VINYL JUNKIE: Joe Lawrance Part V, Summertime Blues

As a record collector it’s always a pleasure to meet like minded people. We can chat about rare records, records we want, label art anything really that has to do with our love of old vinyl. There are certain collectors though that have taken their love of collecting to an extreme. They’ve been collecting for 30 years or more and go to great lengths to get the records they desire. It’s like a drug to get a new piece of vinyl and drop it onto the player to hear those sweet grooves whistle with those classic sounds.

So in this second feature on another of these special people we highlight a true vinyl junkie! He was kind enough to sit down and give us a huge history about his years collecting and his passion for all things Reggae!

Read: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Back in about August 1970 I went with a mate of mine, Richard, to my first ever Jamaican “Blues” party. Richard knew this West Indian guy by the name of Frankie, who we met by arrangement at a local pub and then at about 11:30 after chucking out time, hopped into a minicab and got taken to a house in Harlesden (about 7-8 miles from home).

An Edwardian house, it had 4 levels, up 7 or 8 steps to get to the front door on the ground floor, up a flight to 2 bedrooms and the bathroom, up again to presumably 1 or 2 more bedrooms, which was set partially in the eaves. There was also a cellar “below stairs”.

Arriving at around midnight, the large front door was opened and we were greeted (though in an intimidating way) by a handful of “cool” West Indian dudes who were lounging around the fairly spacious hallway, sitting on the stairs, leaning/posturing against the wall, drawling and smoking (those cigarettes “with no name on”!). On neither this nor the 1 or 2 other occasions I went to a “Blues” party, did I feel completely comfortable.

No matter, our friend Frankie seemed to know enough of the people there and did his best to make us feel at ease – us having had a few beers before we got there helped a bit.

The kitchen at the far end of the short hall was inaccessible, as a table had been placed in the doorway and over this makeshift counter, Red Stripe and curried goat with rice and peas were being sold – partaking of the food, which I didn’t find very tasty – it probably wouldn’t have been good manners OR a good idea to have “removed” this back out onto the plate! The problem had been that the goat meat sauce had bone “shrapnel” in it and I needed a beer to get rid of the taste and to make sure the “shrapnel” was washed into my system.

On my next visit, I gave the food a wide berth, though did indulge in a Red Stripe or two!

Up the stairs to the bathroom, decorated in a loud pink (at least in part), was each time a case of having to ask posturing, “cool” West Indian dudes on the staircase if they would move a little so I could get by.

The highest floor was off-limits, though I recall once hearing some “bedroom mazurka” going on in the room adjoining the bathroom!

Down in the undecorated cellar was where the older folk (presumably first-generation immigrants) were gathered, all sitting around drinking (rum, I reckon) and chatting with an accent I could barely understand and words that I’d never heard before. Over to one side in this not very hospitably decked out room, four older men were playing dominoes, while just away from this game, a couple of large West Indian ladies were chatting loudly. As a seventeen-year-old, I was intrigued as to why they played in the reverse sequence (left-to-right) and why they slammed their “cards” down with a triumphant flourish and usually an accompanying whoop of delight!

And I couldn’t understand why they were all wearing hats indoors – considered bad manners where I came from.

I don’t recall the back room (the dining room, I suppose) very much at all, but the whole of this and my later experience at this house was dominated by a deep and insistent bass emanating from the “front room”. This room was virtually dark, save the dimmish light from the hallway and the small but very important light over the turntable, upon which records were spinning and whose heavy rhythms manifested themselves out of a couple of big black speakers, situated in front of the system and which were probably each about 3 feet high.

Crowded, smoky and sweaty, while most of the 20 or so folk were propped up against the wall, in worlds of their own due most likely to the combination of alcohol, bush and the music, several couples were dance-grinding slowly to the rhythm of whatever tune was playing – that bass was heavy, man!

While there were many tunes I didn’t know, I remember there were a good few that I did and that gave me a sense of satisfaction and a real feeling of being “part of it all”, although it wouldn’t have been right to have bragged about it.

While there, my mate Richard and Frankie rolled a medium-sized spliff, Richard being particularly expert at making it up, which they then proceeded to offer me, saying it would be a “good idea” if I tried it, as most of the other folk were smoking and it would seem odd to them if I didn’t. Thing is, being a non-smoker, the idea didn’t appeal, but I gave it a go – the only obvious effect it had was to burn my throat and make me cough a bit…I’ve never smoked and only ever tried those “cigarettes with no name on” once or twice in the next year or so and never again since then.

Not surprisingly perhaps, there weren’t any other white guys in the place that I remember seeing. The only other white person my mate Richard and I saw that night was a slightly older blond girl, who seemed to spend most of that night tightly entwined around one of the West Indians.

We kicked around enjoying the sounds (Wow, that bass! I’d never heard anything quite like it) for over 5 hours and by the time we left, the sun was rising and the party seemed to drawing to a natural conclusion. You know how it is, folk are leaving, the food is gone, the beer doesn’t taste that good any more, you notice how messy the place is and a headache is beginning to kick in!

This first memorable night ended with a taxi part of the way home towards 6 a.m. on the Sunday morning and followed by a real thick head a bit later on!

That whole first “Blues” party experience (which may, by now, have included memories from the second) made such an impression that it’s been ingrained in my memory ever since and to this day feels like it happened only a few months ago.

COMING UP NEXT: The Glory Years

I've been involved in the Los Angeles music scene since at least 1995 going to shows, promoting, spinning records and running labels. Ska and Early Reggae are my passion among other things of course.