RECORD COMPANY: Burt Taggart (standing) and Graham Cobb.
Burt Taggart isn’t going to kid anyone: He’s an architectural draftsman first. When local people hear his name, architecture is probably what comes to mind. His father, also Burt Taggart, had his name on one of the area’s leading firms for years before retiring.
But in those few hours away from sketching buildings, the younger Taggart has designs on being a record mogul. Well, maybe mogul is a bit strong. “The reality is, if I plug along and spend all the time I can doing this, and not get jaded or worn out by it, I might lift my head up one day and it might be paying my way,” he said. “But I’m not really counting on it.”
Right now, thousands of discs and vinyl 45s line an upstairs room –- his office — in his Hillcrest home. But, thanks to a bit of recent luck that landed a local band, the American Princes, a national recording contract, Burt Taggart’s Max Recordings is going national.
“I’m not a producer or anything like that,” he said. “I’m not looking over Kevin Kerby’s shoulder when he’s in the studio and telling him what to do. I’m a distributor.”
The artists on Taggart’s label play music he likes, and it varies from Kerby’s alt-country to the Boondogs’ roots rock to American Princes’ pure rock.
“I know a lot of bands in town and have friendships with them,” Taggart said. When artists such as Kerby, who was formerly in the critically acclaimed band Mulehead, record songs, they bring the finished product to Taggart. From there, the expenses come out of his pocket for manufacturing, promotion and merchandise.
“I take a bedroom project of songs that are floating around in space and give it some life of its own and spread the word about it,” he said.
Until last spring, his hobby was as much “bedroom project” as the acts he was carrying his label. But a record exec from North Carolina who was riding around one day with members of the Memphis band Lucero –- one member is from Little Rock and is friends with Taggart and others involved in Max -– heard some cuts from the American Princes’ second Max record, “Little Spaces.” Soon, the larger and better funded Yep Roc label from Chapel Hill, N.C., was inquiring about buying the rights to “Little Spaces” from Taggart. He saw his opportunity.
“The other side of Yep Roc’s business, the distribution side, is Red Eye USA,” Taggart said. “When they bought the rights to ‘Little Spaces,’ they agreed to distribute the whole Max catalog.
“It still doesn’t sell the discs; people still have to find out about it and people have to want to buy it off the rack, but at least it has a chance. As sad as I was to see the American Princes go to a bigger label, I was able to live off their spoils.”
The Max catalog also includes rock party band Sugar and the Raw’s debut, Mulehead’s last album, “Finer Thing”; American Princes’ first album, “We Are the People”; the Boondogs’ newest release, “Fever Dreams,” and 7-inch vinyl singles from such acts as The Big Cats (one of Taggart’s playing projects), Amen Booze Rooster, the Results and Johnny Mac. The latest act to sign up with Max is New York-based Drexel, better known as former Go Fast drummer Tre Baker, who works behind the scenes for a world music label in the Big Apple when he’s not recording.
The label has its own website, www.maxrecordings.com, and Taggart says he devotes “as much time as my wife will allow” to Max. Graham Cobb, a manager at Vino’s Brewpub and a member of the band il libertina, has provided significant help the past six to nine months, Taggart says.
“I get to shape the sound of the label,” Taggart said, “but 99 percent of it is fashioned as a forum to put out Little Rock or Arkansas music … At the end of the day, I’m driven to do it by the love of the music and by the friendships. It’s kind of in my blood.”
While in high school, Taggart started the label File 13, which eventually moved to Philadelphia with a friend (it’s now based in Chicago, but Taggart isn’t involved). Later, after close friend and fellow band member Shannon Yarbrough died in a car wreck late one night on Highway 10 — it remains a mystery why a road construction vehicle was parked in the middle of the highway — Taggart and the rest of the hard-rock Big Cats decided to record a couple of Yarbrough’s songs and put them on 7-inch vinyl 45s. They just needed to come up with a label name.
“I wanted to do something regarding Shannon in some way,” he said. “His middle name was Max. It seemed both ambiguous and purposeful.”