Words by Andy Turner
Without hesitation, I will tell you that Norton Records is my favorite label. Where else would I have been turned on and corrupted all these years by the likes of Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, T. Valentine and the Flat Duo Jets or found out about the Readymen, Ron Haydock and the Figures of Light? The New York-based label was born out of Kicks magazine in 1986 by Miriam Linna and Billy Miller. The husband and wife duo, who just released their 200th LP on Norton and have put out another 300 45’s, also perform together in the A-Bones. They’ve even started a publishing arm, Kicks Books, to spread the Norton gospel to the literary world. Miller and Linna were kind enough recently to respond to a few questions, which you can read below. I will pay tribute to Norton’s anniversary today on Zero Hour from noon to 3 p.m. Tune in and don’t forget to pledge!
What does it mean to you personally for Norton to hit 25? If you were to be awarded some sort of rock-n-roll memento to recognize your anniversary, what would you wish for?
Miriam Linna: It doesn’t feel like 25 a-tall. Feels like 25 weeks. Seriously. The Capitol tower.
Billy Miller: Bo Diddley’s scooter.
How difficult was it to put out your first release, Hasil Adkins’ Out to Hunch? How many copies were initially made?
BM: We had somewhat of a built in audience though our Kicks magazine coverage of Hasil and we had plenty of his tapes to choose from. We originally made 500 copies.
Was there ever a time in the early history of the label when you thought about not continuing? Were there other labels or people at the time that you looked to for guidance or inspiration?
BM: We never considered stopping. There’s always more projects than time, actually. We were friends with Donn (Fileti) and Eddie (Gries), who had the doo wop/R&B label Relic and they answered a lot of our questions. But we didn’t pattern Norton after any label in particular.
ML: We’ve had some really challenging times, but we’ve not ever considered stopping. The guys at Relic were the people we looked up to the most.
What has been your biggest selling release?
BM: Here Are the Sonics!!!
Over the years, Norton has uncovered an incredible amount of wonderful, forgotten music. What do you look for when deciding if something might make a good release?
ML: Personally – my favorite realm is the unknown. Totally unknown old music, at least unheralded and unissued! I HATE it when people call us a reissue label. That’s the last thing we want to be.
In the past few years, Norton has put out excellent albums and 45’s by the Tandoori Knights, Girls at Dawn, Bloodshot Bill and other current musicians after a period without many new acts joining the roster. Did you ever consider focusing strictly on reissued material?
ML: Watch that “reissue” tag, Andy. Old stuff is where we are at but when new artists come along with their heart and sound in the right place, we’ll see their sounds out on Norton. New stuff not the norm for Norton.
How would describe Norton’s influence on independent music/labels over the last 25 years?
ML: Jeepers, dunno. If anything, to encourage people to listen to decent music and to love 45’s in particular. To give unknown recordings a chance, to realize that popular does necessarily not equal good, then again, neither does obscure. If you can glean the heart and soul of a crazy little Norton record by some lunatic you never heard of, then the job is done, and if you can dig the back story of that record, then we’re all the better for it.
What new or upcoming releases can you tell me about? What else is on your slate?
ML: Six volumes of Southwest mayhem – unissued stuff, super scarce recordings – which grew out of the volumes on Long John Hunter and Bobby Fuller. Giving the SW the same treatment as we gave the NW with the Sonics, Wailers, and loads of unknown Northwest combos from the late 50s thru about 1966. Also, finally, the Del-Aires collection will come out, the guys from Horror of Party Beach. The Del-Aires, like so many Norton releases, were originally hatched as Kicks magazine stories that just growed. Kicks mag may be gone, but Kicks Books paperback line is just beginning, hatched from Andre Williams’ rehab sensation Sweets. Next up, This Planet is Doomed (Sun Ra), followed by Save the Last Dance for Satan (Nick Tosches) followed by Pulling the Train (Harlan Ellison) followed by Kim Fowley’s trilogy! Look out, glittering illiterati!
Words of advice for someone starting an independent music label?
BM: Don’t expect your day to end at 5:00.
ML: We never went into it as though we were starting a label, so we don’t have advice by experience. The first album – Hasil – was a one-off to feed the frenzy after the Kicks story… then Esquerita popped out of jail and landed in our laps and suddenly, we had two albums. It kind of just mushroomed. We had day jobs for the first ten years of the label, if that says anything! It’s a different world now, maybe easier with the internet and communication being fast, free and easy, but on the other hand, there are the same trials with actually making a piece of plastic, or 500, and getting them sold. I guess that’s easier now too with the electronic world we’re living in. Aw heck, advice would be don’t bite off more than you can chew, be prepared to eat commodity cheese for a long while.