In the 1980s former music executive Joe Smith interviewed more than 200 renowned singers, musicians and icons of the industry to talk about their lives, their music, and their peers, forming the basis of a landmark oral history, "Off the Record," published in 1988.
Now, the Library of Congress has announced that Smith is donating this treasure trove of unedited recordings to the Library to be preserved and disseminated for generations of music lovers. The "who's who" of music legends that Smith recorded - comprising 238 hours of interviews - includes Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Sting, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Dick Clark, Tina Turner, B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte and many others. The recordings have been digitized and will be accessible in the Library of Congress' reading room, with abridged recordings to be available online later this year.
In this excerpt from Smith's interview with Paul McCartney, the former Beatle talks about the reception he and his mates received in America: "It was like Heaven," he said - even the traffic cops in Florida were fans.
A Yale graduate, Smith worked as a sportscaster and disc jockey at WMEX and WBZ in Boston before becoming a record promoter and executive in Los Angeles. He became president of three major labels - Warner Bros., Elektra/Asylum and Capitol/EMI - and signed such artists as the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles.
Now 84, Smith said he wanted to make his library of oral histories available to scholars and the public, calling his interview subjects "truly part of the fabric of our cultural history."
Left: Smith with Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead.
Bob Dylan told Smith that he "can't imagine people make such a big fuss over the Sixties . . . it really wasn't that much better."
Dick Clark talked about the booking practices on his TV series "American Bandstand," which heavily favored Philadelphia acts (depending upon the weather!), and said that Elvis Presley never appeared on his show because "I don't think we ever really asked."