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The Library of Congress is adding to its collection what will likely be a treasure trove for music fans. Former music executive Joe Smith has donated a collection of interviews with 200 music industry icons that he recorded for his 1988 book Off The Record.
According to the Library of Congress, Smith, who was president of Capitol Records/EMI when he undertook the Herculean feat, took two years to record 238 hours of interviews with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Billy Joel, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Sting, Dick Clark, Paul Simon and other music legends. He spanned all genres, from rock ‘n’ roll, folk and heavy metal to country-western and big-band.
Smith, who once headed Warner Bros. Records, Elektra/Asylum and finally Capitol, said that he was asked by legendary producer John Hammond, Sr. to interview all these icons for a book and record them all before they died and were no longer able to tell their amazing stories. Smith, 84, told The Los Angeles Times how the book came together.
“So we’re talking -- it was around the time that Count Basie and somebody else died,” Smith told the LA Times. “I said, ‘What a shame. I don’t know if anybody ever got them on tape. I know they’ve done interviews, but did anybody actually get them [talking] on tape?’ And [Hammond] sat up in bed, and he said, ‘You must do that!’ Get it all -- you know the ones from the past, you know the ones from today.’ And he says, ‘You MUST do this!’”
“The Joe Smith Collection is an invaluable addition to the Library’s comprehensive collection of recorded sound," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a statement Monday. "These frank and poignant oral histories of many of the nation’s musical icons give us unique insights into them as artists, entertainers and human beings. The world knows these great musicians through their songs, but Joe Smith has provided us an intimate window into their lives through their own words.”
The Library has digitized some of the recordings, which will be accessible at its Capitol Hill reading room. Later this year, the Library will have some of the recordings available for streaming at its website.