Can You Dig It

Times is changing for veteran DJs like Peanut Butter Wolf: right now his laptop has got the colic, and that means most of last night's hip-hop and house sets are trapped in FILE NOT FOUND purgatory. But for a guy like Wolf, that's still a little funny: he was scratching at high school dances in the Bay Area back when Egyptian Lover and friends were as hot as shit got, and he's seen it go from 45s to 12″s to CDs to MP3s—in fact, his indie hip-hop/funk/jazz/more-more-more label Stones Throw has put out something on every format by now, probably all at once for some of his same releases. Most of his modestly recounted stories involve casual legendry by name-guys like Madlib and J. Rocc and J Dilla and OhNo and MF Doom or whoever—today we ask him about what he's looking for when he goes to the record store with those kind of buddies in tow. In fact, he just hit a flea market yesterday, dragging out $60 worth of records from a couple of lonely boxes in a parking lot. “I always force something out,” he says. “It's not always good—but it's always good to me!”

THE GRANDMASTER LOVER: Arguably the best rap record ever to come out of St. Louis, say those who know at Soul Strut; for Wolf, it's a guaranteed stumper that has fellow DJs begging him for a copy of their own. Released in 1983, Lover's “The Legend of O'Mar” is a over-inside-and-through-the-top recounting of our narrator's superlative sexual prowess (up there with Kool G Rap's “Talk Like Sex”) done with such attention to detail that, says Wolf, the guy had to have been a virgin when he recorded it. Wolf tracked down the Grandmaster himself after 20 years, finding him at the same address and phone number in the 1983 record—which meant he was still living with his mother. He explained he wasn't making secular music anymore because he'd joined the church, but he did give up his e-mail address: something like Pl********@ao*.com, laughs Wolf. “So there's still hope!”

BRUCE HAACK: This Canadian electro-techno pioneer of the analog '60s and '70s is enjoying recent rediscovery now, thanks to a documentary (The King of Techno) and rising speculation that he helped invent hip-hop—though Wolf admits that's a bit of a stretch, he does recommend a never-released Haack/Russell Simmons track called “Party Machine,” with a Kraftwerk beat and heavy vocoder flow on top. The original album is Electric Lucifer, and the tribute album—featuring Wolf, Beck, Stereolab and more—was released in August.

GARY WILSON: Stones Throw's favorite lost genius: “Where do you start with Gary?” says Wolf. Wilson apprenticed himself to John Cage as a young prodigy in upstate New York and moved to the city just in time to catch the tail end of the new wave/no wave loft-music movement. His landmark first album, You Think You Really Know Me, is an iconoclastic one-of-a-kind masterpiece, with the uber-potent personality of Jonathan Richman—Gary had plenty of things to say about the ladies—and the focused polymath do-it-all-ism of Prince or Stevie Wonder. Sadly, it never really caught on, and Wilson drifted out of business to unassuming private life in San Diego, until name-dropping by Beck—who knows his shit—and a reissue brought him circuitously to a revived career on Stones Throw.

GARY DAVIS: But there's more lost geniuses still: producer/arranger Gary Davis wrote “Gotta Get Your Love” in 1979, noted now as one of the rarest and most sought-after disco recordings ever. He started his own Chocolate Star label to release the songs he'd previously lost in a fog of show-biz deal making, eventually building up a discography that would set crate-diggers salivating even 25 years later. Recent reissues of Davis' lost disco gems have knocked the bottom out of the $700+ price tags that fans once had to pay—if they could even find a copy to buy. “I totally encourage everyone to go get it,” says Wolf. “My rule of thumb is if the guy's name is Gary, just get it!”

PHAROAH SANDERS: Not in the same category, says Wolf: noted free jazz saxophonist Sanders, whose 1969 LP Karma is still a worthy find by any standards, also penned a song called “You've Got to Have Freedom.” And just last night, that's how the DJ sharing space with Wolf finished his set: “After all that heavy dancing, it just brought everybody down,” he says respectfully. “It made all the other songs sound so meaningless.” Sanders (who now lives in LA) still plays out, once actually in the room just next door to a Peanut Butter Wolf dance night: “Obviously, my room was completely empty,” says Wolf. “Everyone I came with left.” How did Pharoah sound? “I couldn't tell you,” says Wolf. “I was DJ-ing for like three people.”

INGRAM: These disco brothers—the glossier analog to the family affair that was ESG—cut an album that Wolf calls “spiritual disco” and that other listeners think sounds more like a cross between Soul Train and The Outer Limits. Still, says Wolf, who just picked up a fresh copy of Ingram's LP for $2 at an Atlanta flea market, it's the kind of sound that draws other curious DJs to the booth after the night is over. “It's great to play the classics,” he says, “but it's even better when people are dancing to something and they don't know what it is.”


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