GEOFFREY WEISS

A Weiss Touch: Words and Wax from the World's Best Record Collector

Geoffrey Weiss

Intro by Eothen “Egon” Alapatt | Interview by Josiah Titus | Photos by Eilon Paz

I

’m not a fan of hyperbole, especially when it comes to records. The “rarest” record of the moment might be one that boxes of are waiting to be released back into the field. Some of the best “insert-genre-here” albums might be misunderstood by entire generations, and what’s regarded as “the best record of all time” by one person might be seen as a pedigreed relic with little historical importance by another. Such terms get even more watered down when they aim to describe record collectors. Lofty phrases like “deepest,” “best-schooled” and “the Alan Lomax of…” get liberally attached to everyone from hobbyists to the life-long obsessed. The result is hyperbolic noise, which is a shame, because what is there left to say when it’s actually true?

There is one person I’ve met about whom I feel compelled to say: Geoffrey Weiss is, to me and to many, the world’s best record collector.

I first heard about Geoffrey when I was living in Nashville in the ’90s. I was on the trail of funk and soul when I met David Forman, who introduced me to Barry Wickham, who told me about the legendary Geoffrey Weiss. Shortly after I moved to the Eastside of LA in 2001, I encountered Geoffrey at a backyard barbecue in Echo Park. He had a long beard and looked something like Gandalf. I was offered an introduction but declined. What the hell was I going to talk to the Geoffrey Weiss about? I was certain I would only make myself look like an idiot.

Some years later, when I had the opportunity to hang out with him, I realized my fears about looking like and idiot were unfounded. He isn’t the jaded, braggart type, though he easily could be. Instead, he is gracious, enthusiastic and trustworthy. And it didn’t take me long to confirm that he is indeed the world’s best record collector.

His massive record collection has its own house, adjacent to his actual house. When I saw a copy of Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner” sitting in its stock Deram sleeve on a table with a $1,000 price tag on it, I knew this wasn’t going to be your average collection. “You’re lucky to own that,” I said. “It’s a spare,” he told me. He added that I could have it as part of a trade we were working on—a trade we negotiated for more than a year, punctuated by evenings filled with stellar bourbon and interesting beers; evenings where the assignment—the trade—was pushed aside in favor of the pursuit of knowledge and the enjoyment of listening to vinyl. But on that first visit, when I gasped that he had spent a grand on a spare, no matter how great, he shrugged his shoulders and remarked that the record was better than a grand.

I have countless stories like that about Geoffrey. He’s not known as a funk or soul collector per se yet he had the wherewithal to buy Marvin Whoremonger and doubles of the Southern University Jazz Ensemble Goes To Africa with Love LPs in the ’80s and ’90s because, simply, they intrigued him. He’s the guy who pulled the Stephen David Heitkotter LP out of the reject bin at A&M’s publishing division in 1986 and cemented its status as one of America’s great outsider rock albums. Weiss doesn’t need validation from other collectors or from guidebooks, or from the ego of owning the rarest this or the most expensive that (though his collection is full of those things). He simply loves music, always has, and he wants to share that love with others. Through the years he has worked for major labels, has helped find and promote important bands, and now spends his time managing a young artist. Anyone gifted the opportunity to share a moment with him in his space, exploring his thousands of records, all of which he knows intimately, is in for—damn, here I go again—a singular musical experience.

–Eothen “Egon” Alapatt

Do you remember your first record?

My first record was a spoken word reading of Wind in the Willows, but my first music record was Badfinger’s “Come and Get it.”

What kind of music did you hear growing up?

As a kid, I heard classical, show tunes and Woody Guthrie from my parents; Keith Jarrett, Joni Mitchell, Motown and Simon and Garfunkel from my older sister; and the Beatles from everywhere. My parents had a stack of stuff they liked, but it wasn’t a collection.   

The Beatles represent a sacred part of your record collection, and really British rock as a whole from the Beatles era. What was it about rock and roll during this time that excites you?

The Beatles in particular were a rare instance where something really great was also really popular. They galvanized young people all over the world and influenced music in ways that are still being felt. My collection of Beatles records is relatively small, I try to have an interesting copy of every single and every album, but I don’t have the Swedish one of this and the “true first” of that. British ’60s rock has always spoken to me, probably because I never got over hearing “I Am the Walrus” when I was five. I always felt that whatever magic had produced the Beatles had landed to some degree on The Hollies, the Zombies, Locomotive, and the Toggery Five. I remember when the first volume of Chocolate Soup for Diabetics came out. I was thunderstruck that there was a whole level of English ’60s music that was still unknown to me.  

Do you think of yourself as a record collector or simply as a music collector?

I am a music collector and records are fun. Vinyl is an immersive experience, closer to a concert than other listening options. It’s a commitment, you pay more attention, there’s something tactile to the experience of listening. Whether it actually sounds better or not is beside the point—to me it certainly sounds different, and I like it better.   

Who have been some of your mentors in record collecting? Who have you learned the most from?

Chuck Warner and Paul Major, two guys who knew their stuff inside and out when that was really hard to do, are the people I could describe as mentors. I learned a ton from Johan Kugelberg’s “down the rabbit hole” mania, from Ryan Richardson because of his surgical focus, from Jeff Gold for his academic discipline, from Gary Johnson and Bob Say for their deep wells of minutiae, and from Bob Stanley for his unwavering focus on the art and history of songwriting. But the most important people to listen to are the young enthusiasts—you’ve got to keep that light on!  

The Remains, The Remains (Epic, US LP) The Remains are an anomaly—perhaps the only “garage” band full of great players. This copy of their only real album came with a flyer from their management company.  

Favorite stores over the years? Current favorites? Do you get approached by record dealers or collectors looking for specific, hard-to-find records?

My favorite store ever was Minus Zero/Stand Out Records, the legendary London store(s) run by Bill Allerton and Bill Forsythe. My best day of record shopping in a store was Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring, Maryland. My current favorite store is whichever one I’m in, but special shout-outs to Rockaway, Freakbeat, and Permanent in Los Angeles, The Salem Record Exchange in Salem, MA, Feeding Tube Records in Florence, MA, Toad Hall in Rockford, IL, Val Shively’s R&B Records in Upper Darby, PA,  End of an Ear in Austin, TX, Yesterday and Today in Rockville, MD, 99 Records in NYC, Main Street Records in Northampton, MA…

Dealers and collectors get in touch with me all the time, looking for for specific titles.  Occasionally, I can help them out, but these days mostly what you need is an internet connection and patience (and a way to pay.)

Some record collectors are archivists, some are hoarders, some are fans, some are musicians. There is a lot of overlap.

The Floral – “Diary of Tears Petals” (Musicolor, Japan 7”) My friend Bruce Milne had this amazing looking Group Sounds record and didn’t rate it at all.  I played it and thought it was fantastic.  

You have a large collection of acetates. Were these projects you were involved in as a producer? Things you’ve bought as a record digger?

I kind of hate acetates, they’re so delicate and usually play poorly.  I have a bunch for projects I worked on, but the most fun ones are old ones with music that is otherwise unavailable. I have cool ones by Blossom Toes, the Yardbirds, Jackson C. Frank, and maybe the most fun ones are artists no one has ever heard of.

You introduced Light in the Attic Records to the music of Ray Stinnett, which lead to them releasing his album. How did that come about?

About 15 years ago, a retired promotion man traded in a big stack of A&M records to Rockaway. Among his test pressings was a two-record set that appeared to be unreleased. I played it and it was obviously good. I bought it and for a while it was my own little secret. I knew nothing about it, but I had a hunch Matt Sullivan would like it. Fortunately Ray was still around to tell his story.

Have you been involved in other releases or reissues?

Too many reissues to count, including for Rhino, Light in the Attic, Numero Group, Mexican Summer, Matador and many more. As for releases, I was an A&R and Marketing executive for many labels, so hundreds.  

How did your career in the music industry begin? 

College Radio, obscure indie label (Throbbing Lobster in Boston), slightly less obscure indie label (Big Time), then to A&M.  

What were some of the most memorable projects you worked on?

At A&M, I had the privilege of working with Soundgarden and Matthew Sweet, both of whom I suspected had great things in their futures. Also, Trip Shakespeare, which included songwriter Dan Wilson, with whom I’m still friendly.

At Warner Bros., it’s a really long list. I worked with My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Primal Scream, Dinosaur Jr., Sir Mix-a-Lot, Built to Spill, Green Day, The Muffs, Cibo Matto, Ice-T/Bodycount, American Music Club, Babes in Toyland, Pavement, St. Etienne, You Am I, Mudhoney, The Flaming Lips, Boredoms, The Jungle Brothers, and many more.  

Del Jones – Positive Vibes (Hikeka, US) Psychedelic soul by a really angry black man. Magnificent music.  From the lyrics to the music to the packaging, Positive Vibes captures a sense of time and place like few others.  

Were you bringing home the debris from these projects?

One of the big advantages was access to the trash. People move offices, formats change, suddenly years of accumulated records go out in the hallway to be disposed of. Of course, things like advance copies of CDs, demos, and typical label flops all look the same, but over the years I found things like an early Beastie Boys press kit, my first copy of Trees On the Shore, a Stalk-Forrest Group 45, and most amazingly, the first known copy of the Heitkotter LP in the castoffs at work. I always hoped to find a copy of the Spirit and Worm LP at A&M, but it never happened. Ditto for the Jan & Dean “Girl You’re Blowing My Mind” 7” at Warner Bros. There was an exec at Warner Bros. who had a little shelf of very tantalizing looking LPs right behind his desk, which he didn’t seem to ever look at. One day he casually told me he’d had a copy of a test pressing of Dan Penn’s “Nobody’s Fool” with extra songs on it, but he’d given it to his son-in-law.

Records aren’t fun if you spend all your time looking for them instead of playing them.

What about a time you had a hand in something interesting?

When Reprise Records was preparing to release Green Day’s label debut Dookie, the label was struggling to get the visual materials right. The video and art departments were full of great people, but the band kept rejecting everything the label proposed. I finally asked them “What do you like?” and they told me they liked comics. I asked them what kind and they told me they liked the kind a guy in their neighborhood was drawing. So we hired him to do the cover.  

How has the recording industry changed over the last couple of decades?

When I was at A&M and Warner Bros., lots of visionaries worked there, from executives to A&R to copywriting and design. At their best, labels actually added value. Now majors are too safe, the artist has to do much more of the work of selling, and the really creative people have mostly moved on. A lot of that has to do with profit margins—labels used to make a lot of money, now they don’t. With the growth of streaming we’re likely to see in coming years, perhaps a sense of adventure will return to labels. Also, with majors being so careful, there’s a great opportunity for indies to grow again.  

I’ll bring home anything, but I’m pretty ruthless about getting rid of things that I don’t love. I pretty much have a rule that more stuff has to go out than comes in.

What have you been doing professionally in recent years?

Managing a young pop artist/writer/producer named Dylan Gardner.  

What about record collecting philosophies or self-imposed rules?

Records aren’t fun if you spend all your time looking for them instead of playing them. My only philosophy is: “Is it fun?” The price I will pay depends on how much money I have. If I really want something and I can afford it, I will get it. I have some space limitations and I’m trying to live within them. I generally don’t buy reissues, but I love well done compilations.  

You say you have space limitations but a large portion of your home is dedicated to your collection. It’s a space most collectors could only dream of. Of course, you do have it pretty well maxed out. How many records do you have in your collection? Are you careful about what records you bring home these days?

I’ll bring home anything, but I’m pretty ruthless about getting rid of things that I don’t love. I pretty much have a rule that more stuff has to go out than comes in. I think I have somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 7”s, LPs and CDs, but also a lot of posters, photos, press kits and strange ephemera.  

Do you think of yourself as an archivist?

Some record collectors are archivists, some are hoarders, some are fans, some are musicians. There is a lot of overlap. I am preserving part of music history but much of my collection has nothing to do with that.  

Unlikeliest places you’ve found records? Memorable dollar-bin finds?

I attended high school in rural Vermont where there were no record stores. A friend of mine went away to journalism camp and came back with a punk rock record that he didn’t like at all. I played it and thought it was amazing. That was Tapeworm, “Break my Face.” He traded it to me for a Dire Straits record. Another time my cousin moved into an empty apartment in Boston that had one record in it, a first pressing of the Contours’ Gordy debut. Best dollar bin find would have to be a first pressing of Fresh Maggots at Aron’s when it was still on Melrose. One that got away was Ladies W.C., which was at Aron’s on the same day. I didn’t know what it was and when I went back the next day, it was gone.   At an Chicago area store, which had carefully priced every record in the store at 20% over retail, I found a Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers stock Decca US single for 50 cents.  

Bush Tetras – “Too Many Creeps” (99 Records, US 7” ) Test pressing of an early ’80s dance/punk classic on the legendary 99 label. The 99 Records store was one of the best record stores ever, and Ed Bahlman, who ran the label and store, was a real visionary.

Do you have records you can’t get enough of, even after you’ve heard them a thousand times before?

Ramones Leave Home, Wire Pink Flag, Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Zombies Odyssey and Oracle, La Monte Young Well-Tuned Piano, The Shaggs Philosophy of the World, Damon Song of a Gypsy, Fallen Angels It’s a Long Way Down, Velvet Underground Velvet Underground, Guided By Voices Bee Thousand, P.M Dawn. Jesus Wept, Jackson C. Frank Blues Run the Game, Fairport Convention Liege and Lief, Linda Perhacs Parallelograms, 13th Floor Elevators Easter Everywhere, Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, Ornette Coleman Dancing in Your Head, Albert Ayler Spiritual Unity, Captain Beefheart Safe as Milk, Damned Damned Damned Damned, Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk Son of Bazerk, The Millennium Begin, The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour (US version), Love Forever Changes. But ask me tomorrow and you might get a completely different list.  

Guided by Voices have a gift for melody and the sound of words that is on a unique wavelength. Propeller is their first solidly great album, and there is something fantastic about the idea of the handmade covers (all completely different) housing some of the most astounding, cobbled-together-from-scraps meta-pop music ever made.  

Guided by Voices – Propeller (Rockathon, US LP) I went to Bob Pollard’s house in Dayton in 1994, and he gave me #500 (out of 500) of the home made copies of one of GBV’s masterpieces.

Wire – Pink Flag (Harvest, UK) Simple music, open ended cryptic words, futuristic mentality, still sounds like tomorrow. One album I never get tired of.  

The Cramps are the undisputed masters of finding the truth in the garbage.  People who dismiss them as just a  schlock/horror band are missing the point completely. There is more humanity, insight and profundity in one Cramps song than in the entire Radiohead oeuvre. When I first got Songs The Lord Taught Us, I was so blown away I just played it over and over again for two days straight. “If you can’t dig me, you can’t dig nothin’” pretty much sums it up.  

The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us (IRS, US) One of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums ever, with signed photo that captures their unique take on things.

Artists talk about trying to make “timeless” music.  Pink Floyd’s debut has more “period” elements than almost any record ever made, and yet the songs are so good, the performances so stirring, the conception so clear and visionary that people will be listening to it for a lot longer than they’ll be playing any record made this year. You never know what will stick, but “Astronomy Domine” will always stick. This album is essential in US and UK formats, in mono and stereo.  I think this record encouraged people to venture to their limits as much as any album ever made.  

Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Columbia, UK) Peter Jenner, who managed Pink Floyd at the beginning, gave me this flyer in the ’90s when he was managing Robyn Hitchcock. “See Emily Play” was originally called “Games For May.”  The album itself is without peer.

One reason why I’ll never give up looking for records is because every copy of a record sounds different.

It seems like the “vinyl resurgence” has created a huge deficit in good, cheap used records. Do you think there’s still stuff out there in the wild worth digging for?

There’s always great stuff that’s under the radar. It’s harder than it used to be, since everyone has a phone and looks most things up, but if you get out of town, get up early, and get down on the floor (or the ground) and squint, you’ll find something good—most days. And lots of great music is completely unheralded, still. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Illuminations is still a cheap record. The Nashville Teens on New World is still a cheap record. Aaron Lighman on Poppy is still a cheap record. Game Theory’s Two Steps From the Middle Ages is still a cheap record. It’s true that famous good records are dried up, so discover some new ones!  

Trouble Funk – In Times of Trouble (D.E.T.T., US) Go-Go is so slept-on, so many of the records are cheap and great.  

Show us some oddities…

Only in America could an itinerant hillbilly comedian claim to make over 100 records.  

Omo the Hobo – Party Album No. 1 (private press, US) Itinerant hillbilly comedian who made “adult” albums and “children’s” albums in amazing quantity.

Only in America could an amoral German scientist make a record.  

Dr. Werher Von Braun and Willy Ley – The Conquest of Space (Vox, US) The notorious German scientist doesn’t sound so tough.  

Only in America could a beatnik love letter to an airport be someone’s dream.  

Buck Warren – From: Poet Buck Warren To: O’Hare International (Sedgrick, US) Inexplicable beat poetry storytelling with aquarian pop interludes. Why do you exist?

Let’s talk about The Ramones. Seems like they have a special place in your collection.

Before the Ramones, I thought rock ‘n’ roll was something that happened in the past. That was the first thing that was happening now that spoke to me. I took the bus from Central Vermont to New York City many times to see them in 1977 and 1978, and through them I got into the rest of early punk and didn’t become a lawyer or a politician.  

The Ramones fan club was the only one I ever joined.  

What are some new labels, bands or genres that stand out to you?

In the Red Records, Car Seat Headrest, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Young Thug,  Laura Marling, Julie Byrne, Ethan Gruska, Roy Montgomery, Frank Ocean, Tame Impala, Buried Feather, Aldous Harding, Demdike Stare, the Ty Segal universe.  

Madlib with Guilty Simpson – Madlib Medicine Show #1: Before the Verdict (Madlib Invazion, US) Anyone who tells you that all the great music has already been made is just lazy.

Would you consider yourself an audiophile?

I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile as I don’t enjoy messing around with equipment. I have a Clearaudio Anniversary with 2 tonearms (mono and stereo, both with Benz cartridges), a Bryston amp, an Encore preamp, and PSB Stratus Gold speakers. I think about them as little as possible.  

My Clearaudio turntable, with dedicated mono and stereo tonearms.  

Do some records actually sound better than others, condition aside?

One reason why I’ll never give up looking for records is because every copy of a record sounds different. Of course, some are scratched, some are warped, some are worn. Even good copies of records, though, vary. If you love Pink Flag, and you listen carefully enough, one copy will have more bass, another a more convincing vocal presentation. I was listening today to Velvet Opera’s Ride a Hustler’s Dream and the acoustic guitars were so beautiful, I thought I was listening for the first time. I pulled out my other copy and it sounded completely different (and much worse). 45 collectors know how the music leaps from the grooves in a very different way compared to an LP, but sometimes the difference between vinyl and styrene, import and domestic, or charmed and Earthbound copy can make all the difference.  The peak listening experience is still ahead of you.  

Do you have advice for collectors just starting out?

Don’t buy expensive reissues when you can find worn early presses for cheap. The early presses will not only probably sound better but they’re just cooler to own. Your taste should not be dictated by those who have gone before—listen for yourself. Great music and great digging exist in all genres, from all eras. Some records look beat up and play great, some records that look mint play dismally. Never buy something because you think it’s valuable; if that’s your interest, buy real estate. Most people are selling something. Make sure you know what it is before you buy it. 

Who would you like to see next on Dust & Grooves?

Jack Tielman, from Nanaimo, British Columbia.  He has a store called The Black Dot, he has amazing taste in Rockabilly, Free Jazz, and trashy punk, and he’s always showing me the most bonkers records. I want to see what he keeps!

Geoffrey Weiss will be selling select LPs, 45s and ephemera from his collection at a one-day pop up record shop at Rappcats in Highland Park, Los Angeles, Saturday June 24th, from noon till 6 pm. More info here

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Geoffrey and many other vinyl collectors are featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.

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