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Diggers Tales

Any DJ of considerable experience will have many hours, days, weeks, months, hell... years of flight time getting fingers dusty and bank balances emptied. In amongst the majority of average digs, disappointing afternoons and 'why the hell did I get up at 5am for this boot or yard sale?' moments, there are THE moments that drown out all the others. The ones where you find the 45 you've been yearning for, possibly for years, or just picking up a joint for 10c instead of it's real (eye watering) value. We've all got a story to tell whether a collector, DJ or straight up music lover. As we're celebrating all things 45 here, I asked a bunch of DJs to give me one of their stories about a particular record that sticks in their mind. So here's a selection of diggers tales (and one we might add to!).

Greg Belson
The Golden Toadstools 'Silly Savage' (Minaret)

‘The day after the night before’ AKA ‘How to uncover a cover-up’ by Greg Belson

This particular digging story goes back to the early 90’s, just before Keb Darge launched the infamous dance night ‘Deep Funk’. London clubland was vibrant and rich with so many superb sessions to choose from; ‘Quiet Storm’ @ Ormonds, ‘Talkin’ Loud’ at The Fridge, The Pig in Chancery Lane….the list was seemingly endless. One such session I used to frequent every Thursday at The Wag was called ‘Leave my wife alone’…..a night routed in Acid Jazz, but over two legendary floors, it was so much more. This is where I first met Mr Darge, playing behind a high riser DJ booth that you had to stand on a chair to look into it. Out of all the regular jocks that spun there (Bunny, Xavier, Russ K and suchlike), Keb’s brand of raw 60’s soul and funk with a hard hitting back beat is what appealed to me the most.

Tracks that went on to become Deep Funk classics all got an outing at ‘Leave my wife alone’; in many ways, it was an essential session for me. Hearing such awesome club oriented music in one of London’s if not the Worlds iconic venues, has helped shape my approach to my DJ sets today. And to give you an idea of the kind of cuts that were making the grade back in ’92 - ’93, here’s a little rundown of heavy hitters, all played on original 45.

King Midas & the Mufflers ‘Tramp’ (Kanwic)
Bill “Butter Ball” Crane ‘Stepin’ tall part 2’ (Key)
Leonard King & the Messengers ‘The Barracuda’ (Inferno)
Shelley Fisher ‘I’ll leave you (girl)’ (Kapp)
Third Guitar ‘Baby don’t cry’ (Rojac)
Mr Percolater ‘Got a thing for you baby’ (Wax-Wel)
Tenison Stephens ‘Don’t rip me off’ (Aries)
Sounds of the City ‘Stuff and thangs’ (Sounds of the City)
Al White & the Hi-Liters ‘Noise with the boys’ (Tune-Kel)

There was one particular record though that Keb played every week that instantly struck a chord with me. Right from the get go, the intro screamed ‘Get on the dancefloor’…..onto a heavy blues oriented funk instro riff…..some hoopin’ & holler’…..and a bunch of breaks. Very tasty breaks.

I had to know what this dancefloor destroyer was the very first moment I heard it, so I shuffled up to the turntables to learn the goods. It was a sad moment to see Keb had covered up the label and wasn’t telling anyone the true identity of the tune. Week after week I tried to find out the artist, and week after week I was shoed away with a quick glance of the 45, still with the cover-up label attached. Covering up has been practiced for years and originally came to prominence during the reggae soundclash golden era, where each Sound System would often scratch off the label or simply cover it up with some different artwork etc. When you’re doing battle for musical supremacy, exclusivity is part and parcel of keeping your set original, and originality will tip the odds to your favour. C/U’s, used as an abbreviation, were also adopted by the Northern Soul scene within the UK, and that’s where Keb got into the habit of hiding the identities of his prized pieces.

Thursday rolled around one more time, and it just so happened that I was heading off to the United States the next day on a two week buying trip. I bugged Keb again about this record that I only knew as ‘The Cranberry’ funk instro 45 (check out the clip to find out why), and mentioned about my trip Stateside. My luck was in that night…..Keb took the label off and showed me the artwork. Yessir….finally…..the track with all the beats that made me airdrum in the club and had me shoutin’ ‘James Brown’s been around!’…..was by The Golden Toadstools, called ‘Silly savage’ on the Minaret label. During the unveiling, Keb looked at me and said, ‘There ya go laddy, find me some of those!!’ Armed with the info, I hit the Midwest and got diggin’.

We ended up in St. Louis, having a look around Electric Ladyland Records….finding a few pieces, but nothing mind blowing. I got to the checkout desk where a portly ginger haired gent was manning the till. The guy looked straight out of Woodstock with a 60’s style haircut, round rim glasses and sporting a vintage gig tee shirt. He decides to mention that he’s got a basement full of records that I could look through, after he shuts up shop. We arrange a time, confirm the location, and it’s on!

His house was out in the ‘burbs, but looks safe enough…..the basement on the other hand, was pretty harsh. In the corner stood a dysfunctional slightly smashed toilet throwing out an interesting aroma…..two of the hairiest cats known to man paraded the floors and the records, coating most of the discs in cat hair, and areas of the floor in yacked up fur balls. It wasn’t exactly hazmat territory, but everything was handled with kid gloves, to say the least.

I get into a lane and find a coupla things, move across to the second stack, and much the same…..and then it was onto the middle of the rack. Yeah, go time…..I find one glorious copy of The Golden Toadstools, minty fresh, purple label stocker. Today was a good day! Then I flipped past a few more also rans, and stumbled on another copy…..hearts fluttering. I’ve got two copies of Keb’s cover up!! I keep flipping and copy number 3 lifts its head, then 4, and onto 5…..I ended up bagging 14 copies. And the nice little cherry on the cake was a minty demo of Jackson Sisters ‘I believe in miracles’ on Prophesy at the end of the lane, just to confirm what a great hit it had been. Then the nerves kicked in…..what was he gonna charge me for all these? I mean, it’s a huge disc in the UK right now, so surely it’s gonna break my bank. Nope….2 bucks a piece, and the guy asked ‘Ya’ll need some more copies of The Golden Toadstools?’ in a thick Alabama drawl. I said ‘Yeah’ but for some reason, we never returned. I just paid pronto and got out of dodge with the feeling in my stomach that I’d just come up big!

When I arrived back in the UK, I told him the news over the phone…..which was greeted with a mighty ‘F*ckin’ hell!! I’ll have those off you!!’ The next day, I drove to Keb’s with 10 copies and we hammered out a huge trade with him offering me some fantastic (and expensive 45’s) that I still own today. He went on to sell and trade his copies for undisclosed sums around the globe. Today, you can find a copy of The Golden Toadstools fairly easily for around $40 mint, but in the early 90’s, this record commanded some serious attention. A perfect example of right time right place, and a dig that I’ll always remember that given the context, was quite possibly my greatest single 45 come-up ever!

DJ Griff
Bad Bascomb 'Black Grass' (Paramount)

Let’s get one things straight from the start. I am not a crate digger. That’s not to say I didn’t ever aspire to being one. It’s just the first time I gave it a serious bash I realised that the pursuit of rare vinyl required qualities that I just didn’t have. 

To be fair on myself when I started DJing, back then every DJ had to be a crate digger. I did my apprenticeship searching through charity shops and second hand record shops during the nineties.  When I first started DJing started there was still an ‘Our Price’ record shop in Plymouth in addition to HMV and about three second hand record shops.

Several times a year Pete Isaac and myself would make a pilgrimage to the Soho record quarter in London and hit Soul Jazz, Mr Bongo, Reckless and several other specialist shops. For fear of sounding ancient, it must be hard for young people to comprehend the idea of going all the way to London and coming back with a handful of 45s, 12”s and LPs.  Try to get your heads round this young folks. Some good music was hard to get.  No Ebay, no discogs, no Itunes, no Spotify. The only way you may get a bootleg copy was on cassette. And only mainstream pop music made it onto CD back then. And precisely because there were only a few shops in the country selling it on vinyl…it was more expensive.  £20, £50 some LPs well over £200.  But that didn’t mean that couldn’t find the same vinyl for a fraction of the price. You just had to trawl through second hand shops and charity shops and more importantly you had to know what you were looking for.

Fast forward fifteen years and EVERYTHING had changed.  Ebay and downloading had completely altered the concept of rarity. The price of rare vinyl tumbled when you could buy from anywhere in the world.  But there were still undiscovered frontiers in far off lands. Quantic was visiting our club night, Jelly Jazz and bringing back tales of Puerto Rican and Colombia vinyl gold mines full of strange beats with exotic names like Cumbia, Bomba and Guaracha.  I headed out on a six week trip to the Caribbean on the invite of Nicodemus who had suggested I join him for the San Sebastian festival in Puerto Rico.  After several exhausting days of partying, Nico headed back to New York, and I followed a lead that Quantic had given me in San Juan.  I nervously enquired about ‘discos’ (records) to the man at the counter…the shop was a hardware store and didn’t seem to have any records. Then I mentioned a friend had sent me…’Ahhh tu es amigo de Senior WILLIAM?! Si si. Un caballero muy agradable. Vamos amigo’. He beckoned me to the side of the shop to some stairs and led me down a dark corridor. When he flicked the lights in the room two things struck me instantly.  First was the smell. It was the mustiest dankest mildew ridden space I think I’ve ever been in. But I barely noticed. There were two rooms with several rows of shelving down the middle forming narrow canyons of vinyl from floor to ceiling. It would take an army of people a week to search it all. I had two afternoons and barely managed about 5% of it. 

It was this experience that taught me that the crate diggers most indispensable gift is knowledge. The second is an almost zen like boredom threshold.  I had taken Pete Isaac’s portable record player with me on the trip. I set it up and started trawling but was ridiculously inefficient. Imagine a warehouse in Europe that had been collecting every genre of music from every European country for the last 40 years.  Easy listening, folk, rock, classical, jazz, pop etc etc.  This was the latin American equivalent.  We’re talking about mountains of total shite to wade through. Like everywhere else there has been an awful lot of REALLY bad music made in latin America. With very little knowledge of labels, names of artists or anything…one falls back on trying to guess what’s good by the cover. Sadly almost every cover in latin music features a picture of the band smiling badly, or girls in various states of undress.  Not much to go on.  To make matters worse one starts to doubt one’s own taste when listening to hundreds of bad records all day long.  “Is that really any good or am I just desperate to find something I’m pretending to myself it’s good?” I start to consider buying some LPs because their covers are funny. It’s hard to maintain focus. Worse still I had recently started sampling music. That makes it hard to dip into an LP and make a judgement based on the first track you hear. What if the seventh track has a killer percussion break? It was completely head scrambling.

I came out of that experience bitterly disappointed in myself for wasting an incredible opportunity simply by virtue of not knowing enough. But also realising that I just didn’t have the attention span. I need to get a rewarding find every 100 or so records…this place was yielding 1 in a 1000 using my hopelessly undirected search methods.  I also developed a new respect for hardcore crate diggers. One imagines they spend all day listening to great music. Nope. They spend hours, days and weeks of their lives listening to utter crap in the hope of finding something good. 

After a similarly unsuccessful vinyl hunt in Cuba I finally felt I earned my stripes on the way back through New York. In the middle of a massive three day blizzard Nicodemus dropped me off at a small shop in Brooklyn called Birdell’s. There was a back room there that looked like an earthquake had hit it.  There was vinyl lying on the floor about ten records deep. Nowhere to even put your feet. The guy that owned the shop said that I was welcome to look through it, if I could tidy it up a bit as I went.  My initial thought was here we go again….I don’t know enough.  The place was packed with disco 45s and 12s and my lack of knowledge was bugging me.  I may have been discarding some classics, but you just can’t listen to them all.  Then after 45 minutes or so I started to discover some jazz 45s that I knew, all in one corner of the room. Three copies of Roland Kirk’s ‘Makin Love After Hours’ appeared all scratched to hell.  Brother Jack McDuff – ‘Let my people go’. Then a couple of Jimmy Smith 45s. The adrenalin was running again.  Then I picked up a 45 and read ‘Bad Bascomb – Black Grass’ on it.  I was just about to chuck it to one side when a tiny light came on somewhere deep in my head. Doors to never before accessed memories started creaking open inside my head.  

One of the advantages of working in a clubnight that had the cream of Europe’s funk and soul DJs guesting regularly, was that you got to hear a lot of great music. I’d regularly go and ask guest DJs about tracks I heard, (usually after many beers) but could very rarely remember them the next day. I don’t know who first played Bad Bascomb or why I remembered its name. I think because it’s a funk break with bluegrass banjo and fiddle on it and I play the banjo…somehow it had stuck. I didn’t have the record player with me that time so had to wait till I got back to Nico’s apartment. What were the odds? It was in perfect condition despite being in a pile of records that other people had been walking on.  For a few golden moments I thought ‘Yes…this is it…I’m a crate digger now’. But then I thought ‘Who am I trying to kid? I just haven’t the patience for it.’  

The real reward though, came when I dropped it back at Jelly Jazz and people went absolutely batshit crazy on the dancefloor. That after all is what good records are for!

Hashim ‘Al Naafyish (The Soul)’ (Clever)

I'd gone to catch up with DJ Format at one his London gigs a few years back - always a few "damn...on a 45???" moments when he plays, which to be honest I thought I'd seen them all until I heard the classic "Itttttts tiiiiiiiimmmmme" being cut up from the other side of the dancefloor. I rushed over to expect to see him cutting a 7" scratch record or something, but no, lo and behold the sleeve for Hashim's "Al Naafyish" was poking out of his record box. One of my favourite old breakdance tunes and I'd never even thought of looking for it on a 45. With a glint in his eye, Matt explained he'd found if on a dealers list and was as surprised as me that it existed. Mission on…I spent the next year or so trying to track down a copy to no avail. Fortune finally came when I awoke one morning and reached for my phone. As usual, I'd check Ebay before anything else - I sat bolt upright when an alert flashed up saying that one was available as a "buy it now" and only for 3 Euros! I remember the fumbling excitement of confirming the purchase straight away. When it finally arrived, my excitement was crushed -  it was a the 12" version. The seller, based in France had listed it as "45 tours" which indicates its RPM (as 45 does, but y'know??) - in my rush to buy it I hadn't inspected the listing thoroughly enough. I was gutted! I emailed the seller to explain that I had made a mistake and that it was the 7" version I was after. I couldn't really believe my eyes when he apologised and said he had the 7" also and would send it as a replacement. So I ended up with a the 12" and the 7" for 3 Euros plus postage!


Andy Smith
The Futures 'Aint No Time Fa Nothing' (Phil – L.A. of Soul)

I was on a tour of the US a long time ago and a mad thing happened (relating to a 45 of course!). So I was on a plane circling around Philadelphia waiting to land and I'm thinking 'wow, Philly, the city of Cheesesteaks, DJ Cash Money, The Hilltop Hustlers, The Phil- La Soul label, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Cosmic Kev and of course the Philadelphia International label'. This got me thinking 'mmmm, what would be the 45 on Philly Int records that I would really want?...thinking...'oh I know The Futures 'Aint No Time Fa Nothing' would be nice'. This 45 had always eluded me and as that plane was still circling around I thought 'surely there must be loads of copies of that on 45 down there?'. Could I find one in the one day I'm in town I wondered?. Anyway we landed, got taken to the hotel, sourced the yellow pages, off to record store for a quick pre gig digging session.......... I think it was less than 3 hours from looking at Philly from above and there it was!... Aint No Time Fa Nothing by The Futures. You gotta love digging in the US!

Nik Weston
Brenda Holloway ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ (Tamla)

The most treasured 45 in the collection isn’t actually particularly rare or expensive but it’s one that has stood me in good stead over all these years and was purchased at a Brighton Record shop when I was about 15. It had appeared on a listening list of Paul Wellers favourites at that time in a music fanzine. I’d been heavily into the Jam at the time and started hunting down the tracks in that list. And not just that list but every list that he subsequently spoke about. Massive piano keys, tender strings and a killer soaring vocal and something I never get tired of hearing. End-of-the-night-anthem for sure. These lists of Weller’s were a massive influence on me and each new one published meant the wants list got bigger and bigger and put me on a pathway to all forms of Soul, Funk and Jazz which I’m still treading these days.

Ian Wright
Black Fur 'Feel The Shock' (Bar-Tone)

Probably my best trip/digging story would have to be Boston in '96 with Dave Raistrick, a local collector had passed away leaving an untouched collection of 12,000 obscure 45's and Dave had secured exclusive access to it! i'd already heard that Salt 'Hung Up', Carleen & The Groovers 'Right On', The Believers on Brownstone and Universouls 'New Generation' was in the haul so i knew i had to get out there! The collection had been moved from a local record store to someone's house in Boston and it took us two days to go through, Dave got all the northern and i had pick of the funky stuff - i seriously doubt i'll ever get to see the quality of unpicked obscure soul 45's that was in that collection again - In hindsight i wished i could have stayed a week and not just concentrated on funk!....Anyway the 45 i'm picking out from that trip is Black Fur 'Feel The Shock' on Bar-Tone - a seriously heavy mid 70's Cameo style workout that was completely unknown at that time and went on to be highly sought after - i let Keb Darge in on the details and he was lucky enough to get a copy fairly cheaply from Ian Clark but only a tiny handful of copies have turned up to this day fetching up to £2,000, mine cost a tenner!

Sam Funky Frog
The In people ‘People Will Follow You’ / ‘China Mail Happening’ (Levi’s Battle Of The Sounds)

Magic do happens when you take the time and effort to dig through crates of dusty records.  This record was found in 2005 while I was working in Hong Kong. On a day off work, I decided to go hunting the wax armed with my portable Vextax player.  By the end of the day, I had found some great jazz albums and felt pretty satisfied already. While walking  back to the hotel, I couldn't resit checking out a box of 45's I spotted under a table at an outdoor market stall. They were around 30 records there but nothing really special with the exception of one white label  with handwritting that caught my attention. I decided to give it a listen and started opening my record player and plugged the headphone on. It tooks me a few seconds of listening to realize that I found  a very special 45 but the sight of my portable turntable started to attract a few local people. I gave to the man the 10HK$ (just over 1 euro) he asked for and off I went with the record. When I got to my hotel room, I plugged the record player and played that record over and over about  20 times that evening. I started looking at info about the record on the internet and could not find anything at all so I decided to send a few emails to a few friends asking if they ever heard of it. None of the persons I contacted ever heard this record before and started to make offers to obtain it. I knew then that I was holding a rare record. In fact, it is only recently that a friend of mine found some interesting info about the record. This records was pressed in 1968 as a promotional item for Levi's branded blue jeans company. It is credited as (Little Sammy and) The In People featuring Peter Nelson. Little Sammy Gaha was an artist based in Sydney during the Vietnam war. The In People had a floating line-up, they played all over South-East Asia entertaining U.S. troops on R&R at various Sydney clubs (Info from Chris Spencer's Who's Who Of Australian Rock). To this day, this record is still pretty unknown to many collectors. 'China mail happening' has all it takes to be in my top 10 funk records with its 'tighten up' kinda groove and frantic guitar solo. Listen to it here and be the judge. Any further info about the record is most welcome.