DC-based Tom Porter is a man with a vast range of experiences — from community activist to college professor to community radio station executive. Some of his more recent crate digging has involved unearthing a treasure chest of unreleased recordings captured at the many sessions at Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House performance space for Porter’s own Son Boy Records imprint. Porter’s unearthings have including some rare Albert Ayler Spirit House performances that wound up on the definitive box set Holy Ghost from the incendiary Cleveland-born tenor saxophonist.
Albert Ayler’s Holy Ghost box set
In addition to mining the Baraka archives for essential recordings from his nascent Black Arts days, Porter maintains an extensive collection of rare vinyl recordings that he deals to collectors. Certainly sounds like an apt participant in our Crate Digging conversation!
Back in the mid-1980s when CDs began their market dominance, some hasty music lovers liquidated their vinyl collections. Considering that you may have been a beneficiary of such haste for your dealer offerings, was that a foolish move on the part of those sellers?
I was never fascinated with the CD, nor did I think vinyl would become obsolete. This is true partially because I grew up on vinyl and because in any transfer of energy something is lost and something is gained. I still find that records made with analog equipment sound better than when transferred to the CD format. As you know Son Boy Records is both a record label, and a buyer and seller of vinyl recordings. From a business standpoint I have benefitted from those who chose to discard or change from vinyl to CDs.
The latest release from Son Boy Records
What is it about vinyl recordings that continue to hold such fascination for you?
Because of the sound but also because of the great artwork and photographs on the covers and the space for decent, thoughtful liner notes.
Now that MP3 is a reality — not to mention whatever formats the technocrats may cook up in the future — has vinyl receded even further in the rearview mirror, ala the 78 rpm format?
None of the new formats have dampened the desire on the part of collectors for rare vinyl records. Collectors are still looking for very clean copies of 1st pressings, be it jazz, r&b, reggae, Brazilian, etc. DJs and producers are stil looking for records to sample. Many reissues now come with a CD and vinyl release at the same time. As for 78s, there is still a high value placed on early blues, and jazz 45s are the craze now with some rare records [selling] in the thousands [of dollars].
As a dealer and a collector, what kinds of rare vinyl recordings attract your attention?
I don’t really go crate digging as much as I did when I was searching for records for my own collection. Quite frankly I can’t think of a record that I am looking for. From a business standpoint I am looking for something rare that can be sold for a decent price. I tend to buy entire collections from private owners. Sometimes I am surprised at discovering a record with artists I never thought [had] played together.
Bluebook and other ratings systems which rate the "book" value of supposed rarities aside, what in your gaze truly constitutes a "rare" vinyl record find from your collector’s perspective?
The value of a record is determined by the market. For instance, Sun Ra records have come down in value from a year ago. On the other hand records by Sonny Clark, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Lightenin’ Hopkins, Hank Ballard, etc. still hold their value, in fact some have increased in value.
Besides the rare items, when you hit the stacks do you generally have a "wish list" in mind or are you so intrepid that you simply delight in the process purely in hopes of uncovering some useful nugget?
It is a business for me; if I started to listen 24/7 I would run out of time before I could get to the end of what I have.
Talk about some of your recent vinly "finds" and with it is about those records that attracted your interest sufficiently enough to cop a purchase.
Like I say, its a business; some recent finds have been some Joe Henderson records and a really clean mono copy of [Sonny] Rollins’ Way Out West.
What have been your favorite sources or retail outlets for vinyl crate digging — whether that be stores, private collections, garage sales, record conventions, or some other source?
Search, search, search… yard sales, record shows, and private dealers… I have visitors who come to my house from around the world. I only entertain those buyers who I believe are willing to spend some money. A minimum of $500 is my yardstick.
Any further thoughts or insights on the subject?
I listen to vinyl [recordings] every day. For instance, last week I listened to all of the jazz sides by Ray Charles and had a very groovy time. For those who are really interested in vinyl but are not necessarily looking for 1st pressings, the Japanese have issued some high quality items on vinyl, or a 2nd/3rd pressing is affordable and sounds good.
Black Mass on Son Boy Records
boasts this rare collaboration between
Sun Ra and Amiri Baraka