Once you’ve got used to the Scottish accent, and believe me, when I first met Keb, I made him spell out his address over the phone, you can get some entertaining stories from a couple of decades of record collecting and djing out of him. Anyway, one afternoon, we sat down for a cup of tea and here are two stories that he told me.
The Richard and Edna Miner story
Well my favourite story, I suppose, is Richard and Edna Miner. I used to deal with a guy called Richard Miner from Miami, or just outside Miami. I had never met him. I was in Britain and this was the late seventies, early eighties and I was buying Northern Soul records from him. You know, I’d say “post me the list” an then I’d phone up and send the money and the records would arrive. Anyway, about 1986, 87, I heard that he died. I thought “oh, fucking hell, that’s a shame. I bet his wife got the records and doesn’t know what to do with them.”
So I had the phone number and phoned up.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that your husband is dead. What are you doing with the records?”
“Ah well, you come over here, we don’t know what to do yet. My son is taking the death very hard.”
So I fly out to Miami. I had a good bit of money saved up and I actually sold a few records to get money to go.
And I arrive at my motel and phone them up straight away.
“Is that Edna Miner? It’s Keb Darge, I’ve come over from Britain.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we ain’t ready for you yet. We haven’t had the air conditioning on. You call back tomorrow. It’s a bit awkward just now.”
So I call back the next day.
“Oh, we ain’t ready for you yet. We haven’t had the air conditioning on.”
This went on for a week.
I’ve flown over from Britain, I’ve been sitting in a fucking hotel in Miami for a week, enjoying the beach and all that, but I want to look at records…
Now eventually I phoned her and
“Ok, you come over now. We’re ready. You come over to the house, here’s the address.”
So I go to the house and the door opened and this old lady says: “You’re the boy from England? Well, come in. Welcome to our fine estate.”
So I go in and the son is lying on the sofa, passed out, with a bottle of fucking Whiskey in his hand.
“Never mind him. He’s taking it bad since his poppa died. He’s been drinking. We’ll take you to the warehouse soon. Would you like a soda?”
“Oh, yes, please. Can I have a Coca Cola, please?”
So she goes away and comes back with a fucking shotgun.
“You try and steal any records boy, I’ll blow your fucking bowels off. We know what you fuckers do. You throw them out the window and hide them and come and get them later. Well, we got dogs. We got dogs! You ain’t gonna steal nothing!”
“I’m not gonna steal fuck all! I just want to buy some records.”
“Right! Well, you remember that! I’m taking my gun with me. Here’s your soda.”
So I get into the car with her and we drive to the warehouse and it was a fucking great big warehouse. Sweltering heat. And there were guard dogs, about five wild rabid dogs running around the warehouse in case anyone tried to steal records. So we go in and she’s got a pistol with her. She’s about sixty-five years old and she’s got a pistol!
“Here you go now. And don’t go downstairs. Downstairs is where the good records are. Stuff you want is upstairs.”
There were two floors. Downstairs, I sussed out, was all original Suns, like Elvis and all that, and that was a lot of money then and is a lot of money now. There was a lot of rare stuff. Ten inches, 78s, 45s – original 50s stuff. Worth a fortune. The toilet was next to them. So upstairs I go and there has been no fucking air conditioning on at all.
I was there for about three or four days. One time I went for a shit. She came with me. This is true! I’m sitting, having a shit there and she’s sitting here with a gun on her lap and the Elvis Presley records are behind us. And then, maybe a day later or that night, I’m upstairs digging through these cardboard boxes and this fucking great big thing goes “wishhh” up my arm and I think “fuck me, it’s a scorpion!” And she wakes up, the gun comes up and I think I’m gonna die. But, no, I didn’t die.
Anyway, three days later she gives me a plastic basket to put my records in and there were only about eight records.
“You ain’t buying many records. What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, have you had someone from Britain through here recently?”
„Well yeah, we had that Mark Dobson (which is Butch the top Northern DJ and Tim Ashibendi (who was a big dealer back then) through here just a week ago.
“A shit! Was that when I was phoning up?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to tell you that. And you know, we’ve been dealing with that Tim Ashibendi on the mail for almost ten years. We’ve invited him over here out of the goodness of our heart. And not once, not once, did he have the decency to tell us that he was a nigger! If we had known that he was a nigger, we wouldn’t have had him here. We don’t have niggers in these parts.”
So we go back to the house and I’ve got my basket. The son has woken up.
“How much do you want to pay for these records?”
“Three dollars each.”
Her wig comes off, bangs onto the floor; she runs into the kitchen, comes back with the shotgun.
“I ain’t working my fanny off for no fucking three dollars a record!”
The son stands up, punches her, knocks his mother out.
“I’m really sorry, sir! I’m really sorry! I hope my mother has not given you a bad impression of our fine estate. Look, these you can have for three dollars each but this, this one, I want twenty dollars for. I know that one is a rare record in your country.”
“Oh, thanks very much mate!”
And I shoot off out. That was it.
I wasn’t into funk at that time, I just was into Northern. And when I met DJ Shadow which was about fifteen years later, and I was just yapping to him about record hunting stories, he was like:
“Fucking hell, the worst one I had was – I went to this couple that was a mother and her son in Miami and she was mad.”
“Was that Richard and Edna Miner?”
“Did you get anything?”
“Yeah, I got thousands of great funk records!”
The white Al Williams
I suppose this was one of the best finds I ever had. Soul Jazz phoned me up one day.
“Keb, we’ve got an old guy in here and he’s wanting to sell us some records but they’re all 45s and we’re not interested because we just buy albums. We’ve told him that you might be interested.”
So I got his number and I called him and asked what he was selling.
“Oh, it’s all American black music. Atlantic, Motown, Stax…”
“Alright mate, I’m not interested.”
“I’ve got some other stuff, smaller labels, too.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I used to live in Detroit in 1960. I used to hang out with the Detroit Emeralds and go on tour with them and I picked up a lot of promotional records…”
“Oh? I’m coming over!”
So I was thinking, he lived in Detroit in the 60s, he probably has the white copy of Gwen Owens which nobody has ever seen. It’s now three to four thousand pound a copy, for the normal copies. Nobody had ever seen the white copy but the record label told the people that there were white copies made for the radio stations. So I’m going over to this guy’s house, my imagination is like “fucking hell, white Al Williams, white Gwen Owens…” I arrived at his house and it was an old guy, about 65, something like that. We had a coffee and he laid out the records on the floor just like that.
I plowed through them all. Nothing! There was absolutely nothing that I wanted! It was all run of the mill soul stuff. There were a few records worth 20 or 30 quid but I already had them. Then he comes back and I said “sorry mate, there’s nothing really there for me. I’m after more obscure stuff.”
“I’m sorry about that, I’ll make you another cup of coffee before you go.”
I had been there five hours going through the fucking lot…
But then he said “oh, I do have another box upstairs… That’s my favourites though. If there’s anything you want in there just let me know.”
It’s like Eddie Bo… and fucking James Brown… and the white Al Williams. I was like “holy fuck!” I started shaking. So I phoned up Manship and asked him “has anyone bootlegged Al Williams?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah”
“Did they do it on a white label?”
“No, what’s the point? There haven’t been any white copies found yet.”
“Really? I’ve got one in my hand.”
“Oh fucking hell, Keb, I’ll give you 3000 pounds.”
“Ok, I’ll speak to you later.”
Before the guy came back, I picked out the Al Williams and I just picked out two records which were shit. Like Eddie Bo, fucking Hook and Sling or something. Well, not shit, but, you know, they’re worth nothing. So he comes back, I put the records on the table and say “I want these two definitely and this one, I don’t know this one, is it any good?”
“Oh, it’s very nice.”
“Could I have a listen?”
He put on the other side, the slow side.
“That’s quite nice, what’s the other side like?”
So he put the side on that everyone wants and I was trying to resist singing the words, it’s like an anthem! And he’s like “oh yeah, that’s very good!”
“I tell you what, I really like those records. I will give you twenty pounds each for them.”
“That much?! Oh well, if that’s the case, there you go. Good god! Sixty pounds for three records, oh that was a good day!”
He’s happy as fuck and I feel sorry for the poor fucker… I run home, and straight up to John Manship’s the next day.
“I’ll give you 3000 pounds swaps for the Al Willams. Thank you very much!”
And that was that. That was quite a thrill and it was quite funny, because that was the end, there was nothing to be found and then… “Christ! What the hell is it doing in here with all this shit? “