Many local labels are offering obscure reissues and innovative new releases on all conceivable formats. Label Sampler will profile a different Bay Area record company every other week.
Name: 4 Men With Beards
Owner: Filippo Salvadori
Headquarters: San Rafael
Creation story: 4 Men With Beards is a vinyl-only reissue imprint under the banner of Runt Distribution, which Salvadori founded in Italy in the mid-90's. Runt -- named not for its size nor Salvadori's ambitions, but rather the Todd Rundgren LP of the same title -- is the parent company of DBK Works and Water and Plain Recordings, amongst others. But we chose to focus on 4 Men With Beards, which Salvadori established in 2001 with the sole intent of reissuing of favorite LPs that were often stagnating intolerably in the archives of major labels.
There aren't actually four men. It's only Salvadori, and he is bearded, but his impressive ascension from writing "Runt" on records he released in Italy to owning a distribution company with multiple successful imprints under its banner would be an ambitious undertaking for four entrepreneurs, let alone one fan. One of the most unique aspects of 4 Men With Beards is its licensing of out-of-print material from major labels. Most niche reissue labels focus on obscure artists who've retained rights to their music but never acquired proper distribution, which can simplify the reissuing process. 4 Men With Beards ventures into the murky bureaucracy of licensing the rights to music that is controlled by major labels, but is tragically languishing out of print. This allows 4 Men With Beards to reissue both obscurities and classic albums that major labels don't consider profitable enough to keep in production.
Musical focus: The eclecticism of 4 Men With Beards reflects Salvadori's diverse taste, and exists strictly as a vessel for rehashing his favorites. Since the beginning, he didn't want to be constrained by genre trappings, and the roster has been appropriately varied since. You will find 4 Men With Beards titles in the jazz, punk, international, blues, and folk sections of most record stores. Salvadori concedes that some people regard the eclecticism as hurtful, since it doesn't foster a distinct label identity, but the careful curatorial selections will undoubtedly appeal to discerning listeners whose interests also shirk specific genre alignment.
Primary format: 4 Men With Beards is a strictly vinyl-only imprint. Salvadori appreciates the unique tactility and forced listener interaction that the format offers. He remained devoted to vinyl while CDs gained popularity, and assuredly declared in our interview, "Now that people are going back to vinyl, I feel vindicated."
Most unusual release: 4 Men With Beards prides itself on carefully retaining the original artwork of its releases, minimally adding only its own logo to the back cover. The influential second album of John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols, post-punk band Public Image Ltd was a tremendous undertaking. Second Edition was originally released as three 12-inch records running at 45 RPM, contained in a metal film canister with P.I.L.'s distinct logo embossed upon the top, and 4 Men With Beards reissued it precisely that way.
Philosophy of the price point: As the vinyl format regains its deserved popularity, the growth in the list prices of new LPs becomes more dramatic. Each label subscribes to its own rationale about what it intends for the consumer to pay. Labels like Dischord, SST, and Alternative Tentacles maintain their prices for new LPs around $11, while boutique reissue labels often charge upwards of $25. 4 Men With Bears is nestled comfortably in between, with high-quality vinyl reissues listing at $18.98. After the significant cost of manufacturing 180 gram LPs, faithfully mimicking the original artwork occasionally atop gatefold packaging, licensing from the artist or label, and mastering at Berkeley's Fantasy Sound, Salvadori asserts that $18.98 is the minimal practical price, and the consumer will appreciate the extra care.
On reissuing rare LPs and the collector mentality: During our interview, I asked Salvadori whether he ever feels disappointed that his personal original pressings become devalued once he reissues them. He seemed disinterested in the potential value of his rare records, but while we were on the subject of original pressings, he offered the following: "Yesterday I played my original pressing of John Cale's Paris, 1919 and then our reissue of it, and I was happy with it."
Future plans: 4 Men With Beards typically releases three or four records a month, and its planned releases are slated months in advance. Of particular local significance is its recent reissue of The Avengers self-titled LP. This will mark the first completely authorized release of the pivotal San Francisco punk band's benchmark album, since prior versions have been either partially authorized or flagrant bootlegs. Also slated for reissue is The Faces' First Step, the under-heralded C86 pop of The Shop Assistants, and records by Gene Clark, The Monochrome Set, John Fahey, and Allen Toussaint. If the scope and breadth of 4 Men With Beards catalog is more appealing than daunting, investigate related imprints Water, Plain Recordings, and DGK Works. They're diligently promoting quality music without wasting effort on cultivating an image.