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Hear the words Sire Records and you’re probably imagining CBGB’s legendarily revolting toilets. But the imprint that came to define Carter-era New York is a whole lot more than just punk, with many chapters to its meandering 30-year run. Gareth Murphy, ghostwriter of Seymour Stein’s autobiography, tells the bigger story

For New Yorkers, it’s probably the coolest label that ever was. But for any kind of vinyl-blooded junkyard hustler, Sire is a hilariously educational case study in making money out of wacky music that other people throw away. Although it’s routinely depicted as a hip young peer of Rough Trade, Stiff, SST, Mute and other new wave rebels, Sire actually belongs to a much older school of Noo Yawk wheeler dealer; the kind that pronounces records as ‘rekkids’. Indeed, to understand Sire’s sinuous run through so many genres, the story begins in the primitive age of jukebox jobbers, payola, song pilferers and mafia-connected tricksters.

Born in 1942, Brooklyn-bred Seymour Steinbigle was a school dropout, who in the late 50s, got various internships, first at Billboard magazine’s chart department, then at King Records, the Cincinnati indie behind James Brown. Shortening his name to Stein, he landed a job inside the Brill Building, the 11-storey heartbeat of Broadway; where Tin Pan Alley songwriters peddled tunes to cut-throat indies. There, Stein learned the palm-greasing crafts of radio promotion, as a plugger for Red Bird, the label behind girly hits such as Chapel Of Love, Iko Iko and Leader Of The Pack. On another floor, he met co-founder Richard Gottehrer, who was getting his own education, performing and co-writing for the notorious Bang Records. Gottehrer had just co-written 60s classics such as Hang On Sloopy, Sorrow and I Want Candy (later covered by Bowie and Bow Wow Wow respectively).

In 1966, Stein and Gottehrer decided to set up their own company, Sire Productions, producing R&B singles for Columbia. For an office, the old and infirm owner of King Records, Syd Nathan, kindly rented Stein four rooms in the Broadway district for the bargain price of $235 per month. Stein, being a natural grafter who had already squirrelled away 50 grand in savings, discreetly sub-let the front room to a PR agency for $150, meaning Sire got the remaining three rooms for $85.


Rebranding as Sire Records in 1967, they turned their attentions to England and befriended Mike Vernon, the Decca producer who’d just made albums with John Mayall, Ten Years After and David Bowie. In 1968, for £15,000, they bought 50% of his Blue Horizon label, and cleverly tapped into revenue streams from early Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack hits.

Through Syd Nathan, Stein was then introduced to EMI boss Len Wood, who let him rummage through EMI’s proverbial rubbish bins for titles that its subsidiary, Capitol, had rejected for American release. That’s how Sire picked up the US rights for Barclay James Harvest and The Climax Blues Band - both re-press deals, costing just one or two grand, that Sire’s American distributor London Records would advance.

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About Long Live Vinyl

Issue 37 of the new-look Long Live Vinyl comes complete with the official Record Store Day Guide – a free 40-page magazine bring you the lowdown on all 500+ Record Store Day releases and where to get them… There’s also a handy map to help you find your nearest of the 237 participating independent record shops and the chance to win £100 of Record Tokens to spend in the shop of your choice. Inside the regular mag, our cover feature takes an in-depth look back at the heady mid-90s Britpop boom and we round up 40 essential 90s classics to add to your collection. Our features section is bulging at the seams, including interviews with Tame Impala about new album The Slow Rush, Nada Reid, Cornershop, Jeffrey Lewis, Jonathan Wilson and Lanterns On The Lake. There’s also a look at the MTV Unplugged series on vinyl, a history of legendary New York Label Sire, a guide to buying Brazilian vinyl and our Classic Album is Radiohead’s 1995 monster The Bends. If that’s not all enough, Long Live Vinyl brings you the most comprehensive range of new album, reissue and hi-fi gear reviews anywhere on the newsstand. Order your copy now, get your highlighter pen out and let the countdown to Record Store Day commence!

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