An Interview with Larry Jaffee

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As a “writer” and “journalist,” I’ve got people I admire. These things are all a matter of taste, really. It comes down to what suites you. In my case, I’ve always liked the Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Lester Bangs types. There is something about renegade anti-heroes that are wholly fascinating to me. And then there is the side of me that appreciates true professionalism and consistency in one’s craft. The type of writer and journalist that has honed their style in such a way that each letter of each word carries immense weight. In essence, their opinions matter. For me, Larry Jaffee is one of those writers. Larry’s body of work, his taste, his passion and his ethics truly speak to me. Within the depths of his words resides a man with good taste and solid morals.

Larry has run the proverbial gamut in terms of his career as a journalist as well as in his role as a professional appreciator of music (I will forever thank Nick Hornby for that line). These days, he’s championing the underdog format (vinyl) through his work with Making Vinyl (conference director) and by writing the official book on Record Store Day (I wait with baited breath for that book, truly). And yeah, it’s pretty solid that Larry is from Long Island, and like me, he had the self-inflicted task of having to rebuild a beloved record collection. We as human beings enjoy relating to one another. I am no different, I suppose. Normally, I would link up Larry’s website and work here, but he’s been kind enough to do so toward the bottom of this interview, so be sure to hit each and every one of those links. Oh, and enjoy this interview with Larry along the way. Cheers.

Andrew:
Larry, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?

Larry:
Last year started out weird for me; my dad’s funeral was on Jan. 3, 2020. I spent the next few months cleaning out his house, where I grew up as a teenager, and managing his estate. I moved back to Manhattan in early June. I have no doubt my record collection and mail order got me through the ordeal once I started working from home in early March. I also teach journalism to college students.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Larry:
I grew up listening to AM radio, and fell under the spell of the British Invasion. I bought my first cassette at 13; it was the London Chuck Berry Sessions with “My Ding-a-Ling.” I started buying records a year later at 14, with a 99-cent cutout of Introducing the Beatles being the first purchase, and soon thereafter the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks. My orthodontist used to play WNEW-FM so I learned about Progressive Rock like Traffic. When I was 16 or 17, I saw Rod Stewart & The Faces at the Nassau Coliseum, one of their last gigs. My forged press pass didn’t get me backstage. I was vocalist in a garage band that never made it out of a friend’s living room. I soon thereafter managed the band of friends of mine from Commack High School, who I hired for a high school dance at Kings Park High School. They let me sing background guest vocals on a few songs like Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and Bowie’s “Cracked Actor.” I booked gigs for them in Long Island bars from Northport to Selden, even though we were all underaged.

Andrew:
As a writer, who have been some of your greatest influences? How did you go about finding your own unique voice?

Larry:
As a teenager, I had subscriptions to Circus, Creem, and Rolling Stone. I remember writing a letter to Lester Bangs, complaining about a review. He never responded. I was insanely jealous of Cameron Crowe writing for Rolling Stone and touring with Led Zeppelin, although I never liked Led Zeppelin. In fact, when I was in college at Hofstra University and met backstage at My Father’s Place a personal hero, Ian Hunter, in 1978, I told him he had no idea how difficult it was being in a high school where everyone was listening to Led Zeppelin and your favorite band is Mott the Hoople (for whom I traveled to London to see the original 2009 lineup because I missed their ’74 Broadway tour). When I look back at some of my early writing for the Hofstra Chronicle, I cringe, such as an Eagles concert review, in which I ended it by writing, “Oh man, what a peaceful easy feeling.” On the other hand, for Good Times (my first professional review) I trashed a Jerry Garcia solo show at Stony Brook, and stand by every word, but got hate mail from Deadheads. I also covered Sid Vicious’s murder trial for a fanzine, and The Guardian newspaper in the UK ran that piece in 2013 through my association with Rock’s Backpages. I was alone in the elevator with Sid and his lawyer, who wouldn’t let him answer the question whether he heard the new Clash album Give ‘Em Enough Rope had just come out.  My inexperience as a writer left that rich detail out of the piece, which was very newsy. Sid was clearly going through heroin withdrawal, and I wasn’t shocked he overdosed soon thereafter. In 2017, I met my second (Steve Jones) and third (John Lydon) Sex Pistols.

Andrew:
Over the years, you’ve written for/been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Adweek and more. Looking back, what has it been like having the opportunity to see your words play a role in shaping the minds and opinions of these flagship publications readers?

Larry:
With the exception of Billboard, my writing for those publications was not about music. The subjects of my journalism has always been eclectic. I interviewed Ed Asner for Rolling Stone in late 1982. My editor was on the verge of getting me a full-time job there but then quit, and the piece was knocked down to 3/4 of a page from the planned 3-to 4-page spread. However, it was a thrill to learn that my Asner tapes were transcribed right before Hunter Thompson’s. I try to be a storyteller with my music writing; not sure how much I shape opinions because I don’t have a regular gig. I am pretty selective in what I write about, and would rather pass than write a negative review of an artist.

Andrew:
My understanding is you have been the editor-in-chief of several magazines and websites which covered both the media and the marketing business, but also diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Those are pretty diverse topics. Focusing in on the inclusion and diversity in the workplace- why was that something that was important for you personally to be a part of? Do you feel we’ve progressed in regards to those longstanding issues? If not, how do we push to get better?

Larry:
These are trying times for the media business. A good example of diversity is how Making Vinyl realized we screwed up the first year by not having enough women and minorities represented as speakers. We’ve made some strides but still have a ways to go.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about your work in the field of music a bit more. You edited a CD/DVD trade mag called Medialine from 1998-2005. How did you get the gig there? I actually just got back into CDs. They’re the next boom waiting to happen, I think.

Larry:
In the late 1990s, you still could get a job through answering a classified in the New York Times. That’s how I landed the Medialine gig, which was the closest I’ve had to a full-time job in the entertainment industry. I put Lou Reed on the cover and got to meet my hero after 25 years of trying. I was brainwashed into thinking CDs were better than vinyl. I still maintain a huge CD collection that I regularly listen to when I can’t get up every 20 minutes to lift the record on my manual turntable. Medialine was a great eight-year run. I also ran our DVD conference in Hollywood and packaging competition, which we resurrected with Making Vinyl in 2017.

Andrew:
You’ve got a history in PR as well, right? And you used to stock jukeboxes and radio stations with 45’s. Looking back, what did those experiences mean to you? How did they shape the writer and professional appreciator of music that you were to become?

Larry:
In college, I connected with a band called Wowii that was popular in the tristate area. I furnished jukeboxes with their singles. I remember once being handed a bag of money at a bar in Huntington Station after meeting the manager. I managed to get the record played on WPIX-FM by Jim Kerr, who is still going strong at Q104. Wowii was signed to Elektra and the album, which was great, was permanently shelved. We’re trying to get back the rights 40 years later. Knowing what an editor needs makes me a better publicist. But I do PR mostly when writing opportunities slow down, which luckily hasn’t been the case in the past five years or so.

Andrew:
My understanding is you’re working on a book associated with and/or about RSD? Is that true? Tell us about it. You’re a vinyl guy, so, on the subject of RSD- what are your honest thoughts? Is it killing indie shops?

Larry:
Yes, I am about a halfway through writing the official book about Record Store Day’s evolution. It’s an amazing opportunity to set the record straight and correct misconceptions about how it came about, and how it’s run. To the contrary, I have no doubt RSD saved indie stores. When I first started working on the book in October, I thought it was all about the exclusive product. I was wrong; it’s about the rebirth of the record store culture of my youth. Indie stores that sell only used records can still be part of RSD without ordering the limited-edition releases. Our aim is to have the book out by Record Store Day this June.

Andrew:
You’re also a Long Island guy, I am too, and I think we have a mutual friend in Tim over at Record Reserve. That being said, what are some of your favorite spots to dig for vinyl?

Larry:
I used to spell Tim about once a month at Record Reserve, which was funny since I could never get a job at a record store when I was a teenager. In my recent eight years back on Long Island, I’d regularly hit Looney Tunes, Mr. Cheapos, Infinity, and High Fidelity. On RSD, I spread the money around. Now that I’m back in the city, it’s nice having a big store like Rough Trade in Brooklyn, but also Rock & Soul, Generation Records, Stranded, and Cinder Block, which turned out to be just 20 blocks away from where I live in Washington Heights. 

Home | Mysite

Andrew:
You’re the conference director for Making Vinyl. Tell us more about the conference and how you became associated with it. What are your goals there?

Larry:
I first pitched Bryan Ekus on doing a vinyl conference in 2012, two years after I stupidly sold most of my 4,000-LP collection and at least 3,000 CDs and 2,000 DVDs in a moment of downsizing/digitizing madness. (I’ve since rebuilt it and then some, lol, thanks to Tim.) Five years after I first brought up the vinyl comeback to Bryan, whom I knew from my Medialine days, he surprised me that we were going to do it the following fall. Earlier in the year, Jack White had opened Third Man Pressing, so in all likelihood, doing it earlier probably would have been too much, too soon. Although we took a leap of faith, if you build it, they will come. We knew of about 7 new facilities who were eager to share what they learned. We also had a half dozen established plants like United, Rainbo, and overseas MPO, Optimal, and GZ, explain why they never stopped pressing. What we didn’t know was another 7 startups in the audience were planning to be open in the next year. The same thing happened in 2018 and 2019. Our goal is to provide a networking platform for the reborn vinyl industry. We did our first virtual event this past December, following four successful events, twice in Detroit, Berlin, and Los Angeles.  We just started working with Deloitte in getting an accurate pulse of the market, which has been severely underreported.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of the industry a bit. What are a few things you would like to see change for the betterment of both the fans and artists alike?

Larry:
Too often not enough care is being put into packaging – reissues must get liner notes that improve on the original release – and mastering. I just bought a brand-new Pro-ject turntable, and it’s amazing how some brand-new records sound far inferior to the vintage Bowie from the 1970s or Stax or Ray Charles in the 1960s. If it is at all possible, I’d like to see vinyl prices come down. That’s what helped knock off the CD as the most popular format. Also, you can’t find any place to buy them any more, except online. My RSD book explains how without the CD, the vinyl comeback probably would have not happened.

Andrew:
Opinion question. In a world dominated by capitalism and social media, can indie artists really, truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Larry:
I think musicians have more access to DIY than ever. Firstly, the music must be good and unique, no matter the genre. Where’s the hook? And I’m not implying everything has to be commercial. Critics’ favorites rarely sell. Social media is key for artists to know who their audience are. I used to write about direct marketing in the 1980s and 1990s. Never under-estimate the value of a database and creative copy to get consumers to act. I think people are open to new sounds.  

Andrew:
Are you only into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music? How big is your collection these days?

Larry:
I never gave up my 45s or cassettes. I only had a few 8-tracks, never got into reel-to-reels. My grown kids think I’m a hoarder. But they know how important music’s to me, and my 22-year-old daughter apparently caught the vinyl-collecting gene. The RSD book is dedicated to her. Spotify is an amazing tool for discovery. If I like an album I hear there first, I buy the record. Shazam, by the way, is the world’s most useful app. Along with the stores mentioned, I frequent Discogs and other e-commerce destinations.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most you and why?

Larry:
Velvet Underground & Nico: Showed me that Rock content can be more than silly love songs.

Patti Smith – Horses: Loved it from the first line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins.” Found the improvisations incredibly sexy and transformative. That Lenny Kaye became a good friend is just gravy.

Nick Drake – Bryter Layter: I recently realized “Northern Sky” is my all-time favorite song. All of Nick’s music is soothing. Tragic he didn’t live to see how many people were touched.

The The – Soul Mining: I’ve returned to this album several times a year since its release in 1983. Hope Matt Johnson is writing some new material because we need his voice of reason more than ever.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Larry:
Bob Dylan – I go through cycles with him. His cinematic writing on Blood on the Tracks changed my life. That he was able to pull that genius out at 79 years old for Rough & Rowdy Ways demonstrates, as Ian Hunter once explained to me, that Dylan operates on a different plane than everyone else.

Gil Scott-Heron – I have on vinyl every official album. The first LP, The First Minute of a New Day, was purchased as a $1.99 cutout when I was in college. I had the good fortune to interview Gil in 1986, and again saw him at a 2010 concert the year before he passed. His music put into perspective my white privilege. Black Lives Matter!

Ray Charles – He could have sung the phone book and it would have sounded profound. His singing, phrasing and piano playing seamlessly jumps genres. Everyone should hear before they die Ray’s duet with Willie Nelson on “It Was A Very Good Year,” and you’ll hear what I mean.

Lou Reed – I don’t love everything he did in his entire career, but at least two-thirds of his albums are first-rate.

Gil Evans – I’m still a neophyte in relation to Jazz, but his arrangements, especially on The Individualism of Gil Evans and the Sweet Basil concerts in 1986, showed me that music can take you mentally to other places. I saw him lead his orchestra at Sweet Basil towards the end of his life.

David Bowie – I didn’t realize how much he meant to me until after he died, and for getting people to open their minds to nonconformity, especially regarding gender. “Life On Mars” and “Heroes” are my favorite Bowie songs.

The Beatles/John Lennon: I’d be remiss not giving them a mention because they really launched this business. I prefer their middle period (e.g., Rubber Soul & Revolver). In 1979, an alternative paper in the Village wanted me to interview John, my favorite Beatle. My exact response: “You have this set up?” The editor replied, “No that’s your job,” and I dropped off a hand written note at The Dakota, inviting him to come to the bank where I worked that summer to open new accounts and I’d get him a free gift. He was still in his house husband mode raising Sean, and didn’t reemerge until over a year later. In ’93, I met Paul McCartney (he gladly accepted a copy of the EastEnders fanzine I published; he and Linda were purportedly fans) backstage at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I interrupted his conversation with Yoko, who I rudely ignored and I regret my behavior to this day. She gave Paul that day the cassette containing the “Free As a Bird” demo. In ’98, I did an interview via fax with Yoko for Medialine about the Lennon CD boxed set she oversaw. I assume she didn’t know I was that same jerk. Yoko, I’m sorry.

Nina Simone – The first time I heard “Four Women,” I was put forever under her spell. I had the good fortune to see her perform once in London. A personalized autograph of Nina that a friend procured for me is a prized possession. Black Lives Matter!

Andrew:
Last question. You obviously love music, as well as writing, and you’ve done an incredible job fusing the two together. So, what does music mean to you? How important of a role has it played in your life in general?

Larry:
As I age – I’ll be 63 in April – I realized that I must do what makes me most happy, and that is music. Some of my other writing pays much better, such as about cybersecurity, from which I was recently laid off. But music is what makes me tick and feel most fulfilled.

This page on my website does a good job providing an overview of my music business background and writing: https://www.larryjaffee.com/music-industry-observer. I also have a selective library of articles and interviews at https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/larry-jaffee. Here’s some music writing published in the past year: 

  • Liner notes for a 1957 live album from ORG Music by blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, my vinyl debut this past summer: https://tinyurl.com/y3uljvnh
  • My virtual presentation on how the vinyl comeback is the most improbable development of the 21st century, defying all technological, economic and ecological logic for the university where I teach journalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7yK51SxgRM

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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