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Dr Demento – Page 2

Dr Demento plays the blues...

READERSVOICE.COM: Do you still listen to a lot of rhythm and blues? Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters? or country? What sort of music do you listen to these days?

DR DEMENTO: Yes, I still do listen to those people. I try to get in an hour or so of “recreational” listening (or sometimes viewing) each evening after my work is done for the day, and it’s usually blues, country or classical, sometimes rock (including 50s rock ‘n roll).

Of course I also hear a whole lot of funny music. I get 20 or so CD’s each week from people who make funny music, mostly self-released.

Though these often give me a lot of pleasure, listening to them is part of my job, and it’s really a different process.

Two years ago I decided to put all my country 78s on CD-R — at least the ones that I thought I’d want to hear again, and that aren’t already on well-made commercial CD’s. I’m doing them alphabetically by artist. I’m up to letter S now.

Though this is enjoyable, the programming is determined by the alphabet, not by my mood of the moment, so it isn’t entirely recreational.

RV: How many records do you have in your collection?

DR D: Don’t have an exact count, but it’s upwards of a quarter million.

RV: And what would be the ratio of comedy to rhythm and blues, classical and other music?
DR D: As a very rough guess: Popular (including rock, and also dance music and vocals going back to 1900) – 40%

Comedy (including things people have sent in for the show through the years) – 25%

Black music (blues, gospel, soul, hip-hop) – 10%; Country – 10%; Jazz – 5%; Miscellaneous (world music, show tunes, folk, whatnot) – 10%

RV: Have you at any st age attempted to simplify your collection to the absolute essentials, or did it always seem an impossible or pointless task to do that?

DR D: I have done some pruning from time to time through the years, usually when moving house. (It started when I left the family home to go to college).

At times it has seemed like an impossible or pointless task. Now that I’m in my sixties, I am realizing that there are things I just never will listen to.

With the cost of storage rising constantly, further pruning is looking more and more desirable….but there never seems to be enough time to do it right.

RV: Your father played piano and I was wondering what sort of music he listened to?

DR D: He loved to play Chopin, and also played my mother’s favorite 1930s pop songs in a style a bit like Eddy Duchin’s.

On the phonograph, he listened to mostly orchestral music – Beethoven, Brahms, Tschaikovsky, Debussy and Ravel.

I think his all time favorite piece of music was Cesar Franck’s symphony (he only wrote one).

RV: When you found those 78 rpm records at a thrift store when you were 12, that started your collection, what were some of those records?

DR D: The store with jukebox discards (six for $1) actually came first, by a month or two – March 1953. I’m pretty sure “The Glow-Worm” by The Mills Brothers and “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” by Perry Como were in the first batch.

I continued to visit that store weekly until I graduated from high school in 1959.. Sometime in 1954 I started picking up some of the R&B records they had…this was before I heard any R&B to speak of on radio or anywhere else.

In those days many jukeboxes only held 20 or 30 records, so the discs would be discarded as soon as they dropped off the Hit Parade. (Just last January I dined in a nice restaurant in the very same building that used to house the jukebox place — the neighborhood has been gentrified)

I discovered the Salvation Army store on Nicollet Island adjacent to downtown Minneapolis about May ’53. I’m sure there were some Paul Whiteman and other dance bands in the first batch, but the only disc I remember specifically as being in the very first week’s haul is “The Last Round-Up” by Dick Robertson on the Perfect label.

I know the first blues record I turned up there was “Drifting” by Memphis Jimmy (a cover of Charles Brown’s hit, as I learned later) coupled with “Mercy Mama” by Tampa Red. (That building was torn down in the 1970s).

RV: I was reading a Robert Crumb comic where he described his collection of obscure blues records and how he’d hunt around for them. Where have you gone to look for obscure old time records and what have been some of your best discoveries, and favorite records in your collection?

DR D: As a kid (1950s) I did nearly all my hunting in thrift stores, jukebox operators’ headquarters and other businesses that sold used records. At that time there were no used record stores like the ones that became so common in the 1970s.

Used records were sometimes sold as a sideline by various businesses like drug stores and bookstores.

In 1956 I found some great rockabilly 45’s at a gas station in northern Minnesota. In 1966 I made one canvassing trip to the South with John Fahey. In addition to jukebox places, we spent several days going door to door in black neighborhoods offering to buy records, with moderate success.

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