Ben Blackwell’s Guide To The Most Memorable Releases On Third Man Records

After 11 years and six hundred-some releases, I’m shocked that I’ve not previously taken the time to pen a guide to Third Man Records. As Discogs is clearly the most comprehensive place to buy Third Man releases (and let’s be honest, ANY label’s releases) it makes sense to lay it all out here.

Early on in the first few months of Third Man, owner/founder/head honcho Jack White made a point of us having to come up with a signature, limited edition colorway that we would use across the board. The only thing verbalized initially was that maybe it could be a glitter sparkle, like something you would see in the composition of a bowling ball. The wise folks down the street at United Record Pressing took to the task and literally handed me a stack of 7-inch singles of all different color separations and permutations that they’d cooked up.

That pile of singles, probably 25-30 in total, was like having a thousand Christmases land on your 21st birthday. Jerry-rigged picture discs, spotted vinyl, label-less mysteries…all pressed on whatever garbage pressing plates they just had laying around…I can’t help but turn a smile just thinking about it over a decade later.

Out of that bunch, a sharp, contrasting piece divided into thirds, with each 120-degree section dedicated to an opaque color…specifically yellow, black, and white. “If they can make that yellow match the yellow in our logo, that’s it,” I recall Jack saying. With a little bit of Pantone magic, the Third Man Records tri-color was born.

We pressed the first two tri-colors (Mildred And The Mice – I Like My Mice (Dead) and Rachelle Garniez – My House Of Peace (2009, Tri-Color, Vinyl) ) and sold them together on the same day, May 25th, 2009. With little warning to fans and in true DIY style, we actually goofed up the press release and a bunch of eager customers were standing outside the Third Man storefront in Nashville on May 23rd, waiting to buy copies. Whoops!

Being available exclusively from our brick-and-mortar location, they would remain in stock for DAYS, which boggles my mind now when limited releases in our storefront are gone in HOURS.

As for how to buy tri-colors, I’m particularly a fan of the tri-colors that are a little out of the norm for us, whether they were pressed by Erika Records like Tempest Storm – Interview With Tempest Storm By Jack White (2012, Tri-Color, Vinyl), utilizing colors that deviate from those used in our label logo or Stephen Colbert With The Black Belles – Charlene II (I’m Over You) / Charlene (I’m Right Behind You) pressed by Gotta Groove, Jack Wood – Born To Wander (2016, Yellow, Black, White, Vinyl) or manufactured purely to give away I Cut Like A Buffalo.

Around the same time United Record Pressing made us those tri-colors, they were secretly at work on a project to make 12-inch records in a similarly impressive way. Before they could show us the final project, we just happened to ask them “Can you make a split-color LP?” The look on plant manager Dave Jump’s face was hard to place, part shock, part disappointment, part “wait ‘til you get a load of this” when he revealed the double-extruder cake mold contraption that would be used to make our first split-color, The Dead Weather – Horehound (2009, Yellow/White Split, Vinyl).

While we continue to utilize split-color LPs for various reasons through today, it seems that they are most often associated with the limited edition version “Black and Blues” that we manufacture exclusively for attendees to our live performances. From everyone from Father John Misty – Live At Third Man Records to a show that the fire marshall preemptively prohibited us from allowing attendees White Denim – Live At Third Man (2011, Black/Blue, Vinyl)
through the time that both King Louie AND the Oblivians showed up as guest performers on Quintron & Miss Pussycat – Live at Third Man all the way to the solo guitar master class from a septuagenarian Peter Walker – Live At Third Man Records (2015, Black and Blue, Vinyl), these run the gamut and are a great way to be introduced to an artist you may know nothing about.

As a response to the immediate criticism we received from Third Man acolytes in regards to the first couple of limited releases only being available to buy from our physical location, the idea sprung of creating the opportunity of “unlimited” limited records. While the initial verbiage seems confusing now, the idea of doing records that were limited to the number of people who committed to buying them in advance was largely inspired by the Sub Pop Singles Club. I was well-versed enough in the challenges Sub Pop had experienced over the years in a monthly subscription service. Hence the Third Man Records Vault releases would be a quarterly package, ideally (but not always) consisting of an LP, a 7-inch single and a “bonus” item.

We’ve just finished sign-ups for our 44th package and I’m still consistently amazed at how successful the whole endeavor continues to be for us. From our first and inarguably most sought after package The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2009, Vinyl) where we literally drove every package down the street in an open pick-up truck to the post office (before my dumb ass realized you can call the post office to pick up outgoing mail) to the last White Stripes live show The White Stripes – The White Stripes Live In Mississippi (2011, Vinyl) and the first White Stripes show The White Stripes – Live On Bastille Day (2012, Red, Vinyl) these four a year missives have been the perfect way to satiate the worldwide demand for our collectible vinyl.

Outside of the Jack White family tree, we’ve also had the extreme good fortune of releasing Vault packages by artists outside our typical orbit. I’m still kind of amazed we were able to do the first legit pressing of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band* – Trout Mask Replica in over ten years, the Pearl Jam live recording from the Blue Room Pearl Jam – Live At Third Man Records (2016, Gold / Black Split, Vinyl) was also a partnership between the Vault and PJ’s fan-oriented Ten Club, and the gargantuan 3xLP masterpiece by Sleep, Sleep – Live At Third Man Records (2019, Blue, Vinyl) that almost featured a 3 x 6-inch in-store version of their song “Dragonaut” recorded direct-to-disc in our Voice-o-Graph recording booth, but the sheer power of the performance left those original discs as rumbly gems that would not track on even the greatest turntable.

A big part of our job at Third Man is to help spread the word about great music that may have been overlooked or in need of fresh life. From the exhaustive, multi-volume sets of the blues greats Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell, and The Mississippi Sheiks Document Reissues releases through Patsy Cline’s complete Decca studio masters Patsy Cline – Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Studio Masters 1960-1963, to underground essentials like Jon Wayne – Texas Funeral (2010, Vinyl) and Flat Duo Jets – Go Go Harlem Baby (2011, Vinyl), reissues are a safe, office-based way to feel like Indiana Jones, tracking down missing bass players, scouring studio storage for old master tapes, wondering if that old mixing engineer is going to try and sue you… really, truly fun times.

One of our endeavors that has most consistently confounded record collectors is our series of school choirs and bands on our School Choirs & Bands At Third Man Label. As a largely educational venture, we invite high school, middle school, and even a handful of elementary school music outfits to our Nashville headquarters for a tandem recording session and lecture about the biz.

Seriously, I LOVE talking to these kids. I get to explain to them the general basis of the vinyl business, I get to dab, I get to refer to Beanie Babies and Hummel Figurines as collectibles, I get to bring out an old, unrefrigerated copy of The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends (2012, Blood-filled, Vinyl) complete with gross, groan-worthy coagulated remnants knocking around… I get to mold the minds of young America.

The reason these confound collectors is… we don’t sell them! They are only made available to the kids who participate in the sessions. Kinda like school pictures, every participant gets one copy. But if you wanna get some extras for grandma and grandpa, one to throw in the local jukebox, we offer them the ability to purchase extras. One or two enterprising youths have wisely purchased extras and then sold them off for big profit. Those kids are gonna go far.

As I look at the Discogs, there are quite a few of these releases that haven’t even been added to the database yet. That’s how weird, rare and limited they are. Of note, I still enjoy the Gotye cover here 2Knight 2Knight, Kings Chamber Choir, Girls Chamber Choir – Kings High School (Solid Blue & Clear Red colored vinyl, Vinyl) and the Green Day cover that manages to really capture the sadness that seems somewhat missing from the original Glencliff High School Guitar Ensemble – Boulevard Of Broken Hearts.

In February 2017, we opened our very own pressing plant in Detroit. Third Man Pressing has enabled us to make wild propositions into physical realities, whether collaborations with Detroit techno royalty Carl Craig – Untitled (2017, Clear, Vinyl) and Rhythim Is Rhythim / Rennie Foster – The Innovator / Floatilla (2017, Clear, Vinyl) or mind-blowing one-offs with rock and roll canon MC5 – Kick Out The Jams (2017, Yellow, Uncensored, Vinyl) and The Stooges – The Stooges (2017, Yellow, Vinyl). Personally, I’m still wildly proud of the THREE DAY turnaround we managed on the Flying Wedge – Come To My Casbah / I Can’t Believe which was a solid partnership with the fine diggers over at Numero Group.

But beyond all these categorizations, the records that don’t fit neatly into any column always hold a place near and dear in my heart. Released via helium balloon? Jack White – Freedom At 21 (2012, Flexi-disc). Released in three hours? Jack White – Lazaretto (2014). Released after having been worked on for seven years? Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 (2019, Box Set). Released and reissued after a $300,000 auction purchase of the original? Elvis Presley – My Happiness / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. Released only after I flew to Bemidji, Minnesota and visited the grave of two deceased band members? Monks* ‎– Hamburg Recordings 1967. You get the idea.

I’ve said it countless times, but putting a record collector in charge of a record label can be a tricky situation. With that, TMR has always made 99% of our releases consistently available and affordable on black vinyl. Outside of the Vault, we almost NEVER purposefully let a title go out of print. If you don’t care about gimmicks or vinyl color and just care about the music, we are absolutely a record label that will serve you well.

Ben Blackwell’s Top Ten Most Recommended Third Man Records Vinyl Collectibles Regardless of Pressing Quantity Or Resale Value:

The current hot ticket. I liken this one to if Michael Jackson had played a show to a 250 capacity room during the Thriller tour AND hand-painted the album covers. And we turned it around in just over a month. A true feat for a true artist.

Our first release, given away to attendees at our grand opening party on March 11th, 2009. Limited to 150 copies, each with a cover hand-painted by one of the members of the Dead Weather and with an original, one-of-a-kind photo booth strip of the band as an insert. My personal copy depicts a monkey playing a drum and is the best of them all.

Records that were never released are my favorite! This live recording from the Blue Room was ultimately nixed for a couple of different reasons, but not before we got all the way to the test pressing phase. We’ve given away a copy or two of these randomly just for kicks. Will it ever get properly released? Outlook not so good.

Nothing to see here.

Yes, we did a wide release of this one in the Vault, but as Jack made a declaration from the stage that night, we made less than 100 copies of this variant for people who were actually in attendance to pre-purchase in our store immediately after the gig.

As part of a SXSW pop-up shop, we did “Texas-Sized” versions of a bunch of our 7-inch singles. So… 8-inch singles. These wooden boxes housed all of them together and came with a tasty iron-branded logo on them. Fragile.

I’m particularly proud of this one because it all came together while I was on paternity leave. The crew conquered the monumental task of figuring out how to properly metalize two sides of a record, in two different finishes (gold and platinum), house it in a laser-cut and stained wooden housing, held together with aluminum spines and packaged with cotton gloves for most pristine handling. Maybe I should have more kids? Supposedly Leonardo DiCaprio owns a copy.

The record sealed inside another record. The record that needed to manufacture FIVE separate pieces of vinyl, cut ‘em apart and glue ‘em together for it’s construction. The record we were apprehensive to sell for $30 brand new. The record that was immediately being flipped for $500 online.

For our 3rd anniversary party, we pressed an LP of all our commercially released singles up until that point, to be played at 3rpm, and gave it away to attendees that evening. There are tricks and treats and Easter eggs on this gem that are still yet to have been revealed. Will they ever? Better not tell you now.

We did a record with U2?!?!?!?!? I still can’t believe this happened. Will I ever share the story about the direct-to-acetate recording they did for TMR that we didn’t release? As I see it, yes.

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