The Tale of the Midnight Tapes

As has been mentioned several times, there were very few labels that really supported the fledging garage punk sound of bands in the 80s. For sure Greg Shaw’s Bomp/Voxx Records made great strides in showcasing straight ahead rock and roll in all its various forms. But amongst labels that dedicated themselves purely to garage sounds, only our European friends really were at the forefront. Germany’s Glitterhouse and France’s Eva were among the few that delivered manna from heaven for the dedicated on a regular basis. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it took a transplanted Frenchman to make the first strides in releasing garage music from NYC.

JD Martignon
J.D. Martignon. Photo courtesy of Dave Herrera.

J.D. Martignon’s Midnight Records located on 23rd street between 7th and 8th Avenue, was the place you went to to pick up those aforementioned imports (as well as to hang out with other likeminded souls.) While the stories surrounding J.D. are the stuff of legend and enough to fill several posts, I’ll like to stick to one recent Midnight-related tale.

It all began with J.D.’s untimely death in September 2016. While his passing didn’t seem to warrant as much as an obit, many blogs did make note of his major contribution to the NYC garage music scene. I too jumped at the chance to post my favorite J.D. image taken way back in 2009.

Fast forward to August 12th of this year. While perusing through various Facebook posts one evening I ran across an odd mention by pal (and gracious blog subject)  Bill Luther about an auction. As a record collector, it didn’t seem too surprising coming from Bill. What was surprising though was what was up for auction. The estate of J.D. Martignon was auctioning off not just some rare collector items, but many of his one-of-a-kind master tapes as well. Knowing several of the musicians who were involved in creating these records, the first thing I thought was to fire off an email to several mentioning the auction.

One grouping of the Midnight tapes as originally seen on the auction site. Fuzztones, Vipers, Cheepskates, and Backbones amongst the visible.

Within the space of several hours, word spread quickly amongst the Midnight bands. Various ideas began to be formulated in a attempt figure out the best way to handle the situation. After all, this would be the only chance many would have to reclaim their property. If anyone was to profit off of these tapes, it made sense it should be the people who actually created the music.

Interestingly, the auction house was a very reputable one. Rago, located in picturesque Lambertville, NJ. According to one person it was even featured regularly on  Antiques Roadshow. While it was reassuring to know that they were on the up and up, it also made the possibility of a bidding war that much more likely.

Another lot of the Midnight tapes. Vipers, Absolute Grey, Hoods, Mod Fun amongst the tapes.

After much discussion it was agreed that an organized effort was needed. Former Vipers guitarist, Paul Martin, empathizing with the plight that his former cohorts faced, agreed to be the point person. As a business owner, Paul had access to solid legal advice and began exploring ways to retrieve the Midnight tapes before they went up for auction.  After a few days of hang-wringing silence (where even the tapes disappeared off the site) some good news materialized. If a contract was produced as proof of ownership, then the tapes would be happily returned to each individual band.

A few days ago Cheepskates member and Midnight artist Dave Herrera posted an update on Facebook. There, on his table, were several of his original master tapes. Mission accomplished.

Cheepskates tapes back home.

Au Revoir Mr. Martignon

Billy Miller and JD Martignon.
Two men on a mission: Norton Records’ Billy Miller and Midnight Records’ J.D. Martignon. ©

When it came down to record labels that catered to the NY garage punk world during the mid 80s, only two could really claim to being in touch with the scene. Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s Norton Records and J.D. Martignon’s Midnight Records. These three larger than life folks not only formed the backbone of the small music scene, but in many cases employed many of the die-hard fans and musicians who reveled in it’s world.

It was therefore bittersweet to hear of J.D.’s passing a few days ago. While the man was certainly no saint, he did have his hand (wanted or not) in many of the major events of NYC 60’s garage punk scene. For a full recap please go to DJ Shimmy’s excellent article on J.D. and his label a few years back in Bananas fanzine. Part one talks about J.D.’s life before Midnight and Part 2 goes into his label’s garage glory years. Its well researched and an interesting window into the life of the man many knew as only an irritable, hustling record store owner.