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Josh Rosenthal: The Record Store Of The Mind

For many of us, time spent in record stores borders on a religious experience. It’s an obsession. You could go as far to say it’s an addiction. Josh Rosenthal is a ”lifer," a lifelong sufferer of this affliction; digging through stacks of records in used record stores, where that musty smell sometimes means finding that long-searched for gem on vinyl. It’s the continuing search for the Holy Grail, but there’s always that “just one more...” There is no known cure.

He’s also been deeply involved in the record business as well from working for major label corporations, to running his own independent record label Tompkins Square that has received seven Grammy nominations and wide acclaim for its diverse catalog of new and archival recordings.

In his critically-acclaimed new book ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’, Rosenthal has compiled a collection of essays; part memoir, part “music criticism”, he ruminates over unsung musical heroes, reflects on thirty years of toil and fandom in the music business, and shamelessly lists some of the LP's in his record collection.

Currently on a 17 city book tour, Josh Rosenthal will read from "The Record Store of the Mind," on April 17 at Carmichael’s Bookstoreon Frankfort Ave. with special musical guest and Louisville native Nathan Salsburg starting at 4:00PM.

We asked Josh a few questions before his visit to get a brief glimpse into his history:

Do you have a defining moment that music became so special to you? Were your parents or family instrumental in that?

The folks had some LP's - Sammy Davis Jr., Tom Jones, and Sgt. Pepper. My dad has a 78 of Spike Jones' Cocktails For Two that we danced around to. I listened to Peter & The Wolf and a record called The Birthday Party (no Nick Cave involvement) that was a window into this whole world. I think those kids records are how I developed my imagination. You would make up your own TV in your head. That's so lost today.

When did you discover record stores? Was there an early favorite or "go-to" store, and what was it about the store that most grabbed you?

I used to cut school and hang out at Straub Music in Plainview, Long Island. I go off about this store in my book. You could get an "I'm With Stupid" T shirt there, take music lessons, and buy a Moon Martin record.

Can you recall the first record that you purchased?

First purchase was Billy Joel's The Stranger on cassette. He grew up in the town over from me, so we were all so proud of him. Once we got to high school, we came to realize it was Lou Reed we should be extra, extra proud of.

Briefly, what was your introduction to the record industry?

I got hired as an intern at PolyGram Records in 1983 when I was 16. I took the train into the city a few times a week. Did and saw unthinkable things no kid would ever be allowed to do today. I was in the promotion department and they put out this insane array of great stuff while I worked there: Mellencamp's Scarecrow, all the Velvets reissues out for the first time, NY Dolls reissues, Trio, Richard Thompson, Van Morrison, Tears For Fears. It was crazy. Then I went to college, got hired at Columbia Records and worked at SONY for 15 years, then started Tompkins Square in 2005.

What’s been your favorite artist encounter as a fan?

I just finished making a record with (legendary guitarist)  Harvey Mandel, so I'm gonna say that one.

On the flip-side, your least favorite artist encounter?

I am not a big Love fan, so it doesn't bother me at all, but I met Arthur Lee at a restaurant after his gig in NYC and I said, "Arthur, great show man! It's so great you're playing again!” and he said, "Where's the bathroom."

What was your motivation to start your independent label Tompkins Square?

The major label atmosphere in 2005 was bad, there was a lot of consolidation and the business was tanking. More problematic was the people in power were clueless and arrogant. So it was time to do something for myself, to feed my own soul and pursue my passions. It's worked out so well, although I did enjoy working for a major for most of the time too.

With the resurgence of vinyl, what's your prediction of the future of record stores and the industry?

Well Cracker Barrel now sells vinyl so it's nowhere but up! Maybe we can go back to the truck stop 8 track days and sell vinyl at Sheetz, Loves, Wawas and Waffle House. The uptick in vinyl is healthy as is the growth on the streaming side; however two big money-makers are bottoming out - CDs and mp3s. Is streaming and vinyl going to generate enough revenue for indie labels?

A brief bit about how you and Nathan Salsburg got together.

Nathan and I have done a lot of stuff. He produced our EC Ball Memorial Album featuring some fellow Kentuckians like Will Odlham, he got a Grammy nomination for his work on our box set 'Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard,' we released a duo record with him and Jim Elkington (Wilco), and he produced our 2CD Bessie Jones comp via his job as curator of the Alan Lomax Collection. Aside from being one of the best guitarists in the US (no hyperbole), he is also super smart, nice, talented, handsome, and also young, making him generally all-around disgusting.

You can catch Josh Rosenthal with musical guest Nathan Salsburg at Carmichael's  Frankfort Ave. location Sunday, April 17 at 4 p.m.

Listen to Josh's recent World Cafe appearance.

Also, check out the “The Record Store of the Mind” Spotify playlist!

John is the mid-morning host on WFPK. Email John at jtimmons@lpm.org