Monday, June 29, 2009

Bob Koester

Delmark Records began in St. Louis when Bob Koester was attending Saint Louis University in the 1950s and selling old 78 rpm records at his Blue Note store on DeBaliviere and Delmar Blvd. During the late-50s there was a return of interest to roots music and a rediscovering of the early blues artists. Many of those original artists were still alive thirty years after their recordings were made and in St. Louis, Koester found nearly all of the St. Louis bluesmen and women. He and local policeman and music fan Charlie O'Brien made it their hobby to track down anything they could about the names on the labels of the old phonograph records.

Delmark is the nation's oldest independent record label and Koester has received nearly all music-related awards one could hope for. He is one of a handful of nonperformers to have been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. 

Delmark has always been devoted to blues and jazz but those genres are indistinct categories today and recording older, less-commercially viable artists is a risky venture even in a strong economy. The label has never made the kind of profit mainstream music could have made and now music sharing is causing CD sales to dry up.

I met Bob in the late 90s when I had just started researching the music of St. Louis. Despite rumors of him being gruff, opinionated and outspoken, I found him to be one of the nicest guys in all of my researching. He gave me copies of nearly every Jazz Report (his mimeographed newsletter and catalog from the Blue Note days) to study and took most of a workday to go over each and every page and detail of my first draft manuscript in a Chicago coffeeshop. 

I'm very proud to have done album cover artwork and liner notes for Delmark – especially the 50th anniversary box set, but I am really happy to have a collection of rare recordings culled from Bob's archives on an exclusive CD in the book, DEVIL AT THE CONFLUENCE.

There was a great article about Koester in last weekend's NYT.
"Happily Seduced by the Blues," New York Times, June 28, 2009:

And an article by Scott Barretta for Blues Access from 1997, titled
"Bob Koester, The Monarch of Delmark" here:

And Delmark's catalog is on the web at:

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