Monday, January 21, 2013

Stephen Cooke Interview!

Next up we have Stephen Cooke from Halifax Nova Scotia. Stephen is pretty well known and liked in the east coast music scene and he has one hell of a collection to be proud of here.
Here we go!
Introduce yourself!

Name: Stephen Cooke

City/Town: Live in Halifax, a Dartmouth boy at heart

Job: Entertainment Reporter for The Chronicle Herald


Maritime Vinyl (MV) - What do you collect? Vinyl; CD’s; Cassettes; 8 tracks; bootlegs; music memorabilia; magazine; etc..


Stephen Cooke (SC) - I definitely have some of all of the above, leaning more heavily on the music, but I have a lot of my old music mags still kicking around (Creem Magazines going back to the '70s, some old Rolling Stone magazines, pretty much anything from the '80s that had The Replacements or REM on the cover), and some fun memorabilia, like a '60s Monkeesmobile, the K-Tel Superstar board game (the one that came with the triple-grooved 7” 45 that said either “It's a hit!”, “Break Even” or “It's a Flop!”) and tons of books as well.


Vinyl and CDs are the main things though, I only have one 8-Track, and it's the Lenny and the Squigtones album, a comedy offshoot from the '70s sitcom Laverne & Shirley that a friend gave me. I don't have anything to play it on, but that's okay, I have it on vinyl too.



MV - Do you prefer one audio format more than others? (example: vinyl more than cd’s)


SC - I pretty much have equal amounts of both, so I can't say I have a strong preference, although I still appreciate the convenience of CDs for playing in the car, ripping to my computer, etc. But I also have a turntable hooked up to my computer, for those vinyl-only rarities I'd like to have on my iPod or put on a mix CD. I'm still a sucker for possessing something in a physical format, although as space increasingly becomes an issue, my 2TB external hard drive becomes an easy alternative for stuff that I'm curious about that may not make it through the long haul.


MV - How big is your collection?


SC - Pretty big. Last time I did an estimate of my vinyl stash, it was around 3-4,000 titles, and that was a number of years ago. I've acquired a few milk crates' worth of LPs since then, and numerous 45s as well, so 5,000 might not be a bad estimate. Probably around the same number of CDs as well.


Unlike a lot of people of my generation, I didn't automatically start purging my collection of vinyl records as the CDs came out in the late '80s and early '90s. Aside from occasionally skimming the dross off my collection, it's stayed pretty much intact over the years.


MV - Do you concentrate your collection on one or more artists in particular?


SC - I have a few favourites, to be sure, but it's a pretty general sort of collection over all. I've made up my own weird filing system that starts with early pop and jazz (think Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra into Bix Beiderbecke to Miles Davis) and moves up through R&B and country into rock and roll, folk, British Invasion, '70s stuff, punk, alternative and so on. I keep Canadian stuff separate, and East Coast stuff separate beyond that, and then there are those singular categories like soundtracks (I seem to have acquired a lot of Ennio Morricone LPs) and comedy/novelty stuff. I also have an unhealthy number of singing celebrity “golden throats” albums by people like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Jim Nabors singing as Gomer Pyle, Herve Villechaize and so on, Lord help me.



MV - What is the first album you remember purchasing? Do you still have it?


SC - Aside from a few '70s K-Tel albums, and my mother's copy of Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii soundtrack, I grew up in a pretty rock and roll-free household. My folks came of age in that pre-rock period where Perry Como and Tony Bennett were more the sound of the day, although my dad did have a number of Gordon Lightfoot LPs from his folkie days, when he worked in Ottawa and would go see Bruce Cockburn playing lunchtime gigs at local coffeehouses.


So aside from raiding mom's records (a lot of Broadway show tunes), and my old kiddie records, there wasn't much to choose from. The first LP I bought with my own money was a well-worn copy of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which I got for a dollar when I was 10 or so, in a box of records I found in the Charlottetown used book store where I'd go to get Doc Savage paperbacks while visiting relatives in P.E.I. I guess someone just left them there, and I had a dollar either my dad or my uncle had given me, so I picked up a copy of the album with the strange looking cover with all these faces on it.


I knew who the Beatles were, I'd seen the animated feature Yellow Submarine on TV when I was quite young (4 or 5) and I had an extremely beat-up 45 of I Want to Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There that a former babysitter had given me, but none of that really prepared me for Sgt. Pepper. But at the same time, I could kind of relate to it as a kids' record, with all the sound effects, circus music, weird Indian stuff and orchestral bits. It felt like a jazzier version of one of my storybook records at the time, I don't think it fazed me one bit.


I still have it, the cover is ringworn and dog-eared, and the vinyl is scratchy, and unfortunately I took a pair of scissors to the insert that included all the fake badges and stuff and taped them to my wall. But it was just an early '70s copy on that red Capitol label, not a rare original pressing or mono edition or anything like that, so I don't feel too bad about the fact it was well-loved.


MV - What is your favorite item in your collection?

SC - Holy moley, where do I start? I don't have anything I'd consider super-rare, like a Beatles “butcher cover” of Yesterday and Today, or the misprint of the first Damned album, Damned Damned Damned, which has a pic of Eddie and the Hot Rods on the back by mistake, but I have a few favourites. My top band of all time is The Kinks, and I have a copy of Kinda Kinks signed by Ray Davies when I saw him perform in York, England a few years ago. I had just bought the record a few days before in Glasgow, and it didn't occur to me that I might actually get to meet Ray, but I ran into some members of the UK Kinks Fan Club and they told me to come with them to the stage door, since I'd come all the way from Canada. Sure enough, Ray came out and chatted with the fans after the show, signed whatever people held up to him, and was very convivial, despite being somewhat exhausted after playing for over two hours.

I don't actively go after autographed items, unless it's something I get signed myself, and that was clearly a big one for me. Other favourite items include a numbered Japanese copy of The Beatles' “White Album” which is probably the best-sounding piece of vinyl I own (I haven't tried to stack it up against the new 180g remaster though), and a beautiful, mint original copy of Sam Cooke's (no relation) Hit Kit LP on Keen Records.


MV - Do you still actively collect or was this something you concentrated on in the past?


SC - I still pick up stuff that intrigues me as I come across it, but I have to check myself so that I'm not just buying something because it has a cool (or horrendous) cover, and I try not to repeat myself and pick up something I already have in another format, although sometimes I can't help myself, as with special Record Store Day items, or one-off items like the vinyl-only mono version of Paul McCartney's Ram.


But I do like to keep up with vinyl when local artists put it out (loved the Noyes Records singles club), and when something like the Neutral Milk Hotel vinyl box or the stereo/mono double LP of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society were announced I didn't blink at pre-ordering them. Sometimes you've gotta follow that Pavlovian response.


MV - What is your preferred way of adding to your collection? Shopping online? Flea Markets? Independent music stores? Etc… Any favourite store or websites?


SC - All of the above, although my preference is for flipping through the racks at places like Taz, Select Sounds, Obsolete or Black Buffalo. I do like a good root through a yard sale box or a thrift store pile, but find those efforts less rewarding as time goes by. I do occasionally buy stuff online, but not all that often. For new records, is my usual go-to, although I also buy direct from some labels like Yep Roc or Third Man, where I'm also a subscriber to their vault series of exclusive releases. I do like opening a box and finding a Jack White live LP with a lenticular cover and two-tone blue and black vinyl inside. The music is the main thing, but I do like the trimmings from time to time.


I windowshop on eBay, I'll type “The Kinks” or “The Damned” into the search box and sort from most expensive first to see what's out there and what people want for it, but I rarely follow through. I think the last couple of things I bought on eBay were a 45 of Merry Merry Merry Merry Xmas by Ruby Wright (a song featured in John Waters' film Female Trouble) and an LP by '60s band Central Nervous System, which included a young Nova Scotia rocker named Ritchie Oakley.


MV - How do you store your collection? Shelves? Boxes? Your attic?


SC - Again, all of the above. Luckily, our condo comes with a storage unit that I refer to as “the archive,” which has shelving, but there are still lots of milk crates full of vinyl around, plus the usual stack of LPs leaning against the stereo stand. From here I can see the Mammoth Cave reissue of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet's Savvy Show Stoppers, Jerry Lee Lewis Live at Third Man Records, the Sloan Twice Removed reissue and a beat-up copy of Boney M's Night Flight to Venus. There's also a box of 78s nearby that a friend gave to me, I'm planning to go through them, make digital copies of the interesting ones, and pass them along. 78s are like classical records, I swore to myself I wouldn't accumulate them, but then they just kind of show up on my doorstep.


MV - Does your significant other support your collection? Did you have to convince him/her?


SC - Lucky for me my partner is a music fan too, and loves to take advantage of my music and movie collections, although I'm sure she wishes I was a bit better at filing stuff away after I'm done with it (I refer back to the stack of records leaning against the stereo stand). Also, she moved here from Australia after selling everything she owned except whatever she could fit on a handcart, so she appreciates the fact that I've been able to hang on to as much stuff as I have over the years.


I did have to pay off a tax bill years ago, before we met, and in the end it was my comic book collection that took the hit, and she's probably fine with that. Lugging around milk crates and wine boxes full of vinyl is bad enough (not to mention CDs, DVDs and, ugh, laserdiscs), selling off those long white comics boxes was probably a blessing in the end.


MV - What is on your “wish list” at the moment?


SC - I try not to have a long wish list, I'm probably more of an impulse buyer, but I'd love to have a copy of The White Stripes' Sub Pop Singles Club release featuring a bunch of Captain Beefheart covers, and The Kinks' Then Now and Inbetween promo box from the '60s, which came with a God Save the Kinks pin, a jigsaw puzzle, a tiny flag and a baggie of grass clippings “from the Village Green.” Oh yeah, it also includes a compilation LP. Maybe that aforementioned Damned LP with the misprinted back cover, but I already have two copies of Damned Damned Damned on vinyl, and the CD box set devoted to their Stiff Records period, so I haven't actively been searching for it.


MV - Do you ever miss the days when it was a challenge to buy some albums? Now you can find virtually anything online! Is it getting too easy?


SC - It's always much more gratifying to find something by chance in a store or at a record fair. Going on eBay and seeing 30 different Beatles “Butcher Covers” of varying degrees of quality kinda kills the specialness of it all. I remember seeing my first one, at a record fair in Baltimore in the late '80s, hanging on the wall for $150, and then seeing the first one owned by someone I knew, a fairly decent “peel job”, and both of those sightings were pretty special. Seeing dozens of them on eBay, not so much.


MV - Do you know any other collectors?


SC - Not as many as I used to when I spent a lot more time hanging out in record stores, doing shows on CKDU-FM and crate digging around town. Most of my friends who love music aren't into vinyl in a big way, even if they once were, although I still know a few record hounds like CKDU hosts Russell Gragg and Ryan Delehanty. But most people I know these days seem to be shrinking their physical collections, not growing or maintaining them.


MV - You are an “Entertainment Reporter” for the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, NS. What’s it like being a music journalist in the Maritimes?


SC - It's certainly been interesting, seeing East Coast music go from the Celtic music boom of the late '80s and early '90s, and that whole “next Seattle” thing to the thriving and diverse music scene we have now. I appreciate the hard work Maritime artists put into their music to make it stand out, I just hope the shifting paradigm of the music industry continues to change in their favour so they can make a living selling their songs online and on the road.


MV - Being involved in the East coast music scene you have made some friends with some big names in the music scene. Does becoming friends with these musicians effect how you report on them?


SC - I suppose getting to know some of these people over the years has given me a bit of added insight into their characters, or their methods they use to approach their craft. The way I see it, the more I learn about the process of making music, and the way that process is constantly changing, the better I get at writing about it. To be honest, the relationship I have with most musicians isn't much different from that of sports reporters and athletes or those on the city hall or Province House beat and politicians. First-name basis, sure; hugging basis, not as much as you'd think.


MV - Does being a music journalist help you with your vinyl collection?


SC - Occasionally, although the amount of vinyl I get is pretty minimal. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of the recent Beatles vinyl set, although I've already collected multiple copies of many of those records (three variations on Revolver, two numbered “White Albums”, Let It Be in the less common gatefold sleeve, and so on). Before that, I think my last piece of promo vinyl was a copy of Kestrels' A Ghost History LP, which I would have bought anyway.


MV - You would get a lot of albums through work for reviewing. How do these albums compare with what you buy personally?


SC - It's a mixed bag. I'm more interested in what's happening on independent labels like Arts & Crafts and Matador, and they tend to send me download links, which is fine. I just like to be able to hear as much different music as possible, and there's still plenty of room left on my hard drive and iPod. Ke$ha and Beyonce CDs interest me less, but I can appreciate the joys of fun, disposable pop when it's done right, and it's good to have the opportunity to hear it as soon as the record comes out.


MV - Getting to know musicians personally, does it affect which albums you purchase? For example, if you do not like a musician personally, yet you enjoyed their album before you met them, does your opinion on the album change?


SC - Sometimes an awkward experience with a musician can leave a bad taste in your mouth, but lucky for me those have been very few and far between. Most of the time I can separate the artist from the art, and I've heard enough negative stories about musicians whose work I admire that I'd have to get rid of a healthy portion of my collection if I wanted to act on that information.


MV - Prior to becoming a music journalist you played bass in a band called “The Deluxe Boys” with some musicians that went onto some successful music careers: Jay Ferguson (Sloan), Matt Murphy (The Super Friendz, Cityfield) and John Gould. Any regrets in not pursuing a career as a musician?

The Deluxe Boys

SC - Not really, I never considered myself that great or dedicated a musician, and I also wasn't driven to move away from the East Coast to find greater success. This is where I wanted to live, and I was working at a job that still allowed me to enjoy music while earning a living and being close to my friends and family. Plus, I got a full-time job in radio right out of university, and balancing that and a regular relationship didn't leave a ton of time for making music on the side.


MV - Where can I find some recordings of ‘the Deluxe Boys?”


SC - Aside from a soundboard tape from an opening slot for Jellyfishbabies at the Club Flamingo sitting in somebody's closet, you can't. We had a handful of original tunes, and an eclectic bunch of cover versions like the Monkees' Valerie and Squirrelbait's Choose Yr Poison, but we never got to the point where we felt compelled to make a full-fledged recording, and our sets were ... well, undisciplined might be the best way to put it. I think someone once called us Halifax's answer to the Replacements, but I've listened to some Replacements bootlegs (not to mention the cassette-only faux-bootleg The Shit Hits the Fans) and I'm not entirely sure that was meant as a compliment.


But we had fun, and we had a few fans, including the Flamingo's Greg Clark, who I'm sure took great pleasure in booking Sloan and Super Friendz years later at Birdland and the Marquee and reminding them of that scrappy bunch of university brats that he put on stage for the first time.


MV - It is apparent that you are a fan of live music as well as vinyl. What do you think of people like me who love music but are more content listening to vinyl than going to live shows?


SC - I still love going to shows, but as arena and big outdoor shows get more expensive, and Halifax club shows continue to get underway at 10 p.m. or later, I can't fault anyone for wanting to listen to music by their favourite acts in the comfort of their own home while drinking a beer that cost them $2 instead of $6 or $7. But I also love festivals like the Halifax Pop Explosion or All Tomorrow's Parties where you get a lot of bang for your buck, music-wise; sometimes you can quantity and quality at the same time.
MV - Thanks for taking the time to do this Stephen!

1 comment:

  1. In case anyone's interested that photo of a bunch of LP covers is just stuff I pulled at random from the shelf, with Wilbur de Paris Plays Cole Porter, which has the jazz trombonist riding a classic Vespa scooter (another obsession of mine), the debut LP by The Halifax Three autographed by member (and Mamas and Papas founder) Denny Doherty, a Super Friendz 10", the first LP by Halifax's Jellyfishbabies (whom the Deluxe Boys opened for, right before the JFB headed to Toronto), the first Hip Club Groove album, Songs of the Pogo from the comic strip by Walt Kelly and a Jackie Chan album.


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