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NOT MOLD AWAY: Tony Lane & His Fabulous Spades

Record Hunting in Mobile

Joe sells records at the Mobile Flea Market on Schillinger Road.  Row C, table 12; Saturdays and Sundays (but not before noon). 

“Psychedelic” Joe as most people know him. An increasingly squiggly Moby Grape tattoo on his arm, 8 x 10 glossy of his late ’70s cover band (aptly named Hurricane) framed at the back of his stall, groovy airbrushed sign announcing the nature of his trade as well as the name of his establishment (Kul-Ture Kollectibles), ebullient, if topically-confined personality that one comes to expect from career vinyl fingerers. Oh, and lots of glory-days stories of scores and records he used to own (ask him about the time he snuck backstage to give a copy of Skip Spence’s Oar to the Doobie Brothers).

As an early convert to the school of private press and regional lysergic ’60s archaeology, Joe spent his Reagan-era apprenticeship cold-calling up the ex-girlfriends, the ex-road managers, and even the widows of bands like the C.A. Quintet, New Tweedy Brothers, and Little Phil & The Nightshadows. These calls often resulted in more information—and, more importantly, more vinyl. 

Since then, not a lot has changed.    

Joe roams the Earth as an almost entirely pre-digital beast. He doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t have e-mail, has never used eBay, and consigns larger hauls to his more tech-savvy pals and stall-mates. Experience and hustle are how Joe makes his ends meet, and, even though he seems to be down on his luck as much as he’s up, Joe likely would not fit into any other niche. Add that he’s an instantly likeable guy, and you probably have half the explanation for his longevity.   


I dealt a lot with Joe while living in Mobile—both buying and selling—but the one record I got from him that stands out most in my mind and enjoys pride of place on my shelves (if safely vacuum-sealed away from my nostrils) is also the record most emblematic—I think—of the spirit of survival in the post-deluge South: damaged deeply, but playing on.

For garage-rock completists of a certain perversion, wherein rarity and cost correlate perfectly with quality, the Justice label out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is one of the genre’s most alluring and frustrating hunting grounds. Guru Patrick Lundborg of the Acid Archives and offers perhaps the best summation of the enduring appeal of the Justice label:

Imagine a parallel universe 1960s where the British Invasion never happened, in which the Beatles turned out to be a foreign one-hit wonder like the Tornadoes, while the Stones and the Kinks and the other first-wavers never were given the chance to play in the States, or even have their records released there...this ain’t no MC5 concert—this is Carolina Beach Music!

All this allures, because Justice titles were never easy to find even before the storm, and frustrates, because the majority of them are not very good. Fitting somehow that the output of a vanity operation forty years dead survives today as a sort of cred(ibility) check for the big game walls of cognoscenti of an approximate pocket-depth. They tell themselves: If Hemingway were alive today, he’d hunt Justices.

Which is not to say that interest in the Justice stable is unwarranted: The truly killer LPs in its arsenal are just that (check out the sound and fury of albums by The Tempos, The Fugitives, and Phantom Raiders for guaranteed satisfaction), and even the lesser/lamer forays offer a fascinating portrait of an ideological, if isolated and inept Southern rebuttal to The New Sounds of England.

Given this grounding, my Pavlovian response to Joe informing me of his possession of both a Justice LP in his bins and a willingness to part with it becomes, I hope, more understandable. Before he had even told me which one, I was a cloud of gravel dust on my way to the ATM. This was my ticket up and in: Bag ’n’ bundle this beauty, and boy, will the crowd at WFMU be impressed!

Back with money in hand, ready to receive, Joe gets my irregular heartbeat even more syncopatededly conflicted when he tells me it’s one of the good ones—one of the really good ones—TONY LANE & HIS FABULOUS SPADES—an all-white frat rock barnburnbeerbuststormer! I couldn’t believe my fortune.

And then Joe showed it to me. Out of one of the soggiest boxes it has ever been my privilege to behold or insufflate, came a sleeve so sad and pitiful it looked like the least salvageable item from a Hurricane Katrina whippin’ I have ever seen. Joe’s long-boxes are always packed tight so as to prevent warpage and ruin during the weekday Alabama heat, and as he wrestled to pull out the album fully, three quarters of the sleeve of this hideously scarce record began to crumble in Joe’s clutches. 



This is what Joe handed me: a complete mess.

And this is what the better angel of old Joe’s nature charged. “Yeah man…would you go five on it?”

As I mentally placed my chances of ever owning a real out-and-out Justice at just-below infinitesimal, I passed my ATM sawbuck happily and Joe made change. 

For awhile I didn’t even know what to do with my “prize.” It lived outside on my porch for a few weeks—frightened as I was by its black-mold patina—but, eventually, curiosity and a few drinks and one lonely Saturday night got the better of me. With more and more of Tony flaking off on my floor, I set the record in its slot and put the needle down. 

And it played. It played well, considering it likely sat submerged in a Gulf Coast thrift store somewhere for days/weeks at a time in a stew of tidal filth. And, more importantly than that, it was as immediate and compelling and recognizable as the best ’60s garage rock; so much so that any quantifiable dollars-and-sense imprimatur was rendered instantly worthless.

I don’t know anything about Tony Lane (Hancock) or any one of his Fabulous Spades. To paraphrase Nick Tosches talking about Emmett Miller, “It is not known exactly when Tony Lane was born or when he died, nor is it known where he came from or where he went.” I can’t read what hype Justice label owner Calvin Newton attempted to lay on the purchaser of this spit-curl, high-fidelity, monaural compatible, cholesterol fest (the only words I can make out—appropriately enough—read “no easy job”), nor can I speculate upon the origins of the nicknames bestowed upon bassist Eddie Moss on tambourine and background vocalist Terry Wagoner (“Lard” and “Gopher” respectively). What I do know, without any inkling of uncertainty, is that I am happy to have Tony Lane, his Fabulous Spades, and the group’s fabulous music polluting my apartment, my lungs and, doubtless, my mind.


Now. It has not been my intent to make too much out of my simple transaction with “Psychedelic” Joe, to inflate or to equate this totaled record’s contents as some sort of diseased gift of the magi or “A Canticle For Leibowitz”­-style reliquary, but…but like the song Jessie Hill wrote and that Tony Lane’s Spades covered, “I won’t stop trying till I create a disturbance in your mind.”

There exists a difference between recovery and restoration, insofar as I believe one is possible while the other is not. The Great Levee Failure of 2005 as event horizon defines the impassable boundary of two distinct epochs. There is B.K.E. and A.K.E.—the Before Katrina Era and the After Katrina Era. Like the Fourth Crusade or the Mongol sack of Baghdad where the Tigris ran black from the ink of books and red from the blood of philosophers, the scope of our calamity was so vast that arguing against the new incipient reality left in its wake would be as senseless as it would be irrelevant. 

Recovery—maybe. Restoration—maybe not.

Still, there remains the occasional serendipitous salvage.

Enjoy the survivors and survival.

Enjoy the sounds of Tony Lane & His Fabulous Spades.


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