Checking in with Christopher King


 What are you currently working on?

Well, about 20 or so projects right now, including a series of imprints for this label called Tompkins Square Records up in New York City. They asked me to do a series of CDs focusing on under-anthologized, under-appreciated prewar blues and country artists, so right now I’m working on four different CDs of that material for them. I’m also doing a collection of pre-World War II songs about warfare for the same label. I’m also working on about four box sets for a label out of England, JSP, where they basically put out these four-disc collections of topics like the complete recorded works of J.E. Mainer, or a collection I just did of prewar Yiddish music. I also just finished a box set for Rounder Records on the early days of bluegrass.

Christopher King called with an update after we’d interviewed him: “I agreed to trade some records with Robert Crumb for some artwork,” King says. The cartoonist will provide three pieces for King’s next project, a selection of pre-World War II Cajun music.

What were you doing when we called?

I was actually in the midst of writing six e-mails to go out to different people about production for some of these sets.

Tell us about your day job.

My full-time job is working for Rebel & County records up here in Charlottesville, doing production work for them, as well as taking care of our retail store in Floyd.

What music are you listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to an awful lot of prewar, very early Cajun music by people like Dennis McGee and Amédé Ardoin, and quite a bit of early Albanian music from the 1930s. My wife, daughter and I went to Istanbul last year, and when we were there, I got a bunch of Albanian records and now have become somewhat obsessed with them.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?

Probably when I was in kindergarten, when I was asked, like everyone else in the class, to make a representation of the outdoors, using the materials at our disposal. I ended up using lots of toilet paper to recreate clouds, so I made this vast panoramic view of the outside, but with toilet paper clouds.

Do you have any pets?

I have a Boston terrier named Betty and a fighting fish named Mr. King.

If you’re cooking a meal for yourself, what do you make?

I really love steak and fava beans.

What piece of art do you wish were in your private collection?

The original Gil Elvgren artwork that was used for Red Harvest, the first novel written by Dashiell Hammett. The third imprint of the book, which was paperback, was one of Elvgren’s first commercial projects—he did all of those beautiful pin-up model paintings from the ’40s and ’50s. 

Do you have a favorite building?

The Hotel Edison in New York City. It has a certain film noir quality about it, both inside and out.

What is your favorite hidden place?

Probably my record room. We live in a renovated 19th century farmhouse, and what used to be the summer kitchen is where I have my 78 [rpm record] collection, my home studio, and my paper and art collections. 

If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who and why?

I guess Humphrey Bogart, because he’s the perfect dude.

Outside of your medium, who is your favorite creative artist?

It would be a dead heat between Tom Waits and Robert Crumb.