I’m totally cheating this week.
Plenty of DJ sets come to us via podcasts, and I’ve written about a few in this space, but this week’s podcast isn’t a DJ set. It’s not even about a DJ. But it is about dance music -- so close enough.
In its first incarnation in 2012-13, Between the Liner Notes was a straightforward sit-down interview show, with host Matthew Billy, an audio engineer by trade who’s also produced records for Pete Seeger and Richard Barone of Hoboken power-poppers the Bongos, querying music bizzers. A typical enough setup, and Billy is an able interlocutor, but after 18 episodes he put it on ice.
When Billy resurrected Between the Liner Notes in August 2015, he changed format decisively. Now, it’s a monthly documentary-style podcast with Billy as narrator and, typically, one to three guests -- either experts on the topic at hand or firsthand participants in the events covered. Obviously, the runaway success of the true-crime narrative Serial has incited far more interest in this format, also exploited richly (and four months before Serial) by film writer Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, featuring tales of old Hollywood.
Between the Liner Notes isn’t big-budget by any means (Billy has recently added sponsors to the mix), but I eagerly await it every month, and recommend it to anyone interested in music’s weird and rangy history. So far, the show has covered everything from the Nazis' role in the birth of recorded sound to the history of "Taps" to the birth of MTV. My favorite -- forever, I’d figured -- was a richly entertaining two-part disco history featuring historian Tim Lawrence and, most entertainingly, key disco A&R man Ray Caviano.
But the 21st episode of BTLN tops them all. It’s titled “Stone,” and it’s tempting to simply point you in its direction and not say another word. Certainly, hearing it for the first time blind was the kind of successive WTF?-fest (no, not the Marc Maron podcast) that makes you not want to spoil it for anyone else.
But the episode isn’t actually spoilable.
It focuses on Joe Stone, the son of Henry Stone, who ran a succession of Miami R&B imprints (most notably the disco label T.K. Records) and recorded everyone from James Brown to KC & the Sunshine Band and beyond. The first three minutes of “Stone” amount to an homage to Goodfellas: Ever since he was a kid, surrounded by the R&B royalty his father recorded and piles of barbecue and drugs, Joe always wanted to be a record man, and the episode follows his journey. A key moment comes when he accidentally joins the crew on a B.B. King session.
The Goodfellas allusion is no accident: There were plenty of gangsters around the music business, especially in Miami, and we hear about them too. But the episode’s real draw is that the junior Stone’s path is both bizarre and completely of its time. Joe produced real club hits like L’Trimm’s “Cars That Go Boom,” an early Miami bass classic. But the episode (probably wisely) concentrates on the novelty records Stone also made in this period, from Ron and the D.C. Crew’s “Ronnie’s Rap” (1986) to 2 Live Jews’ As Kosher as They Wanna Be (1990). And he helped put dance music, in the form of 2 Unlimited’s Euro-rave novelty “Get Ready for This,” into sports arenas.
Now you know who to blame.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set -- often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily -- and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.