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Rare David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald Interviews Donated to Library of Congress

Former Capitol/EMI President releases 238 hours of artist conversations

June 18, 2012 4:45 PM ET
David Bowie
David Bowie
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Former Capitol Records/EMI president Joe Smith has donated a boatload of interviews with over 200 musical stars to the Library of Congress, which announced the news today on its website.

In a statement, the Library noted that the tapes feature chats with Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, B.B. King, Tina Turner, Elton John and many others. The Library has digitized the recordings and will make them available in its Capitol Hill reading room. Some of the interviews will also be made available to stream on its website later this year.

Smith – who signed music icons like the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Linda Ronstadt and more – recorded the 238 hours of interviews over the course of two years while he was still president at Capitol/EMI. Excerpts were compiled and published in his 1988 book Off The Record. The tapes Smith donated, however, are the completely unabridged versions.

"In recent years, it dawned on me that, if anything, the significance of recollections from Jerry Lee Lewis, Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson, Ahmet Ertegun, Herb Alpert, Ruth Brown and all the other notables I was fortunate enough to interview are truly part of the fabric of our cultural history," said the 84-year-old Smith in the Library's statement. "I hope that generations to come will benefit from hearing the voices of these brilliant artists and industry luminaries recounting their personal histories. I'm just thrilled that the Library of Congress has agreed to preserve and safeguard these audio artifacts."

Thanks to his insider status, Smith was able to get musicians to speak candidly about a number of topics. The Library of Congress notes several of the most revealing moments from Smith's collection: David Bowie describing Mick Jagger as a conservative, Steven Tyler discussing his problems with drug addiction, Les Paul on his creation of the electric guitar in 1929 and Bo Diddley musing about his own death.

"These frank and poignant oral histories of many of the nation’s musical icons give us unique insights into them as artists, entertainers and human beings," remarked Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "The world knows these great musicians through their songs, but Joe Smith has provided us an intimate window into their lives through their own words."

A few weeks ago, the Library of Congress announced that they would add recordings from Prince, Donna Summer, the Grateful DeadBo Diddley, Booker T. and the M.G.s, Love and the Sugarhill Gang to their National Recording Registry, which highlights "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" works of popular culture. 

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