Label Archaeology: Epitapes (Massachusetts, 198?-1992)

“Then I did one comp where I would leave the cassette out. You’d get the cover, and the plastic case, but there’s nothing else in it. There was no tape.”

Mike Tetrault used to make a point of being provocative. He still considers himself prone to pranks, but he was at his peak when he ran Epitapes, a cassette label that was part of the international tape-trading network. While at its helm, he released three compilation albums that were direct affronts to the controversial noise artist Boyd Rice. They were titled My Dream Date With Boyd Rice, Sex On The First Date With Boyd Rice, and, logically, Pregnant With Boyd Rice’s Baby.

Image credit: Mike Tetrault

Tetrault tells me via phone that, at one point, he sealed copies of these three compilations into an envelope and sent them to Mr. Rice himself. He never heard back.

This was only one of the curious concepts that emanated from the Epitapes headquarters in Western Massachusetts, where Tetrault grew up and currently lives. Unsurprisingly, this rebellious streak is deep-seated. Tetrault tells me that he became interested in punk music in the seventies, after buying a copy of the The Damned’s debut album from a record store in Amherst, Massachusetts called Sunshine Records. Soon after, he was picking up records by other bands. “Slaughter & the Dogs’ ‘Cranked Up Really High,’ then Johnny Moped… All these obscure bands that were really, really excellent and are now considered classics.

“So you buy one, you like it, so you start looking for more. And once you start looking, it gets easier and easier. So then you buy some punk fanzine, and order some stuff from that. Meanwhile, punk’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s still not popular and not a commercial thing, but there’s more and more punk bands. X-Ray Spex, The Drones… tons of bands. And then I discovered the LA bands — The Skulls, The Bags. And then you find about the Finnish bands. You find out more and more as you get into it.

“There was never a store in my area. I live in Western Mass. Most people had never even heard of punk. I only found one person in that first year who’d even heard of any band. So everybody would think you’re crazy, or listening to noise. It wasn’t fun to be into something, especially when you’re young and you just want to be doing something, and want to be having actual fun, not just playing records. This place wasn’t the place to be. So that’s when I decided I’m going to move to some city somewhere.”

Craving adventure and keen to live in a city with a real music scene, he picked up and moved to L.A., but shortly moved to San Francisco after realizing L.A. was no fun without a car. There, he engrossed himself in punk music while working a series of temporary jobs. “There’s a Sex Pistols line,” Tetrault says. “‘You won’t catch me working nine to five/It’s too much fun being alive.’ And that was my motto. I didn’t want to get a job. But I would get jobs, just to live. And I would always get temporary jobs.” His most consistent gig was as a bicycle messenger, a vocation that attracted several punks in SF.

While in San Francisco, he attended several industrial and experimental shows, including concerts by Throbbing Gristle and SPK. He tells me he still has a recording he made at an SPK show which he believes has never been released anywhere else.

In the eighties he moved back to Belchertown, MA after burning out on the city. “Everything seemed ugly. That’s when hardcore was taking over, and everybody I knew was doing heroin or meth. I didn’t want to be a junkie, but a lot of people continued to do it and were junkies. And it was just sleazy and ugly. Everywhere I looked on the streets, everything was ugly. And I thought, why am I living here if I think everything is ugly?

“Moving to the city was an adventure, but after awhile it lost its appeal, so I just went back to the country. I love nature. I take tons of nature photos. I hike every single day. I just love it, and it’s hard to explain why, I just do.”

Several Epitapes cassettes, from Tetrault’s own collection. (Image credit: Mike Tetrault)

The Beginnings of Epitapes

While Epitapes is often listed as being a Belchertown label, Tetrault explains that he had actually moved to a different town in the same area, Sunderland, by the time the first tape came out.

That first tape was titled The Beauty of the Warning and featured a number of artists that Tetrault was in touch with at the time. Some were friends from San Francisco, including numerous former roommates, including Robert Turman (one half of NON), Fortune Dagger, and Arkansaw Man. Others were people he knew via the mail. “I must have just written to these people, and they’re the ones that responded, and I liked whatever they sent.”

Tetrault still has the master copy of this compilation. Over the phone, he takes me through some of the tracks. “Endless Calm is me,” he laughs. “Randy Greif was fantastic, you don’t hear about him too much anymore. John Hudak is a very interesting person. He would do these really simple pieces. [His track] ‘Eighteen Pennies,’ he actually just played with a pile of eighteen pennies… When you listen to it, you can tell. It’s just a pile very slowly being fondled, basically. Just playing gently with these pennies. It’s a very relaxing little song, and everything he does is like that, as far as I know. He’ll hit tree branches together, it’s always these simple little things.”

There is also track from the legendary hometaper Ken Clinger, whom Tetrault later collaborated with via mail. “I sent him a tape of me reading poems, and he surprised me by setting them to music,” Tetrault recalls.

Image credit: Mike Tetrault

The cover of The Beauty of the Warning features an image of the Virgin Mary that Tetrault took at a cemetery. In fact, Epitapes’ name honours Tetrault’s lifelong passion for epitaphs. “I used to, and I still do, collect epitaphs. I go to old cemeteries all the time. And I took literally thousands of photos of old gravestones, and that’s how the label got its name.

“A lot of my tapes ended up using really good gravestone rubbings or photos,” he explains. The inserts were made via cutting-and-pasting, and were copied at a local copy shop. The tapes themselves were TDK blanks purchased at a local office supplies store.

Image credit: Mike Tetrault

In an improbable incident, Epitapes’ name almost got Tetrault in trouble. “The label Epitaph, the one that Bad Religion is on, wrote me a letter threatening to sue me, and they said I was trying to cash in on their name,” Tetrault says. “And I said, ‘I’ve been running this label since before you were a label, and the hundreds of people on this label will attest to that.’ So they left me alone. You record punk rock, and I record insects and machines and music boxes, how am I trying to cash in on your reputation? We don’t do anything similar. I was so obscure. I don’t know how they ever heard of me!”

When Beauty of the Warning came out, he intended it as a one-off. Though he coined the name Epitapes, he wasn’t expecting it to grow into a full tape label. From a logistics perspective, that single tape was a lot of work. “I had to make each copy by hand. I would record one tape at a time. There’s ten or twelve people on that tape, so I had to make ten or twelve copies. Each one would take 90 minutes. So it was a time consuming thing.” But what started off simple became an extensive hobby, and Epitapes eventually accumulated a discography of over 70 tapes, the vast majority of them compilations.

Image credit: Mike Tetrault

The second Epitapes cassete was another comp, Songs Of The Whippoorwills, featuring Randy Grief again, as well as seminal experimental artists like Le Syndicat, Big City Orchestra, and City of Worms. He seasoned the tape with brief interludes of his own home recordings of actual whippoorwills around his area.

Another contributor was the prolific artist Minoy, who has lately been the subject of a large box set. “Minoy used to do primal therapy through music. On this comp, his piece is called ‘Hell’s Bells.’ A lot of his work is just layers and layers of screaming, and some of it, even though he’s screaming the whole time, is absolutely beautiful. Everybody knew he had mental health problems. I actually didn’t know that at the time when he was contributing — later I found out about that, on the internet.”

Image credit: Mike Tetrault


Some of Tetrault’s most intriguing concepts were his themed compilations, in which he solicited submissions that all had to revolve around a particular idea or sound source. He is proudest of A Crutch Or Reel Or Water-Plant, a tape compilation in which he asked for untreated recordings of machinery. He explains that some of the artists even worked in factories, so they brought true audio exclusives to the table. The track listing reveals many interesting items. A mysterious artist named Diet/Labine contributed “Cement Mixer” and “Sri Lanka Coconut Grater.” Veteran artist Jeph Jerman sent in “Fan Belt.” And one of Tetrault’s own pieces is descriptively titled “Crane Used To Pound In Concrete Pillars.” Despite being a favourite, he acknowledges that A Crutch or Reel sold very few copies.

Image credit: Mike Tetrault

Another sound-source-specific compilation was Music Boxes, in which he asked artists to send in unaltered recordings of music boxes. That tape featured artists like Randy Greif and No Unauthorized, as well as a remarkable composition by Tetrault himself. “It was a pain in the neck,” he tells me of that track “I hounded everyone I knew for their music boxes and I ended up with like thirty of them. And I wound them all up at once, and recorded them playing. Slowly they died out until only one was playing. I really liked that.”

Then there was All Bare or Dead Forms Under Sunlight Cast Mysterious Shadows on the Snow, whose theme was “surrealism.” Artists were free to interpret that as they pleased, and the interesting results made this another one of his favourite Epitapes releases. Artists on this tape included No Unauthorized, Hybrids, Redemption Incorporated, Victor/im, Machine Made Man, Dead Goldfish Ensemble, Odal, and Adam Bowman.

Tomfoolery Galore

As might have gleaned from his Boyd Rice themed compilations, subversion was a central feature of Tetrault’s aesthetic. “I was a troll before that word was used. I used to play all kinds of pranks on the tapes… I had a whole series of Genesis P-Orridge comps where I insult him basically, at least in the titles. One of the comps had all these people, big names in this kind of harsh electronic music, and at the end for about five minutes, I went into a really vicious rant insulting everybody, one by one. I would say, ‘Oh and this guy sounds like little kids throwing cans at each other, and they would call this fucking music?’ I would rant about every single piece. I would just have fun. The more I did the tapes, the less inhibited I felt about doing anything.”

Another Genesis P-Orridge comp was titled Genesis P-Orridge’s 20 Bad Disco Greats. “Somebody sent me recordings of bad disco albums,” Tetrault explains. “One was Star Wars music done disco-style. And then there was another bad disco one. So I filled the tape with both of those from start to finish. then I recorded the noise over that, leaving a minute’s gap (between tracks). So you had the bad disco in between every song. People liked that one.”

Source: Mike Tetrault

Eventually, his pranks lurched towards the realm of concept art. “I started to package the tapes in ways that were frustrating to people,” he says. “Sealing them in plastic where there was no way to open it — I would wrap and wrap it and wrap it in plastic, and keep melting the plastic. There would end up being no seams, so you couldn’t really open the cassette. I remember doing one where I stuffed the package and tape with razor blades. Now that I think of it, I could’ve gotten in trouble I suppose!

“Then I did one comp where I would leave the cassette out. You’d get the cover, and the plastic case, but there’s nothing else in it. There was no tape. So I would just play these games… I used to like provoking people. I still do, actually.”

For his harsh noise tapes, he might use a mellow piano track by Ken Clinger as a cheerful intro, then drop unpredictably into a cavalcade of abrasion. On one occasion, he targeted a contributing artist who was very particular about their music. “As I dubbed it, I made it sound like the tape was slowing down and being eaten and all this stuff. And I released it that way and that person got a little perturbed, even though I did it on purpose. Later on, when I told him it was on purpose, then he liked it, but at the time he didn’t like it.”

Epitapes’ Final Stages

The vast majority of Epitapes releases were compilations, but Tetrault did put out a few non-comp tapes. These include several cassettes of his field recordings, including audio of insects at nighttime (Night Insects) and daytime (Day Insects), as well Rainbow Gathering, where he took several recordings at a rainbow gathering — “a gathering of hardcore hippies, the kind that live in the woods or just constantly travel.”

Source: Discogs

Tetrault’s last releases were around 1992, at which point he eventually lost steam when it came to producing new compilations. But when he closed up shop, he had several that were in various stages of completion. “One was rock music, but it was music using only rocks, pebbles, or sand. Nothing else. Another was ambient versions of Sex Pistols songs.”

Another aborted comp was a collection of cover versions of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” — he found the submissions disappointing, but points out that this is likely a result of his own idiosyncratic expectations instead of the shortcomings of contributors.

Yet another was a planned compilation of “pagan music,” which didn’t attract enough interest in contributors. “Some people from Norway sent some absolutely beautiful songs, but nobody else was contributing.” He laments that those recordings never saw the light of day on an Epitapes release. One wonders if those recordings survive today.

After Tetrault wound Epitapes down, he continued to make his tapes available for distribution, even creating a catalog that listed all the available releases and their respective themes. Yet most compilations didn’t sell in quantity. In some cases, no copies were sold at all, and the only ones that were produced were the artist copies! This lack of interest was one of the reasons he wrapped Epitapes up. He also recalls being frustrated with the politics of whose music would get put on a comp. Rather than deal with complaint letters and snail-mail arguments, he decided it was easier to stop putting new tapes out.

The Digital Age

Tetrault and I talk about the fact that digital rips of some of his comps have turned up on blogs and on YouTube, and how some (partial) information exists on Discogs. He is okay with these comps finding their way online, since it means more people can hear them. But he’s surprised how many survived. “I sold almost no copies of most of these tapes,” he marvels. “I don’t know how the copies are all spread around so much these days! It’s all a mystery.”

Tetrault still has single copies of the masters of most of the comps. He sent a few of them to someone who said they would burn them to CD for him, but he is still waiting for that. While a few people have offered to digitize his tapes, he is scared of sending out the remainder of his originals, lest they get lost or damaged in the mail. It’s a reasonable fear — obscure bits of experimental music history such as these are often one copy away from extinction.

Tetrault’s own collection of other labels’ and artists’ comps has thinned over time, reflecting how esoteric music can become an endangered species. Tetrault explains that, over the years, he would downsize his collection by disseminating his tapes in unlikely locations. “I’d either leave them in a phone booth, or I would leave them on a table somewhere at the laundromat for some unsuspecting person to pick up and play. They’re the ones who would throw them away, not me.”

Remarkably, in the decades since Epitapes’ inception, not one of Tetrault’s master tapes has broken. We chat for a while about what he can do with these tapes, which aren’t getting any younger. He wants to work out how to transfer them to his computer, but isn’t sure about the logistics. If he can figure out the process, he’d be open to posting them online, because, as we both agree, they are important historical documents. I, for one, can’t imagine a world where his compilation of machinery sounds, A Crutch Or Reel Or Water-Plant, is lost forever.

Thanks to Mike Tetrault for the interview.

Various Artists – Fistful of Fuzz CD (DMT, 1998)

Fistful of Fuzz was a remarkable compilation from 1998 that collected a number of hyper-obscure 60s garage psych singles that had never appeared before on reissues or compilations. When it came out, little to nothing was known about the bands responsible for each song; in one case, even the band’s name was unknown!

Yet despite each track’s esoteric nature, they are all standouts. Lost relics from bands that only put out one single, which subsequently disappeared into the ether.

Even the cover was a little esoteric. It embraced an inexplicable Spaghetti Western theme, augmented with psychedelic background and text. As far as garage psych comps go, this one was a memorable beast.

Curious about the story behind this noteworthy comp, I tracked down the main man behind it, a passionate psych and garage rock collector named Mike Ascherman, who lives in Queens. Over the phone, he regaled me with the tales behind this compilation and shared stories from his trove of experiences collecting rare records.

Ascherman is now in his mid-60s and retired, having worked as an accountant for many years. He traces his interest in rock music to his high school days in the late sixties, when he would listen to WNEW-FM, New York’s first underground rock radio station. There he encountered bands and artists that today are icons, like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. “I started reveling in the idea of being into music that no one else was into. You can like music, but if you hear it ten times a day it gets annoying. Most people listen to music as sonic wallpaper, and it doesn’t matter as much.”

A key fork in the road was his acquisition of Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, which included profiles of various artists, including then-obscure bands like Ultimate Spinach, United States of America, Love, and the Silver Apples. “I just wanted to get records by every band in that Rock Encyclopedia that I’d never heard of, just to hear them,” he says.

After high school, he went to Stony Brook University, where he encountered a few others like him. That’s when his record collection started to expand. “I spent more time in the Sam Goody in the nearby mall than I did in class,” he jokes. “I was always going through the bargain bins discovering bands like The Litter, and the British band Van Der Graaf Generator, which is still my favorite band to this day.”

After this he branched into progressive rock, then modern classical, and then jazz and avant-garde music, all in the quest of new and different sounds. But in the eighties, he circled back to rock — that’s when he got into “real collecting,” seeking and obtaining records using the Midnight Records mail order catalog and Goldmine magazine. Since then, he’s become ingrained in the garage/psych collecting scene, though he has always maintained an enthusiasm for many different styles of music.

Fistful Prehistory

The origins of the Fistful of Fuzz compilation date back to a record label Ascherman ran with two friends, which was called Parallel World. He tells me they put out several great records. Their first was a reissue of the 1980 private-press LP Classic Epics, by South African prog/psych band Steve Linnegar’s Snakeshed. Then came a reissue of 1973’s Chapter One, a Nigerian psychedelic funk gem by the band Blo. “Of course now everyone knows Blo,” Ascherman says. “I’m the one who discovered the band, because I found two copies of the record in one of the local record stores in Midtown Manhattan, a legendary — to my mind at least — store called Pyramid Records.”

Those two, limited-edition reissues sold well. The label subsequently diversified its scope, doing CD releases of “the two ultimate weird records of that time, and still two of the best,” Jupiter Transmission by Bobb Trimble and The Unicorn by Peter Grundzien — outsider, or “real people,” music, as Paul Major would call it.

But eventually Ascherman left Parallel World, as it was fizzling out. Around then, the label had put out a collection of Cambodian rock music called Cambodian Rocks — which was quite successful, and spawned several subsequent volumes on other labels. (It even warranted its own Wikipedia article!) The label was also working on a compilation called World of Acid, which Ascherman was helping assemble. It came out in 1997, after he had left their partnership.

After leaving Parallel World, Ascherman collaborated with another collector, who proposed the idea of doing a psych compilation using Ascherman’s collection. He tells me that the Parallel World partnership was often paralyzed by indecision, with the partners agonizing for days over things like compilation titles and even the name of the label itself. But Ascherman and his new collector friend, “Alex Martin,” made decisions with unprecedented efficiency. With only a few minutes’ consideration, they named the label DMT; they wanted a three-letter drug name but felt LSD was overused. Martin then came up with the acronym “Digital Music Transcendence” on a whim. And Fistful of Fuzz had a nice ring to it, so they went with that. Same with the artwork. “It was just a cool name, a cool picture. It was different,” Ascherman says.

The Spaghetti Western theme was chosen because it was fun. Many assume Clint Eastwood is the cowboy on the cover, but Ascherman tells me that’s not true. “My test press has the original with Eastwood’s face, but [the official cover] was actually an actor named Ty Hardin,” Ascherman says. They made the change to reduce the likelihood of legal problems. The artist responsible for the portrait replaced Hardin’s gun with a guitar.

The back cover of Fistful of Fuzz, complete with track listing. (Source: Discogs)

The Songs

Acherman explains that Fistful’s tracks come from a variety of vinyl singles and acetates. Several of the songs came from a Michigan record dealer. “He collected Michigan but he knew everything else. He only kept Michigan records, so other things got sold or traded.” In the early nineties, Ascherman acquired a heavy psych record worth a four-figure sum that this dealer wanted, and they worked out a trade involving several records. Ascherman received a batch of singles in exchange; some were records he was looking for, but the dealer also included several other obscure singles calibrated to Ascherman’s taste. Two of those records found their way onto Fistful: The Pretty’s “The Electric Hand” (“my favourite psych single, even though I don’t have a copy at the moment”) and Sounds Synonymous with “Tensions”.

Keep in mind that these were the days before you could look records up and stream them off YouTube. So when you paid good money for a record, you had to have a sense it was worth it. Ascherman talks about getting a “vibe” or “sixth sense” about a record, which would lead him to fork over the cash to buy it. “A lot of people these days, like everything is either turd or face-melt,” he says. “But it isn’t. A lot of things are just okay, some things are good. Rarely things are really the face-melt or fantastic. For every single that made it on to Fistful of Fuzz, there’s a stack of things that I didn’t like, or things I liked that weren’t comp-worthy.”

One of the most enigmatic of the tracks is a cover of “Purple Haze,” which Ascherman obtained at a WFMU record fair in the East Village, through a trade with a fellow dealer. “I had a good garage single that he wanted and he brought me over a couple things to check out, and I heard this and I said, ‘Man, I gotta have this.'” That scorching “Purple Haze” rendition came in the form of an acetate record with no information on its label. The identity of the band remains unknown to this day. As a fun touch, Ascherman listed the band as “John Doe & The Acetates” on the Fistful‘s track listing.

The mysterious John Doe and the Acetates “Purple Haze” acetate, with no information on its label apart from the logo and details for the recording studio, which stopped operating long ago. (Source: Mike Ascherman)

When Fistful came out, nothing was known about any of the bands. So Ascherman put a notice on the back of the disc, urging artists to get in touch to collect royalties — and he made sure he always had these available to pay bands who reached out.

The process of trying to find the bands who recorded these singles is a story itself. Ascherman tells me about the garage rock collectors’ phenomenon of “tracking,” in which they try to locate the members of the bands from the rare singles they’ve acquired. “I started this in the eighties. I went into Manhattan to the main branch of the New York Public Library and went into the phone stacks and was looking through phone books, writing down hundreds of numbers to call to try to find people. And if you actually found someone, it was an accomplishment. Nowadays [with the internet] it’s like, ‘Oh okay, here’s another guy.’ The fun was taken out of it in a way. And it became very cutthroat, people going behind people’s backs to try to find people and track bands.”

Ascherman tells me collectors used to abide by a code of honor when it came to tracking. “If someone was tracking somebody because they had the record, other people laid off. If you did the work, you get the fruits of your labor.”

A few of the Fistful artists ended up tracked. One example was the whimsically named Loos Foos & the Fiberglass Cornflake. “Eventually I got put in touch with the singer from the band, and I got a little background there. They were from Rhode Island. They were somewhat known there, he was a bit of a local legend. Eventually, someone with a music blog interviewed him and they had his whole story up there.”

Another interesting case was The Ruins. “I knew nothing about them when I put it out. But I later met one of the members of the band who was a fellow record collector. I told him, ‘I want to pay you guys for the royalties and give you copies.’ He didn’t want anything! He just thought it was cool it’s out.”

“One of the artists that I’d like to find, to pay him, but also to learn about him, is Don Malena and The Dry Ice. Don Malena turned into a country singer; I have a couple of his other singles on the Accent labels. I’d like to know more about him.” Ascherman thinks somebody somewhere once tracked down the band that backed him, The Dry Ice, though that information is now long gone.

Then there is the curious case of the Peabody Co. Ascherman found a set of six acetates at his favorite record store, Pyramid Records, shortly before they closed down. (He tells that Paul Major used to get first dibs on things from that store, but when Major got married and left town, Ascherman was granted the first right of refusal.) “When I got the [Peabody Co.] acetates, all that was on there was the name ‘Peabody Company’ and each track title,” he remembers. “The only other thing on there is the name of the studio where it was pressed, which was the first place I went to [to get information]. I went to the building and spoke to a security guard there who knew nothing about ’em. This was in the midtown Manhattan. All these little companies had tiny little offices in there.

The label on one of the six Peabody Co. acetates. As you can see, there’s no information apart from the band name, song title, and recording studio name and address. (Thanks to Mike Ascherman for the picture).

“Even last week, I looked up a few of the song titles on BMI and ASCAP again, and still nothing was ever registered. Even though seven of the ten songs were originals, there were no songwriting credits on it. No other copies have ever popped up, not even an individual one.”

I ask him his thoughts on when this record might have been recorded, and what he hears in it. “It’s gotta be ’68 or so, I figure,” he estimates, with a collector’s precision. “By the sound, obviously these guys were into Blues Magoos and that kind of sound, they did the cover of ‘Tobacco Road’ with the little guitar and theremin and the drums freaking out in the middle. They also did the Who’s ‘I Can’t Explain’ — it’s shorter but it has a similar theremin thing going through the middle of it .The originals have a New York, East Coast Blues Magoos-y psych influence. We figured they must be from New York, but without having any names to work with, they couldn’t be found.”

Just this year, the Peabody Co. acetates got assembled into a limited edition LP for the Out-Sider label, an imprint of the Guerssen reissue label, which is based in Spain. “Alex from Guerssen and I are hoping that, now that it’s getting out into the internet, someone from the band will contact us,” Ascherman explains.

Because there was no cover art whatsoever to work with, they used a generic cover art image that was used by the vanity label, Century Records, for psych records. (Ascherman owns multiple records that have this artwork). They figured, if Peabody Co. were to have self-released the record at the time, that could have been the art they would have used.

The cover the Out-Sider LP collecting the Peabody Co. acetates, released in 2020. (Source: Discogs)

Ascherman shares a story about the magic that can occur while unearthing obscure old records. “I sell on Discogs,” he explains. “I had a record by a guy named Tyler Famularo from the Midwest. It was released on Audifex, one of a series of labels — not quite tax scam records but similar. They put out records they called ‘advance review copies.’ This was on one of those. I had a spare copy and I put it up [for sale]. Somebody ordered it and I noticed that the payer’s name was Rebecca Famularo. [I asked her about it] and she said, this was my father. She saw this, and she didn’t know he had a record, and [it turns out] he didn’t know he had a record! She was buying it as a Father’s Day gift. And I should mention I refunded her money, I said I couldn’t charge her for the record. She said she donated it, which is a nice thing. She wrote me back after he got the record, he was so thrilled about it. [In a lot of cases] they just sent out tapes and thought they were rejected and that was the end of it.”

Tyler Famularo’s “advance reviewer copy” record on Audifex Records. (Source: Discogs)

An interesting addendum to the Fistful of Fuzz story occurred nearly a decade later, when it was bootlegged by an infamous bootleg label, Particles. Ascherman explains that this label is run by a UK collector who will shamelessly bootleg rare live recordings and comps, having previously run a notorious label called Radioactive Records. The bootlegs were mainly low-quality “needle-drop” boots, produced on the cheap and completely unauthorized. Yet Ascherman jokes that it is a “badge of honor” that his comp was selected for “reissue.”

The Next Chapter

Fistful of Fuzz was followed by another compilation, For a Few Fuzz Guitars More — again, another Spaghetti Western name and cover. Most of the tracks on that came from the collection of a friend of his, Steve. The artists on this compilation were also previously unknown, and mostly new to compilations — although in some cases, he uses the alternate side of the singles from Fistful.

Source: Discogs

One artist on For a Few is Sherman Marshall, whose single was released on the California record label Chartmaker, better known for putting out the 1969 self-titled album by Darius. That latter LP became a high profile psych reissue, aided by Darius’ larger-than-life persona — although many feel the real talent was in his backing band, Goldenrod. Darius was later tracked down by collectors, leading to the discovery of enough unreleased acetates to warrant a second collection. Yet Sherman Marshall has not been successfully tracked, and remains an enigma to this day.

One band from the comp that was successfully tracked was Peacepipe, whose scorching “The Sun Won’t Shine Forever” is a highlight of this disc. A friend of Ascherman’s hooked him up with this single, which was so incredible they were determined to hunt Peacepipe down. They put Rich Haupt of Rockadelic Records on the case. “He was the master tracker,” Ascherman explains. “If you had trouble finding something you went to Rich.” Sure enough, Rich found the signer in no time, and they discovered that there was a full album of unreleased material on tape. They worked out the licensing, and in 1995 the Peacepipe album came out on Rockadelic. The Peacepipe track on For a Few Fuzz Guitars More is from their single on the Accent label, the record that started it all.

There were intended to be two subsequent volumes of the Fuzz series, which never saw the light of day, though Ascherman has circulated them to some fellow collectors on CDR. In continuing the Spaghetti Western theme, they were titled The Good, The Bad, and The Fuzz and Fuzz You Sucker. Several of the tracks from the The Good ended up on the fourth volume of Aliens Psychos & Wild Things, a compilation run by a Virginia collector.

And at his Queens home, Ascherman owns dozens of CDRs filled with obscure psych and garage records that he’s converted to digital versions. These are the sum of his many years of collecting — Ascherman doesn’t hang onto every record he owns; instead, he privileges quality over quantity. Thus his actual collection has been whittled down to only the most cherished items:

Thanks to Mike Ascherman for the interview.