'I have a good feel for what people want to hear'
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) John Tefteller will go just about anywhere to buy a rare record, part of his passion for unearthing historic blues dating to the dawn of the recording industry a century ago.
He went to South Carolina last summer for his latest pearl, a fragile 78 rpm recorded in 1930 by blues legend Tommy Johnson. His winning $37,100 bid on eBay reportedly set a record for a 78.
Best known locally for a run at politics that ended with his 1996 loss in the Josephine County commissioner race, the 54-year-old Tefteller is a recognized expert nationally and internationally when it comes to the blues.
A 2009 New York Times story about the world of rare-record collecting spent much time on Tefteller and his enviable collection of pressings from Paramount Records, an obscure Wisconsin label he says produced some of the most raw and intense blues performances ever recorded.
Tefteller owns practically every important Paramount recording that's become available in recent years, leading one rival collector to tell the Times, "This makes him completely insane, which alone would make me like him even if he weren't such a nice guy."
Those sweaty blues make up only a small fraction of his 400,000-record personal collection, but are the backbone of his business, World's Rarest Records. The 10-inch blues discs usually bring in more than $5,000 apiece.
"It's the roots of everything everybody listens to now ... Blues is the father of rock and roll," says Tefteller, surrounded by old blues artwork and pictures of Groucho Marx (yes, Groucho Marx) in his small office. "There are always people who want to go back to the roots and see where these songs came from."
For example, "Mystery Train" done by Elvis Presley and dozens of others in the 1950s, was actually "Good Looking Girl Blues" recorded by Furry Lewis in 1927. "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin comes from Kansas Joe McCoy and his wife, Memphis Minnie, who recorded the song two years after the great Mississippi River flood of 1927.
"I can trace it all for you," Tefteller says.
For the last 11 years, Tefteller has added another dimension to his works, publishing an annual calendar "Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s" with his other company Blues Images.
That grew out of a stunning find in 2002 in Port Washington, Wis., home of Paramount Records. Tefteller now has thousands of images from Paramount advertising from the era, including a full-length photograph of legendary blues artist Charley Patton.
The 2014 calendar features original artwork for the long-lost Blind Blake record "Miss Emma Liza," found in a North Carolina flea market.
It comes with a CD with additional songs by Charley Patton, Jim Thompkins and other obscure legends of the era.
About 80 percent of early blues recordings can be found on CD now, but "many of them have not been properly restored from original nice condition discs and sound awful," Tefteller says. "My job, with my company, Blues Images, is to make as many of them available in great sound by using pristine original records to remaster from. We have done about 300 songs so far, with several thousand to go."
Tefteller says his epic collections fill various storage units throughout town, in addition to his Tudor-style home a few miles outside Grants Pass.
It all started as a mail-order business with a typed-out list of customers, 40 years ago in Southern California.
Tefteller's first music exposure was rock and roll in the 1960s. Then a good friend got him hooked on 1950s blues, by the likes of Muddy Waters. Tefteller started collecting those, then liked the challenge of finding records of those who influenced them.
He also honed a talent for recording, working at age 16 with comedian Groucho Marx, doing audio recording as well as remastering his photographs and other personal materials.
Tefteller moved to Southern Oregon in 1987, by then making a living collecting and selling rare records, a life's passion that gathers more steam as time goes by.
"I have a good feel for what people want to hear. I have customers who are multimillionaire investor types," he says. "I also have people who buy them because they want to sit down and listen to them. It's a nostalgia thing."
The average age is 55-65 years old. A third of them don't own a computer.
Tefteller is very likely at this moment scouring the country, making phone calls, digging for more lost music history.
Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press