Black album cover with gray thin stripes in the middle there's a black man's face with a bowler hat on at the top it says Original Master Recording then below it says Willie Dixon, I am the Blues

Can a record collection have a soul and does it reveal the man who owned it?

In my time on earth as a music dealer, I've bought a number of record collections from those who’ve passed and whom I’ve know sometimes quite well.

Which isn't to say you've got to die for me to buy your records. I buy shamelessly from the living and the dead – a real bone collector like the medieval days. Remember that scene in Monty Python's “Life of Brian” where there was a not-quite-un-living person in the hereafter cart? But we're talking records here, not cadavers.

On a number of occasions in my decades buying and selling on High Street a particularly fine collection would come in--vinyl, compact disc, cassettes even – after I purchased I’d lament what a shame it was going to be to bust up such a sweetly assembled, beautifully woven, tasteful palette of music. Years if not decades in the purchasing and appreciating and absorption went into it. The man (I'm assuming) went for depth in sidemen like I have never seen: Art Tatum, whom I’ve never liked, showed up in at least a dozen titles.

A fantastic 1,200-piece jazz pile showed up in the possession of two strange men who’d just moved an estate sale (more death). It was the most remarkable mostly pre-WWII grouping of groups and solo sidemen LPs I’d ever seen. Heavy on Duke, Shaw and Basie and even heavier on their primo sidemen – never have more Teddy Wilson platters graced High Street (Basie pianist – they never sold by the way).

Years if not decades obviously went into the owner's purchasing, the appreciation and absorption of jazz’s several simultaneous directions from the 1930s to the late ‘50s. The dude went deep, too: Art Tatum, a mathematical genius pianist who I never liked, had at least a dozen titles. But in truth, there was an entire bin's worth of miscellaneous jazz pianists. I wanted to take the 1,200 home in their entirety and spend the next 20 years studying the music. But I didn't. Sold ‘em all, didn't keep any. That's my job.

When I lost my store to OSU’s voracious off-campus corporate real estate appetite, I thought my collection-buying days were days were done. Ahhh, but you are who and what you are as Don Corleone once sort of said.

In August I bought the finest 1,800-piece late ‘70s/early ‘80s punk-wave-post-modern-classic-rock pile of British and American records I’ve ever seen. I got no store left but I do have a living room. I have bought bigger collections but never better. ‘Twas no ordinary buy. They belonged to one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known and in a way it’s one of the most haunting collections I'll ever be a part of.

The moment I got the call he’d passed a couple of years ago I experienced something I hope I never do again: until that moment I never knew how much I loved the great John Lanum, a Ramones-Stones-Clash leather-jacketed rocker whom I met in some gigantic stupid brawl late one early '80s night in Crazy Mama's parking lot. I think he hit me and he thinks I hit him. No matter. We were friends ever after.

Some years later he’d had precarious health after a horrific highway crash with a semi that left him dead for a bit until the paramedics revived him. Eventually he moved to New Zealand for the free health care and worked in a college library, America having failed him on both counts. Two years ago he woke up one morning and suffered a fatal aneurysm. I was devastated by his sudden loss. I felt like I lost a brother. What a guy.

Eventually his brother liquidated his estate. I scraped together four respectable figures and found myself digging up old House O' Music LP divider cards. It took two months to organize it – 1,200 alphabetized records not by genre is a task-and-a-half.

I wasn’t just making sensible order of a huge bunch of mostly mint conditioned records. I was making sense of Johnny Lanum’s musical tastes and if I maybe so bold, his personality, his self, maybe his soul.

He didn’t have much black music, really. A smattering of blues and a couple jazz. But interestingly enough, he loved vintage ‘50s black vocal groups – soulful stuff yet not quite what we consider ‘soul’ music. That surprised me. Mills Brothers, The Four Vagabonds, The Ravens – I had no idea he was down with these guys.

Of course he had New York City well-repped: the complete Ramones discography; Television, Talking Heads, New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Patti Smith and of course Crazy Mama’s honorary house band, The Fleshtones. British counterparts, sure: Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, etc. Then the dark stuff which given his love of heavy literature I should’ve known I’d see Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order.

On the American hand, he had at least 40 Zappas. And from there a very handsome pile of early '80s L.A.: Blasters, Cramps, Lone Justice, Los Lobos and plenty of rip roaring California punk – not my bag but he did live out there for awhile and he saw it all. Of course he had Dead Kennedys.

Nothing was more pleasing than Johnny’s rockabilly/rock’n’roll collection. The finest pile ever to come my way – and I once ended up with what was left of the late, great Michael Gene Antler's vintage ‘billy.

He was a fantastic roots musician who played with the obscure but inimitable Buzz and the Flyers in England as well as bass here in the long-gone but never-to-be-forgotten The Burners. When I was in the Hoot Owls we shared a rehearsal space in the basement of Roger McLean’s art gallery on King. I’d hang around after we were done just to listen to Michael Gene warm-up on his big ol’ double-bass. I was young and I was in awe. He was my hero. I still have many of his rockabillies – almost every one the only one I’ve ever seen.

Of course, one may wonder of the morality of gathering the possessions of the dead, particularly someone we’ve loved. I’ve mulled it over. It mattered to me what happened to the records. I loved the man and I absolutely love his collection. But if you saw my basement you’d wonder where in the hell this ex-record store owner’s huge personal collection was stashed.

Well, I love owning. But I love letting go as much. Depending on who it goes to. I doubt I have more than 350 or 500 records from the old days. When I can tell someone really wants and loves Otis Redding – and let’s face it, there aren’t that many good-condition Otis records circulating anymore – well, that person gets my Otis 3-LP box set or double-LP ‘TV-Only’ set.

Thus it is with Johnny Lanum’s pile. I think he’d approve. I’ve let a few of them go but only to folks I know who burn and churn for great music. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m going to die someday. Do I want some shmuck getting my records? No. When I croak I want a bank account and record shelves nearly empty. The right person for the right record I always say. If you're interested, I’ll audition you and me and the ghost of Johnny Lanum will judge if you’re worthy (

One of the things about the man’s collection that really haunted me was this story.

For many, many years my favorite blues album was the magnificent Willie Dixon’s “I Am The Blues.” A well-earned title – the sonuvagun wrote more classics in the genre than anyone else and one can only imagine the amount of money Led Zeppelin finally paid his estate for ripping him off.

Well, someone had brought in a Mobile Fidelity ‘gold’ compact disc of it and I gave him a pretty penny. I played that peckerwood four million times until it just got up and walked away. I have the empty case still. Someone perhaps got behind the counter and heisted it or I just lost the damn thing. Oh, well, shit happens. I was so mad at myself I swore I’d never play it again until I found the disc. I never found the disc.

It wasn’t a Mobile Fidelity copy of the album I found in one of Johnny’s boxes but it was a clean compact disc, laying between Dylan albums. Who knows why. But I’d been waiting for just the disc to walk back into my life and it did...from my old buddy Johnny Lanum, the little brother I never had whom I didn't know how much I loved ‘til the moment I found out he was no more. You can’t tell me this wasn’t meant to happen. You can’t tell me we aren’t still brothers. Love and music are stronger than death.


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