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Collector – Spin


When Larry Cohen, 89, began collecting blues records in the 1940s and 1950s, Very little was written about the record, a few were reissued, and it was sometimes found that some even needed to meet the owners of the 78’s – often the “only known copy”. In Cohen’s case, these meetings were often with the “Blues Mafia,” a group of New York City area collectors who would eventually provide dubs of their rare discs for republishing on smaller specialist labels, many of which they ran themselves.

A longtime resident of LA, Cohen still has a huge collection of records he has acquired over his long life, and of the 78,000, about 350 alternatives were tested from pre-World War II sessions, many of which were never released. Like his friends in “Blues Mafia”, he contributed to the re-release of the initial recording, although his work has been on a much larger scale.

Notably, he made 1990 boxed sets of complete recordings of Robert Johnson from 1936 and 1937 for Sony. The initial company estimates were low, but the set sold more than half a million copies in one year, and the following year Cohen received a Grammy for Best or Historical Album.

The success of the set allowed Cohen to dig deeper into the Sony archives, which acquired the CBS Record Group in 1988 and thousands of recordings from the 1920s and 1930s. For more than a decade, Cohen has produced more than 100 issues in Sony’s Roots n Blues series, mostly vintage blues but old-fashioned country, cajun and gospel music. And today, at about 0, he is looking for new projects in the re-issue field.


Courtesy of Larry Cohen

Cohen was born in 1932 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania And when a child moves with his family to the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn, he remembers a “mafia neighborhood … 75% Sicilian and about 25% Jewish.” Her primary passions were basketball and music.

“I started listening when I was nine years old, and when I was twelve years old I already had records – Jelly Roll Morton, Lead Belly and Boogie Woogie guys – and it never stopped, I never lost my love for it.”

Radio, including a weekly program of boogie woogie piano, piqued his interest, and on Saturday night he recalled listening to live broadcasts of Woody Herman’s band from the New York Club, Wheeling, the Jamboree country music program from the West Virginia WWVA, and, if he was from Baltimore. Services stood late enough

“My father would shout, ‘Sleep!’

In his mid-teens Cohen used record stores and junk stores, where there was a huge stack of used 78s.

“Since I often drop out of school, I fall in love with collectors hanging out at the Jazz Record Center on West 47th Street, Big Joe Kluberg’s place. Fifty cents a piece for Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton and you name it. No one had the money to buy anything, at least not me. I would save and maybe I could buy a record or something a month. It was all, all rare things. Klauberg was a huge man, a former wrestler and a boogie-woogie pianist. We were really happy and I learned a lot from those who adopted me.

Another favorite spot was the 42nd Street Commodore Record Store, run by Jack Crystal, the father of comedian Billy and his brother-in-law Milt Gabbler, a successful producer at Deca Records. The operation also included Commodore Records, an indie jazz label that most famously released Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

Credit: Library of Congress / William P. Gottlieb Collection

“Jack adopted me,” Kahn said. “He would give me a back-to-back listening booth and he would let me play music there all day. I didn’t have money to buy anything because I was too young. Crystal also reviewed Cohen’s girlfriend, who became his first wife, and allowed Cohen to take part in many jazz shows aired in the Central Plaza in the East Village. Already 13 by 6’1 “, Cohn has also appeared in many shows around the city at clubs including Birdland.

After high school, Cohen attended City College in New York, but left in his junior year to join the military during the Korean War.

“The embarrassment was that the war ended during basic training, so we were the first group to receive 100% statewide orders. And I’ve been playing basketball for the Army for two years, playing at Madison Square Garden before the Knicks. We’ve traveled all over the country, never wearing uniforms.” We got every dime every day. We stayed in the best hotels, we were treated with royalty. ”

After leaving, Cohen graduated from college and attended Brooklyn Law School. “When I came out of law school, I didn’t really want to be a lawyer. The government was testing federal agents and the starting salary was quite good. Long story short, I went and became an agent and worked with him [Attorney General] Bobby Kennedy for a long time. ”

Cohen served as special agent for both the Treasury and the Justice Department, in both cases his responsibility was to fight the mafia.

“Those guys never scared me,” Cohen recalls. “One thing about the high school mafia boys, there was no unreasonable violence with them. If it’s intentional, it was another story. Just don’t have to be tough or such things. That’s why Joe [“Crazy Joe”] Gallo has been killed [in 1972], Because he was doing all this nonsense. They wanted to keep a low profile. If they tell you about something, you can take them to the bank. I’m not suing them as good boys because they’re stupid, but they were true to what they said.

A few years before fighting the criminal mafia, Cohen joined the less treacherous “Blues Mafia.” Although the previous generation of 78 collectors initially largely ignored the blues in pursuit of jazz records, the group was more focused on the “country blues” played by unaccompanied guitarists.

Some members, Cohen recalls, didn’t want to hear anything until the mid-1930s, when he had more Catholic tastes, and during the listening sessions he played relative modernists, including Lonnie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell and even Johnny Cash. Cohen’s comments on the collection were expressed in an article written for the 78th quarter: “The Blues didn’t die with Charlie Patton’s last record.” [a pioneer of Delta blues, Patton made his final recordings in 1934, the year he died].

Cohen began writing about music as a graduate and was allowed to write a music column for the major literary magazine Saturday Review while working as a special agent. “Martin Williams, Stanley Dance and I split [musical] Upstairs accessories. I did blues, folk, country and gospel – we were a good team. I wrote the story about the Newport Folk Festival based on a personal interview with Son House, John Hart. I think we opened it up to a lot of people. ”

He also wrote liner notes for recordings of artists enjoying second careers during the “Blues Revival”, including Hart, House, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker, and Lightin Hopkins, and for republishing recordings of Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson. , And the blind Willie McTell.

Today his collection includes, according to him: “9000 LP, about 3000 78s, 350 test presses, 18-20,000 CDs and appx 1 – 2,000 reels to recordings and cassettes.”

Its rare, he said without hesitation, a 78 from Frieson, “Indian Squa Blues”, from about 1929/1930. Frieson has only recorded one 78 on one side, and there are only four known copies. She found him at a fly market in Memphis for 25 cents. The stall owner suggested that he look down the line at some other box, to see if there was anything else of his choice. It was a collection of rare recordings and many of them “would buy nothing more than 50 cents.” Then he saw a greedy Louis Armstrong record from 1932.

It’s hard for him to say his favorite record. He landed in Walter Rowland, a pianist who was with lots of blues singers. “There are very few mint copies of his stuff,” he said, “checking in with a single” Kitchen Man Blues “called” Some Bessie Smith Records. ” And Jimmy Rogers – “I have about 125 records [of his] From the thirties. “And then he added” Anything on the American music label. Meade “Lux” Lewis’ recording ‘Honky Tonk Train Blues.’ It hurts me emotionally. “


Cohen retired from the government in 1968, And after writing a short letter to CBS chief William Pelli, he was hired as a trainee. Six months later when he told Clive Davis that he was the new head of Epic Records. “My wife was waiting in the car and asked,‘ What happened? Enter a friend’s full name. “

Cohen has worked musically across the spectrum under a major label, and his signatures include Billy Joel, Redbone, REO Speedwagon and Cheap Tricks, as well as blues-based works by Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Otis, Shugi Otis, Brenda Patterson, Joe.

Cohen was lured by the Playboy company to run a new Playboy label in the early 70’s; His work there included the signing of pre-dad “Bizarron and Benny” and the establishment of a production contract with Sam Phillips. He later spent a frustrating year in discussions with Bob Dylan that created a label that never materialized. In the mid-80s he moved to Paris for five years.

Cohn’s return to CBS / Sony in 1990 revolutionized the relationship of labels with CDs behind their catalogs. The Robert Johnson set was on the plan for 17 years when Cohen accepted it, and he credits his background as a lawyer and a CBS executive for his success in getting it through an inconsistent red tape.

No other blues album near the Johnson set has sold anything, but a fierce market for vintage blues has brought respectable sales to all of Cohen’s issues in the Roots n Blues series. Cohen drew widespread attention as editor of the award-winning book Nothing But the Blues, which included essays by leading scholars.

Cohen Collection
Courtesy of Larry Cohen

Cohen was also responsible for republishing other genres, and was particularly proud of the career-wide set of Bill Monroe and Willie Nelson, both of whom personally expressed their gratitude to Cohen. He said his greatest achievement at Sony was the 4-CD Roots n ‘Blues: The Retrospective (1925-1950), which reflected his extensive taste and incredibly deep knowledge of the archives of 45 previously unpublished 100+ tracks.

This particular set in the novel is how it organizes a variety of genre songs দেশ country and city blues, boogie woogie, gospel, sermon, sacred harp, kajun, ancient country, western swing, and bluegrass genre, so listeners listen to a specific year as well as a wide range of issues. Gets a unique experience.

Cohen said it’s a tribute to Hacker Smith, the compiler of the 1952 Six-LP Set Anthology of American Folk Music of Folkways Records. Smith similarly neglected to form a variety of recording structures from the early ’20s and’ 30s, which had a profound effect on actors, including the emerging “folk revival” – and Dylan.

“I do not know [Smith] Almost at that time [New York’s] Village, I’ll see him make noise around. What Anthology has done has broadened my horizons. I have never heard any Kazun song before, shape-note song, other such things. So I owe him everything. He was ahead of his time. ”

Cohen served as a consultant on the re-issue of the 1997 set at Smithsonian-Folkway.

Although Sony and other major labels have slowed down the re-release of their original components, Cohen is still working with other re-issue release projects, including the 2019 set It’s the Best Staff It on Frog Records, which has been significantly unused since the last session of Blind Wiley McTeal in 1956. Contains material. There are still stalks …



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