I know Sean Morris’ record collection fairly well, we co-host the radio show Ajax Diner Book Club every Sunday evening on KRFC. Recently he was kind enough to allow me and my camera into his home for a deep dive into his collection. –Charles Hale
D8R: Tell us a little about who you are. How long have you lived in Ft. Collins? Where else have you live? Tell us a little about your family, your work and interests outside of records.
Sean Morris: Six years April 1. 5 years in Denver before. 8 years in Chicago before that. Two years in St Andrews, Scotland before that. And all the years before that in Weymouth, MA, just south of Boston.
My wife and I have one child, a 7 year old boy.
I’m Professor, in philosophy at Metro State, mostly working in logic and foundations of mathematics and history and philosophy of science.
I like to read, mostly history and biography, though I always say I’m going to read more novels. I read Moby Dick for the first time not too long ago. That was really good. I love listening to the radio, mostly WWOZ out of New Orleans but lots of baseball games too. Mostly the Red Sox but I’m happy listening to any baseball on the radio. I like to be outside year round, maybe because I’m indoors so much. Hiking, walking, bicycling, swimming, snowshoeing.
D8R: Your parents had records in the house growing up. Tell me about some of your earliest memories of your parents’ records. And about the first records that were yours and not your parents.
Sean Morris: I seem to remember my mother playing more records than my father, though they both loved music and he had more records. Early on I remember, very likely my first musical memory, my mother playing Paul Simon, that tune with the line “Hop on the bus Gus”. They always played Jimmy Buffett. I seem to remember them playing Volcano soon after it came out and Son of a Son of a Sailor got played a lot, so all that would be pretty early. I remember my father buying Paul McCartney’s Tug of War for my mother, maybe for her birthday, when that came out. She is a huge Beatles fan. Oddly enough, I don’t remember listening to the Beatles a lot, but they must’ve been on. I don’t think there’s a Beatles song I don’t know, and I’ve never listened to their catalogue on my own so carefully as to know it as well as I do. That’s kind of a nice gift.
I remember my mother listening to Tusk, especially that first track. I think that may be her favorite Fleetwood Mac.
I think I gravitated towards my father’s records later, around age 11. His music was, on the whole, probably louder.
For a first record, I remember being given Jimmy Buffett’s White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean for Christmas. I’m not sure if that’s right, but that’s what I remember. My own first purchases were cassettes. Run DMC’s self titled was the first one I remember purchasing, being taken to the local Strawberry’s in the second grade to buy it. First record purchases I remember were around fifth or sixth grade, I think the Honey Drippers EP (that Robert Plant project, which I still think is quite good. I think Jimmy Page may play on a track) and a Roger Daltrey solo album, both on clearance at Caldor’s, a local department store, probably as they were phasing out records. I bought some Led Zeppelin bootlegs in this period too.
D8R: When did you start buying records for yourself? How old were you and what year was it? Do you remember when records really became the medium you wanted to buy and what led you to that?
SM: See above, but I was 11 or 12 so around 1988-89. I was in high school when I really started to commit to records, around 1993 or 94. A friend, Steve, who was a few years older had started buying records and somehow encouraged me to, maybe just by suggesting it. I didn’t need much convincing. I like the look and feel, and at the time, they were cheaper than CDs. I remember Steve suggesting I buy Unwound’s Fake Train and New Plastic Ideas one day at Taang Records in Cambridge. It was the store owned by the Taang label, and they sold all sorts of independent label stuff. I didn’t know Unwound but Steve has good taste. I might’ve bought Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love that day too. The first Fugazi EP was an early purchase too. I got that at Newbury Comics in Braintree. I remember weighing options and going for the record because it was cheaper.
D8R: Have you ever bought a record for a unique reason? A recommendation from someone, the cover art, or a magazine review?
SM: Probably there are many, but the one I remember the most is going into In Your Ear Records, the Boston location underneath the Paradise nightclub, and Mac from Superchunk was there. They were playing the Paradise that night, and I was going. I said hi. We were both shopping in the jazz section. Mac starting pulling out all these records that he thought were good and handing them to me. At the end I had this big stack, and he turned and said, “You know, you don’t have to buy all those.” I bought one, this advant gard jazz violinist, Billy Bang. I still have it. It’s a great album, and he has an interesting life story. Maybe I now wished I had bought them all, but I didn’t have a lot of money at the time.
I also have a tendency, especially lately, to buy albums that Steve Albini has worked on. Not just anything, but if I’m interested in a band, and I’m looking for an album to buy and they’ve worked with Albini, that’s the one I’lll buy. I love the sound he gets, and I love hearing how it works with music of vastly different sorts. That recent Nina Nastasia may be my favorite. I don’t know though. I’m sure I couldn’t really choose.
D8R: I feel like every collector once they get a sizable collection has to create some rules of collecting for themselves. Do you have rules or an approach to buying records these days?
SM: I try to, but they’re very flexible. In Boston and Chicago, there were always great record stores, so I just shopped there for whatever was good. Of course, my means were much more limited then too. Since being in Colorado, I did a lot more online shopping, not really living near a lot of record stores. Or the stores here just didn’t have much of what I was interested in. It’s interesting how much region can affect what’s around. These days, I try not to buy fairly common records unless the shop also has something obscure that I’ve really been searching for. Or I’ll buy something common because some particular reference to it has come up somewhere, and now I want to hear it. I’ve tended away from buying new records, having the thought that new records can be bought any time. That’s not always true, but that’s what I think a lot of the time. I’m after what I can’t just find anytime. When I’m in a store, I tend to go for things that I didn’t know about and only found because I was in that store. Or I go for those things that I’ve been looking for forever and have finally turned up. These aren’t always obscure things. Sometimes it’s hard to find nice copies of common records. I was looking for a long time for The James Gang Rides Again. It can be had anytime online, but I only bought it recently, finally coming across a copy, a very nice copy at Driver 8. I will say with Driver 8 here, I’m rethinking things again. Now there’s a shop where I’m finding lots of things and being surprised by things I didn’t know about. I always find that it’s much more exciting to find a record in a store, so I’m trying to balance store buying with online shopping.
I also often have in my mind an idea of what I think a record should cost and try to stick to that idea. It’s surprising, but if I’m patient, a lot of it eventually turns up for the price I’m looking for. For used records, anything over $20 seems pricey to me, so it really has to be something I want or to be definitely obscure for me to readily pay $20 or more. I guess prices have gone up, but I’m still stuck in my mindset from long ago.
D8R: Do you have any idea about what your oldest record is?
SM: I looked into it. I think they are the Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings. I have the first LP issues of them, though I’m still missing a few. They’re from 1950, so not that old in the scheme of recorded music. I’m sure I could get into collecting 78s because I love so much of the music that originally came out on 78, but it’s probably best that I don’t.
D8R: You collect a bunch of older artists but you also have near-complete discographies of a number of more contemporary bands. Who are some of the current artists that you collect and what all do you have in those discographies?
SM: I think I know what you mean, though a lot of my contemporary bands are fairly old. I have a lot of Lucero, though I was fairly late coming to them, not until Women and Work. But I think I have all the albums now, and some seven inches. Some signed stuff. It’s not complete, but it’s close. Beyond the albums, a lot of the other stuff was gifts or something. I don’t think I have complete discographies for any band. I can’t get involved in obscure limited stuff. I have some by chance, but I don’t pursue it. It’s too stressful, and I just prefer that everything be available for whomever wants it. I always appreciated labels like Dischord and Touch and Go not really doing limited collectable stuff. Relatedly, I have most of the Fugazi catalogue; also Shellac (along with much of whatever else Steve Albini was involved in). Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr–I still buy whatever they put out. I also have all the Eilen Jewell records and I think Joan Shelley too–they might be the most contemporary artists that I have pretty full discographies for. Built to Spill is another that I’m pretty complete about. For all these, it’s mostly albums that I have. I’ve never been much of a seven inch collector. For a lot of bands, their best stuff is on seven inches, but I just don’t listen to them very often and will often hope that they’ll all just be compiled sometime somewhere. Also, I had a friend who bought all the seven inches and used to tape them for me, so I just wasn’t really in that habit. I have been buying some more seven inches lately though for whatever reason. Among those tapes that my friend made for my was almost all the Chisel seven inches. I still have the tape, but I recently tracked down the seven inches. I’d always wanted them and was afraid with the renewed interest in Chisel that they would soon get expensive.
D8R: You have a ton of records of New Orleans music. How did you get into the music of that city? What are some of your favorite records in your collection that come out of New Orleans?
I went there for the first time around 2012, and that’s when I really got into. But I suppose there was a bit of a foundation in place because I listened to a fair amount of old jazz already even if I didn’t think of it as strictly New Orleans music or if even it wasn’t directly from New Orleans. Going there and going to these clubs where that tradition was still being played and was still a living, evolving music really got me into it. I’d listen to the contemporary New Orleans jazz bands and then work backwards to their predecessors. My wife really connected to it too, so that kind of encouraged me to pursue it. Sometime after that trip, we got into watching Treme, so that helped to. And then we kept going back to New Orleans and finding more bands or recommendations from people who were in bands that we liked. Once the local station there, WWOZ, got their streaming worked out and was archiving programs, I really got an education, learning more and more about the jazz but also R’n’B, which I always liked but needed guidance to figure out what to look for. There are 5 or 6 WWOZ programs that I never miss each week and others that I’ll listen to if I can find the time.
I love that Professor Longhair Piano Blues album and have sometimes thought that that is my favorite album of any music. It’s hard to settle on a favorite, but that’s one of my favorites. I love the Riverside Living Legends series and among those the Billie and DeDe Pierce albums are the favorites, and “Love Song of the Nile” is the favorite song for my wife and me. Everything about that series is great. They were mostly all recorded in the same space, I think it was an old church or became a church after it was a music hall. I love the sound–it gives me an immediate image and feel of what the space must be like. The imagery on the albums is great to them. Every aspect of that series is great. There’s a nice little documentary about it out there. There’s also a Kid Thomas Valentine with Raymond Burke album that I love–they do this great version of “I Believe I can Make it By Myself”, probably my favorite version.
D8R: Have you ever been gifted any cool records?
SM: My cousin, who lives here now but had grown up with me back in the Boston area, had some records back at his parents’ house and
said I could take any that I wanted. He didn’t have a lot, but I remembered that he had purchased Nirvana’s In Utero when it first came out on clear vinyl (I bought it on CD at the time). He was specific in giving this to me, saying that I could have it to enjoy for myself,
though if I ever wanted to sell it, it should go back to him. I liked this approach. I liked that he wanted me to have it to enjoy the music, not as some sort of collector’s item. I know records are sometimes worth a lot of money. I might have some of those, but I want the music to be front and center. I don’t like thinking about collecting because of scarcity or value. It creeps in, but I try to block it out.