Third Man Records Previews Second Paramount Records Box at AmericanaFest

Music festival attendees get first look at massive archival blues collection

Third Man Records Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

In November, Jack White's Third Man Records and John Fahey’s Revenant Records will drop the second and final volume of its limited edition, high-end The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records box set. Focusing on the legendary, incalculably influential label’s final period (1928-1932), and spanning six LPs, a thumb drive, 250-page hardcover book and 400-page field guide, Volume 2 will feature 800 tracks by Mississippi Delta blues legends like Charlie Patton, Ma Rainey, Skip James and Son House, accompanied by biographical sessionography logs on up to 175 artists.

On Thursday, Revenant and Third Man showcased the sprawling trove — which, in contrast to Volume 1's lacquered-oak look, is encased in what resembles a portable record player crossed with a double-wide Airstream trailer — for invited guests and AmericanaFest attendees at the latter label's Nashville headquarters.

"When we did it last year, we [used] period-specific furniture and tried to make it look like you were in your grandmother’s parlor, crowded around a Victrola," Third Man’s Ben Swank tells Rolling Stone of a similar event the label hosted to preview the first volume. "This time, we wanted to reflect more the machine age of the years that this set represents, and match a bit of that art deco vibe and the modernist furniture look."

As tunes from the set like Elvie Thomas’ "Motherless Child Blues" and Blind Blake’s "Too Tight Blues" played over buzzing conversation in the background of the label’s taxidermy-adorned "Blue Room," curious revelers sipped old fashioneds and other designer cocktails and ate farm-to-table-style hors d’oeuvres served up by well-dressed waiters as they hobnobbed, thumbed through reprinted, gorgeously illustrated vintage Paramount advertisements and, if they so desired, cooled themselves off with church fans given out as free party favors.

Standing at a display in the center of the room and wearing a cream-colored pinstripe suite with a Kentucky Colonel tie, Revenant co-founder Dean Blackwood showed off box set features like holograms instead of labels on the vinyl, while answering questions with encyclopedic insights.

"We drew on what RCA Victor was doing at the time, because they were really the standard for excellence," Blackwood says, explaining how Revenant and Third Man drafted a 30-person-strong geek squad of designers, writers and musical scholars to assemble the package. "If Paramount cared; if they hadn’t gone out of business and had the money that RCA Victor had and the access to technology, what would they have done?"

Like White, whose label started out as Third Man Upholstery in his pre-rock-star Detroit days, Paramount Records was originally founded as an extension of the Wisconsin Chair Company. "We look at the actual box, the artifact itself, as a piece of furniture," Swank says. "We just tried to tie everything into that and just have it all be part of a bigger picture."

Limited to 5,000 copies, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records Volume 2 is due out November 18.