Bowls is no stranger to record stores. When we both lived in the same city, I felt as if I was perpetually in a race against time. Speeding from shop to shop, stretching to snatch at records before he got his hands on them. I would often see him later to compare finds, only to hear that he had already seen the records I bought, silently passing over them, tallying their worth, and moving on to other things. That is Bowls in a nut shell, quality over quantity. He isn’t looking to own every good record (where would he put them all?), only the ones that he loves (believe me those are plenty of enough). It takes a certain temperament to move through life this way. Knowing what you want before you find it is not an easy thing, and continuing to seek it requires a commitment and patience that few still have. Bowls is willing to wait, silently flipping through dusty stacks of records, shifting boxes to reach in to deep nooks and crannies…searching
-THE BAG MESSENGER
THE BAG MESSENGER: How did you first get involved with DJing?
BOWLS: Well I started listening to hip-hop back when I was in 5th grade (1995), and I decided that I wanted be a DJ in ’96 when I heard OutKast’s “Wheelz of Steel.” I was living in Paducah, KY at the time and I had never seen or talked to anyone who had DJ equipment, but in 1999 I finally got a belt-drive turntable and started buying records. By late 2000 I had a cheap Numark “DJ-in-a-box” setup, which later gave way to a pair of Technics 1200s around 2002. That was when things got serious for me, because I knew those decks were built for performance. I started out spinning parties in high school, but I didn’t play in a club setting until I moved to Nashville in 2004.
THE BAG MESSENGER: When did you first get into collecting records? What was shopping for records like in Kentucky?
BOWLS: When I first started looking for records in ’99, I had no real point of reference. I knew I wanted to be a “hip-hop DJ” or whatever, so I started ordering a bunch of records out of a distributor’s catalog at CD Warehouse. Put a check next to the 12“s and LPs that I wanted, then pick them up the next week. At that time, I just assumed I should be buying doubles of all the “underground” hip-hop 12“s, scratching over instrumentals, and making mixtapes. No one was there in Paducah to school me on the breaks, represses vs. originals, spots to dig, etc. Luckily, it was just a matter of time before the whole concept of SAMPLING was fully realized. I loved the fact that some of those original records could actually be sitting in an antique shop right down the road. Since that revelation, I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours sifting through old vinyl. I went digging in St. Louis a lot from ’00-‘04, and then my collection just exploded after I moved to Nashville for college.
THE BAG MESSENGER: What kinds of things are you looking for these days?
BOWLS: Recently I’ve been digging a lot of prog and psych-rock. I’ve gotta be in the mood for it, but there’s something satisfying about hearing a nice, mellow funk-groove float in after three straight minutes of noise. I bought a ton of jazz records last summer, and I’m always looking for good hip-hop 12“s. Honestly, I’ll give pretty much anything a listen these days…the days of judging an LP by the cover are long gone!
THE BAG MESSENGER: You’re into a lot of sample source stuff. What records have found through seeking a sample that you fell in love with?
BOWLS: I’ve found countless dope records from knowing that Pete Rock/Premier/Madlib sampled them, but I probably get the most satisfaction out of finding artists with solid catalogs that I can dig into. If it weren’t for hip-hop/crate-digging, I might still be under the impression that Kool & The Gang was just some 80’s group that made “Ladies Night.” Its something I really don’t take for granted, because my parents weren’t into music at all. Can you imagine living life without knowing that Kool & The Gang made a song called “Music Is The Message?” Thinking that James Brown was just that dude who sang “I Feel Good?” I’ll be in debt to hip-hop for the rest of my life.
THE BAG MESSENGER: Any interesting digging stories? Favorite finds?
BOWLS: On a family vacation to Florida back in the early 2000’s, I looked through the phone book for record stores. My mom dropped me off at this one place that had full discographies of every “major” group/artist you could think of. Like 10 copies of each release. I thought that was pretty cool, and then the owner said, “Hey, have you looked around downstairs?” Downstairs was over 150,000 UNSORTED 12” singles. One of the first records I pulled out was the Pete Rock & CL Smooth “Straighten It Out” promo, which of course has the elusive “Vibes Mix” of “T.R.O.Y.” on the b-side. That made the hundreds of Miami Sound Machine 12” sightings a little more bearable. I found quite a few good records there.
THE BAG MESSENGER: Where are some of your favorite places to go? Favorite places to dig?
BOWLS: St. Louis has been a favorite city of mine for years now. Lots of music history and lots of well-stocked stores. Of course I hit my spots in Nashville all the time. I’ve made a couple trips to Japan with my younger brother, and that’s always a great way to spend tons of money on records.
THE BAG MESSENGER: You play only vinyl. How do you feel about Serato?
BOWLS: Serato is great, and I definitely intend to get it at some point. Initially, I agreed with DJ Premier when he said that DJs need to “earn the right” to use Serato by building up a good record collection, but that really doesn’t make sense for aspiring DJs in 2010 and beyond. New music isn’t being pressed up on wax as frequently, some DJs grow up in towns where digging spots are scarce (I was one of them), and lots of people just flat-out don’t want to spend the money. With that said, I consider myself someone who literally pays to play the game. I love it that much. I talk to a lot of DJs who started performing in the last five years or so, and its safe to say that I probably spent more money on vinyl this past summer than they have in the last three years combined. Its a strange feeling. I know all the OGs and real diggers still buy records in addition to using Serato, but the love for original vinyl pressings, and just the act of digging in general, seems to have really diminished with the new wave of DJs. I came to terms with that a while ago, and I’m fine with it. Being a good DJ involves skills and great taste these days, not a dope record collection. That’s just the way it is.
THE BAG MESSENGER: Whats the key to packing for a gig?
BOWLS: Considering I still use strictly vinyl, a lot of my preparation involves picking out which 45s I want to bring. If I’m spinning for just an hour or two, I don’t want to lug more than one crate of LPs/12“s to the party. That box of 45s lightens the load while still packing a punch, and I always make sure I have a good balance of genres between the two formats. Besides remembering my headphones and needles, efficient record selection is my main thing. Yes, I know that Serato users never, ever have that problem haha.
THE BAG MESSENGER: When did you first meet Count Bass D? Can you describe getting to know him?
BOWLS: I met Count at his BEGBORROWSTEEL album release party here in Nashville. A couple months later, his wife shot me an email and asked if I’d be willing to intern for them. At the time I was studying the music business at Belmont University, so I definitely took that opportunity. I watched as he released Act Your Waist Size on Fat Beats Records, saw how he and his wife communicated with the label, met his kids, went with him to a show or two, assisted with whatever they needed, and finally helped him break down his studio before they moved to Memphis. He’s just a cool dude all-around and I gained a whole new appreciation for his music after getting a feel for his lifestyle. (Let it be known that he once woke me up at 7:15 AM to take him to the airport. After a trip to the bank, we got there at 7:42…“right on time” for the 7:50 flight. When I asked him where he was headed, he told me that MF DOOM called him earlier that morning. He needed Count for his show in NYC that night.)
THE BAG MESSENGER: Every DJ has a horror story or two….what is the worst thing to happen at a gig?
BOWLS: DJing outdoors is always interesting when you spin vinyl, especially LPs. I was playing some dance classics at a rooftop party one night, only to have the wind pick up my needle and drop it on a slow jam. Oh and I once had a guy ask me to play Justin Timberlake….while I was playing Justin Timberlake (apparently this happens more than you’d think). After reading about drunk club patrons vomiting on turntables and mixers, I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky thus far.
THE BAG MESSENGER: What can we be looking for in the future?
BOWLS: I’m trying to put out my Ahmad Jamal mix (Bowls Plays Jamal) sometime early next year, along with the follow-up to a boogie/funk mix I did back in 2009. Besides that, I’m just looking forward to playing more gigs and featuring more Nashville DJs on the Music City Living podcast. Oh, and buying more records. You can bet on that!
The new book Son of the City: A Memoir by Dante Ross, is the first release by the new author. Preorder is in limited supply and available now
When Victrola introduced the Revolution Go turntable to me and asked if we would be interested in trying one out, I was game, but these days I spend more time at my desk than hunting for records in dusty basements.