Grand Haven Collector Nominated for Grammy for Historical Album
John Sinkevics, Grand Rapids Press January 31, 2010
GRAND HAVEN -- Jim Linderman jokes that the historical compilation of gospel songs and yellowed photographs probably ranks as one of the worst-selling Grammy-nominated albums ever.
But the Grand Haven collector, who worked 10 years as a CBS News researcher, also credits his peculiar fascination with old photos and roots music for producing something truly Grammy-worthy, because it preserves a rarely documented slice of American history.
"I guess I'm a popular-culture historian. I've always found a niche that no one else had paid attention to," he says, sipping coffee at his dining room table. "I just know no one had ever done a book on it before.As a result, "Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950" is up for a Grammy tonight for best historical album, with Linderman listed as a "compilation engineer."
Linderman, who will attend the ceremonies in Los Angeles, spent more than a decade buying old pictures of river baptisms from around the United States. He then teamed up with Atlanta's Dust-to-Digital record label, which paired 75 of those photos with vintage recordings of baptism-related gospel songs and sermons. Linderman also wrote an introduction for the book.
"These pictures convinced me there is an art to photography. What they depict is so striking," Linderman, 56, says. "I knew I had something important, and I knew (Dust-to-Digital producers) would do a good job. ... Everybody who sees it, loves it."
A 1971 graduate of Grand Haven High School who moved back to West Michigan from New York in 2008, Linderman freely admits he's a bit of an eccentric. He describes himself as an "Americana iconoclast" who takes a non-traditional approach to collecting historical photos, music and objects.
"I'm a historian. I'm interested in the arts and how they relate to other cultural experiences. For me, it's all about authenticity," he says of his obsessive collecting. "I'm interested in obscure things. ... I'm interested in getting way down deep. That's where the contributions are made."
When Linderman decides to collect something, he goes all out. Over the years, he's collected ice-fishing decoys, delved into the seminal recordings of punk, jazz, blues, country and gospel music, and self-published a book based on a collection of photos of nude women whose faces are hidden from the camera.
"I'm constantly torn between Sunday morning and Saturday night," he quips.
He's compiling photos of circus-sideshow freaks as well as antique tintypes, small metal sheets containing photographic images. These tintypes feature portraits of people in front of elaborately painted backdrops that became popular more than a century ago. Linderman said no one's ever explored the art of these backdrops, which could be the subject of another book.
"If it wasn't for collectors, this stuff would be gone," Linderman says. "I just like doing things that aren't normal. I've never been interested in the mainstream."
It's an unconventional streak that extends to Linderman's teen years. That's when he'd sneak out of a window at home to watch then-fledgling punk icon and Muskegon native Iggy Pop and his band, the Stooges, play the Grand Haven Roller Rink. That's also where he saw early shows by rock bands MC5 and Alice Cooper.
It continued after he graduated from Central Michigan University and earned a library science degree from Western Michigan University. After working five years for Upjohn pharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo, he headed for New York City, mostly because he wanted to explore the punk-rock music scene at clubs such as CBGB's and the Mudd Club.He worked as a researcher for CBS News for 10 years and later as a librarian for a major advertising agency. Suffering from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, he left New York for health reasons a little more than a year ago, returning to Michigan with his actress wife, Janna, to be closer to his parents, Craig and Beverly Linderman.
The idea behind his Grammy-nominated project was born when he spotted a photo of a river baptism in a book on African-American art about 15 years ago.
Intrigued by the human emotions and spiritual power displayed in the faded, wrinkled and scratched photos, Linderman began collecting them "because you can feel something going on in the pictures and because images are reflected in the water. As an artist, they're striking. The people (are) nervous. They're cold. They're wet. They're literally being saved. It's not just a picture, it's an event that's been captured."
At first, he pored over photos at yard and garage sales. Later, he scanned auctions on e-Bay, snapping up every baptismal photo he found.
With about 120 photos in hand, he contacted Dust-to-Digital, because the label specializes in historical compilations and reissues of rare gospel, blues, folk and country recordings. The label liked the idea and tracked down a host of historical 78 rpm recordings of baptismal services and related gospel songs by performers ranging from The Carter Family to The Southern Wonders Quartet.
Linderman concedes the project is "a break-even" proposition financially, because it targets a small niche audience. "They're not pop songs, so I knew (the album) wouldn't be a financial success, but I knew it would be an artistic success," he says.
Still, the rare photos will get more exposure come the spring: Linderman sold his collection to New York's International Center of Photography, which plans to open an exhibit of the photos in May.
While Linderman says fewer than 2,000 copies of "Take Me to the Water" had been sold as of early January, Dust-to-Digital's Steven Lance Ledbetter notes "sales have been steady. ... We hope the Grammy nomination and forthcoming exhibition at ICP in May will help the book and CD reach a wider audience."
Linderman concedes "Take Me to the Water" faces stiff competition in the Grammy's historical album category from "The Complete Chess Masters" (a Little Walter compilation), "My Dusty Road" (a Woody Guthrie collection), "Origins of the Red Hot Mama" (a Sophie Tucker tribute) and "Woodstock -- 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm." Regardless, he's "thrilled" to be nominated for his "labor of love."
And after returning from Los Angeles, he'll hunker back down in the office of his Grand Haven home, tracking down more obscure, historical photos while listening to post-war blues music.
"I'm an artist. I do consider what I do the art of collecting," he says. "I have no shortage of ideas."