Like so many of their fellow New York/New Jersey citizens, legendary raw rock reissue label, Norton Records, took a huge hit from Superstorm Sandy last year. The damage to their warehouse in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn was described as, “If a giant went in, picked up the space, and threw it upside down into a lake.” Norton has, since 1986, specialized in reissuing the wildest mid-century R&B, garage rock, surf, and general outre rock ‘n’ roll nuttiness; and added current similarly-souled sounds along the way. They’ve expanded into releasing hep paperbacks on their Kicks Books imprint. Plus, label founders Miriam Linna and Billy Miller are two of the most completist collectors on the planet, and they used that warehouse to store some of their personal effects too.
The massive loss of truly cool stuff was beyond tragic.
But thanks to their limitless can-do attitude and loads of help from friends, Linna and Miller cobbled together a number of record cleaning parties at Norton HQ and Brooklyn Bowl, trying to salvage what they could. Pressing plants donated repressings of loads of record sleeves. And a year later, the label is as busy as ever with a slew of new releases and a gonzo two-day Sandy anniversary party this weekend at two venues in Brooklyn, featuring some of their favorite old and new bands, and some amazing DJs too.
These two are always cooking up something, so we were happy to let them get us up to speed on the wonderful world of Norton.
So, how are Norton HQ’s spirits on the anniversary of the Sandy disaster?
Miriam Linna: Spirits are good and hopes are high. We have huge concerns but are dealing with the challenges on an hourly basis!
Billy Miller: Things are getting better and better each day. It’s hard to believe what’s happened in the past year but we’re getting beyond it. Bad weather’s not gonna kill Norton!
What happened with the warehouse space?
Linna: We were forced to leave the Red Hook space in December, as it was virtually uninhabitable. The wooden dividing walls were swollen from being underwater, and everything had started to rust. The heavy cast iron gates were completely off their hinges, and still are. There was no heat as the pipes and heaters were destroyed. There was just no staying there. We have a new temporary space for storage, but are still looking for a business space that will allow us to work in it as we did in Red Hook. For the past year, we have worked entirely from our home.
We all know the terrible things that happened because of Sandy, but what are some positive things you got out of the experience?
Linna: Of course, the amazing and huge group effort from friends and strangers was something we could never have anticipated. People organized events, fund raisers, clean-up campaigns—mostly independent from us—and got huge slabs of work done. There was so much to do, and many of the fixes had to be invented. With many things, friends went back to old fashioned methods to get things done. For instance, all of our files were soaked. One friend bought a clothesline and clothespins, and we hung the liens across the parking lot and clipped papers onto the lines to dry in the winter air. People brought in rotating floor fans to help dry thousands of records and books.
Miller: Everything was so overwhelmingly crazy—not sleeping, no master plan for putting the label back into fighting shape, trying to make sense of it all. I remember being down on my hands and knees at Brooklyn Bowl when they let us have a Wash-A-Thon to clean records. I was opening a soggy box—and I remember this moment clearly—I looked up and there were 100 people hard at work rescuing our stuff. I thought to myself, “We are truly blessed.” I think at that moment it was all 100% positive thinking until we got the job done. We can never thank everyone enough.
It certainly doesn’t seem like Sandy has slowed down your new release action. What are some upcoming music releases?
Miller: We’ve been working hard on new projects in addition to repressing what we lost. We’ve got a Sun Ra album plus a new one by the Ding-Dongs (Mark Sultan and Bloodshot Bill) that’s wild! We put together two albums of killer R&B vocal groups that are being pressed now. And there’ll be six new Norton 45s out in November.
Linna: Back to working on two more collections of Mad Mike Monsters, too.
So who had the idea to do this anniversary weekend blast?
Miller: We wanted to do something to show our gratitude to everyone who’d helped us out. DJ impresario Jonathan Toubin called us about having the A-Bones play with the Reigning Sound on one of his big Soul Clap DJ nights. Jonathan was the one who suggested the Norton theme. And since Brooklyn Bowl helped Norton so much when they opened their doors for our record cleaning events last year, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. It grew into a two-night blast once the Sonics and Flamin’ Groovies got on board.
First, Friday—who is in the Flamin Groovies and Sonics’ lineups these days?
Linna: Both combos have half original membership, and half super-qualified new guys, all who have spent their lives in rock ‘n’ roll.
Is Norton releasing the new Flamin’ Groovies and Sonics albums?
Linna: Both bands’ new recordings sound great, but we are not able to take them on as releases. Why? Ask Sandy!
Any word from Daddy Long Legs about how they Euro jaunt is going?
Linna: Those guys are taking over Europe, we all knew they would. They are incredible, definitely the torchbearers. The real deal with the real feel.
Miller: From all reports, the guys are really tearing it up. They’re recording their second album for us as soon as they’re back.
Second, Saturday—La La Brooks, former leader of the great 60s girl group, the Crystals. Tell us how you got in touch with her, and whose idea was it to do a new album?
Miller: La La put on such an incredible performance at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and again at Lincoln Center where she stole the show. Miriam and I asked her to do the album. She lives right near the studio so we didn’t have the thing where the artist is in town for four days and it’s all a big panic. Mick Collins did a great producing job on the album!
Does Reigning Sound have any new material coming out? I assume Greg has been busy with Oblivians work this year.
Miller: I just spoke to Dave Amels, the keyboard player, and he says the Reigning Sound is working up a bunch of new songs to record. Greg’s always coming up with great tunes.
What bounty was used to get Mick Collins to play a whole set with the A-Bones? And what kind of tunes can we expect?
Miller: A-Bones guitar player Bruce Bennett will be on his honeymoon, so we asked Mick and he was up for it. He’s playing guitar for the night.
And of course we have you stompin’ combo, the A-Bones, who still get out there time and again. Do you have any more Euro tour plans coming up?
Miller: We’re working on a few things for the summer. We’re recording a new album in January—our third or fourth “last ever” album!
How/when did the idea of Kicks Books come about? And what action can we expect from that in the coming year?
Linna: Kicks started with Andre Williams writing Sweets while in rehab. I promised him we’d publish a fiction book of his if he went through rehab successfully. He did exactly that. Sweets became the first Kicks “Hip Pocket Paperback” in 2010, and Andre has been clean as a whistle ever since. Writing has amazing powers!
Finally, as Norton may mostly be known for reissues and re-dug up craziness, you still keep an ear to the ground. What are some new bands you guys dig?
Miller: Daddy Long Legs, Tandoori Knights, Ding-Dongs, Bloodshot Bill… I’m not sure if they count as new, but the last show that Barrence Whitfield and the Savages played here in Brooklyn mopped up the floor with everybody! We can’t fit too many modern band albums into our schedule, so what we do with bands we like is have them as part of Norton’s Rolling Stones cover song singles series. I think we’ve put 26 singles in that series now. We’ve got about five more in the works.