Norton Records, Superstorm Sandy, and the 50th Anniversary of JFK's Assassination

Nov 21, 2013

Norton Records owners Miriam Linna and Billy Miller
Credit Jordan Hollander, Al Jazeera America

Here's a phony mathematical word problem. Add up the following: nominal inspiration from the character Ed Norton, of The Honeymooners; the drummer from the punk band, The Cramps; an obsession with creating fanzines and promoting musicians as writers; West Virginia "rockabilly lunatic" guitarist, Hasil Adkins; and twenty-seven years of business, growing out of love for the wildest and weirdest of rockabilly / retro rock 'n roll / lounge / early R & B / garage-punk / American primitive music, mostly too outré for mass appeal, yet perfect for workaholic djs, OCD record collectors, and punk musicians.

Norton Records's Van Brunt Street warehouse, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, post-Sandy.
Credit Eilon Paz / Dust and Grooves Vinyl Music Culture

Now, if you can quantify it, add up the catastrophic flood damage from 2012's Superstorm Sandy to this business's Brooklyn, NY warehouse and mail-order center, where water drenched and scattered original album artwork, master tapes, books, reams of record-collectors' memorabilia, and the entire inventory of 250,000 records and cds - the works.

Volunteers 'stripping' merchandise at the Norton Records warehouse, November 2012.
Credit Eilon Paz, Dust and Grooves Vinyl Music Culture

Multiply the two sums and you've calculated - in units made of vintage concert posters stuck with sugary pink candy hearts - the love of friends and fans for independent record label, Norton Records. For owners and founders Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, the help of these supporters, post-hurricane, has turned into Sandy's silver lining. In the weeks following the storm, vinyl junkie volunteers showed up at the Red Hook, Brooklyn warehouse to wash and dry stacks of vinyl records. A Sony Music executive, Rob Santos, helped organize the donation of record-washing Spin Clean machines, to speed up the Wash-a-Thon vinyl recovery. (Unlike records, flood-damaged cds, record jackets, and print material had only one life to give, and were tossed. Norton is now selling randomly-selected ten-packs of the 70,000 salvaged, sleeveless 45 rpm singles as "Hurricane Survivor Sandy Packs," remarking, "It's like having a watch from somebody on the Titanic!")  Supporters have staged benefit concerts in Nashville, Los Angeles, Detroit, Montreal, Austin, and of course, New York -  helping to keep the label, founded in 1986, er, paddling. (Norton's insurance company wouldn't cover their damages, calling Sandy, "an act of God.")

Clippings and photos that survived Sandy
Credit Jordan Hollander, for Al Jazeera America

A year after Sandy, "a little bad weather" seems to not have slowed the pace of new record releases. Norton's website announced, in September 2013: "Ring, ring goes the bell, and new Norton releases are IN SESSION!" By mid-2014, we'll have seen new releases or re-issues of music by Kim Fowley, La La Brooks, Sun Ra, Bloodshot Bill, Daddy Longlegs and Mad Mike Monsters, and two collections of El Paso rock 'n roll.

Prime among the 2013 wax discs is a new collection, three years in the making, of sixteen country/hillbilly "baleful anthems:" "Tragic Songs From the Grassy Knoll: The John F. Kennedy 50th Anniversary Collection," available as cd or vinyl. The album will be launched Saturday, November 23rd in Dallas, TX at Top Ten Record Shop, where Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit ran in to use the phone on November 22, 1963, moments before he was gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Austin Chronicle writer Scott Schinder says: "Norton Records specializes in unearthing all manner of unsung American geniuses, cranks, and crackpots. Fitting, then, that the crafty Brooklyn label memorializes the half-century anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination with these 16 obscure, country tribute tunes, most of them released on tiny regional labels in the wake of JFK's death."

Here's Laura Cantrell's live 1996 version of one of the album's songs, "Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine," written in 1985 by Homer Henderson and Jay Cotton: