenix. I lost his number too.
Here are some of Tony’s favorite Albums:
Air is an amazing record, very heartfelt and emotional. Jazzy grooves but well paced by the drummer. I love Googie’s singing. This is easily one of my favorite records and fits into the melancholy yet hopeful genre of music that is probably what i gravitate toward the most.
Another amazing and rare record. Miraculously, I found two copies of Time Capsule at Philly’s famous Prison Flea market, which is absolutely overrun by record fiends. This is another through and through gem and has some of the most beautiful female spoken word on it (aside from Weldon’s music).
Del Jones Positive Vibes….An extremely hard to find Philly grail. There are two versions of this record, one with horns and this one without. I actually like the other one better and have found it numerous times over the years, but this one just ranks as far as being something I’ve only come across once in my life. Both records are blistering JazzFunk depictions of the state of decaying city life in the Black experience. Heavy stuff and its kind of ironic that the album is called Positive Vibes. The song titles reflect the feel more.. .”needle and spoon” “times are hard, friends are few”. Phew.
Poison Ladd SLR- That’s a rare Philly Hip-Hop record and the cover just screams out Philly. I was never big into graf, but i remember kids in school and in the lunchroom drawing characters like that in the late 80s. That record has some incredible tracks too.
S.O.U.L. is one of the best funk records out there. Its mostly cover songs, but they are all done to perfection. This is yet another 90s wall standard. I love this record to death. I got my first copy from Len Funk in Virginia, who is someone I could talk record with on and on. He will never be able to hide his enthusiasm for great music…so we get all goofy talking about cool and quirky records. It would be cool if you could do a profile on him, although he got rid of a lot of his joints years ago.
Bare Knuckles is an extremely rare goon movie soundtrack. Its not that great though…although the cover promises some madness. I found it in a furniture shop in Augusta Georgia, hometown of James Brown. That was the first eventful happening in an amazing string of events in my one day sojourn in Augusta. But that’s another story that deals with Rasta pizza shops and female pool hustlers and other non record related things.
Thanks to Gábor Vályi from Hungary who helped me out with some cool questions.
Also, Thanks to Gregory Winter, who helped edit this post.