In a retro bungalow located steps from the Hartland Mansion in Downtown Las Vegas, there’s an ocean of vinyl. Boxes stacked floor to ceiling in a spare bedroom spill into the living room in various stages of organization. For the Billboard-topping Grammy-nominated producer and DJ Chris Cox, it’s a collection that’s been relegated to storage for decades. Until now. Estimating his entire collection is somewhere between 24-28,000 records, he’s begun the laborious process of sorting vinyl that hasn’t been properly in order since 1991.
“It’s like family photos,” Cox says. “I can open up a box and see a bunch of spines of records and I can tell you the month, the year and what was going on. As a DJ, as a collector, as a fan, I was the kid with the headphones on in the trailer park in my room listening to something on repeat and just staring at the artwork and reading the lyrics. Then when I was DJing six nights a week and when something was a massive hit, you just lived and breathed with the records. You know what the [musical] notes looked like just by looking at the vinyl.”
To share his collection with the masses, he’s started a web series called Chris Cox Record Box that’s already filmed 10 episodes and is in post-production. “Each episode is me going through a mystery box—because I have no idea what’s in the box. It’s kind of like Geraldo.” But unlike Al Capone’s vaults, Cox’s vinyl stash contains numerous treasures. In between studio sessions, he filled us in on some notable titles that he’s recently dusted off.
“The soundtrack for Burt Reynold’s Sharky’s Machine,” he says, showing the album cover complete with Reynold’s signature ‘stache. “There’s a version of ‘Street Life’ on there that Doc Severinsen arranged and it’s fucking amazing.” Severinsen was well known as the bandleader and trumpeter on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In addition, the soundtrack has The Manahattan Transfer, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee. “Basically, they took a bunch of tunes, but instead of licensing the songs, they just cut all new versions of them for this and it’s all like late ’70s, early ’80s jazz and it’s an amazing soundtrack—and hell, it’s Burt in his prime.”
“Earth, Wind and Fire’s That’s the Way of the World. That’s what I’d play to put me in a better mood,” Cox says. “It’s not necessarily the symbolism of the name, but I’m sorry, no matter what kind of mood you’re in, how angry you are, Earth, Wind and Fire just makes everything better and it’s gonna calm me down, it’ll make me feel a little warm and you know what? Fucking that’s the way of the world. I’m extremely disappointed, I’m extremely bummed out, but I’m oddly not surprised. So it’s like, that’s the way of the world, Life will go on, we’ll keep chopping away and fighting the good fight.”
“The hope diamond of the collection, the Heart of the Ocean of my collection, the thing that is the most irreplaceable is I have an original copy of Prince’s The Black Album before it was recalled.” Cox’s favorite artist is Prince and The Black Album is his holy grail.
Cox explains that before the record was supposed to be released in December of 1987, it was recalled because Prince thought the work channeling his alter ego Camille was too suggestive. However, Cox’s “drug dealer for records” was able to track down a copy from a lone box that didn’t get destroyed. “It cost $400 at the time in 1988. I’ve looked recently just to see what it is and it’s definitely worth a few thousand dollars,” he says. The album was ultimately released in 1994 to fulfill Prince’s contract so he could get out of his Warner deal, but Cox keeps that rare original pressing under lock and key.
“Air’s Moon Safari, the first Air album,” says Cox. “When that album came out, it blew my mind, it blew my head wide open and I listened to it every day for two-and-half years straight.” He enjoyed it so much, he gave away around 30 copies to anyone who would listen. “That album is just complete magic to me. In fact, half of the gear I have in my studio I got because I was reading the credits and look at the equipment list on each song and go, ‘Oh my God, this thing is on these three songs that I like so therefore I need to buy one of those.’ So it sent me on this vintage synth hunt that was very costly.”
“My favorite 12” of all time is M|A|R|R|S’ Pump Up the Volume.” Cox kept coming across the title after reading a tip sheet from Rockpool and the track was topping the charts in Europe, but had no way of hearing it in the States in 1987 without getting a physical copy. A chance conversation with his parents about his quest for the vinyl changed that. “They were in the mall one day in Reno and there was a little record store and my dad went in and asked the guy about this record. He said, ‘Oh we can special order that for you.’ I didn’t expect this at all, but it’s one of those things, when a parent tells you and especially when you’re already DJing and a parent’s like, ‘Oh, let me go to the mall and look for it for you.’ It’s ridiculous, right?”
Cox was touched his parents got the record in his hands and when he dropped the needle, his mind was blown. “Sampling was still in its infancy, I knew what sampling was and sampling was around, but that was a mega-mix of samples.” That sent him on a scavenger hunt to find all the source material used on the track. “It took about two years to find every single record that was sampled on there. So that 12”, I want that record played at my funeral. It’ll be the dancing-est funeral around!”
“The BBP Speed Dictation Program. ‘For the working girl who wants to improve her career, for the woman eager to return to work,’” he reads off the cover. “It’s basically just an instruction record on how to do dictation. I love stuff like this. Like industrial records and weird corporate records.” Cox also cites another fave as an instructional record for teaching a parrot to talk. “To think they hired a studio, maybe at least more than one engineer, you had to then press artwork, run film, do the jacket cover, the expense that went into making records is insane to think that somebody made it for something so specific. How many people need a record on how to train your parrot to talk? But it exists and it’s amazing.”
“Hot Tracks issues,” he says. “Hot Tracks is a DJ remix service and it’s where my whole career started.” Every issue that was released where Cox was a producer, he received 10 copies. “It was also really collectable at the time so I’d give out a couple to friends and then I just held on to all of my copies forever and ever thinking that vinyl was going to go up, which it did not for a long time, but now it is.” With only 1,000 copies of each released, he’s got the monopoly on the Hot Tracks collection. “So come on down to Chris’ Vinyl Emporium, come get yourself some dance music,” he jokes. “Keep you dancing all night long!”
“It wasn’t because I played it so much, but because I so enjoyed scratching them,” says Cox. “One was Hashim Al Naafiysh (The Soul)—it’s been sampled to death but it was the most fun record to scratch and you’d always see people in battles with it. If your cartridges weren’t aligned right, you’d cue burn the shit out of the record.” A close second is the 12” of Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise. “Why it was significant was because track 1 of the first of side A is the full song and track 2 is the acapella, so that’s where you get all the ‘Yeeeaaah, boy!’ and ‘How low can you go?’ Every aspect of this single has been sampled to death so I used to do all that live, so it would burn the shit out of it many times.”
“The Brecker Brothers’ Heavy Metal Be-Bop,” says Cox. “The Brecker Brothers, Michael and Randy Brecker, were jazz sax and trumpet players and the horn section for New York sessions in the ’70s. They appear on records all the way from Parliament to anyone,” he says. “This particular album was a live concert they did in New York and this record blew my fucking brain open. It’s basically fusing harder rock things with super, super aggressive be-bop jazz.” Fun facts? “The drummer is Terry Bozzio from Zappa’s band and keyboards are by Paul Shaffer pre-Letterman and before he worked with SNL,” Cox says. “This album is just brilliant on so many levels. The playing is unparalleled and it just can’t be beat.”
“Circles Around the Sun,* Interludes for the Dead*,” he says. “When I went to the Grateful Dead ‘Fare Thee Well’ concert it was their big finale, the original members of the Dead in Chicago last year. It was Phil Lesh, Trey Anastasio sat in, and Bruce Hornsby and it was 72,000 people at Soldier Field and they did three shows for their 50th anniversary of the group.” But it was the music played during the intermission that sent Cox on an Easter egg hunt. “All of the tracks, the shortest one on here is like nine minutes long, but there’s 20-minute tracks that are not really jams, but they’re these grooves that evolve and it was all done live, real musicians and once January hits, trust me on this. Get a copy of Interludes for the Dead by Circles Around the Sun and you’ll be just fine.”
Deanna Rilling is a freelance journalist based in Las Vegas, NV. She's been involved in the music scene for over 20 years and turned that love of music into a career in 2007. A rocker/raver, her vinyl collection is an amalgamation of anything from Tom Petty, David Bowie and Prince to the Crystal Method, DJ Shadow and Pretty Lights, with some Tori Amos and Aaliyah thrown in for good measure.