Yale Evelev – New York, NY
Yale Evelev – President of Luaka Bop music label
Q: Who are you ? Where did you grow up?
A: My name is Yale Evelev. I was named after my grandfather who made up our last name when at age 12 he came over from Russia. He thought Evelev sounded American?!
Before age 12 we lived on Spring St in Philadelphia and my best friend was Kevin Healy who I would see everyday. Kevin had one of those fat, center post, RCA players that the company made when they had a mini format war with Colombia to replace the 78. Since the 78 was one song a side and Colombia had just come out with the 33rpm long-playing record, RCA wanted their own format and subtracted 33 from 78 and came up with the 45! I bought a lot of 45’s; Woolworths had them 3 for a dollar. Snoopy and the Red Baron, Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles, and Louie Armstrong singing Hello Dolly. Kevin’s dad was a Phila. cop and I think the idea of a little kid buying a record by someone black was odd to them. Nice those days are gone.
At age 12 we moved 10 blocks away to St James St and I never saw Kevin Healy again. That shows you how atomized Phila was. This was 1967, Sgt. Peppers came out that summer and Sammy Gruber, also a new kid in the neighborhood, had a copy of that album plus a house that had air conditioning. We listened to that album over and over, one way to beat the heat.
Q: What was your first album? How did you get it? At what age? Can you describe that feeling? Do you still have it?
A: The first album I bought was from a band on Elektra Records called Earth Opera. I bought it at Sam Goodies (they were having a sale) on Chestnut St. I remember I was with my best friends at the time, Sammy Gruber, Mark Bobrowicz and Mike Magen. FM radio, “Free Form Radio” had just started in Phila with a DJ who named himself Toy Lit, (after a big AM radio DJ called Hy Lit!). When Iron Butterfly came out with the 17 minute “In A Gadda De Vida” it was revelatory for us and the Free Form FM stations that would play that. Remember up until then you had radio ‘jocks’ that played 3-minute songs and shouted at you. On FM all the DJ’s were obviously high, (or sounded that way) and so was their audience. The Earth Opera record had a 13-minute antiwar song called “The Great American Eagle Tragedy.” I have no recollection what they sounded like and, though I remember the cover distinctly, I no longer own the album.
Q: What prompted you to start collecting? What age did you start? Was there a specific event in your life, an era, which signify your transition from music lover to a collector?
A: I’m not sure you actually –start- record collecting. I loved music and though all my friends also loved music, I loved it more, it was more important to me and records were more important to me and that is where all my money went.
Perhaps it was in the beginning of high school that my record obsession really took off because I worked and had some money. I was really into blues; in fact I almost only listened to and bought blues records. Blues musician manger Dick Waterman was based in Phila and he managed many of the most important artists so there were a lot of blues gigs in Phila. I got to see Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee a lot, plus, Hound Dog Taylor, Luther Allison, Mississippi John Hurt, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (they were a duo), Elisabeth Cotton etc. Pretty fuckin great that I was able to catch the tail end of the Blues Revival before so many of those folks died. By the end of High School I was very influenced by Phila’s two fantastic non-commercial radio stations, WXPN and WRTI, and an amazing record store called 3rd St. By this time I was into some electronic jazz like Eddie Harris plus soul jazz which was really the Philadelphia sound because that was what was played on jazz radio station ‘RTI. The station played it and 3rd Street sold it; the CTI label, Roy Ayres, The Loud Minority and all the records on Strata East. In parallel to that I was also into European art rock; Gentle Giant, Can, Faust, Ashra Temple, Magma, Popul Vu, etc. which was played by a DJ on WXPN named John Dilerberto who also worked at 3rd Street Records.
Q: What was your Initial interest in music? Did you have any influence from your family? Or perhaps your best friend (or enemy)?
A: My dad had a record collection, of a sort, about 200 discs both 78’s and LPs. Some were those classical albums on Columbia that were the first albums to have printed record covers, the blue Ionic column with the composer and compositions printed on it. He also had some jazz and blues albums; Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, Louie Armstrong and his Hot Five, Jimmy Rogers “The Singing Brakeman,” Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry. These records were incredibly important to me a bit later in life.
My mom was very political, she would bring home any record that was of a political bent so we also had Pete Seeger in the house and I remember listening to songs like Little Boxes and Big Muddy, a song about the Vietnam War. She also brought home Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited because she heard Dylan was political but I remember that she couldn’t figure out what the hell was political about the songs on that album.
Q: Why vinyl?
A: That was all there was.
Q: You stopped collecting vinyl. When did this happen and why?
A: A bit after 1985 when CD’s came in. I was not at all into CD’s but new vinyl disappeared from stores in what seemed a matter of months so that was that.
Last album I bought as it wasn’t available on CD. It’s from the Numero Group guys who I know, I know quite a few owners of other record labels but I try to make a point to never ask for a record I want and instead buy it. There really was a thing with the major label guys to get records for free when they of all people could afford to buy and support the music they liked.
Q: Are you following any specific genre when you collect?
A: At this point I mostly only buy records in other countries because who knows if I will ever see that stuff again and of course it’s part of my life’s research. I do buy a lot of new music but I try to get all that on CD.
In 1990 I went to Cuba with David Byrne bands like Adalberto were the raining musical style. Cuban music had come very far from the 1950’s style of Septeto nacional, Again listen for the part of the song when the singer starts to improvise, if you don’t really care for Latin music you’ll have to wait through some cheesy horn arrangements but then the song takes off. I often think nothing would better then being a coro singer in a Latin band, where you just keep repeating the lines while the lead singer and musician’s wail. By the way all things change and now Cubans, like many in Latin America listen to Reggaeton.
Here’s another album where I kept asking the guys in the Barranquilla record store for more Colombian bands like this one…there were no more Colombian bands like this one because Antony Bananas is from Panama!
You know before the internet almost all the information about a particular album was to be found on the cover. If you couldn’t define what something was you were out of luck. This album I bought in that store in Barranquilla Colombia and I kept asking for more records like this thinking I had found a rare strain of Colombian black music. Turns out this artist was mostly popular for making dance music in Russia, he wasn’t Colombian at all. No wonder they would look at me strangely when I asked for more Colombian artists like this.
Q: How do you organize your collection?
A: There are sections for my demi Gods, Coltrane, James Brown, Sun Ra, there are sections for instrumental music, for 20th century classical, for soundtracks, for Chutneys, (Caribbean music made by Indians), surf music, Brazil, Africa, Salsa, Peru, ethnographic series like Baronreither, Ocora, Philips etc. Dub and Reggae, Soul both vocal and instrumental, organ combos, soundtracks both TV and film…
My James Brown section
Q: What’s your partners’ reaction to this obsession?
A: She wishes I would go back to collecting records and buying stereo equipment as I am also into cars and she hates cars plus they are much less affordable comparatively, and of course ridiculous to deal with in NYC.
Q: has your collection ever opened any professional doors for you?
A: I don’t think so directly. Of course since I loved music and records my whole life has been related. I moved to NYC in 1977 and worked in a record store two blocks from my house, Soho Music Gallery. My rent was $250 a month and I had a roommate and I got paid $250 a week, at that time NYC was an easy place to exist in. The store was owned by the Mob. We were only allowed to answer the phone with the extension number “Hello, 1670.” The mob was planning to bootleg cut-outs. Nobody was watching cut outs and so they could press up ones that were in demand, it was literally like printing money. I was the buyer for World Music, Jazz, and 20th Century Classical, all my areas of expertise, but being able to listen to a constantly changing record stores worth of music was like a masters degree in these areas. We hired a lot of musicians in the store, John Zorn, Anton Fier, etc and a lot of the neighborhood musicians came in as well. Like David Byrne and Brian Eno.
Sidetrack—I went to college for communications, thinking I’d love to play music on the radio. I worked professionally in Phila and Boston on commercial stations and soon realized that the higher up you got in radio the less it would be about any music I cared about. So for my last two years there I also took classes at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where my college had an arrangement. That really was the important part of school for me. I took video art and electronic music classes. The electronic music teacher played Terry Riley, (“Rainbow in Curved Air”), Steve Reich (“Come Out”) Phil Glass (on his own Chatham Sq. records), and music from Indonesia. This totally opened my eyes to these other musics I knew nothing about. Plus the whole European Art Rock thing was so based on the American minimalists that this music made perfect sense to me. And the American minimalists were influenced by music from Indonesia and Africa so this thread pulled me through all the musical interests I continue to develop to this day.
In 1979, after three years at the store I took a three-month trip to Indonesia. I had a ticket on Afghanistan Airways to New Delhi and worked my way overland to Java and Bali. When I came back I thought, though I loved working in the store, I should get a different job. So I got a job at The New Music Distribution Service. I replaced Kip Hanrahan as the radio and publicity guy. Kip was going to Yemen and Madagascar (where they thought he was a CIA spy and held under hotel arrest for three days and then tossed him out of the country).
New Music Distribution distributed albums made by musicians as long as it could be in some way considered non-commercial. We had albums on Phil Glass’s label Chatham Sq, John Zorn’s Parachute Records and 10,000 albums by The Residents, Don Cherry, John Cage, The Pyramids, Anthony Braxton, Harry Partch, Sonic Youth, and I could go on and on. Most were in editions of 1000 and most sold very poorly.
Since I worked for a record distributor it was easy to start my own label. The trigger was a guy called up and said he had an Ornette Colman soundtrack to a movie he made called Box Office, and did I know anyone who would want to put this out. Yeah, me! A month or so later Ornette Coleman came by. He had never come by NMDS before so I thought he wanted to talk about the soundtrac, I had started a label just for this album called ICON Records. That was not the reason he came by, he was hoping the struggling NMDS would pay him $50,000 a year to release the myriad of tapes he had made over the years. Well we couldn’t’ do that and the soundtrack never come out. However I had registered the name and opened a bank account for a record label so I arranged to release some music I had heard in Indonesia. The album was a success selling 8000 copies and it funded the one album I would release yearly on ICON Records for the next few years.
My main co-worker at NMDS was Taylor Storer, he was the man who raised the money for us. Unfortunately he got testicular cancer in his 20’s and died over a three-year period. We hired a replacement who I didn’t get along with. And I watched the 15 years of LPS in stores and in our warehouse being made worthless by the advent of CD’s so it was time for me to move on.
After NMDS I got a job at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where I did music programming. In 1989 I did a festival with 70 or so concerts the next year there was only funding for two or three and so I left there and David Byrne hired me at Luaka Bop.
Los Destillos, they are my favorite Chicha group and are from Peru. Chicha is electric guitar cumbia which is so poorly thought of that once when I said to a cab driver in Lima, “Hey that’s chicha your listening to!” He quickly turned around and said, “NO! Cumbia Andino” (That is cumbia from the Andes.) Chicha is also liquor made by spiting in a pot of purple corn and water, which helps the fermentation process.
Latin music is for dancing so often-Latin records will have the rhythm next to the song name.
Q: Does the label press any new vinyl?
A: We do.
Q: why ??
A: People want it. At this point I find it a pain. It doesn’t store well, it’s expensive to manufacture which means when you have copies left over you haven’t made your money back on the pressing and then they fucking warp. I try very hard to make vinyl sound as good as it used to but that is very difficult because most recordings are done on a computer so you have quite a hard time getting that air and sparkle that used to be part and parcel of a well produced record.
Q: So if it was up to you, you wouldn’t bother?
A: I remember vinyl the first time. As I said I grew up in a house with 78′s (and early lps) and started buying 45′s close to when that format was invented. I remember the transition from mono to stereo, you know at that time they used to say if you have a mono player you should not buy a stereo record because you will ruin it! I remember towards the end of the vinyl era when Neil Young, frustrated on how much was lost when mastering these lovingly made recordings to vinyl, sent his new album out to the majority of the main mastering labs in the US asking that they cut the album ‘flat’. Each cut sounded different.
As I said I love vinyl and when CDs came in had no intention of moving to CD. But the fact is people learned over time how to make good mono recordings, they learned, over time, how to make good two track recordings, they learned how to make good recordings mixed on boards with no automation, etc. Each step of the way, when new technology came in, it took time to figure out how to take advantage of it’s good points and work around the shortcomings.
All of these things are just formats, this is not the music itself. How many people have good stereo’s? How many people listen mostly to speakers hooked up to their computers? How many records are made in the computer and then mastered to LP? A good recording mastered well to vinyl will always sound so much better then a CD and a CD will sound better then an MP3. Given the choice though people are choosing mp3′s over CDs because it’s more convenient and they choose, back then, CD’s to LPs’ because they were more convenient; smaller, took up less space didn’t scratch, etc. I guess I don’t really trust peoples motivations. There are people buying cassettes again!
My record collection is very important to me, It’s an object of itself that contains a tremendous amount of pleasure in the music contained in it. I don’t have to mythologize the idea of vinyl, I was there the first time when it warped, when it was bootlegged, when after the initial 75,000 copies of an album were sold there was a guy in the basement of the major record label who would half ass recreate the mastering instructions and recut masters for the next 75,000. Vinyl isn’t some house on a hill. It is flawed. People have come to like those flaws, I have as well, but it’s not a myth for me. That doesn’t mean it’s not special, or that I don’t love it, I guess, just at some level, I look at the in fashion-ness of it with a jaundiced eye.
Q: So, basically, if it was all CDs, it would have felt the same to you??
A: No that’s not what I am saying. I’m just suspicious of fashion. Will this current vinyl resurgence last. Will the new generation into vinyl hit a point where they get tired of moving a good quantity of heavy records around and move on to the next trend.
You know everything – is a – thing- now. Shops and restaurants that are as much about creating a narrative as they are about what they are selling. How many surf shops or surf related places are there in NYC? How many are really serving a surf community and how many just like the idea. I worry about superficiality.
Q: Do you have a record collecting philosophy or routine when you enter a store?
A: No. Used to be I would buy what the store wasn’t specializing in because that was usually cheaper, these days everyone collects everything.
Q: Out of your collection, there must be a record that you like going back to at any time. your comfort record. What makes it so special?
A: Jorge Ben, “Forca Bruta” I really don’t feel the need to say anything about this record other then it never fails to make me feel good.
Q: Did you have any covers that scared you as a child?
A: Well scared is a bit strong. My dad had a Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five album that was from the 1950’s. I have never seen it again. The cover was a French illustration in the caricature style. The players all were shown walking in a line with their instruments with Armstrong’s trumpet case having smoke come out of it. I was obsessed with this cover for some reason and stared sat it endlessly (as well as listening to the record over and over again.)
If people ask about the records I usually show them this box, just because it plays with the whole idea of what a record is. Here we have a dolls voice box plus a series of little records that play on it. It is a 20th Century Classical piece of some sort. Don’t think I’ve listened to it in many years.
Q: Bad album cover that hides great music in it?
A: For some reason this is the norm in Latin America. It is the most frustrating place to try to buy albums based on what the cover looks like.
Chinese elements are often found in Latin music of a certain period. I guess it’s sort of exotica.
Q: Ever picked up a record just for its cover?
A: I do have a collection of African albums made in the US during the 1960’s. Some of these would fit into that. Plus I was trying to buy all the Hugh Tracey records I could find; these were rare recordings of East African music. I also have a Moondog 10” but I have no idea where that one is as since it’s not 12”s it has sequestered itself somewhere, deeply between two 12”s on my shelves.
Q: Is there a specific musical instrument that attracts you when listening to music?
A: My first response is no, but then I realize I was totally into electric organ and have quite a few albums of organ combos both in jazz and instrumental rock. A sideline to that is I have a few albums that feature organ and piano and organ and vibes, now that is the shit. I tried to get Walt Dickerson, a vibes player, to play on a Big John Patton organ combo album I was producing, but he wouldn’t do it as he felt an organ and vibes sound was too cheesy, my words not his.
Also these days I love electric guitar played in other countries, salsa with electric guitar in Venezuela, Cumbia with electric guitar in Colombia, African electric guitar of all stripes, electric guitars played in Vietnam and Japan etc.
Q: I see these Baren-Reiter Musicaphon records that you’re very proud of. what is it about them?
A: Well in the U.S. most of the ethnographic records that were available were on Nonesuch Explorer or Folkways. Neither of these labels was very editorial in terms of recording quality or music selection for their world stuff. My impression is if Tracey Stern or Moe Ashe liked you enough you made the album you wanted to make. In contrast the European labels, Ocora, Barereiter, Philips Unesco seemed very controlled with the selection of material and recording quality. Ocora in particular for me was the gold standard and I felt I could play some of those records for people who might not be that interested and still have the musicality of the recording get to them.
Ok one of my favorite records of all time. I feel the pygmies make what is the most honest music, made only for joy, not to pick up a girl or get on the radio or to make any money. Joy.
I’m not really a completest when it comes to collecting records, however in this case I did buy every Mali Music album in the series, and I’m proud of it!
This is a core album for anyone interested in ethnographic records. Amazingly enough people as diverse as Don Cherry and Malcom McLaren! Great album on what I feel is the premier label for ethno stuff and you’ll be happy to know the CD’s just don’t hold a candle to the emotions contained on the vinyls they made.
Sidetrack—There was a guy who often came in the record store and bought African records. He said he used to only buy gospel and knew quite a bit about that. He turned me on to James Brown (who I hadn’t really paid attention to up until that time!), telling me it was the most African of American popular music. He was really into the three-disc Chad box set on Ocora, which was an album I really didn’t understand. However because he was so into it I kept listening and eventually really got to like it. As such I realized the Ocora albums were good enough that even if I didn’t get them at that point it was possible I would later so I tried to buy every one.
Side –Sidetrack —At his suggestion I also went to the King Karol outlet store on way west 42nd St. that was all new albums at a discount. They had almost all the James Brown albums on King (NEW!) The main King Karol in Times Sq. tried to carry every LP in print at list price or higher. I got new copies Mulatu Astatke’s Afro Latin Soul albums Volumes 1 & 2! At the time I didn’t think they were really Ethiopian and assumed this was some sort of Latin band trading on the exoticism of Ethiopia! Imagine me jumping out of my chair when I read the notes to those Ethiopiques albums about Mulatu. As for King Karol, one day the store just closesed, no sell off or anything. I always heard that all the records were moved to a warehouse. Imagine that you vinyl peeps, every record in print in 1984, new, sealed, in a warehouse somewhere. Of course I have no idea if that story is accurate.
Q: How did you get to lay your hands on them?
A: To cover up the illegal bootleg operation at the Soho Music Gallery record store I worked in the mob which became the official American distributor for Tikva Israeli Folk Dance label and ethnographic labels, Ocora, and Bärenreiter. The basement was full of these records (along with a lot of transistor radios shaped like mushrooms still new in boxes! They must of come out of some store the mob guys used to own.)
Q: Tell me about a dollar bin record you would never part with!
A: I think these days there is so much more value in vinyl, people are always talking about what a record is worth, that was never part of my collecting experience. A lot of my albums were cut outs or pretty cheap and as I mentioned I would usually buy whatever genre the store did not specialize in as I wasn’t interested in paying a lot for things. Don’t think I ever paid more then $15 for a record and that was probably for some of the movie soundtrack stuff.
Q: Have you ever kept a particular purchase secret from your partner?
A: In records, no.
Another record I’m proud of. Artists I was a huge fan of John Cage and Sun Ra. I got to go to both of their houses. In John’s case to have him sign these box sets produced by Ilhan Mimouglou who just died last week.
This album was a 25 Year Retrospective of John Cage. You know when you are an iconoclast you spend years making art or music that no one but your friends respects. So 25 years later to have a large-scale concert in Town Hall was I’m sure a real statement for Cage. And the applause at the end tells you that the audience appreciates all he went through to get to this point.
Q: Your job takes you to a lot of remote places. Tell me about the most unlikely place where you found records?
A: Well I know this is all about vinyl but maybe you’ll allow this response. A friend of mine Kip Hanrahan, told me that if I went to Borneo he would meet me there. I did used to go to Indonesia a lot and so my next trip there I booked a side trip to Banjarmasin, the main Indonesian city in Borneo. Kip never showed up. However one thing that was cool about the trip was that since Bajer was so far away from Jakarta, the Indonesian capitol, there were cassette stores there that had tons of old cassettes, as they didn’t bother to return them. Really nice. And the thing is, you know, there was a worldwide cassette revolution in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Imagine how few countries outside of ones with decent economies had record pressing plants. Indonesia for instance had just one for the worlds 5th most populous country, it was owned by the government and though there are more then 200 separate languages – hence cultures, in Indonesia the main culture was Javanese. The pressing plant pressed mostly Javanese records and some Balinese as well. So many cultures in Indonesia never had their own-recorded music to listen to until the cassette, with its easy duplication, came into the picture.
On another trip but also on that tip, John Zorn and I went to Okinawa to try to find musician Shoukitchi Kina. We didn’t. But what we did find, once again, was a record store far away from the main city where the record companies were, in this case, there was a store in Okinawa City that had upstairs, in numerical order, shelf after shelf of vinyl. Now I don’t speak Japanese so I bought a modest amount of records but Zorn bought 500!
Q: Is there a particular local folk music that you’re specifically attracted to?
A: Used to be music from Indonesia, but my girlfriend didn’t like the architecture there, (she’s an architect), so we stopped going and started going to India instead.
Q: Tell me about a closed down record store you will grieve all your life!
A: I found out about a large used record store on City Island called Mooncurser Records. I told Zorn about it and we planned to meet out there at 12 noon. When I got out there no Zorn in sight. I started going through it and pulled a bunch of stuff. John showed up about and hour later, feeling bad I told him if there was something he really wanted from my stash he could have it. He sheepishly declined. Turns out he had gotten there an hour and half before me and had already bought the albums he wanted! The store was owned by some grizzled old guy who summered in Maine and wintered on City Island so this very large store, 100,000 albums said the owner, was only open certain months of the year. It’s gone of course.
Q: Tell me a particularly sad record story!
A: . I had a private record seller, his name was Steve. He at first had a house somewhere outside of Phila. but then he lived in his car as far as I could tell. At times owned a dog. He used to travel around the country buying up records and I found him selling them on the weekends at first in what had been a ex-supermarket on Bleeker St near 7th Ave. and then in flea markets around Manhattan, you never knew which ones. At times you come upon a flea market and Steve would be there. He had great records, very little crap, and he priced them nicely! As time went on though he became more and more nuts and vinyl became less and less valued and I fear how he ended.
Q: Tell me about a record that’s too weird to believe, even for a die-hard record fiend?
A: Well I do have a collection of Horror surf records. Plus I have a Batman record that came out around the 1960’s TV show that is really Sun Ra and his band!
Proud of this one, A sun Ra shower curtain cover. Sunny and the Band lived in Philadelphia and used to bring albums into 3rd Street to sell. Many of them lived in a house in West Phila owned by Marshall Allen and they would press up a few hundred of different recordings made of their live gigs and sit around and color the covers. Some of them had photos glued on and those at times would have shower curtain cut out and glued on top like this one!
Q: Tell me about a record you still regret not picking up?
A: Well not a record but a label. When my friend Kip got married he honeymooned in Portugal and came back to the States with a lot of Portuguese African cassettes. Years later, based on these, David and I decided to do a compilation of this music – that is African music from Angola, Sao Tome, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. I found someone in Lisbon to help me track down the rights owner for the music we wanted to license and I went over there to sign the contracts, pay the advances and make the transfers of the recordings. Many of the songs were from one Angolan label, the owner, a short Portuguese man, had owned a pressing plant in Luanda and decided to start a label for the many African acts that seemed to be using his services. He had very good taste. He was retiring and asked if I wanted to buy out the whole label…this was before the internet mind you so I had no vision what I would do with a whole label worth of material as in the 24 years Luaka Bop has been around we have only released 81 albums. Stupid me.
Q: Who would you like to see featured next on Dust & Grooves?
A: Dante Carfagna and Hal Wilner
Another favorite album of mine, Count Ossi and the Mystic Revelation of Rastifari, I even just like saying that! Ossi was a sort of jazz guru in Jamaica and all the Skatalites played with him at one time or other, as did many of the other ska musicians.
“This is all about music more than it is about records. We love music and collecting records allows us to have a narrative that increases our pleasure in listening.” ~ Yale