THEY are the owners of an obscure record label that operates out of south-west Scotland. He is a multi-millionaire American rock aristocrat with an impeccable pedigree.
Now the future of Dumfries and Galloway-based Document Records has been secured, after the White Stripes’ Jack White stepped in to finance a joint project based on his boyhood love of the company.
The US label owned by the highly successful musician – who produced a string of big-selling albums with former wife Meg White – is collaborating with Document Records to release vinyl-only remastered versions of blues artists aimed at introducing a new generation of music fans to the genre.
White chose to work with husband-and-wife team Gary and Gillian Atkinson because the singer and guitarist bought his first clutch of blues albums from Document Records when he was a budding star. Document Records, in Bladnoch, holds the largest pre-1945 blues, jazz and country archive in the world, with 900 titles and close to 25,000 tracks.
The collaboration – the first albums will be released next month featuring blues legends Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and the Mississippi Sheiks – will give the Scots label a much higher global profile and help to cement the status of its unique archive.
“One of the things it’s done has moved us out of the genre of the stereotypical image of the blues lover, which is sort of like Gary and me,” said Gillian. “That demographic is 55-plus and they’ve got all the stuff anyway and maintain an interest in what’s going on.
“What this collaboration has done, and Jack in particular, is open up a whole new younger market, and he’s reaching it. I think Jack’s taking a chance, but he told me there had already been 900 pre-orders per title.”
The seeds of the joint project were sown in 2011 – the year the White Stripes finally split – when Gary received an e-mail from White’s Third Man label asking if they would be interested in working with him. After initial discussions, the project appeared to fall by the wayside, but the couple then received a call at home.
“I was working upstairs, and I could hear Gill talking to somebody for about 15 minutes, and I didn’t think anything of it,” said Gary. “Then I heard her saying ‘That’s Jack White on the phone’.”
Gary said he was taken aback by White’s apparent nervousness about speaking to him, until the singer explained how much the label meant to him: “He very, very excitedly told me about how, as a kid, the first bunch of albums he bought were from Document Records, and he had been a big fan of the label ever since. The thing is that his attitude reminded me of how I felt when I first started collecting as a boy.”
Over the months, the two men worked via phone and e-mail on the project, before Gary and Gill finally met the singer in person while he was touring the UK late last year.
White chose the artists for the first three records and expects the collaboration to be ongoing. Though MP3 downloads now dominate the music market, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of vinyl, with audiophiles preferring the warmth of the analogue sound as well as the “tactile” attraction of LPs with their extensive liner notes and cover art.
Gary said: “I didn’t want my contribution to this project just to be handing over the tracks, I wanted to roll my sleeves up and be more involved. So I said to Jack that I wanted to revisit it from the starting point and I felt I could do a fairly decent job of it.”
In a statement ahead of the release, the rock star’s label said the music was “breathtaking”: “The recordings we’ll be presenting in this reissue series are the building blocks and DNA of American culture. Blues, R&B, Elvis, teenagerism, punk rock… it all goes back to these vital, breathtaking recordings.”
Gary added: “My hope is that there will be young Gary Atkinsons and young Jack Whites looking at these things, and if these albums set youngsters, newcomers, on the same path we’ve been on, then that will be job done. That’s our ultimate hope and ambition for this.”