Return to Crate Digging

The demise of the 4-wall record retail store – save for those “local legend” stores like Joe’s Record Paradise (Silver Spring, MD), the Jazz Record Mart (Chicago), Amoeba (L.A. and San Francisco), or the Jazz Record Center (NYC) – certainly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of true collectors. The rise of DJ culture has since the late 1980s created a new breed of record questers. If anything that scarcity of retail record stores has sharpened the eyes and ears of intrepid souls and put a name on their seemingly endless search for those gold nugget recordings – the hi & lo search now known as crate digging. And to be sure, the true crate digging expedition is more likely than not to focus on vinyl recordings.

Knowing a bit of his lifelong thirst for records, I’ve been reading the recent autobiography (Mo Meta Blues) of Questlove, drummer Ahmir Thompson, frontman for the Roots, house band for Jimmy Fallon’s show which will morph into the Tonight Show band when Fallon takes over for Leno next spring. My interest was mainly in learning more about the Philly native’s legendary crate digging, a thirst which like most died-in-the-wool vinyl fetishists obliterates stylistic boundaries. Its early on in the reading, but thus far the book does not disappoint in that department.

Crate Digging can take one to assorted destinations – thrift shops, swap meets, flea markets, yard & rummage sales, etc. Some months back we started an occasional Independent Ear series on Crate Digging that began with friend and music journalist colleague John Murph’s insatiable crate digging enterprise. While trips to the 4-wall retail outlets mentioned above are always eagerly awaited (e.g. can’t wait to get to Chicago for the Labor Day Weekend jazz festival and a pilgrimage to the Jazz Record Mart), those are incremental visits. On the regular, as a volunteer for the Friends of the Library of Montgomery County, MD (FOLMC), I’ve done some weekly crate digging at the Friends’ used book store in Wheaton, MD (FOLMC actually operates three used bookstores, each of which carries a healthy stock of vintage vinyl).

Being the intake volunteer of that store’s healthy vinyl record section has its privileges; for the last 18 months I’ve priced & stocked the store’s intake of vinyl record donations. Yep, as you might imagine there’s a fair share of garbage – careless, poorly-kept vinyl recordings are a sad sight. But in many cases one man/woman’s donations are another’s treasure and I’ve uncovered a fair share of gems along the way. And at an across-the-board price point of $1 per record (vinyl box sets included), the three FOLMC stores (Wheaton, Rockville, Gaithersburg) offer good treasure hunt potential for the intrepid DC-area crate digger. Here’s an example of some recent crate digging purchases at the Wheaton FOLMC store:

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This is an early example of the great conguero Mongo Santamaria‘s artistry on the Tico label, in pure rumbero mode, a musical tribute to Abacua. And you know this is early Mongo by the original spelling of his last name on the cover, Santa Maria (as opposed to the popular Santamaria he used in becoming the famous master conguero-bandleader). Condition: Excellent, no visible surface scratches; cover with minimal wear & tear; original inner sleeve.

Crate Digging
A 2-Lp compilation of “Piano Blues and Boogie Woogie 1926-1941” on New World Records, compiled by the late critic Martin Williams, this set includes seminal tracks from Meade “Lux” Lewis, Albert Ammons, Jimmy Yancey, Pete Johnson, and Pinetop Smith. Condition: Good, some surface wear; cover is in good condition; this was a library copy donation that came encased in thick plastic, so the jacket is in reasonable shape.

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Performances of most of the fourteen songs on this Billie Holiday session can more than likely be found on most of Lady Day’s many reissues and box sets; but with atypically spare accompaniment from pianist Jimmy Rowles and bassist Artie Shapiro there’s musical interest. However my primary interest is the track “Rappin’ About Jimmy Rowles” with Billie’s studio conversation on the subject of her piano accompanist. Condition: Fair+, a couple of surface scratches that likely will not significantly alter the listening experience (with a decent cartridge in place that is); lacks dust cover, which indicates a fair level of previous owner carelessness. But again, worth it if only to hear Lady Day talking about Rowles!

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Blue Note Lps are the gold standard of crate digging – particularly white label Blue Notes like this one; not to mention my Lee Morgan jones. Condition: Fair-, but c’mon, its Lee and its Blue Note white label and at $1 for a Morgan lineup including Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman, Billy Higgins and Bennie Maupin, not much of a gamble despite the fact that I already have the CD reissue.

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This week’s novelty find! Billed as “A Perfect Party Record” this “Stunning array of spooky sound effects” should serve my annual Halloween week jazz radio shows well. Condition: Lacking dust jacket but vinyl appears pristine. Love the disclaimer “Not For The Very Young”!

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This one alone was worth the dig! Check the names (Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray!)… Assembled as “New York Eye and Ear Control” this 1966 ESP disk was one of the recorded building blocks of the so-called jazz avant garde. Condition: Good, some surface wear but not enough to disrupt this sound universe.

If you’re a devotee of Crate Digging and have some stories to share; hit me back at or simply leave a Comment below.

..And if you’re Crate Digging in the DC area, don’t sleep these three FOLMC store locations (call for hours of operation, location & directions; and keep in mind that book, Lp, CD, and video tape donations are welcomed):
Rockville, MD: 301/984-3300
Wheaton, MD: 301/933-1110 (Hot tip: most weeks new vinyl is stocked at this store early Wednesday afternoons)
Gaithersburg, MD: 301/355-7211

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