Scratch a crate-digging DJ anywhere in the world and chances are you‘ll find Norton Records embedded in their DNA. For the past 30 years, rock ‘n’ roll fanatics Billy Miller and Miriam Linna have made it their life’s work to collect, preserve and re-issue the wildest in blues, soul, rockabilly, garage, surf and R&B obscurities, from the sacred to the profane. Their stunning artwork and painstaking liner notes are are often as revolutionary as they are revelatory, bringing the music’s colorful back stories alive with a spontaneity nearly as spine-tingling as the music itself.
Blessed with the dual gifts of pioneering taste and boundless enthusiasm, the pair originally founded Norton as an outgrowth of their much revered Kicks Magazine, where their literary talents had shone the light on many a tale of the rock ‘n’ roll underworld. So successful was their foray into the land of rarified vinyl that the magazine was eventually eclipsed by the label, which currently numbers over 500 releases. Kicks Books was recently launched in its place, boasting titles by acclaimed authors Harlan Ellison and Nick Tosches as well as musical iconoclasts-turned-wordsmiths Andre Williams, Sun Ra and Kim Fowley.
All the while, they’ve spread their gospel of primitive rock ‘n’ roll worldwide via their own racket squad the A-Bones, who have waxed singles with Kicks heroes Rudy Grayzell and Johnny Powers, memorably backed a long line of rockers including Texas wildmen Ronnie Dawson and Ray Sharpe, and most recently provided throttling backing for proto punk legends Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan of the Flamin’ Groovies and the Figures of Light.
Only a force of nature, it seemed, could break the impressive momentum of this thoroughly individualistic, highly influential musical empire. Then, hurricane Sandy arrived. Norton’s warehouse in the historic Van Brunt Warehouses (pre-Civil War brick buildings designed to hold dry goods like tea, coffee, spices and sugar) was submerged, with thousands of albums and singles underwater, their sleeves destroyed. The entire stock of Norton Books, as well as distributed labels like Crypt and Relic were swamped. Perhaps most tragically was the flooding of the one-of-a-kind Norton archive, which included historical correspondence, photos, reviews, master tapes, ephemera, posters, Miriam’s vintage paperback collection and magazines and fanzines dating back to the 1940s. Linna’s 1962 Slingerland drum kit (originally owned by Kicks/Norton heroes the Del-Aires) was in the wreckage, along with many of her family’s records and heirlooms, including the family bible brought over from Finland. “The destruction is unreal,” wrote Miller on Facebook. “The warehouse was like a fort with giant iron doors…it was always dry as it could be.” Linna said, “All I can say is it feels like I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up and say ‘Hey, I had a really bad dream last night.’ It’s a big shocking tragedy to the record company.”
Facing mind-boggling destruction that would lay most people low, Miller and Linna shifted into high gear, working around the clock to save as much as possible, aided by a huge cast of volunteers. During this time, they learned that their insurance does not cover ‘catastrophic events’ and that they would be tasked with the cost of the massive destruction. Their many fans and friends went into action, with benefits organized all over the world, including Spain, Germany, New York, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, St. Paul, Austin, Montreal, Melbourne, Tokyo and Warsaw. Reluctantly, the couple were forced to add a ‘donate’ button to their website as the struggle to keep their legendary label afloat continues.
Join Norton’s Facebook page for updates and information on benefits being thrown worldwide.