Not for Sale: Pete Korelich and Linotype Labels

Jul 12, 2021

Here’s one of the things I stumbled across in the warehouse recently:

Back in the 1990s I had my own record label called Ecco-Fonic Records. I also had a few offshoot labels like Bucket-Lid, Teen Rage, and Bop Pills.

I really disliked the way that modern records looked and felt in my hands—thin, wobbly vinyl with tapered edges, and record labels made with an offset printer. The album covers and 45 sleeves of the 1990s were terrible things, cheaply made and would come apart after a short time.

I set out to make my records look as much like “old records” as I could. I found that United in Nashville had one 45 rpm pressing die with a “flat edge,” obviously something that had been left over since the 1960s. Much better than the tapered ones with a lip, and thicker vinyl, too. I found that Stoughton printing In Los Angeles could make beautiful old-school record sleeves (and they still do; even though they are expensive, they look fabulous).

I was stuck on the labels, though. I couldn’t figure out why old record labels looked so GREAT and new ones looked so terrible. I finally figured out that old record labels were done on a letterpress printing machine, and new ones were done with an offset printer. But where to get the old-style ones made?

One day I happened to notice a brand-new 45 release by a piano player guy in LA named Bobby Mizzel. The record label looked PERFECT. How did he do it? Bobby was an older guy who started in the 1950s, and he used to sell his records at the Pasadena City College swap meet. I went to the swap meet a month or so after seeing his new 45 and I asked him where he had done the labels. “You liked those, huh? Boy, I hate the way new labels look. If you want to get them old-type labels, go see Pete Korelich in Hollywood.” He gave me Pete’s number.

Someday I have to write a thirty-page blog piece about Pete Korelich and his record operation. It was too incredible to detail here. When I met Pete, he was in his seventies, and still operated out of the front part of a building on Santa Monica Blvd. that at one time had been a large record pressing plant. He had a fire in the back part of the plant in the 1980s, and the back three-quarters of the building was open to the sky, with twenty or so record pressing machines with fire damage just sitting in the sun. It was crazy. The front quarter of the building held a mastering room, with the Neumann lathe that used to be at Motown Los Angeles a few blocks away, and the rest of the space was dedicated to Pete’s record label making equipment. And a lot of junk. I mean, a hoarder’s delight world of the best stuff ever!

Back in the day before I even knew what that stuff was, I would walk past racks of Pultec EQs, Universal Audio compressors, Westrex cutting amps, I barely remember them but he had THE STUFF. And it was all covered in piles of records, record labels, covers, and random detritus from the last sixty years.

I befriended Pete and wound up doing a bunch of record labels with him. Good lord, they turned out FABULOUS. Nothing made me happier than going to visit Pete in his world of junk, and seeing him fire up the linotype machine from the 1800s to produce type for the letterpress machines to make labels. He’d be up there in a steampunk operator’s chair, typing on the linotype machine’s small typewriter keyboard. “WHAT DO YOU WANT IT TO SAY?” He would yell in his Polish accent over the din of the machines. “ECCO-FONIC HIGH FIDELITY ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE HOLE, 45 RPM AND EF-1004 ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE HOLE, LINES ABOVE AND BELOW EACH ONE!” I would yell. It was the mid-1990s, but it was like going into a time machine. It was the greatest thing in the whole world.

Eventually, Pete died, and his valuable slice of Santa Monica Blvd. real estate needed to be emptied. I got a phone call from a guy who asked me if I wanted to haul off the twenty Finebuilt record pressing machines FOR FREE and I said no…*&%&(!!!! (at the time, we all thought vinyl records were going the way of the dodo bird. Nobody had any idea that record pressing machines would be worth their weight in gold during the boom of the last few years. I don’t know what happened to Pete’s machines, but I hope that they got saved and not melted down). I did ask the guy, however, “Could I come and get my linotype for future pressings?” Come on over, he said.

Quickly, I grabbed what I could of my own record’s linotype, and also a bunch of stuff I knew was bound for the dumpster: the original linotype for Hollywood Records from the 1950s, TOPS Records from the 1950s, and a few others. Then I took one last look at the majestic cacophony of Pete Korelich’s operation and said goodbye.

Last night, I stumbled across these trays of linotype and all the memories came flooding back. I still put out vinyl records, but the labels have looked terrible since ol’ Pete Korelich died. Letterpress record labels (and all the fabulous label paper that was used in the process—but that’s another long story that involved me driving all over Los Angeles to get the last remaining stock of “flint glazed paper” and the old Chess and King style blue and maroon record label paper, which I still have) are one of the things from the past that are truly dead, and that’s a shame. I’m glad that I caught the tail end of it.