Since the dreary turns of madness on and after Nov 8th, I’ve been in a deep media blackout. No news, no commentary, no social media, no nuthin’ outside soothing penguin videos and obsessive fan theories regarding Westworld.
In this void, however, I did miss a sad passing last week. On Nov 13th, Billy Miller (no relation, whatsoever), co-founder and co-owner of Norton Records in Brooklyn died after a long illness. Billy, with his wife Miriam Linna ran the label and played in the killer kool band The A-Bones.
It would be hard to overstate the impact Norton Records has had on me and, by extension, Bloodshot.
If you don’t know Norton, then you must have consciously made the effort not to give a shit about the wild side of rock and roll; you must find yourself put off by oddballs, weirdos, psychos, and no-hit wonders that wander the hills and alleys of American rock and roll; you probably like your music all crisp, expertly played and immaculately produced. If this is you, move along. Norton has nothing for you.
For me, however, finding records by Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, Esquerita, Andre Williams and, wait for it…..King Uszniewicz & the Uszniewicz-tones (kings of 70’s De-troit bowling alley surf rock), was a great awakening. Holy shit, those records did, and do still, make the seeker-of-sleaze ears buzz with joy.
Back when I was cutting my baby teeth on college radio in Ann Arbor, anything with Norton on it meant “cool, I’ll play it!” Along with labels like Sub Pop, SST, Dischord, TwinTone, K, and so many other indies and regionals, I was learning lessons about label loyalty, a sonic vision, not being afraid to take chances and being PROUD that you like music most others do not. Mind you, at the time I didn’t know I was learning these lessons; I was just drinking 40oz’ers of Goebel’s beer—79 cents, don’t judge—and having my head opened up and filled with demented gems like “No More Hot Dogs” and “Rockin’ The Joint.” But, the Norton vibe took hold like a virus, and, baby, once you got it, you do NOT want to let it go.
Once, I got up the gumption to mail them a letter telling them about my show and Cramps fetish and they sent me a package of records to play!!! Hot damn, did I feel like BMOC with stax ‘o’ Vintage Voola, Hillbilly Wolf, Phantom Surfers, and Billy and Miriam’s band The A-Bones. Sure, none of the cool kids or pretty girls cared, but I felt like I was onto something. Or something was onto me.
After moving to Chicago, I got to see the A-Bones at Lounge Ax. Me, my roommate, and about 12 other people had one HELLUVA night. It’s raw and real, my friends. That’s all. And that’s enough.
Several years ago, during South By Southwest in Austin TX, I played hooky from my (at times) dispiriting duties and snuck over to the Norton showcase. Andre Williams was there, Dex Romweber too. And the A-Bones. Dang it was fun.
Afterwards, I sheepishly introduced myself to Billy, and with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker he pumped my hand and said/spit “Bloodshot! You guys got a cool label happenin'!” To this day, I don’t think I’ve been more deeply and internally satisfied by another label owner’s praise—hell, I was tickled he had even heard of us. (I demure adamantly being called a colleague—I prefer disciple.)
I love Norton Records. And, thus, by extension, I loved Billy Miller. Where one began and the other ended was impossible to determine, which speaks to the joy and passion one puts into a label such as Norton.
To Miriam and all the Norton Family, Bloodshot offers deep condolences and appreciation. We wish you strength and fond memories.
Let us all this holiday weekend take a moment to cherish the Loud Sound That Abounds and one of the drivers and true characters behind it.
With great and enduring admiration,