Pat Conte, pt. 2



Pat Conte

Pat Conte


Queens, New York, 1970. In a junk-piled antique store, Pat Conte, a record collector and esoterica fanatic, is getting his hands dirty. As part of his never-ending quest for hopelessly scarce, pre-war blues and country discs, he’s flipping through a big, dusty box of old 78s. The label on one of the records catches his eye and he plucks the item out. Marveling at its unusually ornate design and odd-looking Arabic text, he notices one line, in English, at the bottom: “Recorded in Morocco.” Intrigued, he purchases it, along with a few other finds, and heads home.

After gingerly removing nearly 50 years of dirt, he lays the enigmatic prize on the phonograph and lowers the needle. The spinning platter hums, a crackling warmth rises from the speakers. And then, from across half a century, the stark, distant sound of a group of young men playing very old music begins to fill the air. The villagers have returned.

“I started collecting records in the early ’60s, looking for jazz stuff,” says Conte, curator and compiler of The Secret Museum of Mankind: Ethnic Music Classics, 1925-1948, the extraordinary nine-volume series of vintage world music on the Yazoo label (distributed by Shanachie). “I remember flipping through and pushing aside tons of ethnic records, digging for ’40s jazz. It was just the junk that was in the way. Then I got into country and blues, around the time of the folk revival.”

At one time, New York was an affordable shopping Mecca for record collectors. Spots like Asch/Disc Records founder Mo Asch’s shop, James McKune’s tiny store, and Jake Schneider’s converted uptown hotel housed a seemingly bottomless mine of treasures, the disparate, cast-off culture of the parents and grandparents of baby-boomers whose families had flocked to the city in search of a new life. Schneider’s became the meeting place for a new generation of collector-musicologists like Max Vreede and Gene Earle and ethnic discographer Dick Spottswood, not to mention future label entrepreneurs like Yazoo founder Nick Perls, Origin Jazz Library’s Pete Whelan and Bernard Klatzko, County’s David Freeman, and Shanachie chief Richard Nevins. These pioneering archeologists were Conte’s elders in the field, cultural student-teachers who were among the first to realize the importance of forgotten artists like Charley Patton and Charlie Poole and reissue their work.

“Schneider’s thing was that he ‘collected collections,’ he bought people out,” Conte says. “His place and McKune’s were really the best places to look for stuff, especially pre-war country blues. But that was before my time. Though I did find a Bukka White record in a thrift store once. That was something—I took the rest of the afternoon off from work that day,” he beams.



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