Before being half of the duo Kon & Amir, label manager of Wax Poetics and boss of 180 Proof Records, DJ Amir is first and foremost an accurate record collector and music lover. That’s why, on the occasion of the reissues of Strata pioneering spiritual jazz LP’s at BBE, we asked him to go back, on his story as a digger, but also on the history of the mythical Detroit label.
When did you start digging records?
I started digging seriously for records probably around 81’ or 82’ but I started collecting records way earlyer than that.
What LP’s did you buy at first? Do you still listen to them?
The LP’s that I started buying when I began my journey into collecting records were Stevie Wonder ‘Innervisions’, Grover Washington Jr. ‘Mister Magic’ and ‘Inner City Blues’, and any James Brown records I could get.
I still listen to all of these records. It’s funny a lot of people think that record collecting is all bout finding and listening to just the rarest records on the planet. This is so not what I am about. I love music (cue in The O’Jays) common and rare!
Do you have a particular style or favourite period?
I guess my favorite period of music is definitely the 60’s and 70’s of music ; everything from jazz to soul to funk to disco. For example, I love not only hard bop jazz but also jazz fusion. Whatever the music genre it has to have some complexity that still keeps the essence of funk from the soul.
Are you still digging, buying vinyl, visiting record shops?
I am definitely still digging and collecting vinyl. Although, not as much as I used to because as I have gotten older life and relationships start to become more important then digging all day everyday. However, when I can I am going to record shops more than online. I find that shopping online doesn’t give me the same exciting feeling as actually going to a record shop.
What was your first release on 180 Proof Records?
My first release on 180 Proof Records was the previously unreleased Kenny Cox ‘Clap Clap ! The Joyful Noise.’ This was released at the end of 2012. By the way, Kenny Cox was the owner and founder of Strata Records, Inc.
Clap Clap A Joyful Noise
Why did you choose this name: 180 Proof Records?
I chose the name 180 Proof Records because it is kinda of a play on 180 Gram vinyl. I wanted my records to be at the highest sound quality imaginable and the packaging to be impeccable.
What could be your editorial/esthetic line?
My editorial or esthetic line is something I borrowed from Strata which is «All Musics For All Peoples». Basically, the sound that I am trying to bring to the world is for everyone that has a heartbeat.
What could be the label’s leitmotiv?
The leitmotiv that best fits what Strata was all about is their moniker «The Sound of Detroit». They tried to represent the sound of Detroit in the best way possible.
You talk about mission about the rediscovery of Strata Inc.. A heritage mission? Memory? Inheritance?
My mission to rediscover Strata began when I was running Wax Poetics Records. I had contacted Lyman Woodard to reissue his Saturday Night Special album and he lad me to Barbara Cox the owner of Strata. Also I was commissioned around the same time to create an online exhibition for the Scion iQ museum that centered around lost youth culture. I decided to submit something on Strata and I was accepted.
My mission is to bring the history and legacy of Strata to not only the world but also to the Black American community in America that may not know about the legacy of labels/movements like a Strata Records. For example, how Strata was not only a record label but also an artist collective based on the idea of an artist run and controlled label. They also founded the first jazz music program at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1970 and started community food based drives in Detroit.
Strata came out of the insurrections as most Detroiters call the riots of 1967 and 1968. This lead to a revolution in art, culture and politics. I definitely feel it is my inheritance and duty to tell the story of Strata !
About Strata Inc label, you had evocated a catalog which includes 30 unreleased masters in addition to the label’s 6 official commercial releases. Will you publish that?
The catalog of Strata I will definitely be publishing once I have gone through all of the masters. It is very expensive to transfer and remaster original reel to reel masters. In addition, it is also has been very difficult researching certain masters and artists because there has been little to no information on the original master tape.
Remember the day you listened to Strata’s first album? What a feeling?
I certainly remember listening to my first Strata record which was the Lyman Woodard Organization ‘Saturday Night Special’ album. At the time I knew about Strata Records but had not heard any of the records. It just so happens that I had a friend who wanted a rare hip hop promo 12” of Common Sense aka Common ‘The Bitch in You.” I traded my Common 12” for a mint copy of the Lyman album. When I first heard the album was blown away by the soulful and funky grittiness of the album. The grooves were so infectious that it instantly became one of my favorite albums.
The Lyman Woodard Corporation
Strata is emblematic of a 70’s jazz scene. What were its characteristics? And what differences with nowadays?
While Strata is very emblematic of the 70’s jazz scene there are definitely some differences. For example, not many jazz labels whether independent or commerical were community based artists collectives that focused on the revolutionary nature of art and culture. Not many labels were able to approach colleges and universities to propose starting a jazz music program or open their creative space so that local artists could come to rehearse or perform.
Morever, Strata was dedicated to the upliftment of the Black community of Detroit. As I mentioned before, Detroit suffered through two riots which devasted the city.The first riot is 1967 was caused by the constant harassment and killing of Black people by the Detroit police. This lead to a severe crack down by the National Guard in which several people were killed. Then in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and like many inner city Black communities Detroit erupted. The assassination of Dr. King also birthed the creation of the Black Panthers as well as other political and social movements like Strata.
Nowadays, jazz has become marginalized by mainstream America and has lost a bit of its edge and ability to speak to the youth. There are some examples of those who are trying to ‘push the envelope’ in jazz like Kamasi Washington, Gregory Porter, or Thunder Cat. However, for the most part, jazz does not hold the weight cultural and artistical that it used.
Strata East is best known, and yet Strata was created before. Charles Tolliver even says that this was the exemple which served them. How do you explain this lack of recognition in the official jazz sphere?
I think the lack of recognition of Strata in the official jazz sphere stems from the lack of releases. Unfortunately, they were only able to release 6 albums. Strata East I believe has over 50 releases or more. I know some of the biggest jazz record collectors that either not heard of Strata or do not know the difference between Strata East and Strata.
Furthermore, Strata East was able to do records with the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, the Heath Brothers, and Shirley Scott to name a few. Being able to have such jazz heavyweights record with Strata East definitely helped to cement their legacy as one of the great jazz labels.
Lastly, just being based in New York City also helped Strata East gain access to more funding as well as the artistic talent.
Kenny Cox was at the creation of the label. What were his motives at the time?
As the creator of Strata Records, inc., Kenny Cox was motived to create an artist collective based on self-reliance and pushing forward the art and culture of jazz. I don’t think Kenny saw Strata becoming something with a cult status. Most artist and labels never envision this. They just create from the heart and soul.
Impressions Of My Lady
Was there a vision, an objective, a political one?
Again, the vision and objective of Strata was to create a movement based on artist collective based on self-reliance and pushing forward the art and culture of jazz. In addition, I firmly believe Kenny was trying to elevate the Black community of Detroit and America as a whole.
Detroit is a big city on the map of Great Black Music. How do the different scenes that compose it dialogue together? And do you think Strata Inc. is a good example of their eco-system?
The different music scenes in Detroit worked somewhat well together. For instance, many of the artists that recorded with Strata were musicians that played on a lot of Motown records. For example, Larry Nozero actually played the horn on the Marvin Gaye song ‘What’s Going On.’ Also Lyman Woodard was the musical director for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
Additionally, there was a lot of collaboration between labels like Tribe Records and Strata in Detroit. Both shared the same goal of self-reliance, community uplift and artistic freedom. Labels like Strata are a perfect exemple of the eco-system of the Detroit music scene. Hence, why Strata’s moniker was ‘The Sound of Detroit.’
The young DJs of Detroit still remember these rich hours?
There are some young dj’s in Detroit who remember the legacy of Strata but it is really the older dj’s like Theo Parrish, Moodymann, Juan Aktins, Carl Craig and others that remember Strata legacy the most. Mainly, because people like Moodymann have worked with some of the Strata artists like Norma Jean Bell. I remember when I first met Theo Parrish almost ten years ago and he was surprised that I was the one that reissued the Lyman Woodard ‘Saturday Night Special’ album through Wax Poetics Records. He was excited to talk about how he grew up listening and following Strata as a child.
Why and when did Strata Inc. stop?
Unfortunately, Strata closed its doors in 1976 due to lack of money to continue to run the label. Like most independent labels, when your distributor doesn’t pay you on time or at all it is very hard to keep things running.
Do you have other ideas for reissues, other than Strata Inc.?
I definitely have other ideas of labels that I want to reissue but for now I am keeping that a secret !
There are more and more reissues of old LP’s, and more and more record labels (major or indie) now release their new artists on LP, or EP. Do you think that the LP reissue market could ever reach saturation point?
I do think the reissue market is beginning to reach a bit of saturation but labels like myself that continue to not only release great music but also educate and evelate music will always survive.
Have you received many negative answers on some of the LPs, artists, unreleased tapes, you were trying to reissue?
The only negative feedback that I have received from some of my releases is that I have made some of them double vinyl. There have been some people complaining that they have to get up to turn over the vinyl too quick and that the high quality that I present my releases is really for the bourgeoisie not the masses. You cannot please everyone!
What is the LP you dream of reissuing?
The LP if it ever does exist would the project that Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Tony Williams supposedly recorded. It is also rumored that Jimi had asked Paul McCartney to join them on bass. That would be the ultimate release for me!
Click here to check for Strata Catalog