Am I a serious collector? Well, Uncle Rico, things are getting pretty serious right now. I mean, I spend, like, two hours every day on it, so I guess you could say things are gettin' pretty serious.
But seriously, as a serious collector of all forms of cosmo-American music, one is always on the lookout for something one might have missed, some great-but-unknown artifact of cosmoAmericana.
Let's take, for example, the case of Otis Redding. Otis died in a tragic plane crash in December 1967, at the peak of his powers. No more Otis. Unless...
The amount of music Otis produced became finite -- a thing of the past -- on December 10, 1967. But that doesn't mean we've heard everything he put down and committed to tape. Thus begins the usual exercise in barrel scraping exploitation, in the attempt to squeeze every bit of revenue from his legacy.
The Beatles Anthology series turned barrel scraping into big business, since which time the music industry has attempted to identify every last barrel in its possession in order to dump the contents on boomers with too much money and nostalgia.
Actually, if memory serves, this first started with Jimi Hendrix, whom I believe put out three albums while alive, but, according to Amazon, now has 1,731. When we die, our fingernails keep growing. But do too does our back-catalogue. Truly, death for Hendrix was an exceptionally shrewd business move, as it was for Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.
After all, had any of these three lived, they would have aged just like their peers, and no one gets excited about the prospect of a new album by Grace Slick or Joe Cocker, or even the Who, the Stones, Ray Davies, etc.
Today Hendrix would be 69. If he were still above the sod, perhaps he'd be like Sly Stone, homeless and living in his van; or imprisoned on drug-and-shootin'-at-the-bitch-made-me-do-it charges, like James Brown; or room temp in a crack house, like doomed Tempt David Ruffin.
Or maybe his dad would have bust a cap through him, like Marvin Gaye. Or maybe just faded into self-parody, like Ray Charles, or living fat on his legend, like Aretha. Or maybe he would have found and lost and found God, like Al Greene; or been a victim of a hideous accident, like Curtis Mayfield and Teddy Pendergrass; or alive but severely brain-damaged, like Jackie Wilson. So many career options!
However, every once in awhile you do find that previously undiscovered gem, such as this demo performance of You Left the Water Running on an outstanding collection called The Fame Studios Story 1961-73. In fact, that set contains many fine examples of Cosmo-southern soul that I hadn't heard before, and like I said, I like to think I'm a pretty serious collector and passionate negrophile in general.
On balance, one probably has the best chance of finding those undiscovered gems in soul music, one reason being that so much of it was recorded on tiny independent -- or even fly-by-night -- labels with no national distribution.
For example, some guy has put together a couple of box sets of obscure gospel music, Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel and This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM. I haven't purchased them, but the samples sound fascinating. I don't know that it's even possible anymore to produce gospel music so spontaneously and unself-consciously, with no eye on market considerations. It really is "other-worldly," from a world that no longer exists.
A seriously anal collector is always on the lookout for that great artist that has eluded his attention. Well, just last week I found one. I'd heard the name before, and even heard a song or two, but only last week did I finally order this collection, The Complete O.V. Wright on Hi Records. If you want everything he did prior to 1975, that will only set you back $254.29. That would be a major commitment.
One often hears the term "criminally underrated" tossed about. Well, I am pleased to report that this guy is the Real Deal. In his case, dying at 41, just a few years after this performance, did nothing for his career. He'll even make you believe fish have hands, that's how strong it is. Take a listen: