DJ, music journalist and hip hop head Mason leads us on a breakbeat-laden odyssey

Andrew Mason (Monk-One) – Brooklyn, NY

Here is Monk-One, a DJ and  music journalist from Brooklyn, NY.

Q: What was your first album? How did you get it? At what age? Can you describe that feeling? Do you still have it?

A: As a young sprout my parents gave me a little record player and a box of stories, nursery tales and such, on 7-inch records with picture book sleeves. You were supposed to read along and turn the page when the chime rang. I spent hours entertaining myself that way.

My father also had rock & roll and soul 45s that I would play if he let me. That was how I first got hip to Stax/Volt stuff, particularly Booker T & the MG’s, a major formative influence on my taste.

Q: What prompted you to start collecting? what age did you start ?

A: I never woke up and decided to start collecting, it was more a gradual accumulation over the years. I always liked music and from the age of 10 or so was spending my chore money on pop singles at Sam Goody, Tower Records and places like that.

Q: Do you remember the day when you switched from being a record listener to a record collector?

A: I’m always first and foremost a record listener. I will “ruin” a mint copy of a rare record by subjecting it to repeated spins and have even been known to bring these records to filthy bars and clubs! I suppose there’s no getting around being known as a collector but I don’t see myself that way. I just have a lot of music.

Q: Initial interest in music? did you get influence from your family?

A: My father had records and was a bit of an audiophile, with a reel-to-reel and all that. He played trumpet and I tried it for a while myself. That didn’t take too well, but as a teenager I ended up teaching myself guitar and went on to play bass, guitar and drums in bands from high school onward. My grandfather also played professionally (ie. made money at it) but never cut a record.

Q: Why vinyl?

A: Pretty simply, it was the format of choice when I was growing up. You could always record a tape from vinyl, but you couldn’t make a record from a cassette. Besides, I wanted the whole package: artwork and liner notes in addition to the music. As time has gone by and we’re surrounded with digital media, I’ve also grown fond of the unique aspects of the vinyl format (fuller sound, superior tactile and visual feedback, etc).

Q: How many LP? 45s?

A: Too many! rough guess…. About 15,000 big records, 800 little records.

Q: Have you ever battled for a rare record?

A: Oh no. That’s not my style. Somebody who I won’t name (OK, it was my friend big Steve-O from uptown) once literally yanked a copy of Funkadelic’s first album out of my hands – I’d found it in a stack that we were both going through and I guess he felt he needed it more than I did. I found that extremely uncouth.

Q: tell me a crazy story over a certain record

A: As a hip-hop head of a certain age, I’ve coddled a long standing compulsion to get my hands on every old school breakbeat I can (in all varieties of format and pressing). One of the keystones of the canon is The Honey Drippers 45 “Impeach The President,” a funky comment on the Nixon follies. It’s not the rarest or the most expensive record in the world, but without $150 or so you’d be hard pressed to land one.

So back around the time of Bill Clinton’s Monica mishap, I was in a local junk store rummaging through a box of 45s that had recently come in. The owner said I was free to look but that he hadn’t checked them yet so there was an off chance that he might want something in there for himself. (He had a record player in the store and liked to keep things around to listen to.)

As I started in on the hundred or so unsleeved 7-inches, I knew right away it was a promising stash: purple and red People labels, tan Sussexes, Black-with-the-rainbow-streak De-Lites, pale blue All-Platinums – all spore on the trail of the really big game, small, independent label soul and funk. Suddenly, a heart-stopping vision: the near-mythic sunny yellow label with a crisp red “Alaga” in block letters at the top. “Impeach the President.” I flipped through the rest of the singles in a daze, slowly realizing there was one more obstacle before I could claim my prize. If the owner caught sight of the title, implausibly relevant to current events, surely he’d want to keep it. Choosing a sturdy group of security titles to flank the “President,” I carefully placed the small stack A-side-down on the counter, hoping the storekeep wouldn’t turn them over.

He immediately did. Pulling out a James Brown here, a Kool & the Gang there for himself, time slowed as he approached the only record in the pile I cared about. For an hour or so he gazed at it (I suppose it was really only a few seconds). Then, it was over. He placed it in my bag and rang me up for something like $4.75 (25 cents a record) and I was out in the sunlight.

James Brown picture sleeves, one from Spain and one from Hungary.

Another hip-hop holy grail came to me at a street fair less than a mile from that spot. It had started to rain and the vendors were packing up. I was on my bike, leaning over a milkcrate of jumbled 7-inches, when one jumped into my hands: Melvin Bliss’s “Synthetic Substitution” on the Sunburst label. The dealer whisked the crate away from me (“Come on, they’re getting wet and I have to go!”), I handed him a dollar and was gone.

Melvin Bliss “Synthetic Substitution”

Q: What’s your partners’ reaction to this obsession?

A: My gracious gal loves music and will occasionally even encourage me to pick stuff up that she thinks is cool – most recently the 12-inch single of “Strawberry Letter #23” on strawberry-colored vinyl and Supreme Nyborn’s “Versatility.”

Q: Can you name a few of your most expensive one?

A: I don’t know. Not being an eBay purchaser or even spending a lot of time in collector-oriented stores, my grasp of prices is tenuous. But let me pick something for fun… How about Grand Wizard Theodore “Can I Get A Soul Clap”? You could probably buy a roundtrip ticket to Tokyo with that.

Grand Wizard Theodore “Can I Get A Soul Clap”

Q: What about some rare finds….?

A: Don’t really know. I have acetates and test-pressings that are practically unique and some stuff like this 1975 invitation to the Better Days disco with Tee Scott talking up the party over “Love Is the Message” – that’s got to be pretty scarce.

Tee Scott’s audio invitation to a party at Better Days, dated October 19, 1975

Q: Is there an album / 45 that you are trying to find, unsuccessfully? what would you give for it?

A:There are always passing infatuations, and there are always fundamentals that you don’t have. As a wise man once put it, “You can never know everything, have everything or hear everything.” But like I said, I enjoy the chance meetings with things I didn’t know about more than the relentless pursuit of known quantities.
Q: Out of your great collection, there must be a few records that you like going back to any time. What makes them so special for you?
A: Great music! Hugh Mundell Africa Must Be Free, Roy Ayers Mystic Voyage, Monk Plays Ellington… man there are so many. And never enough!
There’s only so much that you can put into words when trying to explain the emotions surrounding music. Granted, as a “music journalist” I’ve spent many hours trying to do just that, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it is a rather quixotic enterprise (someone once famously likened writing about music to “dancing about architecture.”). What do my favorite records have in common? I suppose that they all speak to me on a particularly comforting level; they each affirm, challenge and delight me the way a good friend should. I have never gotten tired of Hugh Mundell and Augustus Pablo’s moody soulfulness, Roy Ayers’ intricate grooves or Thelonious Monk’s intense playfulness, and don’t expect I ever will!

Q: Do you have any favorite album cover art or artist? Any special reason?

A: I have a soft spot for spiritual jazz and the attendant art, stuff like Byron Morris & Unity Blow Thru Your Mind, Luis Gasca’s self titled one on Blue Thumb and Shamek Farrah’s First Impressions. There’s a bizarre Spanish picture sleeve of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle” that depicts Gil as a blond Kirk Douglas type. Jackets that are visually sequential are great too, like the Reid Miles designs for Miles Davis Volume 1 & 2 on Blue Note or Tico’s Tito Puente 10-inches.

on the left, Luis Gasca ; On the right, Shamek Farrah

Byron Morris & Unity Blow Thru your Mind

Q:Dirtiest, sexiest ,filthiestalbum cover you know or own? sorry, it’s a personal fetish of mine.

A:I dunno, maybe Lloydie and the Lowbites or how about this flexidisc I found in the sleeve of another record, “Confessions of a Nymphomaniac”?

Q: Is there a specific musical instrument that attracts you when listening to music? Can you describe the feeling?

A: Nah, it’s all in how it’s played! But OK, I am partial to some Fender Rhodes and the wonderful Wurlitzer electric piano.

The record on the left I found in Budapest. I love the cover and the songs within are almost as great—filled with all sorts of funky bits and pieces. The record on the right is the first EP from my group Greenwood Rhythm Coalition. One of our songs has a bass line directly inspired by the Hungarian LP.

Obviously Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is a fundamental soul classic, so tough and heartfelt. I’ve got ‘nuff 7-inches that are more obscure but there’s a good reason that the classics are classics: they are the cream of the crop! This record represents the gift my father gave me by being into 45s and Booker T & the MGs (who back Sam & Dave here). I also love the concept: saying “Thank you” is a superb thing to do and I never forget to say it to those who’ve listened to me DJ.

Q: how many times have you left a record in your library and couldn’t find it?

A: Believe it or not, it doesn’t happen that often. I know while you were here I wanted to show you this Thai kick-boxer’s theme song and I couldn’t put my hands on it. Of course it turned up the minute you walked out the door. Because records have such a powerful combination of sound and vision, my associations of them tend to stick—I remember where I found them, where and when I played them and where, in this disorganized basement, they are sitting! That said, there is one 7-inch I know I have and haven’t been able to find for years. I dropped Vicki Anderson’s “In the Land Of Milk and Honey” into the sleeve of an LP for safekeeping at a gig once, and though I know it’s here somewhere, I can’t for the life of me remember which album it is in.

My favorite DJ, the legendary Red Alert, wrote a message to me on this copy of Sparky Dee’s “He’s My DJ” (a Red Alert tribute record). It says “Listen, no matter what keep on rockin’.”

here are a few more questions coming from a friend (who was also featured here in the past).
Q. He was born in Japan and raised here. is ther anythig about Japanese Culture that shaped his music tastes or is it the Japanese love of American Culture that he connects with ?A: I was born in the States and raised in Japan. There is a whole lot about Japanese culture that shaped my musical tastes. Japanese music heads are, to make a broad but accurate generalization, extremely obsessive and detail-oriented. When they get into something, they turn it inside out and thoroughly explore every nook and cranny. I identified with that impulse and, to some extent, it influenced the approach of Wax Poetics Magazine. Jazz has always been revered in Japan, and it is much more present in everyday life (in commercials, in the grocery store, in record store real estate, etc.) than here. I’m talking about things like Sonny Clark, Herbie Nichols, people you’d never hear in the US, they were getting played in the supermarket. I was familiar with Curtis Fuller’s “Five Spot After Dark” as a kid because of its ubiquity in, I think, a Suntory whiskey commercial. That exposure gave me a great foundation.
Q. He is a Deep Deep head. BUT does he prefer the sample laidened Hip Hop tracks or the sources tracks better? Or does he hear them as completely different entities?A: I love hearing bits of music mutate into completely new songs. It’s a glorious thrill to hear Pete Rock chopping a well-known classic like “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” into pieces and rearranging it into a supple head-nodder (Mary J Blige’s “Family Affair” remix, if you want to check it out). I love both songs—the Temptations and Pete’s beat—and see them as completely different animals. Of course there are plenty of great Hip Hop tracks that are made from boring sources, just like collage in visual art. And the reverse is true as well: it is fully possible to butcher a great original by clumsy sampling and sequencing. So, sample-laden Hip Hop tracks vs. source tracks? Both, neither—give me a good song, bottom line!Q: It is obvious that he loves all things soulful but was there a musical love early on that would be surprising? Where did he first start diggin’ the crates?A:I don’t know how surprising it would be, but I habitually taped Casey Kasem’s Top 40 radio shows as a kid—I studied Pop music. As a teen I loved Punk and heavy guitar stuff like Van Halen and Black Sabbath. As far as “digging in the crates” goes, I was always attracted to music with a groove. And, like I mentioned, Jazz was also always around. So I was well-prepared for “digging” when that attitude was identified and labelled in the early ‘90s. But I guess to put a specific point to it, I remember in probably ’91 making a mix tape for a party and having people look at me like “he got joints!” That was the first time I thought, “well, ya know maybe I do!”Check out his monthly radio show at Wax Poetics his Label, Names you Can

22 Responses

  1. Funny,eye used to listen to the railroad streams on…Since a long time they dont work.So eye found the names u can trust site just a week ago and now this great interview here…2010 is my lucky number!
    Thank you+peace,Meier

  2. Great read and mix. DJ, writer, and musician; he's a true renaissance man. What an impressive collection. The black and white photo from beind the computer is so great. The studio bomb shelter. And it is also nice to be quoted, "The Collector's Creed!" Great job both of you.

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