Paul Major knows his way around rare 60s and 70s folk, psych, and outsider rock. The legendary record dealer and collector, who also fronts the band Endless Boogie, has spent the last twenty years immersing himself in weird, dark and rare music.
Paul Major: Feel The Music Vol. 1, a new album on Anthology Recordings, compiles Major's musical expertise and years of crate digging as it features 12 songs from unique acts such as psych folker Justyn Rees, the bluesy rock of Ray Harlowe & Gyp Fox, and the acid folk of Detroit's Joint Effort.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1954, Major has lived resolutely at the edge of outsider music culture for nearly a half-century. After playing in bands in St. Louis and Los Angeles, he moved to New York in 1978 where he was involved in the city's explosive punk scene (most notably as part of the proto-speed metal band the Sorcerers). During this time he developed an extensive knowledge of rare and bizarre LPs and became a champion of "Real People" musicians, one-of-a-kind artists operating outside the established music industry.
The record is released on the heels of Feel the Music: The Psychedelic Worlds of Paul Major, a book that chronicles Major's life as a private press and "real people" record collector turned eminent, underground rock 'n' roller.
Stream the record below and read a chat we had with Paul.
Noisey: I've become obsessed with Merkin's track "Ruby". That a band like that could be from Utah from that time is kind of wild.
Paul Major: Yeah, they were on a small Los Angeles label named Windi that also issued a top shelf 1968 psychedelic LP by The Creation Of Sunlight. Merkin is the more mysterious of the two, and Utah was not exactly a hotbed for psychedelic rock at the time. "Ruby" spooked me from day one when I first got an original copy of the LP back in the 80s. I haven't found any other band that quite sounds like Merkin, and the original sleeve design is a mind melter.
How did you decide what to include on the comp?
Each track is very different in style and execution from the others. I wanted to put together a seamless sonic voyage where each person you meet along the way has their own unique style. There were many, many tracks considered for the LP as there's a bottomless well of fantastic obscure music I enjoy that relatively few people have heard. A lot of that music is compelling at first but over time certain tracks resonate more deeply and expose the human condition and the artist in an eternal way.
How do you describe "Real People" musicians?
Real People popped into my head as a catch-all phrase to cover vastly different styles of music resulting from driven persons creating highly personal sounds that were able to capture their uniqueness as human beings. It was a huge effort to get an LP recorded and pressed privately back in the 60s and 70s. While some artists are primitives and some are highly skilled, these people made their music in a pre-internet time where it was still possible to be isolated and serendipitously stumble across a genuine self-expression that was without precedent and untainted by quality control. Their true personalities are captured, I feel like I am inside their brains when I hear them. It is an elastic term but the key thing about Real People is that the person is impossible to separate from the art.
Do descriptions like 'weird' gives people the wrong idea? A song like Sebastian's "Passages" is more beautiful than weird.
Perhaps 'weird' can be taken in a condescending way akin to that 'Incredibly Strange Music' 90s fad where people were goofing on obscure music without distinguishing between kitsch novelty stuff and deeper real things. For me 'weird' is another way of saying 'beautiful' and Sebastian "Passages" exemplifies that. It is a mesmerizing song but does feel 'weird' to me in the sense that it seems to leak into my mind from some alternate dimension, a sort of 'Twilight Zone' otherworldly beauty. The atmosphere is quite psychedelic in the best way, with a sense of wandering into unknown mysterious territory.
Do you think that because these musicians didn't expect to be heard by a lot of people, it gave them a kind of freedom?
Some clearly were making the music purely for themselves but I know many of them actually did want to be heard by a lot of people. They came to realize that was not in the cards. There are Real People legends like Kenneth Higney and Peter Grudzien who were trying to achieve popularity and when their efforts went sideways sonically that was what caused them to create real art in the most vital way. Accidents became innovation. They did have a freedom because there was nobody to tell them how to do it. No pollution from music biz pressures. No outside producer... the artist was the producer and what is in his head gets out in a genuine and honest way.
When I spoke to Mikey Young about compiling Follow the Sun, he mentioned that some of the tracks come from albums are kind of patchy. I imagine you may have had to dig to find the gems too. Was this the case? Or do you enjoy the dig?
I always enjoyed the dig, especially back in the pre-internet days of searching for lost buried treasures and freaking out when something previously unknown floored me. It happened constantly. Some of the tracks I chose are from patchy LPs, some from LPs that are magic from beginning to end. When I really started digging for sonic gold back in the early 80s something like 99% of the most amazing obscure psychedelic music from the sixties and seventies was still undiscovered. Especially the private pressings and local records that never even made it to the next town over. A lot of garbage to dig through, but plenty of gems rewarding the effort.
Do you still get excited about discovering new music?
I still get very excited when I hear a newly unearthed mind blower but in reality few previously unknown top level LPs from those vintage years are left out there to be discovered. They've mostly been found or will remain lost forever. I'm speaking of originally pressed 60 and 70s vinyl LPs, those are drying up as far as unknown heavies go but plenty of great vintage stuff that was on tape only and never made it to vinyl is currently being issued by many small labels around the world.
A Philly cheesesteak and a jam session with a bunch of friends!
'Feel the Music Vol. 1' is available Oct 27 on Anthology Recordings.