Montreal label Mississippi Records finds gold in long lost vinyl
Most Montrealers are not aware of a sonic gem factory hidden on this now-wintry island. The musical pressing plant in question is Mississippi Records, a reissue label dedicated to unearthing artists, groups and sounds literally the world over, places where the word "obscure" doesn’t come close to cutting it.
The label splits its headquarters between here – run by all-around nice guy and walking music encyclopedia Warren Hill – and Portland, Oregon, where Hill’s partner Eric Isaacson runs a little shop with the same name as their imprint. Hill himself is the proprietor of the most singular music trading post in Montreal, dubbed Backroom Records & Pastries for its location in the back shed of his second floor apartment, where he stocks stacks of his releases among what has to be the city’s widest array of vinyl for cheap prices.
Mississippi Records has quickly become a hot commodity for record fiends worldwide, the label compilations themselves – the numbers of each pressing are limited to 1,000 – bringing into the spotlight forgotten souls and tracks from Thailand to West Africa, and from gospel, blues, country and folk, culled from releases that were long forgotten, as well as bootlegs, concert recordings, tapes, you name it. Their keep-it-cheap mentality makes the music accessible to the curious as well as the diehards; the selection and thought that goes into each package is thorough and knowledge-soaked, each album gorgeously hand-crafted, laid to rest on thick slabs of vinyl.
Do yourself a favour and pick up any of their 10 records (eight official, with two babies in the pipeline: a concept album about the life of Malcolm X by a one-time Sun Ra trumpet player, and a reissue of kooky folkie Michael Hurley’s Armchair Boogie).
We spoke with Warren Hill, all the while listening to the newest Mississippi offspring, a rockin’ southern gospel compilation entitled Life Is a Problem, heavy on the distorted guitar, but even heavier on the fiery preachin’.
Hour When did the label start?
Warren Hill The label started, as far as me and Eric go, I think in 2003 or 2004… We put in $3,000 each and put out our first two vinyl releases, which was the Washington Phillips [a wickedly unheard-of and talented blues dude] and Last Kind Words [compiling ultra-rare country blues gems], and then things have just been going without really needing any more money put in.
Hour What’s the label’s philosophy?
Hill The overriding philosophy of the label would be that we want to make old music available on vinyl for an affordable price – everything’s less than 10 bucks. It’s really hard to find that kind of stuff on LP. That was kind of the start of it and then… we just wanted to put out records that we would have liked to find, really.
Hour How do you find the music?
Hill The thing about that aspect of it is that at the beginning it was just store stock of random bootlegs that came out in the ’60s, bootlegs of bootlegs essentially. And then as the labels progressed… more and more of our resources are legitimate. It’s still kind of a challenge to balance those kinds of things, the obscure music and trying to put it out. Part of our philosophy was that we put aside a bunch of money that the label takes in, in case anybody does come forward, and if nobody does than that money will eventually go to a charity.