CHASING GHOSTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH LOST RPM’S JEFFREY HARVEY

Whether chasing ghosts or appreciating novelty, the ‘lost to time’ element of dollar-bin records can leave their songs steeped in melancholy. As vinyl continues to wade further back into the mainstream, the previously murky world of thrift vinyl collecting has been cast into the light of social media; documented and showcased for any passers by.

I recently fell in love with the Instagram account Lost RPM during the pandemic’s ever growing hours at home. Lost RPM is DJ and curator Jeffrey Harvey’s showcase of notable finds, most only known to the artists themselves and few seasoned vets of the thrift record collecting world.

To get a better idea of what drives the record thrifting mindset, I reached out to Jeffrey Harvey of The Lost RPM Podcast and Instagram account to explore their place in the record collecting scene. The following interview took place over the course of about a week via email.

Jeffrey of Lost RPM: 

Hey [Lubert]! It’s Jeffrey. Good to meet you. Fire away on Q’s and I’ll try to answer as best I can!

Lubert:

Hey Jeffrey! Good to meet you too. Let’s get started.

You run the Instagram account Lost RPM and the coinciding Lost RPM Podcast. I see that the earliest Instagram posts at this time go back to 2015, though the focus wasn’t always on 45s, but mostly LPs. Incredible but strange records like Sister Janet Mead’s ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and Robert Pritikin’s ‘There’s A Song in My Saw’. What led to the switch to covering 45s more or less exclusively?

Jeffrey:

That’s a great question! I moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Los Angeles in 2013 to get married. I had been collecting interesting-to-me records in KC since the early 2000s, with most of my collection coming from thrift stores, junk shops, flea markets, and record store clearance bins. I was very passionate (and still am) about finding cool records that someone else has literally thrown out!

Anyway, when I arrived in LA I didn’t have any professional plans or goals per se, so that led to copious amounts of time continuing my second-hand record search. I was able to get to know the city by starting the day at a Pasadena Salvation Army and ending the day at a Van Nuys Goodwill. Along the way I’d look for LPs/45s/78s that looked interesting, were privately pressed, or unknown to me at the time.

In Kansas City 45s are everywhere. You go into any thrift store and there are at least a few stacks of 45s – even if they’re all crap. In LA I found that 45s at thrift stores are virtually non-existent. That led me to finding a lot of stuff like the Sister Janet Mead and Robert Pritikin LPs. I’d find a handful of $1 private press LPs during a day out digging, get ’em home, and spend the evening trying to figure out if they were any good or not. It helped that recreational cannabis was just starting to become legal in Southern California lol. After a year or so of SoCal second-hand record digging, I started kicking around the idea of starting a blog about my finds. That’s how The Lost RPM Instagram page came about.

Interestingly enough, my run of posting primarily 45s didn’t start until the pandemic kicked into high gear in March of 2020. I ordered a 45 on Discogs from a seller who had like 16,000+ records for sale, and casually mentioned that if he had any “not on Discogs or ungoogleable records” lying around that he wanted to get rid of, I’d buy them off him in bulk. To my surprise he said he did, and that he’d be down to sell to me. So for the past year I’ve been receiving boxes of 100 45s once or twice a month. I can’t tell you how much it helped me mentally during the pandemic, and receiving all those singles actually kickstarted the idea of The Lost RPM Podcast. That’s the entire reason my IG page has transitioned to mostly all 45s.

Lubert:

16,000 records is a LOT of records. I can’t imagine some of the strange stuff that seller has. 45 collecting alone has its niches from Georgia gospel to absurd novelty, Philly soul to stabs at country stardom. You seem to span the gamut. Are there any particular niches you swoon over? Any genres you’re looking to explore further?

Jeffrey:

It’s interesting, when I was in high school I was pretty chubby. I tried to cover up my self-consciousness about my weight with being the class clown. Being the class clown led me to becoming friends with all types of people in my school. Punk rockers, jocks, cheerleaders, art kids, outsiders, and even teachers. I didn’t really have a specific friend group or click that I was a part of, and as crazy as it sounds I honestly feel like that experience somehow translated into my record collecting. I don’t really seek out one specific genre, I just like what connects with me. I actually believe that in most cases records are meant to find me, rather than the other way around.

Case in point: I was at a Salvation Army in the LA area a few years back. I had just found a handful of really cool LPs, and as I was exiting the store on a digging-score high, I saw two Asian gentlemen loading up a cart with records to donate. I walked up to them, told them I collect, and asked if they wanted to sell to me instead. I think I paid $15 for a few boxes of LPs, 78s, and 45s. I had no idea what was in the boxes. I didn’t even care. I just knew if something needed to find me, it would. Most of the stuff ended up being useless to me (and was even donated back to the Salvation Army from whence it came lol), but one of the few items I kept from that haul ended up being this amazing, unknown, and seemingly one-of-a-kind 1960s Hong Kong pop 7″ EP that may or may not be from a feature film. I can’t find any info on it. All I know is that there’s a track on the disc that absolutely floors me. It sounds like it was recorded in an opium den, and I’ve never heard anything like it since. What are the odds of all the factors coming together in that scenario for that record to find me? I have to think they’re pretty astronomical. I cherish that 7″ EP and the fact that it found me! I’ve attached a pic of the release and mp3 of the track if you want to check it out.

As far as stuff I swoon over, that would definitely be 1950s/60s American outsider teenage ballads. It’s total time capsule stuff. I have a 45 by a group called “Jonathan with Orchestra” that is a perfect example of waaaaaay outsider teenage balladry. It’s called “Cheryl” and it’s one of the most amazing & endearing things I’ve ever heard. The kid (presumably Jonathan) can’t even sing. His voice cracks heavily throughout the recording, and there’s even some amateur saxophone playing involved. It’s all so innocent and primitively debauched at the same time. It’s like something you’d hear at a high school prom in 1957, if the prom was held at an insane asylum. I’ve actually found a fair share of primitive, obscure, outsider teenage singles from the 50s & 60s, and am always down to welcome more of them into my life. Again, I’ll attach a pic of the label and mp3 of that one for your consideration.

Lubert:

I just listened to both of these records and they’re great in their own ways. The Hong Kong record reminds me a bit of the bossa nova influence on easy-listening pop records. Really high quality writing and production. But this Jonathan record, well it sounds like James Hurley in Twin Peaks! 

Total time capsule stuff, for real. So, is Jonathan With Orchestra what you’d call a “real people” record? It’s a term you’ve used before in the Lost RPM Podcast liner notes, but it’s also a term heard throughout music collecting circles. What is implied by this, and how do they differ from other records of their era?

Jeffrey:

You have a good ear! I didn’t include this above, but the Hong Kong track actually seems to be a take on the Afro-Cuban song “Tabú” or “Taboo” that Arthur Lyman made famous with his easy listening exotica of the late 50s/early 60s. Google it and you’ll hear the same exact melody!

Yes, the Jonathan with Orchestra single would be a prime example of a “real people record.” The term comes from legendary private press record collector Paul Major, who has found more amazing records than I could ever dream of. He stated in a interview with Vice Magazine in 2017 that “Real People popped into my head as a catch-all phrase to cover vastly different styles of music resulting from driven persons creating highly personal sounds that were able to capture their uniqueness as human beings… Their true personalities are captured, I feel like I am inside their brains when I hear them. It is an elastic term but the key thing about Real People is that the person is impossible to separate from the art.”

That last part kills me, and is so eloquently said! The person being impossible to separate from the art really is the essence of real people or outsider music. The overt self expression, highly personal nature, and unintentional urgent spirit of the recordings are what give them their charm. This, in my opinion, is what separates the real people records of various decades from other records of their era. Also to Paul’s point, you almost always feel like you’re “inside the brain” of the “artist” when listening to a real people record. I know I feel that way when listening to the Jonathan record 🙂 

Also, I use quotations on the term artist there because many of the people who recorded this stuff probably didn’t even see themselves as artists at the time!

Lubert:

It may be safe (or arrogant) to say that a lot of these artists had hopes or intentions of reaching some kind of audience or commercial success, either by luck or imitating commercially successful performers. At what point does a record leave ‘the arts’ and enter a more entertainment/media content standing? Does commercialism take away from the sort of human or ‘genuine’ artistic element in a work?

Jeffrey:

I think it’s safe to say the majority of these artists had some sort of hopes or aspirations of stardom. It’s also probably safe to say there were a large contingent of record industry hucksters promising these artists the world and not delivering. Have you heard of, or researched the tax scam record labels of the 1970s & 80s? That’s a whole other topic in itself!

As far as commercialism taking away from the genuine or human artistic element in a recorded work, I don’t really subscribe to that idea. I love Donovan. Like really love him. His laid-back brand of psychedelic hippie-folk is about as commercial as it gets for the 1960s. I also feel like he’s super genuine sounding, and about as human as it gets. I challenge anyone to listen to “Sand and Foam” from the Sunshine Superman album and not be moved. But then again music – as with most art – is totally subjective.

Lubert:

I do love me some Donovan records. The push and pull of commercialism and its effect on art is a dichotomy that’s seemingly in a constant state of implosion, so any attempt to draw a line in the sand may be in vain. But tax scam record labels? I need to look into that! I know there was some mafia involvement with smaller soul labels in the North East around that time, but this is news to me. Speaking of labels, The Lost RPM Podcast really opens up your collection to the world by streaming some select cuts. Are you ever concerned about copyright hawks? Or does a lot of the music fall into the public domain by way of abandonment?

Jeffrey:

Yeah when it comes to tax scam records the Stonewall self-titled LP on Tiger Lily is a nice one to start with. My buddy Lance from Permanent Records here in LA was the first to do an officially licensed reissue with the surviving members of the band. It’s pretty killer!

As far as copyright concerns go, I would say that I’m a pretty under-the-radar operation at this point who caters to a very niche market. I just love sharing lost and overlooked music with people. Now if this interview were to run in like Vanity Fair or something then I might have some second thoughts about copyright stuff lol, but man most of the records I dig on are pretty obscure. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t make any money off The Lost RPM doesn’t really have me concerned. If someone wants me to take something down or cease and desist with something, I have no problem doing that.

Lubert:

There are some labels out there that work at restoring and sharing old records from the 1910s and later on, as well as other ‘lost to time’ records from the later 1900s that have gained new audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have ever had. Would you ever consider starting up your own label, be it physical releases, or free digital downloads and re-releasing or creating compilations of some of these really obscure records? Or is that something you’d like to stay out of?

Jeffrey:

You’re not doing a good job at alleviating my fear that this will run in Vanity Fair hahaha. 

Just kidding, but yeah I’ve had people tell me I should start a small label or release a comp, and I’m totally into the latter idea! I don’t think I have the time or energy to undertake a reissue label project, but I’d love to curate a 12 song compilation LP or something similar. That would be fun.

Lubert:

My blog posting is more of a ‘vanity affair’. Okay okay! Last question before I wrap things up. You collect all types of records with storied pasts. Usually we focus on the stories behind the record coming to be, but never the stories of the specific copies themselves. As a fan I have to ask; The Richard Ramirez 45. I gotta know what happened there.

Jeffrey:

Well I appreciate that you are a fan, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me to talk outsider records. You’ve asked some very thought provoking questions, and I’ve really enjoyed our back-and-forth.

I’m sorry to have to break it to you though that the story behind the “Richard Ramirez” 45 is not really that interesting. I drove to Corona, CA the other week to pick up a box of 45s. The guy who sold them to me said they “belonged to his uncle.” I came home, sorted them out, and noticed the name Richard Ramirez written on a “Dick Clark All-Time Hits” EP. My wife and I had just watched the Night Stalker doc on Netflix, and I thought it was weird. I took a pic and posted it to the ‘gram. That’s it. That’s the story. Do you think it could have been him?

Lubert:

Oof! It may be a stretch, but it’s a spooky thought. It would definitely take a better sleuth than I to figure that out.

Alright, then. Thank you so much for your time! Run what you brung! Let folks know where they can find you!

Jeffrey:

Folks can subscribe to The Lost RPM Podcast on Apple Podcasts and follow me on Instagram @lost_rpm.

Thanks bud!

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