What inspires a music collector to search high and low and pay large sums of money to acquire one record? Obsessiveness, says Chris King, who owns the record “Last Kind Word Blues,” by Geeshie Wiley, that appears on this week’s cover.
King’s record is one of fewer than 10 surviving copies of the three known Paramount releases from Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, the mysterious blues musicians who are central to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s cover story. “People in the story talked about this record as being the holy grail of blues collecting,” says Amy Kellner, a photo editor at the magazine, so it made sense to show “one of the only physical clues to these two women.”
Here King talks about his music collecting.
How did you acquire your copy of “Last Kind Word Blues?”
I had to work very hard for several months. I acquired the disc out of a trade with another collector. At first, I got him to bring the record to my house, where I listened to it. And then I started to make him offers, which were preposterous at that time.
But the second time he came to the house with that record, he had learned that I had recently turned up a very rare record. This time I approached him with a nice stack of money, a stack of records and that rare record, and he accepted because he didn’t actually believe I would go through such lengths to acquire something. And that’s how I got it.
Why were you willing to give so much for this one record?
Have you ever heard the record? This record is the tip-top, pinnacle of that genre of records that shouldn’t exist because they are so unearthly. When I sit in my studio and play this record, it has so much vibrancy and life to it, that when I drop the needle on it, I half expect for blood to flow from the grooves or a tear to drop from the turntable.
After I heard that record long ago, I said to myself, “I will do whatever it takes to acquire it.”
Before reading John Sullivan’s story, did you know anything about Geeshie Wiley?
Because the slate is so blank when it comes to these two women, collectors, just like anybody else, have this urge to mythologize. For me, having listened to “Last Kind Word Blues” and “Skinny Legs Blues” — in my mind I picture this cold, hardened, glaring, gray-eyed woman; a femme fatale who would slash your throat just as soon as she would make love to you the next instant.
I know John [Sullivan] has probably pulled up a lot more information about them, but in my mind, I see an extraordinarily strong, independent woman.
Why did you begin collecting old records?
My dad was a big-time collector. He makes me look like a puny ant. He collected everything — phonographs and film and antiques and art. So I had that natural proclivity to surround myself with objects. It was a natural transition.
Why records, then? You have more than 5,000 of them.
It sustains me. It gives everything meaning. If I was not able to both collect and make material available to others, I don’t think I would be able to find the universe coherent. I don’t think I would be able to find any meaning to anything.