Heavy Metal Collectors: An interview series
Part 12: Martin Popoff (Canada)
Inspiration can come from a number of unique sources. The concept behind this interview series was developed over time but recently crystallized in my mind. As the owner of a large library I’ve often pondered about the nature of collecting Heavy Metal music (Cassettes, vinyl, CD’s, memorabilia etc) and how and why people accumulate Metal ‘stuff’. In 2017 Martin Popoff wrote a book called METAL COLLECTORS which I read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed. It occurred to me that there are lots of people out there with pretty massive Metal collections so I decided I wanted to chat to some of them and interview them for the site.
My concept is to, over time ask people with some pretty impressive, monster collections the same series of questions. I’m basically stealing that idea of METAL COLLECTORS (Sorry Martin!) and expanding into an interview series. Lastly, the name for this series was spawned by a gentleman by the name of Ray Wawrzyniak. He appeared in the recent Rush documentary TIME STAND STILL. Ray is a Rush super-fan and in one particularly charming scene in the film, the genial and friendly (but clearly obsessed) Ray shows off one piece of his Rush collection and refers to it with barely hidden glee as ‘Spectacularly Majestic’. It was in fact ‘just’ an old piece of paper, (a Rush ad from a magazine from 1979) but that phrase alone and his enthusiasm I feel embodies the spirit of Metal collecting, because I suspect that many Metal collectors have those same moments. Check out the 1:30 minute mark of the video below.
If you, or know someone you know, has a monster Metal collection (in the 1000+ range) please feel free to get them in touch with me!
As as my 12th interview in this series I finally get to interview Martin Popoff, the man partially behind the inspiration for this fun and ongoing series. Rumoured to have one of the world’s largest collections of Hard Rock and Metal let’s see what Martin has to say!
Tell us how you started collecting Metal! When did you start?
I’d say it’s more like accumulating. I guess I started when I was 10 years old, 1973 or so? First you were influenced by cool cousins and older brothers of friends, and before you know it, me and my buddies were using our allowance money to buy albums by Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and KISS.
How big is your collection?
I’d say it’s about 18,000 CDs and 6000 LPs. There’s also about 2000 45s. The LPs at one point were 11,000, but I’ve been slowly selling it off to friends and a few local record stores. I’d say over the years, 5000 of the CDs have been sold off too, but yeah, right now the CDs fill a wall that is 7 feet high by 31 feet long, and that’s with a lot of the jewel cases removed and replaced by plastic sleeves.
Can you give us a break down? (Vinyl, vs. Cassette, vs. CD vs. digital)
Part of that breakdown is in the above answer, but to complete or continue the answer, only a handful of cassettes. I have a little shrine to eight tracks, where I have about 20 sealed eight tracks. Digital, I have about 5000 albums in one computer and 5000 in another computer, each linked to their own iPod Classic. Then of course there’s Spotify!, which caused a spiritual zen awakening against the idea of collecting.
How do you count your collection? For example. If you have say for example, multiple copies of KISS-Destroyer on the following media; Vinyl, 8-Track, Cassette, CD, and digital format do you count that as five items or just 1 item?
I’ve never in my life considered this question! But that’s what makes Josh, Josh. But okay, I’ll entertain it: if I have to Kiss’ Destroyer, one on CD and one on vinyl, it’s counted twice.
When you collect certain bands, do you buy all of their stuff such as Live albums, EP’s, Compilations, box-sets etc?
Absolutely not! I’ve never been this kind of completist at all. Well, okay, I suppose in the old days I wanted every official release once. That is what I considered a complete collection for years, decades. Just every official studio album and every live album. Not even every greatest hits album. That never mattered.
How do you organize your collection if at all; by genre, Chronologically? Alphabetically?
A funny thing, ever since the beginning, or at some point, say 1980, on or something like that, the vinyl has always been broken up by metal and non-metal, and then alphabetized. The CDs are just one massive alphabetization. At one point, I got a little fed up with the CDs and made a dim attempt, and started a CD singles section, although I suppose. Also, I’ve always had a various artist section, and in the CDs, that was even broken out by normal compilations and tribute albums. But I actually went and took out all the hip-hop and put it in one place and took out all the country and put it in one place. But there is not much of that at all. There’s no way I’m going to split it up by metal and nonmetal. That would take days. And so yes, in the vinyl, I always had a various artists section at the end.
Do you insure your collection?
Yes and no. It’s kind of insured by having an exaggerated value put on my contents insurance here at the office. And I also have stated on my insurance stuff that there’s a lot of books and CDs and records and other collectibles in here. But I’ve never videotaped it, and gave them a tape or anything like that.
How do you store your collection?
Just in the usual racks. No interesting answer to give you here. I do have a couple cool little ledges all around the office where I’ve got some of my signed LPs and even backstage passes. Long story, I have about 1000 backstage passes, which I took in payment for writing a backstage pass art book.
What is your preferred genre(s)? Do you have a genre break down of your collection? For example 15% Death Metal, 25% Black Metal etc?
No, no interesting answer for you here. Just really no jazz or rock or hip-hop or classical to speak of. It’s just basically 97% rock music of various sorts. But sure, I’d say 40% of it is heavy metal.
Do you sell and trade or strictly buy?
I definitely sell to buddies who come by, and a couple of friends who have record stores, but that’s it. And in the old days, I did sell online, but I don’t have anything catalogued and up-to-date properly anymore. But no, I’m not a buyer and seller. I don’t go to record stores anymore, and I rarely go to the record shows. But I have gone in record shows and taken records along with my books. I’ll probably do this again soon.
What is your preferred format?
Interesting question, because it’s definitely vinyl to collect and cherish, but never to play. It’s CDs for the car. My iPod Classics get a lot of use, and then there’s a lot of Spotify. Also, I suppose, my iTunes in my computers get a fair bit of use as well. CDs here in the office too. But I rarely play the vinyl.
How do your track your collection? Do you use a spreadsheet or one of the on-line services or even a hand-written list?
I did a spreadsheet of a Queen collection I bought from this guy once. And I even databased all my backstage passes once. But the only real spreadsheet I keep up with is my autographed items. That I suppose is my most cherished collection. I have 3200 signed LPs and CDs in this office. And that I have in a spreadsheet.
What is your most valuable piece? (not in terms of sentimental value, but in actual terms of resale value on the open market. ie. Goldmine etc.?)
The funny thing is, I never ended up with too many of those really expensive records. Well, not really any at all! I was talking about this with some buddies the other day. I should’ve wound up with all sorts of super rare and expensive punk and New Wave of British Heavy Metal stuff, because I was buying all that stuff at the time. But for whatever reason, I didn’t wind up with too many of their creaky, dodgy, independent things, so all that stuff I bought from that time, sure, would fetch 30, $40 in stores these days, I suppose. The one that really comes to mind is an original black final copy of Savatage’s Sirens. But even there, no, do you think I could end up with the blue one? No. I bought the black one. It’s worth a couple hundred bucks apparently. But in fact, the most valuable things I have would be some of the autographed items at this point. I probably have, I don’t know, a couple hundred items or more that would be worth $150 and up. And quite a few that would be reasonable at $300, like some signed AC/DC and Kiss and Black Sabbath, that sort of thing, fully signed Pantera and Slayer.
What is your rarest item in your collection?
I’ve got a Witchfinder General thing that is a pressing of about 15. But again, I consider some of my most cherished autograph things as, well, my most cherished, but I suppose if you’re talking rarity, that’s a nonsensical concept. Those are one-of-a-kind, except they’re very similar to somebody else’s fully signed copy of UFO Obsession! But I wish people would talk more about rarity. Like the real thing, the thing that most people, even super knowledgeable friends of mine, don’t have the knowledge of, like, how many were pressed of a certain thing? You’d be amazed at how hard this kind of information is to find.
What is the most you have paid for an item?
Not very much at all. I’ve only bought three or four things on eBay ever, and paid between 30 and $75 for those. That would be like a The Ghost album (Birmingham band, 1971), an Adverts album, a Streets punk, a compilation album, a Pointed Sticks original album. That’s all I can think of. These were things I valued as a young punk but sold or traded away along the way.
Do you collect other non-music Metal memorabilia such as books, DVD’s, T-shirts, stickers, hot sauces, wine/beer etc.
Again, I accumulate. But like I say, thing I have the most passion for is my autographed items collection. I love getting the artists to sign their work. And of course the subset of that, that his most valued to me would be LPs that I bought as a kid. So I have hundreds of those signed by my old rock ‘n roll heroes. And I have, as I mentioned, the big backstage pass collection. I really do like 45s, so I have 2000 of those. I probably have about 500 rock books, but again, that’s just an accumulation. There’s absolutely nothing I collect, although that word does sort of apply to autograph hunting, the idea of a bounty, a prize, gotta get this guy, etc.
What is the one item you have been searching for that you cannot seem to find?
I’m not searching for anything. I don’t search online, and I never going to record stores anymore. Kind of sad, isn’t it? I was the king of record stores. I was like a North American expert on record stores back when I gave a damn. Sure, there are things that if I came across them at a decent price, I would buy them. You know what I really like Josh? I suppose I really like paper goods, press materials, promotional items. And I do really like backstage passes, I gotta say that. But no, the coolest thing to me is meeting my rock ‘n roll heroes and getting their autographs on their works. None of this drum skin and pick guard bullshit for me. I want them to sign their art.
Why do you collect Metal music?
Again, outside of the stuff that has sentimental value to me, which really, that starts fading away in the mid ‘80s, although original CDs by bands from the CD era that I really love, that I got to meet, that I got autographs on those CDs, that has sentimental value too. So in that respect, we’re talking about 1990 to 2000. After 2000 the sentimental value really starts to go away. But not for meeting the artists and getting the stuff signed. So no, I don’t really collect. Like I say, I’ve whittled my LP collection, down from 11,000 to 5000, and at this point, a lot of what I have. I don’t particularly want to give up. So I guess you can say from my haphazard, chaotic accumulation, it has been whittled down to a collection, hasn’t it? But the funny thing about your question, why do you collect metal music? I think Spotify has shown that you can’t really collect music itself. Music is something that just flows through the airwaves. Like I say, being a collector and a scholar of book collecting, a concept that is very rarely carried over to music collecting is the idea or the importance of the first edition. So for example, I couldn’t care less about a CD copy of Heaven and Hell, sentimentally speaking, and I couldn’t care less about a vinyl copy of Vulgar Display of Power. The only thing that has talismanic power to me is the first edition. And if we want to carry that further, first edition, strictly speaking can apply to when it first came out, or where it first came out, which I suppose is the same thing, or where the band is from. So an old Priest album, what should really matter is British copies of that stuff, on vinyl. But what matters to collectors is the Japanese or Thai 45.
In a morbid and Metal question, what do you plan to do with your collection when you die?
I think the only way to win at that game is to sell it all at a high price 10 minutes before you die! But a way to sort of win is get a good attitude about getting rid of it. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the sad story I hear from all my buddies of just selling off all their vinyl for cheap 20 years ago. But it does mean rationalizing what parts of your collection are super important to you, and of course, that should get less and less as time goes on. I guess, realistically speaking, I would hope my collection is, to pick a number out of the air, 10% of the size it is right now when I die. That means you did a good job of keeping just the sentimental stuff, and you’ve not left a burden on your heirs.
Final thoughts? Feel free to use this space to share any unique or interesting items about you and your collection and/or share ideas and advice for your fellow collectors.
Final thoughts? Just to be random about it, like I say, I love paper goods. I love that weird stuff. Correspondence, signed letters, press materials. Anything that just isn’t normal out there, the gives you insight into the music business, how it works, these rockers and their personal lives. Another random thought: living in downtown Toronto, I try not to collect things that take up a lot of room. Forget posters. There’s no room left for that.
Oh yeah, another cool thing I do, which is a geeky collector kind of thing, I have framed up all over my office signed LPs, and I usually put in a backstage pass, or a signed CD sleeve in there as well. I think I’ve got 60 or 70 of those hung up all around the office. But the poster thing made me think of that. There’s no room for any posters when you’re doing things like that. And no amps or drum sets or guitars or any of that crap. There’s just no room. And I’ve had this debate with a few collecting buddies a few days ago, I feel perfectly fine throwing away jewel cases and putting the three pieces in a little plastic sleeve. If you do that, you can collect thousands and thousands of CDs and it really doesn’t take up much space.
So yeah, what do I have that I’m proud of? Really, it comes down to be autographs. Any time I pull out an LP, and I see three names on there, it takes me right back to meeting those guys, interviewing them, getting them to sign this, the memory of where that was, whether was a hotel or a venue. That’s the cool thing to me that I have.
And I suppose there are hundreds of not signed things that I can vaguely remember buying back in the ‘70s, what store it was from, who I was with, the memories of that album, but that’s a little harder to keep in the memory banks. And actually with the database, I put a few notes about when I get something signed, and who signed it. Because you pull out a CD sleeve, and there’s five names on it, all scrawled on there, and you can’t read any of them, it’s really good to go back to the database and see all the names. Because I put all that information there. The date, the venue, who set it up, even sometimes the time. What else? Yeah, I’ve got a lot of promo items, I’ve got some gold and platinum and silver awards that I bought. A lot of weird paper goods, the CD singles, the 45s, yeah, love all of it, but like I say, is just been in an accumulation. I’ve definitely never been a completist about any of this stuff.
Thank you Martin!