Interview: Isaac Slusarenko (Jackpot Records)
Interview: Isaac Slusarenko (Jackpot Records)

Interview: Isaac Slusarenko (Jackpot Records)

Isaac Slusarenko Jackpot Records

Words: Nick Spacek 

Locals Only was an occasional feature I did for Modern Vinyl wherein I focused on a label which specializes in regional releases and reissues, and this marks the return of that series after a lengthy hiatus. The music of a specific town or area means the world to those who live there, but frequently doesn’t make it to the public at large. These labels are trying to bring unheard albums to a wider audience, and for that, we salute them.

For those looking to broaden their knowledge of the music of the Pacific Northwest, there’s no better place to look than Jackpot Records. Both a store and a label, Jackpot has been reissuing area classics by the likes of Poison Idea and the Wipers for over fifteen years, in addition to obscurities by the likes of the New Dawn and non-regional releases from Sun Ra. Ran by Isaac Slusarenko, the label is a blessing to those looking to delve deeply into rock ‘n’ roll, as well as oddball recordings, and their upcoming slate of Record Store Day releases – set for the first installment on Saturday, August 29 – covers the Wipers, the soundtrack for Dune, a Martin Denny Moog LP, a long-sought-for Addams Family single, and some New Orleans funk.

I spoke by phone with Slusarenko about the label’s local and regional focus, as well as these upcoming Record Store Day gems.

Nick Spacek: How long has Jackpot been a label, as well as a shop?

Isaac Slusarenko: The store opened in October of 97, and then I started the label in 2004 so that would make it 16 years on the label and I think 23 for the store.

What was your first release for the label?

Our very first release uh was the Portland wrestler Beauregarde, and that record was a kind of an undiscovered Portland psychedelic soul record. It has no lyrics about wrestling and it was recorded in 1971 in Portland. It featured the first performances of Greg Sage of the Wipers when he was 16. He was just a kid and Greg Sage was a huge fan of Portland wrestling.

Beauregarde was in the studio getting ready to record this record and Greg was there. He saw Greg playing and said, “Hey, I want you to be on my record,” so all the guitar work is a teenage Greg Sage and it is amazing. They shot a video for it in 1971. They used to show the video – the song’s called “Testify” – before Beauregarde would wrestle on local television, so it is also like the first promo video using music to promote wrestling.

Beauregarde Beauregarde album cover art

It’s kind of a thing that, at the time, was a regional kind of hit around here. Not a huge hit, but people knew it around the time. That was the first record that I started the label with.

Based on what I know about Jackpot Records as a label, that seems like something that sort of encompasses everything you’ve done since – up to and including these Record Store Day releases. I know you reissued a lot of Wipers records and Green River and even Satan’s Pilgrims, who are all Portland or Portland-adjacent, but you’ve also reissued a lot of very weird stuff.

I mean, yeah. The Beauregarde kind of touched on all the things that I liked about starting it. That one was a record that I felt that people should know about and I think a lot of people who had heard the Wipers had no idea about that history. Since I grew up in Portland, I had that record growing up as a teenager, but even then, it wasn’t something you could even find in this town. It isn’t like there was a lot of them lying around.

My interest has always been records that have interesting covers, as well as the music inside because those those two go hand in hand for me. I feel like those are very important pieces for records that’s different than looking at something on a screen or something like that. A physical product that has a really good design and a great cover is kind of half the struggle of having a good release.

One that drew my attention when I was looking through the stuff you have available on the website is the Mustafa Özkent record, Gençlik Ile Elele, which is one of those records that I would probably buy just simply based on the cover alone.

If you bring up that record cover it’s one of those that says every genre on it. It says folk and rhythm and blues and but the image doesn’t tell you anything about the musicians or anything, except for the visual impact that it has, and that’s why that cover’s always been one of my favorites. For Turkish psychedelic records that is, hands down, the best cover – at least in my opinion, I should say.

What’s the appeal of releasing stuff that is from where you live?

For me, having the ability to work with local artists like Poison Idea and Green River and even Drumgasm, which was Janet Weiss and members of Soundgarden and members of Death Grips like that project – a lot of those people I’ve been a fan of growing up, so it’s it’s kind of been exciting to work with these artists and to put a record out that meant a lot to me.

Matt Cameron Zach Hill Janet Weiss Drumgasm

There’s so much great music that’s come out of the Northwest: all genres of music, not just punk and hardcore, but soul and jazz. There’s just a rich culture here. Because of my store has been here for so long, and we are a Portland-located store, it just is something that’s kind of inherent in what I feel, especially working with someone like the Wipers or Poison Idea. These are formative artists for a lot of people. These are bands that have a certain amount of stature already.

What’s the difference between putting out like an album like the Wipers’ Is This Real? or Dr. John’s Gris-Gris – albums that already have a built-in fan base – versus putting out these very obscure things, like the Skabbs’ Idle Threat record, where that was the first time that was ever put out, or even the Mustafa Özkent record, which is a Turkish record – something very far removed from from Portland? What’s the the process?

I guess the difference between those two is in getting them into the hands of people. I feel like a lot of the titles that I release on the label are ones that, as someone starts getting into music, you’ll eventually stumble across one of these records – be it Satan’s Pilgrims for surf music or the Wipers for punk music or Super Super Blues Band for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters – which is kind of like a proto call-and-response rap record that’s super weird – and Willie Nelson’s first record for country.

You’re building blocks for a collection of learning about music – either be it locally or nationally – is kind of what I feel like most of these titles are. The ones that have never been released before, like the Skabbs or Pink Purple – the audience that we have for our label tend to trust what our tastes are. If we’re going to put the time into doing, it has to have a reason for it. We don’t put anything out there because we just wanted to turn around and see if it sticks or not.

There’s a lot of personal time and thought before we make a decision on what gets released, and I feel like a lot of these titles, locally or nationally, kind of represent the store, too – what we are as the retail store – and they’re also titles that I, as a store owner, kind of look at making the releases for stores, more than I do having it up on Amazon. I think these are titles that stores would like to have, so stores can have them to help sell to their customers, so that it keeps the community going.

I hadn’t thought of the fact that you, as a label/store owner, might have a better idea of what an independent record store might like to carry than your average label.

Exactly, and I think that’s kind of the anomaly, too, with us as a store and a label. I’ve been doing record retail in Portland now for 30 years and so, that’s a long time to have seen a lot of records, and I’ve touched a lot of records in my life, but I feel like that is something I’m really aware of when I do our releases. That world is important to me. That is what I do every day and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed being involved with, and I think now – with the resurgence of vinyl and people talking about record stores and record store culture – that these titles lend themselves to stores to have that ability to have discussions with people.

Like, “Oh, you’ve never heard Willie Nelson’s first record? Well, he didn’t have a beard and he wrote the song ‘Crazy’ for Patsy Cline, and that’s on this record. His very first recordings are nothing like his other things.” I think it just makes it so that experience continues

You just announced all of your your Record Store Day releases which are a fascinating cross-section. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited about a Record Store Day release as that “Lurch” 7-inch. It’s one of those I’ve tried to track down, and finding it with a sleeve is nigh-impossible, and finding it with a sleeve not beat to shit – oof.

Can I ask you a question that’s tied to this? I’ve been curious to know how people know about that 7-inch, because it is the hardest Capitol picture sleeve to find from the ’60s. It’s harder than the Beatles. It’s insane. You can find the 7-inch, but not the picture sleeve. How were you alerted to that record?

I don’t buy a lot of singles because I don’t DJ and I don’t buy a lot of 45s because I don’t have a radio show anymore, so if I want to buy a record like and I find out there’s like a picture sleeve of it, that’s the one I’d rather have. I would rather not just have the plain paper 45. When I sought that one out after reading about it in a book called Hollywood Hi-Fi – which covers stuff like Joe E. Ross’ “Ooh, Ooh” or Frank Gorshin’s “The Riddler” and other celebrity novelty recordings – I was like, “This seems prohibitively expensive,” and discovered that it was like extraordinarily rare.

Ted Cassidy The Lurch Wesley

It’s funny, because I’ve been trying to think of the interest on this 45. I have that that book that you’re talking about and I’ve always had Joe Pesci’s solo records – there’s just a lot of weird actors who did records – and so, this is the same thing with me. I could never find a copy. It’s funny, as a lot of the people I talked to either knew it or didn’t know it. There’s like no middle ground like, “Oh, I think he did a 7-inch.” It’s either, “Oh yeah, I know that,” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” and for me, that seemed like not only was it something I wanted to have, because I want a copy of it, but it just ties in with the other releases that I wanted to put out for Record Store Day.

It just has a level of history in it that it’s sort of gone. When that came out, it disappeared, unless you were into the world of like of what we were talking about. Not the Incredibly Strange era stuff, but the the stuff when they were starting to do Golden Throats – that Rhino comp – and stuff like that. It was just something that I wanted to really that would be different.

This is one that is just not only is it a good title to have on 7-inch, but that’s all there ever was was: just these two songs, and they’re very different songs. “Wesley” is very different than “The Lurch.” My son discovered The Addams Family last year and was really into it, so it was another personal thing to be like, “Yes, this is something he’s going to be excited to have and know about.” There’s a a personal thing to it, as well.

Since you have a record store that you have to balance with the label, is it difficult to make sure that you’re giving like attention to both sides – how do you balance that?

My answer to that is that I had two locations in Portland. I had a second store downtown Portland, as well as the one that I’m at right now, in Hawthorne, and when I had the two locations, I spent most of my time traveling and trying to manage the two stores myself, going back and forth. I couldn’t put enough time into the label because I was running two locations, and so I made the decision to close the downtown store so I could focus my time on the label and having one location.

That’s been quite a few years since I closed the store down – eight years, I would say – but that’s made it so that I can have more time to do the label side of things. It was a hard decision to do, but it was really the best decision for me, personally, because I really wanted to put more time into the label.

What’s the record that you’re most proud that you were able to make happen?

That’s like asking your favorite kid. The funny thing, is they all kind of have stories with them, but a really personal one that I really liked was an early title that I did from a group from Salem, Oregon called the New Dawn. They did this really rare psychedelic record in 1970 that wasn’t released outside of Salem. It goes for thousands of dollars. It’s really impossible to find and it’s always been one of those dream records of mine like,”Oh, if I could ever do a title, this is one I would really love to do.”

Since it was in my neck of the woods, I actually tracked down the main guy of the group and did a reissue with him and got to know the whole history of the band. What was really fascinating was that in the town where he lived, when I was starting this project, he invited me down: “Oh, well, we’re playing we’re playing a show.”

I said, “I didn’t know the New Dawn was still together.” It’s like, “Oh yeah, we still we do shows a couple times a year here in in our town.” I went down there and it was like a VFW hall – like a huge bingo hall – packed packed with people with New Dawn t-shirts. Little kids and parents and the whole community came out to see the psych band. They had never broken up. They did the one record but they were all still in the same town, so there was this pocket in my neck of the woods where there was this scene that hadn’t gone away.

It was like … I can’t explain. I was just blown away, because it is a such an obscure band, but in that town everybody knew who the New Dawn was. I put on a show in that town later on and the stage they played on was the same stage in 1965 when they were before they were the New Dawn. There’s photos of them on the stage in the same exact room, so to go back like 45-50 years later, and be standing in the room with the same band members, on the same stage – not all the band members were alive, but you could see in the photo, it’s exactly the same it was.

From what I have, done research-wise, they might be – at least for the West Coast – the longest running psychedelic garage band that still was together, just nobody just knew about them. They’re super sweet. That was a great thing. The projects that I’ve worked on with the people I’ve worked with: it’s really nice to to see their excitement to see something get come back out and for it to be presented well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *