Nathan Salsburg '00 is nominated for Best Album Notes at the 56th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday.

Hoarder’s record collection leads to Grammy nomination for Nathan Salsburg '00

January 21, 2014

A collection of dumpster-bound 78 RPM records may be Nathan Salsburg’s ’00 ticket to a Grammy later this month.

Salsburg is nominated for best album notes for the introduction he wrote for the compilation of old-time country music, “Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923-1936.”

Work Hard Album Cover“Basically I got a call from a friend who had a friend who had a friend who ran a dumpster company,” Salsburg says. “He knew I was interested in old records and thought I should take a look at these 78’s that were found at this job on the south side of Louisville.

“I went over and started looking over at some of the boxes of records,” he says. “The more I looked the rarer the records got, and I got very worked up.”

Salsburg has been getting “worked up” about old-time country music since he was a student at Earlham, where he was a one-time music director at WECI-FM, the campus’ student-run radio station.

“My first time ever hearing a 1920s country record was on a reissue LP at WECI,” he says. “I was familiar with a little bluegrass, and my father was a folkie, getting me into the revival stuff of the 1960s, but I hadn’t heard any of those earlier records. Earlham gave me my first access to that era of music.”

Now the collection of 3,200 vintage records, owned by the late Don Wahle, is his opportunity to attend “Music’s Biggest Night” and receive international notoriety. The 56th annual awards ceremony begins at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The show airs on CBS, but the Best Music Notes Category will not be televised.

“I was lucky to have the chance to tell Don Wahle’s story a little bit — what little there is of it,” Salsburg says of the project.

“There are no personal details available about his life,” he says. “I don’t know what he looked like or what he did for a living. I know nothing about him, other than he collected records from the late 1950s to the 1980s. He just hoarded them.”

The project took two years to complete. Beginning in March 2010, he cleaned, indexed, and digitized the recordings, selecting several dozen for release on the compilation.

The three volumes, ultimately released by the San Francisco-based Tompkins Square label, feature songs about labor and occupation, hardship and loss, dance tunes, comic numbers, hymns and sacred pieces.

He says the only thing missing about the nomination is an acknowledgement of the three co-writers – Sarah Bryan, Amanda Petrusich, and John Jeremiah Sullivan – of the project who wrote accompanying essays to the liner notes included in the compilation’s booklet.

The Grammy nomination is not Salsburg’s only connection to music. He makes a living as a guitarist and as curator of Alan Lomax Archive of folk music.

Lomax spent six decades working to promote knowledge and appreciation of the world’s folk music, according to the Association for Cultural Equity, the custodian of the archives and Salsburg’s employer.

In 1933, Lomax and his father, John Avery Lomax, launched an effort to expand the holdings of recorded traditional music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Over the next seven decades, Alan Lomax gathered thousands of field recordings throughout America as well as in throughout the British Isles, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Morocco, and the Caribbean, from the Bahamas to Trinidad.

While at Earlham, Salsburg says he missed the opportunity to learn about another collection of music history. As the home of Gennett Records, Richmond is known as one of the birthplaces of recorded jazz music. The record label was most famous in the 1920s when iconic blues, jazz, country, and other artists recorded in the city.

“The irony was not knowing it was there,” Salsburg says of his days as a student. “Richmond is under appreciated as a site not just for the recording of this kind of music, but as a regular stop on the Vaudeville and barn-dance circuits for the performers of it.”

Nominees for Best Album Notes

  • Afro Blue Impressions (Remastered & Expanded), Neil Tesser, album notes writer (John Coltrane)

  • Call It Art 1964-1965, Ben Young, album notes writer (New York Art Quartet)

  • Electric Music For The Mind & Body, Alec Palao, album notes writer (Country Joe & The Fish)

  • Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps, Jonathan Cott, album notes writer (Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic)

  • 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story, Sean Wilentz, album notes writer (Various Artists)

  • Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923-1936, Nathan Salsburg, album notes writer (Various Artists)

 — EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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