Digging for Victory: The Secret Room in New Jersey
Mark O’Shaughnessy recalls a record-collecting trip to New Jersey with a roomful of secrets that still gives him the night terrors…
Around 1998 or 1999, New York City and New Jersey seemed particularly successful destinations for my digging partners and me; I can recall going to NYC and staying in the self-same YMCA in Midtown five times in the same year. It was on one such NYC/NJ trip that we went on a digging episode that still gives me cold sweats whenever I think about it. Talk about missed opportunities…
My digging buddy on this trip (worldrenowned Latin/jazz/Tropicália expert Mark Wimmers – hi Mark…) and I had spent this particular day in and around Princeton in New Jersey, trawling for five hours in the bins at the long-established Princeton Record Exchange and a few other spots in the town. Princeton is a must-visit destination on any NJ expedition. However, on this particular dig, the 7″s were thin on the ground… and this was our last day in the city.
Out came Mark’s closely guarded little black book of contacts. “I’ve got an idea,” he announced. “Let’s call Joe in Teaneck”. While we were waiting for Joe to pick us up in his flatbed truck, Mark explained to me how Joe used to be a big cheese on the NYC/NJ 7″ dealers’ circuit in the 80s, but was now semi-retired – and he still had a lot of 45s in his basement. Bring it on!
We arrived at Joe’s wooden bungalow, with a basement downstairs. Joe just wanted to get back to the ballgame on TV: he simply moved the fake tigerskin rug on the floor aside and pulled up the trap door. “You guys want cold drinks?” he asked nonchalantly. Boy did we, the day was burning hot, mid-June. Enormous jugs of ice-cold Kool-Aid were handed over by Joe’s equally semi-mute wife and down we went, jugs and all.
You wouldn’t believe the size of this space, it must have been 100 square metres. We had a technique of starting at opposite sides of the room and working towards one another, then crossing over to ensure the other hadn’t missed any gold. This worked well, as Mark and I had different areas of knowledge.
Six solid hours went by and the numbers were pretty good. As I said, Joe was semi-retired and his interest was waning. I can distinctly recall unearthing two absolute 7″ gems on that day: Bobby Reed’s The Time Is Right For Love, Bell (demo) and Carl Hall’s What About You, Columbia (issue), both highly prized Northern Soul bangers.
Mark was pulling out some lovely Latin 45s on Tico, Fania and Cotique – no major killers, but definitely some extremely saleable stock.
By about 9pm, we were flagging and my head was spinning. We’d been in this airless aircra hanger since before 3pm and I reckon around 450 very solid 1970s soul/funk/Latin/jazz 45s had been pulled out – all $1 a pop.
We gathered our spoils, paid Joe in hard currency and made sure we hadn’t left anything behind. I peered around a few darkening corners and suddenly spotted another doorway, one we hadn’t previously spotted because Joe had piled up a year’s supply of firewood in front of it. I shouted out: “What’s in here, Joe?”. “That’s my 50s and 60s room,” Joe yelled back. “Nobody’s even been in there for around 15 years.” This guy actually had a whole room dedicated to 50s and 60s 7″s! I managed to push the door back a couple of inches and somehow jammed my head into the small gap to get a look at what was in there (a bit like Jack Nicholson’s famous ‘Here’s Johnny’ scene in The Shining). Right before my eyes were literally thousands and thousands of 7″ singles, all piled up horizontally, all out of their sleeves and stretching out as far as the eye could see, right into the gathering gloom. I guestimated that there were around 100,000 7″s in that room. God only knows what we would have found in there – judging by the 1970s area, it would’ve been a stupendous hit.
But it wasn’t to be. Joe still had more baseball he wanted to watch and his wife was about ready to shout down for what must have been the 10th time. “Joe, are those English guys STILL here?” So – we had to go, and leave the room untouched, as painful as it was. We were flying out of JFK the next afternoon. Time to go back to the Midtown Y and pack up our finds to be shipped back to Blighty. I still wake up sweating and screaming about what was in that room…