Norton Records 25th Anniversary
(1986 - 2011)
Ugly Things #31
I stopped by Atomic Books this weekend to pick up the latest issue (#31) of Mike Stax's always-essential low-fi retro music mag Ugly Things (get 'em when them come out, because back issues quickly start going for $40 and up!), an issue that was especially essential to buy because it had a history of NYC's Norton Records ("Where the loud sound abounds!"), now celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as extensive interviews with its founders, Billy Miller and Miriam Linna.
Norton Records: dedicated to Truly Ruly Music
The Ugly Things masthead motto is "wild sounds from past dimensions" and it's particularly appropos for this ish, because nobody was better at discovering, celebrating, and rekindling interest in rock music fitting that description than Norton Records and its two-headed braintrust of Billy and Miriam - who followed in the footsteps of the pioneering Lenny "Nuggets" Kaye (and, to some extent, Greg "Who Put the Bomp?" Shaw) to make their own indelible stamp on garage, roots, "primitive," and insane-in-the-membrane American rock music.
Before the advent of CDs and the Internet, there were only fanzine and vinyl outlets for like-minded folks out to discover "wild sounds from past dimensions" (Hasil Adkins, Esquerita, Jack Starr, The Phantom Cowboy, Andre Williams, Ron Haydock, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Link Wray, Bobby Fuller, etc., etc.) and before Amazon.com and other delivery services, seekers and purveyors of said sounds had to gas up their cars and schlept their way across the country to parts unknown in search of audio booty.
Thankfully, Billy Miller (a kid from Queens, who grew up on Long Island) and Miriam Linna (a Canadian of 2nd-gen Finnish emigre stock from the nickel mining town of Sudbury who moved at age 11 to Ohio) met in the hipster melting pot of New York City and soon started filling the "wild sounds" and "truly ruly" cultural void in all the multi-media means available to them at the time: bands (Miriam was the original drummer in The Cramps and Nervus Rex, and Billy and Miriam both played in The Zantees and The A-Bones), 'zines (Miriam's Bad Seed and Smut Peddler; Billy and Miriam's Kicks), and finally...Norton Records!
I love Norton Records! Back in the day, just getting and flipping through their catalog was like discovering the Ark of the Covenant or sipping from the Holy Grail. It opened up a whole new world, much like RE/Search Books' similarly minded Incredibly Strange Music. They even put their phone number on the back page and in those pre-Internet days, you could call up and talk not to some clerk, but Miriam Linna herself! How cool is that?
As UT's Mike Stax writes, "Norton doesn't operate like most record labels. Run by fans for fans, it's the ultimate FAN label, a direct outgrowth of the rock fanzine culture of the '70s and '80s, and more specifically Kicks magazine, which Miller and Linna published from 1979-92. Back in its day, Kicks pretty much ruled the roost for music fanzines. Nothing else out there even came close."
What he said!
Billy and Miriam didn't just write about their heroes - people like Hasil Adkins and Esquerita - they befriended them and promoted them.
Hasil Adkin's Out To Hunch was the first "Norton Records" release in 1986. (The label was named after Art Carney's lovable character from The Honeymooners television show; originally, the label was named Kramden Records after called the Honeymooners Ralph Kramden.)
The Haze craze started here
And Esquerita got the all-star treatment (and a whole new legion of fans) in the legendary third issue of Kicks magazine - not to mention countless Norton Record releases and reissues.
After reading this ish, I started pulling out my Norton Records collection, which now includes CDs like the never-equalled audio brilliance of John Felice's The Real Kids (originally released on Marty Thau's Red Star label, where Miriam used to work). Next up, all those vinyl singles and long-players I bought back in the '90s...
'Nuff said! Mow scurry over to Atomic Books or get online and get this ish!
And be sure to check out Miriam Linna's "pre-Kicks boondockery" blog about living in 1970s NYC over at kickville66.blogspot.com. It's quite a good read and has lotsa great pix and video clips!
Ugly Things (www.ugly-things.com)
Norton Records (www.nortonrecords.com)
Nortonville (Norton Records news blog)
Norton Records on MySpace
Kicksville66 blog (Miriam's pre-Kicks blog))
Miriam Linna Zines (Accelerated Decrepitude)