I remember the first time I heard a Norton Records recording. It was the mid-1990s at a late night party. Through the cacophony of loud voices, this twangy, fuzzy guitar and primitive beat tore through, coming from a small Sears and Roebuck flip-top record player in the corner.
It blew my mind in the best possible way. I have Norton Records to thank for that.
Started by Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, this lone wolf record company began out of a shared love for primitive rock'n'roll, garage rock and early R&B. Some of the music might not have made the mainstream, but was key to building American music and rock'n'roll as we know it.
The two met at a record show in 1977 and soon realized they both shared a strange love for obscure rock. Linna, original drummer for the Cramps, and Miller, a singer-songwriter, also realized they shared a love for each other. A year later, the new couple founded the magazine Kicks devoted to lost or unreleased rockabilly, soul and garage music.
In 1986, they published an article in Kicks about the late hillbilly rocker Hasil Adkins. The response to their story on Adkins, who had released a scant number of recordings during the '50s, was so overwhelming they decided they needed to release his material on vinyl for the masses.
And with that, Norton Records was born.
Since then, they've released hundreds of previously unreleased artists and reissued many obscure and classic recordings from the '50s and '60s, along with artists playing now who fit the Norton mold.
Fast forward to 2012. Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, including much of New York City. Linna and Miller, thankful their home survived, arrive at the Norton Records warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and find severe damage and destruction.
At least five feet of water had rushed in, churned up and obliterated the backlog of American music history Linna and Miller had worked so hard to archive for over 30 years.
Without coverage from insurance or any other relief, they feared a total loss.
Since then, the rock'n'roll community at large has reached out. From Austin to D.C. to Indianapolis, from Berlin to London, fundraisers across the globe began to come together. In November, a record wash-a-thon was set up at Brooklyn Bowl, where volunteers could come in, listen to some icons of punk and rock'n'roll DJ while helping Norton clean up tens of thousands of LPs, 45s and CDs.
Hundreds of friends and fans join in to clean records. (Photo by Windy Mayes)
What's to become of this treasure trove of American musical history that Linna and Miller have painstakingly catalogued over the years is still in limbo, but with the help of other music lovers – like me, or even you – there is high hopes.
To hear recordings from Norton Records, check out their compilation of artists from their catalog. To help out, you can donate on their website, or you can attend one of the many fundraisers being held all over the world.
If you're Indianapolis Friday night, you can hear me and others DJ some Norton classics, along with local garage rockers DEEZEN, rockabilly one-man-band Th' Empires and Cheetah Chrome (of the Dead Boys, featuring members of Rocket From The Tombs.)
Twinkle VanWinkle was born in a small town in Mississippi. A life-long lover of music, media and food, she grew up following those three things along her path. She has almost 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks while working in restaurants and bakeries in Oxford, Miss. She baked 300 apple pies for the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and appeared on "The Best Of..." in the same year. Along with producing dynamic entertainment content for LIN Media, she is a mother, musician and social media fanatic.
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