Miriam Linna highlights expansive career running Norton Records

Miriam Linna.
Miriam Linna.
Photo by Bob Krasner

If you know, you know, but if you don’t, Miriam Linna is here to fill you in.  When it comes to obscure Rock and Roll, Doo-Wop or Rhythm and Blues 45’s, pulp paperbacks, Black magazines (‘Ebony Song Parade’, anyone ?) long gone hair products, rare jukeboxes or teen gangs in 1960’s Switzerland, Linna’s got a line on it. The proprietor of Norton Records and Kicks books, she’s running a business that feels more like a mission than an occupation. “The idea,” she says, “ is to give a voice to and celebrate the great unknowns – even the ones that never made a record”.

Linna has made a few records herself, although she insists that “I never considered myself a musician.” She started as a writer, but a chance meeting with Lux Interior and Poison Ivy in ‘Chicken and Burger World’ resulted in an invitation to join their band, The Cramps. “I had never played drums”, she admits, and only had one drum lesson — from a very notable figure — before she took over the skins. “All Tommy Ramone told me was: ‘Hold them like this and go!’. I always bled when I played.”

Linna left The Cramps before their first proper album to join Nervus Rex and later formed the A-Bones with her husband Billy Miller, who she had met in a record store in 1977. ‘Trouser Press’ praised ( we think ) the band’s “sloppy enthusiasm,  joyously cruddy sound built on Linna’s simple but effective pounding, Miller’s manly grunt and Bruce Bennett’s unexpectedly inventive guitar work”.  Not only did they have the band, but they turned their love for raucous, unknown rock and roll into a variety of other outlets. There was a fanzine, ‘Kicks’, as well as the aforementioned record label and book imprint, which also produces a perfume for every new publication.

“A Day With David Bowie – 1971 ” is a work in progressPhoto by Bob Krasner

“Our first record was Hasil Adkins, who we tracked down with the help of Relic Records”, Linna recalls. “ We weren’t going to do anymore, but then Esquerita ( an acknowledged musical and style influence on Little Richard) played Tramps and we felt obliged to release his demos. People started coming forward with tapes and it just grew, album by album”.

“We’ve released about 250 45’s and 260 vinyl LPs”, she notes. “It’s all music that means something — it has importance in the world”. 

There have been some “great moments in Norton history”, Linna mentions, including their recording of Ronnie Spector and Andre Williams doing ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ and the time that the great Dion called her up to tell her that he had an unreleased album for them that had sat on the shelf for decades, as well as coaxing Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las to “come out of the woodwork” to do a new lp.

There have been some tough times too, notably when Hurricane Sandy destroyed 90% of their inventory. But the biggest loss was when Miller succumbed to cancer in 2016. “Billy was an amazing person,” she says. “He put an awful lot of work into research and making contacts. We spent all day and all night doing what we were doing and we had a great time doing it.”

Linna at the decks, where she broadcasts her radio show “Crashing The Party” with Marc Miller. Photo by Bob Krasner

There was “never a consideration not to continue” after losing Billy, she states. The focus is more on books now, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy new gems like a reissue of the rare 1966 single by Mogen David and the Grapes of Wrath – on purple vinyl, of course!

Also just out from Kicks Books is an unexpected photographic history of teen street gangs in Switzerland covering the decade beginning in 1962. Edited by Linna, the book ‘Halbstark Baby – Baby Halbstark’ – after an obscure German song – will be launched during a three-day-only exhibit (7/11-7/13) of the photos (including a slide show of hundreds of images not in the book) at the FROSCH&CO gallery, an event that was organized by the Swiss Consulate.

“This project provides an insider’s view into a subculture with never-before-seen photos, challenging stereotypes and offering a fresh perspective on Switzerland”, said Nathalie Zwimpfer, Culture Project Manager at the Swiss Consulate in NY. “Miriam’s dedication to unique initiatives which prioritize cultural authenticity and representation, aligns with our values of promoting inclusive narratives. We were thrilled to support the project when Miriam approached us.” 

Also coming up is an illustrated memoir from Linna and a limited edition collaboration with the notable writer/journalist/musician and occasional photographer, John Mendelssohn, who Linna praises for his “truly acerbic wit”. The book, ‘A Day With David Bowie – 1971’, contains photos of a pre-Ziggy artiste in a “man-dress” alongside Mendelssohn’s reminisces of their brief time together. Linna is looking at a publication date sometime towards the end of August. 

The center two are Kicks Books reprints of a Harlan Ellison classic pulp (original issues seen on the outside) that sport covers that are more faithful to the story.Photo by Bob Krasner

As for other projects, she plans on continuing to fill in the blanks of history and she points to the teen gang book as a perfect example of her raison d’etre. “My mission is clearly indicated in this book”, she states. “These teens never had their day of recognition, but they matter. Everybody matters”.

Check out Norton Records, Kicks Books and more (including info on the exhibit) at nortonrecords.com.  Find them on Instagram @nortonrecords.

Photo by Bob Krasner
Billy Miller’s last project – an epic history of Fortune Records – was a labor of lovePhoto by Bob Krasner
45’s galore – who knew there wer that many instrumentals out there ?Photo by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner
Some of the heroes on Linna’s wall: Top row -Tyrone Schmidling, Nathaniel Mayer, Jody Reynolds . 2nd: Timothy Carey, Johnny Powers, Benny Joy. 3rd: Ronnie Spector, Ron Haydock, Barbara Lynn. Bottom: Dale Hawkins, Young Jessie, Ronnie Dawson, Herbie DuncanPhoto by Bob Krasner
A poster for the upcoming book launch/photo showPhoto by Bob Krasner
Hair and skin products on display in the bathroomPhoto by Bob Krasner
Salvador Dali designed the packaging for Coup de Feu (Rock n Roll) perfume in 1956. Dali said of his design, .”I wanted the effect of burning nights and fire symbolizing the flame of the spirit of youth.”Photo by Bob Krasner