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Perls was one of a handful of serious East Coast collectors of 78-rpm country blues recordings during the 1960s. As a young man, he made two trips through the Deep South, where he knocked on doors seeking to acquire old blues records. He also was a frequent patron of antique shops in the New York area, always searching for rare blues records.
In 1968, Perls began re-recording the sides in his collection, using high-tech equipment in his home, and issuing 33-rpm record albums. These releases generally contained 14 blues tunes each and often included informative liner notes by another blues collector, Steve Calt. This enterprise was Yazoo Records. (The catalogue was later acquired by Shanachie Records.) Perls operated Yazoo out of his home in the West Village in New York City until just before his death, in the 1980s, from AIDS.
As a recording engineer, Perls's most renowned talent was his ability to ride a phonograph needle along the grooves of an old record much like a bobsled through an obstacle course, moving left, right, up or down to avoid as many scratches and gouges as possible. Yazoo releases were always derived directly from 78-rpm shellac originals. By collecting and re-releasing such forgotten blues recordings, Perls preserved many classic blues performances (and. later, those in related musical forms like ragtime) that otherwise might have been lost to the ages.
In 1970, Perls started Blue Goose Records as a side project, using that label to release music by a variety of live performers that he recorded himself, often in his West Village living room. He was also a finger-pick guitarist but would only play the guitar socially, and strictly in imitation of one or another 1930s blues master. Stylistically, his playing ethos was summed up when he stated that the phrase "too choppy" is a contradiction in terms. His one foray as a recording artist can be heard as a duet on the song "My Game Blues", on the first Blue Goose release, Fast & Funky, by bluesman Larry Johnson. Perls is pictured (in blackface) on the cover of the Yazoo recording Mr. Charlie's Blues.
Perls operated his business mostly by himself, occasionally employing assistants. The two labels stayed small and rarely caught public attention beyond the hardcore blues devotees who eagerly awaited each new release. One notable exception may have been Perls's three Blue Goose albums of R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, which were enormously entertaining recordings by the cartoonist (and collector of early jazz and blues records) Robert Crumb and several of his California friends. Perls rarely broke even, financially, on any of his business endeavors. He would state that the "pop" big time did not appeal to him. He was doggedly independent and was already independently wealthy from his family's art dealings at New York City's Perls Gallery.
According to John Ramsey, Nick's assistant in the mid-1970's, Perls was a verbose New Yorker who strived to be "outrageous", an adjective that he loved attributing to himself. For instance, for several years he made a habit of wearing different colored checkered socks, (such as green and yellow on one foot, red and white on the other), which he cited as evidence of insanity. Further, Perls encouraged business acquaintances to refer to him as a "faggot", for the pure shock value. As explanation of this awkward request, Perls would claim that the term "homo"-sexual did not literally apply to him. The objects of his affections, young, effeminate black men, were not the same as him, rather literally "hetero" from him. Perls saw himself as a politically conservative, Jewish business man. In contrast, his personal lifestyle was built around "cruising" New York's 7th Avenue and picking up such individuals, leading to numerous short, intense relationships. Perls greatly enjoyed being seen in public arm in arm with his latest find, emphasizing the shock value of their intimacy.
- encyclopedia-recorded-sound-vol1-p820>Perls, Nick, Brad Hill, Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, Volume 1 by Frank W. Hoffmann, Howard Ferstler, p. 820
- https://www.wirz.de/music/bg_npfrm.htm - accessed 5 June 2017
- http://record-fiend.blogspot.com/2010/12/larry-johnson-fast-funky-blue-goose.html - accessed March 1, 2016
- http://record-fiend.blogspot.com/2011/07/mister-charlies-blues-1926-1938-yazoo.html - accessed Oct. 4, 2015