Questlove and other obsessive record collectors are chronicled in Eilon Paz’s Dust & Grooves, a photography and interview project.
Although I’ve known Dust & Grooves founder Eilon Paz since he moved to New York from Israel in 2008, and have been a follower, fan, and contributor to his documentary project about vinyl record collecting since nearly its beginning, I don’t know everything.
I hadn’t known that he only got one of his choice interviews because the 2010 volcano eruptions in Iceland waylaid him in London. I hadn’t known that a Queens collector’s cramped apartment spurred him to start using a collage photography technique that’s now a trademark of Dust & Grooves style. I hadn’t known that one of Europe’s most revered funk and rockabilly DJs is also a Karate enthusiast and disco dancing champion.
Eilon’s passion project began when he casually snapped photos of a Lower East Side record store owner one afternoon, and it has blossomed into a beautiful hardcover anthology, Dust & Grooves: Adventures In Record Collecting. I realized just how much there is to know about the book when I sat down in a park with Eilon recently and asked him to tell me the stories behind a handful of my favorite photos.
Dust & Grooves has grown into its own universe of fascinating information about people, music, records, travel, culture, obsession, emotion and history. Here’s a tiny lens onto a cramped corner of it.
April Greene: Alright, I earmarked about 12 photos because I couldn’t decide on just five. I thought you might want to look at them and see which ones leap out.
Eilon Paz: [leafing through pages] You didn’t pick Philip? [Philip Osey Kojo]
AG: Well, he’s got a lot of play already…
EP: [leafing through pages] You definitely picked out the characters; not the pretty girls or shots of the vinyl. I can see a trend here.
AG: Yeah, that’s my taste.
EP: It’s so interesting. I’ve been just handling this book as an object for the past six months—you know, put it in the box, ship it out… But now I’m really looking at the photos again. There’s so much in here.
“This is a tiny collection, a pittance. I used to have a huge collection but I got divorced three times.”
EP: First one: Keb Darge. Definitely a story here. Photographed at his house in London. And the circumstances were really interesting ’cause I’d known about Keb for years before I met him, known his records. And basically his records are the ones that really introduced me to funk, or what he calls “deep funk.” Which is kind of like a really raw, basic kind of funk—so nothing like James Brown, or Sly and the Family Stone, or anything like that. It’s more like a straight, raw version of it. Bass, drums, funky guitar. So I got to know him through his compilations: Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk, and then he did some other stuff with The New Mastersounds, which is like a funk revival band.
So it was maybe two years after I started the project that I started thinking: How do I go beyond? Who do I want to feature that I never thought I could reach? ’cause, you know, he was kind of like an idol for me. I had learned so much about him, but to me, he was always “the DJ from the records,” you know? And I found out that my friend Jamison Harvey—you know, DJ Prestige—he had a direct contact to him through another friend in the U.K., Andy Smith, who used to have a weekly DJ night with him at Madame Jojo’s.
Then in 2009, I went back to Israel to visit my friends and family and, like always, I took a layover somewhere and this time it was in London. And that night, when I took the flight, there was the volcano eruption in Iceland!
AG: Ah ha!
EP: I managed to take off from New York, but I remember already hearing in the news about the eruption, and no one knew what was gonna happen. So I landed in London, but maybe 20 minutes too late. I rushed to my next departure gate, but they shut it down. Like, my connecting flight took off, but I couldn’t get on it because my first flight was late because of the volcano alert. So I was really one of the first of so many people who got stranded in London. I was there for a week! Of course I didn’t know how long it would be, so I said, Alright, let’s make something good out of this. I emailed Jamison and asked if he could reach out to Keb, see if I could go and visit him. He did that and Keb replied immediately and said, “Yeah, come over. It’s perfect timing because I’m packing all my shit and am about to move to the Philippines with my new wife Edith!”
AG: Holy shit!
EP: So the next day, I went to his house. In London, I don’t remember exactly where it was. But he wasn’t kidding! He was packing all his shit. All his records, all his 7-inches. So nothing was set up; in the photo, it was actually like this. He was sitting in the middle and all these crates and travel bags were surrounding him and he was sorting them out and trying to make some kind of order in the entire mess. It was cool; I was really impressed—the guy is moving out, and he’s investing all this money and energy in packing up all his records and taking them with him.
Keb is… He’s a character. I mean, I always heard stories about how wild he is… I remember when um… Yeah, I don’t actually know if I should say that one. [laughs] Let’s just say that when he DJs, he doesn’t go for a toilet break. At all.
EP: He has his own way of dealing with that, his own way of doing things. But what can I say? The guy looked totally in love with his wife. She was always teasing him, like, “Hey, this is my record!” or “I’m gonna take this record and DJ myself!” ’cause he taught her how to DJ. She’s this tiny little Filipina and he’s into martial arts, karate I think. At one point, he pulled out a Japanese sword and, like, starting using me as a living practice dummy!
AG: That’s amazing.
EP: Yeah. I don’t know, I trusted him. He looked sharp. I think he’s like 50-something. He’s so skinny; he looks really healthy, you know? And only years later, I discovered that he’s kind of a champion in disco dancing.
AG: No way. This gets better and better.
EP: I guess it comes with the athletic body. Musically, I wanted to talk to him about what I knew him for—he was a legend, you know? I wanted to talk about funk records. But he was totally not into it. He was done with funk. He told me, “I can’t do this anymore; I’m into rockabilly now.” And I guess most of the session with him was around rockabilly records.
AG: Wow. So what’s actually going on in this moment? Is he air guitaring?
EP: Oh yeah—he’s strong into air guitaring. That’s the beauty of it: he cannot hide his enthusiasm, like a child. And this is his charm, you know? He just goes off about things and doesn’t give a shit.
AG: That’s great.
EP: Another thing, now that I’m staring at the photo, I’m seeing this empty sleeve, and it makes me think, Okay, what the hell was he playing here? I’m sure I have it somewhere. I taped the entire interview ’cause you know, usually I email people a Q&A but I knew that with him, I’d probably see it in ten years, so I recorded it. But then I tried to listen to it and couldn’t understand a word!
AG: Oh, because of his accent?
EP: Yeah, his accent. So again, I asked Jamison if he wanted to try to transcribe the interview and he agreed. It took him like ten days to decipher the recording, but he did a good job. The interview’s not out [on the D&G website] yet, but it will be sometime soon.
AG: Is he originally from London?
EP: No, he’s Scottish.
AG: Oh, that would make it harder to understand, yeah.
EP: Couldn’t you tell from the pineapple shirt? Totally Scottish, right?
AG: I missed that entirely.
EP: I think secretly, the one thing I was really digging with Keb was his Hawaiian shirt collection. He’s got the best ones ever. He makes a Hawaiian shirt look too cool.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
“I think all of this—The Roots and DJing included—was meant to prepare me for The Tonight Show.”
AG: Speaking of too cool… Where is Questlove in this photo?
EP: That’s his record room—one of his record rooms—in Philly. In this moment, I caught him trying to remember the name of a record. We’d been asking him a bunch of questions, and with this many records, it’s hard to remember everything right away. I try to use times like these to capture a moment of unawareness.
AG: How did you wind up in his record room—or one of his record rooms?
EP: Questlove had been on my list for quite a while. I wanted to get him for the first edition of the book, but that didn’t happen—he was busy, we missed some communication. But we kept in touch, and after the first edition was released I sent him a book, and then it was much easier for him to give us a few hours of his time.
And I don’t know if this is symbolic or not, but the interview was originally scheduled to be on the 4th of July. That was the only timeframe he was in Philly, and he had a break before a Roots show, and it fit my schedule and everything else. So I called up Jamison the day before and we drove down to Philly. It was all really last-minute and I was really excited to do it. I had to delay the printing of the second edition just to add that interview; it was great to get it.
We’d been told we’d have about two hours with him, so we should get our questions ready ahead of time and be really efficient. We were all primed to do this, but then when we all met there, outside his studio, me and Jamison and Ahmir [Questlove] and his assistant and hairstylist…
AG: Did you say hairstylists? Multiple hairstylists?
EP: No, just one, but definitely a person dedicated to taking care of that glorious afro. But when we all got there, we discovered that no one had a key. So we were waiting in this corridor for a while, knocking and shouting for someone to hear us. But then, Ahmir became resourceful. How do I say this? He utilized some different creative techniques that granted us access to the studio without requiring a key.
EP: So that was a little drama, but then everybody was happy. It was the perfect icebreaker, actually. From that moment, it made us feel really comfortable with each other, even though we didn’t know each other. After a bit, Ahmir forgot about the context and became like a kid getting back to his candy store—he was playful. It had been a while since he had been there.
AG: Was there anything super-crazy in his collection?
EP: We actually spent most of the time revisiting his favorite records from the past, from his growing up. It was really interesting tracing back to his childhood with his musician parents. I was really impressed by his memory; he remembered so much. I think this is one common attribute that a lot of collectors share: a phenomenal memory. So we didn’t really hit too many rare things, but it was really nice to see the notes on the shelves—basically it’s like a record store in there. He has entire sections for The Jackson 5, Prince—I think he has all of Prince’s records, and a lot of bootlegs… He has them all arranged by artist, like a record store.
AG: Did you feel intimidated or held back from asking him the usual deep-dive, personal questions, as he’s a big celebrity?
EP: Well, Jamison was conducting the interview, and we were more or less going through a list of questions that we wanted to ask him, though I was listening and throwing in a comment here and there. But I think we were really at ease with each other, and it was easy for us to get personal with him, he was really open about it. Like, he told us about a record that really scared him as a child… lots of things. It was awesome, we had a good time.
“Questions like favorite album/artist/genre/label/cover are utter bullshit. People less consumed with music can easily give you those answers, but I (and those of my tribe) simply cannot, and that’s just the way it is.”
EP: Okay, here we go: Greg Casseus. Just like Keb, another air guitar champion! Greg was, I think, the third collector I ever interviewed. I met him DJing in Williamsburg [Brooklyn], at Miss Favela. I met him at the bar. It was my first year in New York and I had a friend who used to bartend there, so I was hanging out. He was DJing, and he used all vinyl, of course, so I asked him a little about the stuff he plays. He’s into Brazilian stuff, he’s known for his Brazilian knowledge, but seriously the guy is everywhere—in a good way. He knows about so much. And he’s very proud of it as well. You can see by the stuff he pulls out here: it’s so diverse.
When I first started this project, I was looking for the prototype collector, you know? As many records in the room as possible, messy as hell… And he fit the bill perfectly. So this is basically his bedroom, and it looks way bigger than what it is, actually, with this collage technique, but there wasn’t really a way for me to grab the entire scene otherwise. And then collage became kind of like a theme in my work with Dust & Grooves, but basically it started as a necessity, something that I had to do.
AG: That’s really interesting. I had no idea.
EP: And a funny thing about Greg: I used to keep seeing him at Tropicalia in Furs [erstwhile East Village record shop], we used to hang out there. And he never really liked this photo. It took me and Joel [Stones, the shop’s owner] a couple years to actually talk sense to him. ’cause I wanted to give him a print, but he wasn’t really into it. He said, “Yeah, you know, I don’t like the way I look…”
EP: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it was the air guitar? But for me, I mean, it was just like Keb. It’s just pure passion. People who air guitar in public—there should be a movement! Air Guitar Anonymous, or something.
AG: To me, he looks so masterful and relaxed. It’s like his kingdom in front of him; he’s authoritative but relaxed. Bare feet way up in the shot… You know he’s at home. But he has this air of knowledge about him too.
EP: Yeah, I mean he’s got his whole entire—well, I wouldn’t say entire—but he’s showing me the stuff he likes best; the stuff that is dearest to him. Funny, I’m looking at some of the stuff here now and thinking, Okay, he actually introduced me to Todd Rundgren! I picked up quite a few things from this guy. I picked up the Unity album [by Larry Young, the album art would later inspire a series of D&G t-shirts], Donny Hathaway, Aphrodite’s Child… All these things I wasn’t really into back then.
AG: Did that happen to you a lot in the course of the book?
EP: Yeah, definitely. It became kind of like, when I shoot these profiles, I get so much information, it’s overwhelming. There’s no way for me to remember everything. So after a while, I decided alright, I should just pick up one album from each collector. I mean, at least one, but one is enough. That’s kind of the motto these days. It’s funny: I’m seeing all these records here now, like Gil Scott-Heron’s Secrets, which I only bought after this. So many things.
“This is an assortment of private press albums from my collection. Front and center are two records by legendary lounge act The Links.”
AG: These guys are just such a pleasure to behold. Such eye candy.
EP: Yeah, I guess these dudes… I mean, these records are so not important [laughs]. There’s no way even to… I can’t stress that enough. But these hairstyles! Look at that. And look how frozen they are! The faces are exactly the same. Just the hairstyles change. Can you guess which one came first?
AG: Oh, this is a trick question! Is it this one on the left—with the glitz and big hair—and then they kind of straightened out? Or the other way around?
EP: Well, I don’t actually know the facts. But I could say that this curly hair on the left came later. It looks more 70s, the other one more 60s.
AG: I love that: you ask me and then you don’t know.
EP: That’s why I asked [laughs]. But this collector, Johan Kugelberg, has been doing so many cool projects lately with records and music and art. He’s an art collector, but he also collects records. He orchestrated the Afrika Bambaataa cataloguing and archiving process. He’s a character. I think once I called him smarty-pants on one of our encounters, and I’m pretty sure he did not disagree with me. He is a smart guy, he likes to show it. And his collection is remarkable. This specific collection, with The Links, is of private press records. He made an entire book about it. A combination of several collectors’ collections. And it’s all about these homemade, private presses.
People who want to record an album, they go to these companies that will make a record for you. So The Links here, they’re basically at the top of this phenomenon. But you can also see nuns, tenth graders who have rich parents who paid to record their awful songs… the variety is incredible. You could make an entire book about private press releases. Actually, Johan did!
AG: Are there any other private presses in your book?
EP: There are—here’s Johan holding a bunch, in fact. Another aspect of these is that they use generic covers. It’s the same cover, just different text.
AG: How did Johan amass so many?
EP: Well, ’cause he collects them. And everybody knows he collects them. People reach out to him. If you say “private press,” everybody knows you should bring that to Johan.
AG: That’s actually a good answer to anyone in here: “How did this guy get so many records?” “Well, he collects them. He’s a collector, dude.” [laughs] That’s the absolute truth.
EP: You know, I had to research what’s going on with The Links these days… I think one of the brothers died.
AG: Oh no.
EP: But then one of the sisters replaced him, I think. You have to fact-check that. But they’re still active!
AG: Good for them. It looks from this like they at least made it through one decade.
EP: Yeah, I believe they’re still active. Actually, you can catch them tomorrow at the Golden Age Community Center in the Bronx. I think it’s sold out, though.
“Buy any record. If you don’t need it, give it away.”
AG: This is just one of my favorite quotations, and I love his look—it’s so expressive of that sentiment to me. He’s reading it closely, he totally cares about what the thing is, but he’s also, you know, smokin’ a cigarette, got something in his hand, his shirt’s unbuttoned, there’s this like stack of naked records—it’s pretty casual at the same time.
EP: Yeah, that’s his vibe. I mean, the guy is a chef. He lives in Indiana. We met him during the [2013 D&G US] road trip. And actually, he did not pitch himself. His best friend did. He emailed us and said, “You gotta meet this guy, this incredible collector.” And you know, I mean, we went through his records and did the interview and I wouldn’t say normally… I mean, from the stuff he has… He does have some gems, but he’s not on par with some of the other collectors here. But that quote—that’s what compelled me. I guess it also sums up a lot of the experience and maybe contradicts some of the other collectors who won’t let go of anything.
AG: I love it too because it’s not “take any free record you can get and if you don’t like it give it away,” right? It’s “buy any record and then give it away.” It’s awesome.
EP: Yeah. And it’s “if you don’t need it,” not “if you don’t want it.”
EP: I heard other people using this term—“need” instead of “want” or “like.” They’ll say, “I didn’t need it anymore.”
AG: That’s fascinating.
EP: You need to ask me now: “Did he give you any records?”
AG: Ah, good one. Did he? Maybe some of those highly shatterable, flammable 78s he’s got there?
EP: Well, he didn’t give us any 78s because I think he knew we’re not into 78s, but he did give us some other records that were really awesome. He gave us a Mulatu Astatke record, a 7-inch. And a really cool reggae album. And I gave him a photo I took that I really like of the same Mulatu record—you know, the cover looks like a zebra skin. That was a nice trade.
AG: Are those his usual genres of choice?
EP: No, he’s into anything. I really wonder how the typical record collector would react to meeting Matt, ’cause he’s so different. I don’t know. Maybe some people would say that he’s not really a record collector, because he can let them go as easily as he picks them up.
EP: Alright, now here’s a guy that definitely spends more money on records than on sex! Mr. Alessandro Benedetti. I met Alessandro while I was spending a month in Italy, at this nice, rustic house on top of a hill in Tuscany, and I was shooting food and learning to cook. And I remember seeing Alessandro’s book—he wrote this book about colored vinyl and picture discs. He holds the Guinness record for most colored vinyl in the world. I saw it once in a store and wrote it down in my notes, and then I stumbled on it again and then I thought, Okay, I need to get a hold of this guy. You know, once again, Dust & Grooves was always a low-budget project. I couldn’t travel specifically to shoot this guy, so I had to wait for the right opportunity. And it arrived when I went to Italy.
When I drove to his place, I had to take a local friend with me because he wouldn’t speak English. I mean, I’m sure he knows a little, but he doesn’t speak it very well. He’s an intelligent guy, he has a lot to say about a lot of records. But when it comes to colored vinyl, he’s like a kid in a candy store. He’s like blinded by it. He just loves the sensation, or… I mean, I can understand the attraction. It’s a beautiful object. But he takes it to another level.
So here’s the thing: I think in this photo he’s like 50 years old. He lives with his mom and dad. I guess that’s kind of the tradition back in Italy: You don’t leave the house unless you get married. So his entire house is filled with records, and he keeps them all catalogued by color and tone. He has like color samplers so he knows where to put things.
AG: Like a Pantone chart?
EP: Yeah, a Pantone chart!
AG: Oh my god.
EP: So he knows where to put stuff. Everything is catalogued. Yeah, it’s crazy. He knows every single detail about all the records he has, but he confessed he doesn’t collect them for the music.
AG: He knows the details of the music, too, not just the visuals?
EP: He knows the details, but he doesn’t really care about the music. I mean, he has a collection of non-colored, you know, regular albums as well, but those are pretty normal, like Pink Floyd and stuff like that. I guess the interesting thing is all these trophies. People always ask me what their deal is, but they have nothing to do with the albums. He just keeps them on the same level. But he’s a world champion in subbuteo—which is like a table soccer game you play with your fingers that’s popular in Italy.
EP: Yeah. Looks like he’s doing pretty good with it! Look how he shows off—the same thing with the records. These are people’s prized possessions.
AG: Were his parents interested in the records at all?
EP: It didn’t look like it, no. I think they were pretty pissed about it! I mean, look at his dad here. He’s like, “Oh my god, my son’s gonna live in this house…” The dad does have a stereo lab down in the basement, where he fixes stereos. It was pretty awesome seeing him downstairs in his lab; actually I took some photos of him. But he’s a character, Alessandro. He’s strong-minded. I remember a couple times him talking to his mom in a pretty agitated way… he couldn’t hide his dark side. But I wasn’t really into discovering his dark side. I was like, Let’s see some colorful records.
EP: What else can I say? There’s so much fun stuff here…
AG: Well, the pants are one of the first things I see. He’s not really looking like a fashion plate, despite his interest in aesthetics. A lot of collectors—maybe it’s 50/50 or something—but you’ll see funky sneakers on somebody, or they’ll have a stylish hat or a waxed mustache, or like Sheila [Burgel], who has a great wardrobe, but he seems very outward-facing in his aesthetic interests.
EP: Yeah. I guess he belongs to this old world.
AG: I can’t really picture him going out digging. Does he mail order a lot?
EP: So like I said before: How does he get all this special stuff? He’s the guy who collects colored records! So people go to him. But yeah, a lot of it is eBay, too. He’s got a whole operation in the basement near his dad’s stereo lab.
AG: Did you get into the rest of their house?
EP: Yeah, a little bit. When we finished the photo session, he didn’t want us to go. He invited us to the kitchen, his mom made us some food and we drank some wine… he’s a lovely guy. I really want to know what’s on his dad’s mind here, though.
AG: Seriously. So probably he’s not moving out of that house.
EP: Nope. Unless he meets the world’s biggest female picture disc collector.
AG: This was actually the first one I picked. I remember talking with you about how there’s so much joy for people in record collecting, but how also sometimes you encounter some sadness, especially in people’s homes, and it can be a bit of a dark pursuit because it can be so introverted and controlling and emotional. And just looking at the shut-in kind of quality that this place has, but then he’s obviously so devoted to this collection… it’s an interesting pastiche of emotions.
EP: Yeah, I think the story with Bob is that basically, it looks sad in our eyes, but I think he’s pretty content with the situation here. He’s got his cat on his right, his comfy chair, his records all around him. He loves to smoke and keeps on smoking; he’s a chain smoker. People come from all over the world to see him. He might look sad in the photo but he seemed pretty content to me. He has this way of… he’s like a legendary dealer. He used to have a record store but had to shut it down, so he moved all the stuff to his house and now he deals from his house. And I remember thinking the same thing: I felt sad about the condition he lives in, but I really don’t think it mattered to him. He was doing his thing. I don’t know how old he is; he might be 65, 70. Obviously, he doesn’t have a woman in his life [laughs]… But I remember I was really surprised to see another guy passing from another room through the living room while we were there. We were all wondering, Who is this guy? No one had the guts to ask Bob. Though later on, we discovered that it was his flatmate. Who would have thought?!
The story was that me, Julia [Rodionova], and Lily [Handley, D&G road trip partners] went there. Lily was filming the whole thing; Julia had heard about Bob before, and she said it really depends on what mood he’s in that day. I guess when we arrived, he was in a really good mood. But then I heard other people say he doesn’t like girls. But that didn’t intimidate Julia. She came prepared with a really good list of things and earned his respect quickly. She was our ticket to his world. We didn’t go there saying that we wanted to interview him, because I didn’t want to get a “no.” So we just showed up and asked if we could just follow Julia while she looked for records, and that’s what we did. That’s the way we managed to get this photo. Otherwise it would have been awkward. ’cause he’s not like, “Oh yeah, I want to be profiled here!” No, he doesn’t give a shit. He didn’t mind, but he also didn’t give a shit about it. We spent maybe an hour and a half, two hours with him, and then after seeing the first floor, where all the good stuff is, I said, “Hey, do you have any big records?” He called them little records or big records. I told him I don’t collect little records because I don’t DJ, so he took us upstairs and we were able to see the other side of the house, which was even messier than the bottom. And then we got this photo.
What I like about this is it symbolizes a lot for me: continuation, passing on the knowledge, how music brings people together. He could be her grandfather, but he’s not. He’s a total stranger, but here they are, and he’s teaching her about music. It was a really beautiful moment. This entire session was really moving for me; one of the best of the road trip.
“Just when you think you’ve found a really strange album, an even weirder one is just around the corner.”
EP: So, Jonny Trunk. Just the name. Come on, “Trunk.” It’s not his real name, you know.
AG: It’s not?
EP: His real name is Jonathan Benton-Hughes. Boring.
AG: I can see why he changed it.
EP: I like that you picked someone with an entire feature in the book, and his is really fun, I have to say. I got to know him through his book that he put out about library records. My first fascination with library records was from funky soundtracks in the 70s, Italian soundtracks…
AG: Library records?
EP: Yeah, basically library records are what they use for background music for TV shows, announcements, commercials… So they would make a library of sounds and music, so you could have an ad for shampoo with this really awesome funky track, or for the action scene of a movie where you want a wah-wah guitar. You can imagine it, right?
EP: So this is library music. They still make it today, but I guess today it’s catalogued and filed on digital media; back then it was on records. So he put out this book about library records, and one of the characteristics of those records was really interesting and graphically-intriguing cover designs.
AG: Huh, I wouldn’t expect that.
EP: Yeah. The cool graphic design became characteristic because there was no artist’s ego and image involved. The covers were blank canvases calling for creativity. There’s another photograph in the book of a shelf of color-coded spines, yeah? That’s all library records. Brutons [from the Bruton Music label, which specializes in them]. Anyway, so that’s how I got to know of Jonny. In Paris, I shot a collector who showed me his book, and then when I visited Nashville, Ben Blackwell at Third Man [Records] showed it to me, too. So that was enough to compel me to pursue this guy, Jonny.
So this is a funny story. He has his own label where he puts out weird music, the weirdest music. Any kind of experimental stuff you can think of, where people play with kitchen utensils and brushes—that’s the kind of stuff Jonny would sign. So only after I visited him, I researched him more and learned that library records were just a small part of his collection. He’s even more well-known for his porn soundtrack records! When I went there, I wanted to see those, and he showed me quite a few, but then he started pulling out all kinds of other things—aquatic themes, for example! And self-help records, and spoken word… I guess his collection was the funniest, and the most fun. And his approach as well: he could be very articulate and very serious about his records, but then he would give you like this funny, quirky twist each time. So you wouldn’t know if he’s serious or not. I would ask him some simple, banal question, and he would answer it in a really cool way. For example: “Tell us about yourself.” And he says, “My name in Jonny Trunk, and I live in Hackney, London. I can’t remember how old I am. March, I think.” That’s how he starts an interview.
And just to make our interaction even weirder… to set it up, I had called him from the U.S., from Brooklyn. This was the first time I was traveling to the U.K. just to shoot people for the book, so I was trying to schedule as many as possible. I called him up and managed to get four hours of his schedule, starting at 3:00 pm, I think, on a Wednesday in April. I put it in my calendar. And then one day I woke up in Brooklyn to my phone ringing and it was a U.K. number. It was Jonny Trunk saying, “Hey, you here? This is Jonny, where are you?” And I was like, “Jonny? Jonny Trunk?” And he’s like, “Yeah! We’re supposed to… you here? Where are you?” And I said, Oh shit. I tried for a moment, I thought, is there a way I can get out of this without sounding totally stupid? And I thought, No, fuck it. I said, “Jonny, I’m in bed in Brooklyn [laughs]. I don’t think I’m gonna make it.” I was really sorry, I was really embarrassed. I kept thinking, Wow, this guy is being really patient with me. I just messed it up, missed it by an entire month. We set it up by email, and then I must have written it in for May instead of April.
AG: But he had time for you the next time.
EP: Yeah, he was a good sport about it, he said no problem, and that was a nice gesture of him. So when I finally arrived to London, I was scheduled to photograph him on the third day of my trip, but then I got stuck on the bloody overground! And I was like two hours late.
EP: And I knew he only had like three or four hours and I was already two hours late. So I’m thinking, Shit, how do I get him to not be pissed at me, how do I still get what we need to get? But he was like, “Okay, let’s make the best out of it.” And I went into super mode and said, “Let’s just start pulling out a bunch of stuff!” He wound up giving me like two and half hours anyway, and it was a really good session. The stuff he pulled out was really hilarious. In this shot, I don’t know what it is about Uri Geller, but we had this moment where I looked at him, he looked at me, and he was getting into character. Look at his face… Do you feel something changing in your belly now?
AG: Is he married?
EP: Yeah. Another funny one — in his interview, he’s holding up the [1970s erotic film] Calamo soundtrack and says, “Yes, me and the wife made a record.” And look at this album: The Strip Goes On! Yeah, I have to say that his interview is one of my favorites, ’cause he goes from really serious stuff to complete nonsense. And his answers are always sharp and funny. He’ll give you the “other” answer, you know? Like, I ask, “What’s the unlikeliest place you’ve found a record?” And you expect, “Oh yeah, I went to this flea market…” or whatever. But he says, “Under my kid’s bed.”
AG: Has he been interviewed a lot, do you think?
EP: I think so. Because he’s got this very specific collection, and he’s very good at it.
AG: You couldn’t really DJ very well with this stuff, right?
EP: No, but he is a good DJ. He DJd at our party [the D&G book launch in London]. He just picks up other stuff. I also wonder what’s going on with this album cover. What is this? For me, it looks like a sunny-side-up egg. I like the font, though.
AG: Yeah, and Jonny’s quote in the caption here: “A terrifying journey into Uri Geller’s huge ego.”
“Even after 30 years, there is still more to find in Eddie 3-Way’s New Orleans attic. With extra time, extra patience, a headlight, and at least a hundred dollars, you could come away with as many gems as splinters.”
EP: I notice that you didn’t pick many girls.
AG: I noticed that, too. I guess they didn’t seem like such weirdos.
EP: But here’s Julia in Eddie 3-Way’s...
AG: Yeah, I remember when I joined you guys for part of that trip, I barely knew her. But we shared a lot of intense experiences the week I was there, and I really enjoyed being around her. Just how sincere her interest was in being up there at Eddie’s and looking through all that stuff… I thought, Man, I don’t know if I have that level of interest in anything!
EP: Well, maybe that’s what makes you a good observer. You’re not stuck on yourself, your own pursuits.
AG: That might be true. But with this, I had liked Julia anyway, but this made me take even more of an interest in her. It deepened my respect for her that she was able to be so enthralled by this dirty, broken stuff.
EP: Yeah, I think she really liked it. I think she was really living her dream. When I asked her to come and join me on the road trip, I knew she would be a good asset because she was really meticulous and organized, but she also knew a lot about music, and had true enthusiasm for discovering new music. I needed her to come because I needed someone who would be good with logistics and information and all of that, but only later I discovered that she was really into it because she wanted to go digging! I mean, she would do her job, but the appeal for her was going through all these places. The road trip was so intense and so exhausting that I couldn’t really give her a lot of time for digging, so this opportunity here at Eddie’s was perfect. I like how serious she is; she has this very methodical Russian way—very practical, very prepared. Look, she brought a headlamp! I really like that about her.
AG: And there’s such a story behind Eddie’s, too. Want to tell us how you came to know about them? And then gaining access to the place was a whole other ball of wax—remember how the floor was so unstable? We could have fallen through at any moment!
EP: Yeah. Eddie was, again, one of those legends in the digging world. But the thing with Eddie—Eddie, Jr.—was that his father used to own the shop. And we later discovered that the name “3-Way” meant that his business was based on three things: records, shoes, and…
EP: No. Cigarettes?
AG: Eh, I think it was haircuts.
EP: Well the store is in a tough neighborhood in New Orleans. It wouldn’t be rare to have a drive-by shooting. And on one occasion, there was a drive-by and one of the bullets hit Eddie, Jr.’s neck. It didn’t kill him, but left him half-paralyzed and with a speech impediment. So when Eddie, Sr. died, Jr. found it really hard to maintain the business and had to shut down. So they had to move all the records up to the attic of the store. They would stock a lot of the NOLA artists; one of the most well-known is Eddie Bo; you can still dig his records in what’s left there. I think Julia found quite a few of them.
That place became legendary because it’s now by appointment only, just for people who know. And there’s also a minimum amount you have to spend for Eddie to open up. It was a real trip for all of us. We already knew this place was all dug up, but when you think about it, once we actually got in, it’s impossible for it to be thoroughly dug out. You could walk on records there! There would be no way for you to move stuff without blocking or covering other stuff. So it all depends on how much you want to shuffle the records; you can always find something else. And we did find some cool things… nothing so rare, but still they were really good records. And just the experience: it was the closest thing we got on the road trip to a real, old school digging experience, with dust and mold. It was fun. It was fun getting dirty.
“12-inch, 10-inch, 7-inch… Who says size doesn’t matter?”
AG: I don’t know if you want to talk about Deb…
EP: Do you want to talk about her?
AG: Yeah, I had a great time with Deb.
EP: Let’s talk about it. She’s in the book. You tell the story. What do we know about Debra Dynamite? I mean, she’s got one of the best quotes in here.
AG: Yeah, I love that quote. She’s just such a fun person, and put me at ease right away.
EP: You sure it was her, or the drinks she made us that morning?
AG: [Laughs] The morning cocktails? Yeah, those too, for sure. That was great. It was like patriotic wine, remember, with the American flag cork? In these glasses with silk-screened, old-timey logos and stuff, and little umbrellas? I think there was a plate of like cubed cheese with crackers. In their own personal tiki mansion…
EP: So what happened? We went to photograph her and her husband Ken…
AG: Yeah, out in New Jersey.
EP: And it looked like it was an amazing love story, you know? It was so romantic. The entire house was like one big piece of music memorabilia in a time tunnel of American kitsch.
AG: And you see people like that and you’re so glad they found each other, because not everybody wants to live that way. They had similar tastes, and they were a little bit older—it wasn’t like they were 20 and shacking up and it was bound to end at some point. They were both adults and had had other romances, and then it seemed so perfect that they wound up together. They were out in Linden, New Jersey, even! But they found their niche.
So yeah, we went out there, and even the staircase to get up to the apartment was pasted inch-to-inch with all kinds of records and flyers and memorabilia, and they both had their collections in different types of organization and I think these are Deb’s 45s here, right?
EP: Well yeah, this library, that’s another thing about it: when we were there, they were kind of starting to mix their records into one collection. But we haven’t revealed the sad truth yet: that they got divorced. And one of the real bummers about that—on our end—was then they wouldn’t let us publish the story.
AG: I remember this was one interview we recorded and then I transcribed it verbatim and I listened to them so much in that process—Deb talking about, “Here’s a surfer with a hot banana! Who doesn’t love a hot banana, baby?!”
EP: [Laughs] That’s a good Deb.
AG: And, you know, they danced together… It was just really great. I could have stayed there longer. They were living the dream.
EP: They were really intense, I remember. She had intense energy.
AG: It was intense, yeah. But godspeed, Deb and Ken. They were lovely.
EP: Should we seal this interview with Amnon? My favorite thing about this is that I came across his record room by mistake. It wasn’t planned. Basically, Amon has a museum in his house, in the old Yemenite quarter in Tel Aviv. It’s a museum for racquetball, beach racquetball, I don’t know how to say it in English. Matkot in Hebrew. Almost like a national sport in Israel. His entire house is a museum to this. He belongs to this club of men and women who play on the beach. They get super intense and play really strong; they’re like a menace to society! The city dedicated a specific space for them to play because they were endangering passersby. And Amnon is like their godfather, their capo. Once again, you picked up one of the unorthodox characters here! So he’s single, probably in his early or mid-60s, comes from a Yemenite family. And he has a really high-pitched voice—something you can’t really imagine from the way he looks.
I went to do a feature about him for an Israeli magazine, about him and his museum and the entire phenomenon of racquetball. But then, at the end of the day—after showing me all these racquetballs and trophies—he showed me his stereo, and I noticed he has all these cassette tapes, and all these handwritten catalogs of all the songs on the tapes. Every tape is in a notebook, all the songs are in a notebook, so he can find any song, if he wants. So when I saw that, I said, “Wow, if you have this many tapes, you must have some records, too.” And he said, “Oh yeah, all the tapes you see here, I have all the same things on record. Let’s go to the other room.” He keeps two recordings, but only plays the tapes! So he opens up these shelves and I see like the complete discography of Elvis, Cliff Richard, Dalida—who was a big hit in the 70s in Israel and everywhere else in the world; she’s Egyptian, I think. It’s all this kind of mainstream pop, but he’s so proud of having these old records.
AG: How far along with Dust & Grooves were you at this time?
EP: Maybe two years.
AG: So you were pretty psyched to see these records. You were like, “This guy’s gonna make an excellent feature.”
EP: Oh yeah. I mean, there was nothing important in the records, but it’s his enthusiasm. He doesn’t even collect anymore; he just keeps whatever he has. But he keeps them in a very organized and meticulous way. He’s another interesting character.
AG: Well, you pointed out the symmetry in this room to me…
EP: Oh yeah. The symmetry and the three different clocks in the same room—with three time zones! Look at that. He told me about his love for Dalida, you could actually see how in love he is. And you remember we were talking about feeling sad for people? I think I felt sad for him. With Bob, I didn’t. Because I guess Bob was doing his thing, and had this kind of attitude that was… he didn’t care. But Nisim is a sweetheart. When he told me that he’s so in love with her, it really broke my heart. He’s a single guy. But on the other hand, I saw how dear he is to his friends, and how much love they give him, and he’s happy.
Well, you know what I noticed? As much as I’m into music, we ended up talking about people.
AG: Well, they’re photographs of people as much as they are of records, right? My elevator pitch about Dust & Grooves is usually something like, “a documentary photography and interview project about vinyl records and the people who collect them.”
EP: Yeah… nice one.