Torrid Tales from the wild world of Norton Records

Have you heard Hasil Adkins? He's got a write-up here. Guy lived his life in a rundown home in rural West Virginia. As a kid, he thought artists on the radio played all the instruments, all at once, and developed himself into one-man rockabilly band. He played (armed) at tough clubs, made cardboard records with a Presto Recorder, and once won a local TV contest, playing his song "Chicken Walk" while a friend danced in a skeleton costume.

Or "Proto punk heathens the Figures of Light" who, "recorded just one 45... in 1972. One show involved them smashing 15 TV sets to sonic screeching guitar. The entire audience went running out of the auditorium."

A few people might remember Esquerita, who tried to out-wig Little Richard and find Rock 'N' Roll fame. He succeeded at the former and arguably failed at the latter. He actually worked with Little Richard-- who says he would have continued to do so if he "wasn't so crazy." Norton rediscovered him and brought him back into a kind of limelight.


The Kicksville Confidential riff: Billy Miller tells the tale of how he and Miriam Linna founded Kicks Magazine and later, Norton Records, and then relates the numerous stories of the people they rediscovered, released, and rereleased. Of course they decided to do it in comic-book form. Avi Spivak illustrates. Spivak's art, like the Norton oeuvre, recalls the edge and alt-culture of decades past, while remaining contemporary. His cover for issue #1 (the only issue, thus far) would stand out in anyone's collection.

Few could match the moronic majesty of the Ready Men's "Shortnin' Bread."

Linna had been the first drummer for The Cramps and later did a magazine called Flaming Groovies. Miller dealt in rare records and related objects. They met at a record show and founded Kicks in 1979, which lasted until 1992. Outlier musician Hasil Adkins, whom they'd featured, began sending them tapes and acetates and such. They decided to introduce him to a broader audience, and released their first record under the Norton label in 1986.

Mike tore labels off records and would announce them under fictitious names.

The more well-known Rhino Records specializes in hard-to-find rereleases and compilations, ranging from well-known classic rock oldies to novelty acts to forgotten gems. Norton by contrast, tends to release now-forgotten artists and rarities by established ones-- rockabilly and garage rock and punk in particular-- obscure musicians with cult followings, and idiosyncratic eccentrics who in many cases never had a significant pop presence. Some of these performers have stories to tell. Kicksville Confidential tells them. They've rediscovered people like Andre Williams, who worked for and was regularly fired from Motown, collaborated with Ike Turner, and landed on the streets. He became a Norton recording star for a spell, before moving onto "penning suave urban fiction." Others had checked out by the time Norton came around-- a few violently-- but their records found a second life. Norton counts among their artists "at least three murderers, the nation's number one art thief, the world's first wheelchair confined bad guy wrestling manager, a hillbilly who sings about the joys of chicken, cheese, and decapitation... an elephant thief, a convicted pornographer, at least a dozen guys who wear turbans for no apparent reason, one guy who claims to be from Saturn and another from Mars, and we haven't even gotten to Kim Fowley."

Bob Vidone's wife is "Queen Mary" in Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman."

Kicksville Confidential is a cluttered affair, as one might expect. Text flows around Spivak's engaging art. It works. As a bonus, an ad blends old-time comic-book novelty items ("XRay Specs!") with products by Norton artists. If the edge and eccentricity sometimes feels a bit forced, at least it's never a pose, and Miller's accounts make for fun reading, frenetic and infectious as an old rockabilly 45.

All quotations from Kicksville Confidential #1, 2011.

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