Digging through vinyl is for the patient. It can take years, if ever, for a record collector to come across a “Holy Grail” album in his/her travels.
In this TEDx Montreal talk from November 2016, Quebec-based collector Alexis Charpentier (aka DJ Lexis) talks about how obsessed record diggers get while looking for their “needle in a haystack” and how their efforts can reap bigger cultural rewards.
He shares a wonderful story of how a collector named Kobal found a nearly-forgotten 1-in-2000 vinyl album recorded by Haitian musician Henri-Pierre Noël in the late seventies.
Turns out it was quite the find.
He was in a flea market surrounded by thousands of other dirty, dusty, moldy records. That’s where he found the “Piano” album. He wasn’t specifically looking for it. Actually, you could say it sort of found him. You could also say that after 20 years of record digging every single week, he had developed a sixth sense for finding the gold. He took the record and inspected it: the front, the artwork, the back, the liner notes, and he was intrigued by the fact that this Haitian musician made a record in Quebec in the late ’70s, so he was intrigued. He took out his little, plastic, portable turntable that he brought with him whenever he was on these digging quests and put the record on.
He fell in love with the music instantly, but he had to know the backstory behind it. He didn’t know where it came from. He knew the artist, at the time of the recording, was living in Montreal, so for months, he tried to track him down. He even found Noël’s business card inside the record sleeve. That’s how DIY Henri-Pierre Noël was. So he found the card inside the record sleeve — of course he did try to call, but after 30 years, the number didn’t work anymore. So it was only in Belgium, where the artist had once lived, that Kobal managed to find someone that knew the artist personally and gave him the contact.
So when he finally sat down with the artist, he made him a promise to someday find a way to get the album rereleased…
The record was finally rereleased and received praise from music critics, DJs and listeners worldwide — the praise that it should have received in 1979. The artist was so inspired that he decided to revive his music career, get back on a stage, and play for new audiences. The artist, now in his 60s, told me, “This changed everything for me. I went from planning my retirement to playing on the BBC Radio in London, and on Radio Canada and more.”
That album, Piano, is available from the Wah Wah 45s label.
photo via Noël’s second album, One More Step.