Taylor (left) on huntng for 78s: The excitement of digging through moldering piles of filthy records in hopes of uncovering a gem holds a unique sway.
Taylor (left) on hunting for 78s: "The excitement of digging through moldering piles of filthy records in hopes of uncovering a gem holds a unique sway." Kelly O

If Seattle can support HISSSSSSS, a monthly DJ night devoted to cassettes, it can probably sustain one dedicated to 78-rpm shellac. It helps if the person behind the decks is Jeffery Taylor, co-owner of Wall of Sound record store and cocurator of Victrola Favorites, an illustration-intensive book and two-CD compilation that surveys the format’s diverse, peculiar, and sublime recordings from the 1920s to the 1950s. The contents of Victrola Favorites—hillbilly, jazz, gospel, blues, Persian folk, Chinese opera, Burmese guitars, and much more—can also be heard at Bottleworks on Saturday, August 22 (8:30-10:30 pm, 21+, free). There’s no more congenial, knowledgeable host for this kind of night than Taylor, who also plays guitar in Climax Golden Twins, Hound Dog Taylor’s Hand, Spider Trio, and WOTT—except maybe his CGT bandmate and Victrola Favorites cocurator, Rob Millis. Both men, appropriately enough, have appeared in Amanda Petrusich’s book, Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records. I interviewed Taylor to find out why and how he’s keeping this outmoded format relevant in the age of the Cloud.

The Stranger: What factors and/or people initially drew you to 78s? And what keeps you engrossed in the format all these years later?

Jeffery Taylor: Sometime in the early ’90s, for reasons now fuzzy in my mind, my bandmate Rob Millis and I started in on collecting 78s. The lust for old shellac took a deep root, and we both had the desire to feed the need for these old records. How can you make record collecting even more difficult, arcane, and cumbersome? Start collecting 78s, that’s how! The excitement of digging through moldering piles of filthy records in hopes of uncovering a gem holds a unique sway, almost like a drug of some sort. There are always more great sides to find, both known and unknown, and that is why we keep looking.

How did you persuade the owner of Bottleworks to put on an event like this? How long has it been going?
It’s my neighborhood watering hole, and the dudes who work there are cool. Music, among other sundry things, is discussed often, and one day I just asked if they’d let me do a 78-rpm DJ night. Old records and good beer is kind of a no-brainer, so, of course, they agreed. This will be the third time, and people seem genuinely interested and excited to hear these old records. It’s great fun and well attended each time.

At this late date, is it hard to get people to listen to 78s? What sort of crowd is the night drawing?
It’s not hard at all, good music is good music regardless of it age or format. There are slews of folks out there listening to music originally released on 78-rpm discs whether they know it or not. Most people probably have the idea of 78s sounding thin, tinny, scratchy and far-away-sounding and some of those old 1920s and earlier sides certainly do have that quality (which is often a part of the appeal). But most recordings from the ’40s and ’50s have amazing fidelity and sound fantastic blasting out of the speakers.

Do you need to use a special turntable to play the records? What model do you use?
I have an old Dual from the 1970s with a mono cartridge. Nothing fancy about it and it gets the job done just fine.

Have any Bottleworks patrons ever complained about what you were playing? Or do you get studious types coming up to you to discuss the minutiae of the songs you’re spinning?
Ha-ha. No, no one has ever complained. I have, once or twice, taken a record off midway through. Maybe because it was too rough sounding or the vibe wasn’t working. People do come up and ask questions, mostly to ask what's playing at the moment, but some folks will delve into deeper aspects of the whole thing. A guy at the first night was trying to Shazam some obscure side I was playing and I just chuckled— good luck with that!

How did the Victrola Favorites boxed set sell? Does it indicate a strong interest in this arcane slice of musical history?
The Victrola Favorites book and CD set has done very well, and among all of the musical projects I’ve been involved with, it is one of the things of which I am the most proud. I think it has an appeal to anyone with an interest in old-time 78-rpm records. It’s a beautiful book filled with great images of all manner of 78-rpm ephemera and two CDs of fantastic music from all around the world—what’s not to like?

More info about Taylor's 78-rpm night here.