- For the Canadian independent record label of the same name, see Matt Minglewood.
Norton Records, a New York City based independent record label founded by musicians Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, maintains a focus on primitive, retro rock'n'roll, rockabilly, garage punk, garage rock, lounge music and early R&B.
Billy Miller first encountered Miriam Linna while she was drumming for The Cramps in 1976. The two were properly introduced while Miller was selling vinyl at a record show in 1977. Miller recalled selling Linna the You Must Be a Witch LP by the Lollipop Shoppe. Miller later said, "You can't let a gal with taste like that slip away!" One year later, in 1978 Miller and Linna started Kicks, a magazine devoted to obscure rock, soul and rockabilly.
In 1986, when the couple published an article in Kicks about West Virginia guitarist Hasil Adkins, the response was so intense that Linna and Miller decided to form a record label to reissue his music. They named their company after Ed Norton, Art Carney's character on The Honeymooners. Adkins had recorded about 15 singles in the 1950s, but many had never been released or collected on an LP. "We made 500 copies and prayed that it would sell," recalled Linna.
Along with previously unreleased discoveries, Linna and Miller have successfully reissued many other obscurities and classics from the 1950s and 1960s, and their extensive catalog also includes current talents: Tommy James, King Coleman, Wade Curtiss, Elroy Dietzel, Esquerita, Charlie Feathers, Figures of Light, Flat Duo Jets, Ron Haydock, Roy Loney, Coba Seas, Terry Manning, Rudy Ray Moore, Doug Sahm, Reigning Sound, Ronnie Self, Tyrone Schmidling, Jack Starr, Gene Summers, The Teenbeats, King Uszniewicz, Gene Vincent, Gino Washington, Andre Williams and Link Wray.
Their El Paso Rock series, for example, chronicles the early days of the El Paso rock scene, beginning with the legendary first recordings of Bobby Fuller, including the original 1964 pre-hit version of "I Fought the Law," first issued by Fuller on his own Exeter label. Volume two in the series offers more Fuller in a selection of "never before issued live mayhem from Texas teen clubs, shopping centers, bowling alleys circa 1962-64 plus insane home recordings."
In Billboard's "Declaration of Independents" column, Norton received kudos for their Sonics and Fabulous Wailers reissues, and Goldmine praised Big Star's Nobody Can Dance as "the most exciting reissue of the decade... one of the strongest pieces of music I've heard in 25 years."
Radio station WFMU celebrated the label's 15 years in the business with the "Norton Records 15th Anniversary Roast," aired October 25, 2001, on Music to Spazz By with Dave the Spazz.
Norton Records stages music events in the New York area, such as their 2005 New Year's Eve Rock N' Roll Show & Dance at Union Pool in Brooklyn, an event headlined by Linna and Miller's band, the A-Bones, and emceed by The Mighty Hannibal.
In addition to their line of magazines (Kicks, Bad Seed), Norton Records also published a book on the work of photographer Eddie Rocco, who contributed to Charlton's Ebony Song Parade and freelanced for Fort Worth's Sepia magazine. Printed on quality stock with an attractive graphic design, The Great Lost Photographs of Eddie Rocco collects many unknown, unpublished 1950s and 1960s pictures, including shots of Esquerita, Ruth Brown, the Treniers and Roy Orbison. After finding a copy at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History bookstore, Dr. Ink (aka Dr. Roy Peter Clark) highlighted the importance of Rocco's work in an April 2, 2003 review, "Jukin' with Eddie Rocco". Ink wrote:
- Rocco's work would come to the attention of Charlton Publications, a house that specialized in printing lyrics of popular music along with photos of the stars. Founded in 1931, Charlton produced a series of popular music magazines, "which provided beat-happy boppers of all ethnicities with information on R&B musicians, songwriters, and disc jockeys." Although Rocco's photos of popular white bands in the 1960s may attract some fans, it is his earlier work capturing black artists that should be of special interest to journalists, especially those trying to understand the importance of diversity. In spite of its reputation for mass-producing pulp fiction and comic books, Charlton Publications, writes Miriam Linna, "has long gone unlauded for pioneering true racial integration in mass market magazines at a time when other teen periodicals remained safely segregated." Rocco was no Pat Boone, exploiting and whitewashing black creativity. Instead, he and his camera were telling the untold story of the evolution of black music beyond the borders of a black audience.
Norton kicked off their 20th anniversary with a massive 80-page catalog, featuring a cover photograph of Marty Lott, the Gulf Coast Fireball, aka The Phantom, and a dedication: "Our 20th Anniversary catalog is dedicated to the memory of Norton's very first artist, the immortal Hasil Adkins." Adkins died in 2005.
In 2006, Norton released Dangerous Game, the first solo album by Mary Weiss, the original lead singer of The Shangri-Las. Backed by the Reigning Sound, Weiss recorded 13 original songs plus a cover version of the Shangri-Las' "Heaven Only Knows".
In 2009, Norton released three outer space trips by Sun Ra: Interplanetary Melodies, The Second Stop Is Jupiter and Rocket Ship Rock.
On November 10-13, 2011, Norton Records celebrated their 25th Anniversary with a four night “all star spectacular” at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY. The bands included Black Lips, The 5 6 7 8's, The Alarm Clocks, Andre Williams, Dave “Baby” Cortez, The Mighty Hannibal, Mick Collins, The Great Gaylord, The Reigning Sound, Jackie and the Cedrics, Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Sonics, Bloodshot Bill, Figures of Light and many more. At the same time, Norton released the latest album by Figures of Light, Drop Dead, as well as a self-titled album by Dave “Baby” Cortez, along with a number of other new releases.
Norton's Red Hook, Brooklyn warehouse and mail order operation was heavily water damaged by Hurricane Sandy (October 29, 2012). As of mid-December, 2012, Norton is still working with volunteers to clean up the warehouse and save as many of the records damaged by water as possible.