MY BLUES AND R&B BOOK was behind schedule and completing it was getting difficult. My plans included a full-color cover designed by a local artist that used labels from several highly collectable records from the ’50s and really cool typography. There were over a hundred high-resolution black & white photos set for the interior of the book, including both rare records and famous and not-so-famous recording artists. I wanted it to knock the socks off the naysayers.
The text pieces in the front and back of the book consisted of more than 40,000 words! Aside from such basic background information as a guide for grading records and a how-to for using the book, this included:
1. a list of the 100 most valuable vocal group 45s of the ’50s
2. an article on record company factory sleeves by Doug Hanners
3. a 29-page directory to record company label variations
4. an essay on collecting these records in lesser conditions by Steve West
The first commercial printing was to be a limited, numbered, and signed hardcover edition. It was to have been a beautiful, high-quality book, unlike anything the record-collecting world had seen up to that time,
It never happened.
I had the printer blow up text that I had printed out at home so that the typography would have an incomplete look and feel to it. I had a stamper made with ADVANCE COPY and I hand-stamped each copy of the book, adding to its rough appearance.
The intended book
In the first years of this century of the Roman calendar, the concept of print-on-demand—what is now commonly called POD—was very real, but very tentative. I was researching it but unprepared to commit to what seemed like an entire process that was in beta stage. So I went with existing technology and engaged a printer in Seattle to print books the old-fashioned, tried-and-trued method—on a printing press.
With the manufacturing/printing of books, quantity is paramount: the cost of setting up the equipment for the initial run of books, and the cost of simply turning the machines on and starting the process of printing the book is such that the more copies one prints, the less each copy costs to manufacture. Te book’s specs looked like this:
• 8⅜ x 11 inches (213 x 280 mm)
• 532 pages
• perfectly bound
I used reasonably good, white paper (I forget the weight of the paper stock but the actual book weighs 2 pounds 11 ounces). Due to the enormous expense of doing the book with a standard off-set press, I decided to do a very small run of “advanced copies” to get some much-needed capital.
Sun 183, D.A. Hunt’s Lonesome Old Jail / Greyhound Blues, is one of the rarest Sun singles. At the time I compiled the blues book, the 78s rpm single was a very rare record, but it was believed that Sam Phillips hadn’t pressed any 45s as none were known to exist. Consequently, this number was listed in our book without a value but with a warning: “This record was issued legitimately only as a 78 RPM single.” All that changed in 2009, when an authentic Sun 45 in VG- condition turned up for auction—which John Tefteller purchased for just over $10,000!
The advance copies
These books would include all the text pieces scheduled for the front of the book along with all the listings and values, but would not includes the text pieces scheduled for the back of the book, nor any of the interior photo illustrations. Worse, it would be a paperback edition that would not feature the killer cover design that I had paid for.
But with a plain front cover, I was able to afford a printing of 500 copies.
By now, every one who collected blues or rhythm & blues 45s, or who bought and sold rare records, knew about this book. The buyers of this printing knew that they were getting an incomplete book.
They also knew they were getting priceless information well in advance of the thousands of buyers and sellers of rare records who did not buy this advance printing!
Priced at $50, I expected a quick sell-out of the 500 advance copies. I would then have the money from these to go back to the printer and do the run of 1,000 “limited edition” copies.
Then something happened . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: In 1949, legendary disc-jockey Dewey Phillips started at WHBQ/560 in Memphis with his Red, Hot & Blue show, where he aired both black and white music. He was the city’s leading radio personality for nine years, an amazing streak for the time in any city. Phillips played a lot of the record by local artists, including those on Sun Records.
The photo at the top of this page is his actual broadcasting booth, which was rescued and rebuilt and is now a part of Sun Records building in Memphis. It’s possible that here he was one of the few jocks to play D. A. Hunt’s record.