Numero Group: By The Numbers

Interview with Rich Haupt about Rockadelic Records
April 20, 2010, 2:06 pm
Filed under: Methodology, Pisces | Tags: ,

The idea of putting out old music that literally no one has ever heard of may seem pretty uncontroversial now, but it used to be that the only reissues were of already established collectibles. Rich Haupt and Mark Migliore were two of the innovators that took on a difficult project: making a record collector want something that wasn’t just a nostalgia trip. The Rockadelic label issued LPs in the late ‘80s through the early ‘00s that are, in many cases, as sought after and collectible as original ’60s and ‘70s pressings. They paved the way for psych collectors to embrace releases like our Pisces A Lovely Sight LP. We did an interview with Rich over the past few days to pay tribute to an industry veteran.

Back when you started releasing LPs on Rockadelic, it seems like there were plenty of good original LPs available to someone who was searching for them, and cheap too. What was the motivation behind reissuing and releasing unreleased music?

The label started off releasing 7″ of new local bands that were all part of a garage-psych scene that was pretty active in Dallas during the late 80’s. When my partner Mark Migliore and I began to source artists from the 60’s and 70’s we lucked into some unreleased tapes recorded at RCA Studios by a group that evolved from the band Hickory Wind. They sent us the tapes with a note that said “You probably won’t like this”….and after one listen we knew we had to release it as our first LP release B.F.Trike.

The sheer number of LP’s that needed to be re-issued at that time was amazing, however, we’d find that many of them were being bootlegged in Europe and we ran into this situation more than once where an LP we were planning to release was bootlegged before we could complete the project. So it became evident that finding unreleased material that no one else had was the way to go.

Unreleased material would be tougher for Europeans to get there hands on, too, it would seem. Was there anyone else taking a similar approach before you? And when you started issuing previously unreleased material, was everybody in the psych-collector world open-minded to the completely unknown?

We got really lucky in that our first LP release went over really well, sold out quickly and became really desirable amongst collectors really quickly. The truth is we had no clue about what we were doing nor if it would be successful. We pressed 300 copies because that was the minimum the pressing plant offered and we sold them for $10.00 each. Within 6 months the LP was showing up on lists for $100 so we assumed we had done something right. The fact that we made $4.00 a copy when we sold them and the next guy was making $90.00 a copy really opened our eyes as to what the market for these types of releases was all about. We learned on the fly.

After a few solid re-issues of ultra-rare LP’s we got lucky again by “discovering” the amazing Cold Sun LP. After that release we had a regular following that would buy just about anything we released. And we started getting known well enough that other collectors would contact us when they discovered unknown or unreleased material. Without folks like Clark Faville, Craig Green and others, Rockadelic would not have had nearly the output it did. Mark and I had two basic rules. 1) We had to both agree on the LP’s we released. If one of us wasn’t feeling it we wouldn’t do it. and…… 2) The day if felt like a job we would quit. We both had full time day gigs and ran Rockadelic for fun not income. I think that’s one of the reasons we were successful. It also meant that we did things a little different than those who were trying to build the next Rhino Records and get rich. We saw many of those folks fall by the wayside.

One thing that fascinates me is that everything that’s common on the internet today was foreshadowed in the 1980s. Today’s mp3 was yesterday’s holding the phone up to the speaker. How did you meet the other serious collectors and dealers back then?

It was very underground in the 80’s with the majority of the dealers having mail order catalogs and/or ads in Goldmine. In the states there was a lot of word of mouth amongst collectors and you wanted to get on as many mailing lists as possible. I’m not sure how people overseas found out but I imagine it was much of the same. The difference was each dealer had “secret customers” that they literally tried to keep to themselves. Most of these were outside the U.S. and were supposedly big spenders.

There were always rumors about unknown collectors with mind boggling collections and endless cash supplies. Sort of what they call a “Whale” in Las Vegas. Most of these names eventually leaked out as the hobby grew and some might have been ficticious. But early on the bigger dealers set their prices on very rare LP’s arbitrarily based on what they thought they could extract from these “whales”. There was more than one case of an LP selling for big bucks the first time out, only to become a medium priced record if quantity turned up. If the Internet accomplished one thing it was to level the playing field pricewise.

One thing that was everpresent pre-internet was hype. Some dealers had this down to an artform, describing even mediocre records in such a way that you couldn’t help but want to hear it. It’s easy now to look back at those old catalogs and see who was in tune with the music and who were masters of hyperbole. The more reputable dealers would allow you to call them and listen to as much of an LP as you wanted before you purchased it. Those who didn’t offer this were automatically seen as suspect.

What distributors carried these type of cult reissues then? Did you do mailorder? Advertise in fanzines? Did dealers like Paul Major sell these titles in their catalog as “new”, or only after they became “rare”?

These same catalog dealers were the biggest outlet for Rockadelic releases. Having a Paul Major give your release a favorable review was as good as gold as they acted as both distributor and promoters for our releases. The fact that these dealers saw an opportunity to make good money on these limited press releases helped as well. For us the one frustrating thing was the inability to control the retail price as most of these dealers asked whatever they thought they could squeeze out of an LP, especially after they were sold out at the source.

Unfortunately we got the reputation of being a high priced label when in reality it was the dealer making the lion’s share of the profit. Of course this worked well for us when selling a title as many folks saw it as a good short and long term investment. The fact that our releases were usually 300-500 quantities and we never re-pressed, helped fan that fire.

Besides the underground U.S. catalog dealer we did have a few distributors overseas that contacted us through various means. Forced Exposure magazine was very responsible for a lot of our success by being early supporters of the label in print and as a distributor as well. Byron Coley in particular championed some of our early releases which helped spread the word tremendously.

All of these things along with the limited pressings really made our records ‘collectible” from their initial release. This was not part of our business plan but just fell into place that way. So catalog dealers started to have “New Release” sections which grew as more people started to get into the re-issue game. For the first few years what we were doing was fairly unique, but by the mid-90’s it seemed there were new re-issue labels popping up everywhere, with some being much more commercialized and ambitious than we ever were.

I know you’re a fan of the first Blue Cheer LP, which incidentally was the first psych LP I ever bought. Is all record collecting simply the pursuit of that first experience again? Has any of the myriad discoveries you made topped the first time you heard a psychedelic or hard rock track?

Vincebus Eruptum was the first LP I ever bought with my own money. I was 11-12 years old and I bought it at Red’s Toy Store in Brooklyn, N.Y. To answer your question I don’t think for me it’s the never ending search for that original high. Actually I’m easily excited by new music so I think my bar is set pretty low. The reason I go out and spend as much time digging as I do is to find something new that I never heard before and since my expectations are low I find something I get excited about almost weekly.

What may surprise some folks is that I have never been JUST a hard rock or psych fan. When I first started digging I was collecting Doo-Wop and Rockabilly 45’s. From there I graduated to Texas Garage and eventually into the world of psych, and more specifically private press hard rock/psych. But even when my partner and I took digging road trips we would joke that if people knew what we were listening to they would be shocked. A typical road trip playlist would run the gamut from Hank Williams to NWA and just about everything in between.

Today I get just as excited about an obscure gospel track as I do the next psych monster. And having varied tastes/interests certainly makes digging a little easier. If I was going out looking for just psych or hard rock records I’d have stopped years ago. And as someone who has been doing this for a while now I want to thank all the young diggers out there, regardless of what you’re into, as most of the stores I frequent would have gone under years ago if not for you guys keeping them alive.

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