By Mike Greenblatt
From a small building in Lancaster, Penn., Quentin Jones and business partner Frank Barrett are changing the face of modern rockabilly music. An apt analogy would be what Billy Beane did with the Oakland A’s as written in Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game.
“We sign artists that other labels overlook,” says Jones. That’s exactly what Beane did with baseball players, and what Jones and Barrett are doing with Lanark Records.
Lanark’s roster is impressive. You’ve probably heard of Robert Gordon, The Rockats and ’50s rockabilly pioneer Charlie Gracie, but former Mavericks guitarist Nick Kane and bands like The Gas House Gorillas with their “Punk Americana” and The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns (for whom Jones plays guitar) are wildly creative, organic and surprisingly vital acts moving the rockabilly genre forward by respecting its past, yet adding an irresistible futuristic tinge.
Something’s going on here.
Goldmine checked in with the respected producer, musician and label head Quentin Jones to find out what exactly it is.
GOLDMINE: What sets Lanark apart from other indie labels?
QUENTIN JONES: Our music, and the fact that we do it all in house, in our own studio. We have our own sound. We sign artists that other labels overlook. Hey, I have no training. I don’t know how to do any of this stuff, but I do it. And I think it almost helps us, because some of the best records were made by people who were going into new territory. Even though this may be old territory for everybody else, for me, it’s new. I didn’t go to school [for this]. When I started, back in the day, on a four-track analog, you really had to fight hard just to get that thing to sound listenable. Not even good — just listenable. So today, with all the modern tools we have, we forget the creativity, I think. So I’m going back to that. As you can see, I’m certainly not afraid to use modern tools, but they’re just that. They can’t replace talent. And I also know it’s important to have something in front of the board. What’s on the other side of the glass is more important than any piece of gear I can possibly possess. So I try to work with people who have the feel and the sound that complements what we have to offer.
GM: You started out as a guitarist. That’s pretty big leap to running your own label.
QJ: I guess I was called a dreamer one too many times. I met my partner Frank Barrett at a gig. He was a businessman but a player first. And I liked that. We got together, and we took it from me doing stuff in my basement into a real-deal studio with a real roster of artists with plans and aspirations for more, as opposed to me being just a guitar player recording people. The basement was working out just fine, but now we’re all in a better reality.
GM: When did you start the label?
QJ: When my first wife left me. I came home from a gig, and she had cleaned me out. So I figured I had nothing to lose. I started it by taking a couple of old microphones, a black-face A-DAT [Alesis Digital Audio Tape], which is like the oldest technology in the digital world one could possibly find — and it’s not even as good as the classic MCI [recording console] machine. It’s ’90s technology, but with a couple of microphones and a cheap mixing board, I made a record in 2000 with Charlie Gracie [“I’m Alright,” for which Jones played bass and produced.] Then we didn’t do much, and I started over with a second Charlie Gracie record in 2008 that had Peter Noone [Herman’s Hermits], Jimmy Vivino [The Fab Faux] and even Graham Nash singing harmonies on “Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven,” parts of which were recorded in Lenny Kravitz’s Bahamas studio. It was called “For The Love of Charlie.” From that record, I expanded into producing with Al Kooper, meeting my partner Frank, and ultimately getting The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns back together, a band I was in during the 1990s. And that led to meeting Dibbs Preston of The Rockats. Now we’re doing a new Charlie Gracie record. I ultimately sold the second one to ABKCO Records, who released it, and we were able to move on, man.
GM: The Rockats have a great history! Starting in 1978 England as Levi & The Rockats, they quickly relocated to New York City when the CBGBs scene was happening.
QJ: Yeah, and they were in Los Angeles when the glam thing was happening, too. They’re like the Forrest Gump of rock ’n’ roll.
GM: I understand you have a stage at the 2014 “Viva Las Vegas” event (April 17-20), the biggest rockabilly weekend in the world.
QJ: We may be known as a rockabilly label, but I based a lot of it on what Stax Records did in Memphis and how they had their own studio and their own sound. I love their stuff. And also like them, we’re a big family; everybody is on everyone else’s records. On Robert Gordon’s new stuff, Dibbs from The Rockats came down and played rhythm guitar, and even gave him two of his tunes. Marshall Crenshaw came down to sing on a couple of tracks. David Uossikkinen of The Hooters will be on Charlie Gracie’s new album.
GM: What are your plans for 2014?
QJ: My goal is to do a traveling roadshow with all of our artists. And we want to release at least three new albums, both on CD and vinyl. People are getting back to wanting to touch things made by human hands. This isn’t part of the Internet revolution, man; this is the anti-Internet revolution! I, myself, went to a local record shop, bought [The Beach Boys’] “Pet Sounds” on vinyl, came home, locked the door, sat down and enjoyed it from start to finish. What was once almost extinct is coming back! GM