Entertainment & Arts

Jack White releases obscure blues records for 'no profit'

Jack White
Jack White released his first solo album Blunderbuss last year

Jack White says he will make no profit by releasing a huge catalogue of pre-war and country blues on his own record label.

The former White Stripes frontman said his aim was to make the rare recordings accessible for everyone.

"It's very important to American history and also to the history of the world," he told BBC 6 Music.

The back catalogue of more than 25,000 tracks is owned by Document records, a tiny Scottish independent Blues label.

White intends to re-issue them all, on vinyl, via his company Third Man Records.

The Document label was set up in Austria in 1986, but is now owned by husband and wife Gary and Gillian Atkinson, who run it from Bladnoch in Scotland.

Mr Atkinson said the project came about when White emailed them at home.

"There's over 25,000 recordings," he explained, and White wants to set about "releasing the full recorded works [in] chronological order. It's not a project for the faint-hearted."

The US musician became a fan of country and pre-war blues after being introduced to the genre as a teenager, thanks to a clutch of Document Records releases.

"I had been looking for Blues records when I was a teenager and the older ones seemed to have been kinda swallowed up," he explained to 6 Music's Elizabeth Alker.

"They were few and far between and the 78s were non-existent."

"At one point in Detroit a whole Blues collection was dropped off at this vintage record store, so that's when I first bought a whole batch of Document records - Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey, Roosevelt Sykes… I'd never seen those records on vinyl before."

White believes the importance of the vast back catalogue, which includes recordings by Mississippi Blues artist Charley Patton - regarded as the founder of the Delta Blues - cannot be underestimated.

"It's this amazing time period where lots of different things came together," he said.

"The Depression's hitting, newly-started record companies are trying to sell records to urban people, and then they decided 'Why don't we sell records to black people in the south too? We need to record the music that they like'.

"So they brought a lot of these Blues musicians up to Chicago and Wisconsin to record and they were recording the first moments of modern music.

"This was the first time in history that a single person was writing a song about themselves and speaking to the world by themselves. A man with a guitar or a woman singing by herself a cappella.

"A lot of these records were just ignored once more popular music came along in the '40s. The Big Band era started and the war started and people kinda forgot about a lot of these Blues musicians.

"Those musicians had become janitors, going back to farming, and [the record companies] had to go down to see if they could still discover these people."

White admitted some of the material was an acquired taste, which even he had difficulty warming to initially.

"When I first heard Charley Patton I didn't like it - I didn't like it 'til the third time I listened to it and then it just exploded for me and I'm in love with the man and everything he wrote.

"So it's a harder sell if you're trying to run a record company that wants to turn a profit

"At Third Man Records, we don't really care. We just want to create things that we want to see exist and if it breaks even, we're lucky - if not, it doesn't really matter."

All of the recordings will be re-released on remastered vinyl, with White adding: "I think it's the most reverential format because you're very involved, you're dropping the needle yourself, you're part of the mechanics of the music.

"When we pop this iPod on we don't really see any moving parts, so it's not very romantic to us, it just becomes a machine, like a microwave or something. You don't really know why it's working, you just know when the food's hot."

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