Photo courtesy of Bob Merlis
More than 25 years ago, retired music industry executive Joe Smith (pictured) interviewed more than 200 celebrated singers, musicians and industry icons about their lives, music, experiences and contemporaries. In June 2012, Smith donated his collection of recordings to the Library of Congress, offering oral histories covering 50 years of popular music, nationally and internationally. On Wednesday, November 28, the Library made Smith’s unedited recordings available for listening free to the public on its Website.
While president of Capitol Records/EMI, Smith recorded 238 hours of interviews over two years, excerpts of which he compiled and presented in his book, Off the Record, published in 1988 by Warner Books . These candid and unabridged interviews have been digitized by the Library and initially are accessible in its Recorded Sound Research Center.
“One of the great things about the interviews is how relaxed many of them are,” says Matt Barton, the Library’s recorded sound curator. “They’re not on camera and they’re talking to someone who’s very much a colleague and a peer, if not a musical artist. The tone is very different.”
Photo courtesy of James J. Kriegsmann
The first group of recordings posted online comprises 25 interviews, which includeTony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and Linda Rondstadt. The Library of Congress states that it will add more recordings from Smith’s collection over time.
Regarding the sound quality of these recordings, the Library of Congress states: “Joe Smith made the recordings…as an audio notebook that was primarily intended to allow him to transcribe the interviews. He recorded on a cassette recorder, not professional recording equipment. As such, you may notice distortion, dropouts, and uneven levels in this audio. Occasionally speakers are off mic. It has been minimally processed to allow the audio to be preserved in a state as close to that in which it was received.”
The recordings in the Joe Smith Collection are housed in the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va., a state-of-the-art facility. The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division’s collections include nearly 3 million sound recordings.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution.
The Joe Smith Collection at the Library of Congress is at loc.gov/rr/record/joesmith.