This article is a contribution from Mitch Diamond, who graciously shares his tale of Hatch Show Print, his own collection of posters, and a character called Ravin’ Ray. Mitch is a banjo player in New York who buys, sells and trades show posters as The Kardboard Kid. Though his banjo playing leans towards traditional American music, he also collects show posters for jazz, country, Gospel, rock and roll, rhythm & blues, blues, cajun, and rockabilly music.
Around 2001, a few old, original country & western singer concert posters showed up on eBay. Old concert posters are my collecting passion. After purchasing the posters, I tried to contact the seller of the posters. The dealer said that he was a lawyer, working as an agent of a really difficult man who did not want to speak to anybody. A few weeks later, some more posters showed up on eBay from this same person. I bought them and tried to contact the actual owner, but was blocked again by the lawyer. The third time I bought posters from him, I finally got through to “Ravin’ Ray.” Ravin’ Ray was his disk jockey name in Nashville. He had also promoted concerts in the area and was a friend of many country artists, including Johnny Cash. Ray was also a printer.
Hatch Show Print is the oldest concert poster printer in the world, dating back to 1879. Hatch still uses old hand carved woodblock created by the original Mr. Hatch, metal engravings, and moveable type – and their style is unmistakable.
That’s where Ravin’ Ray got a printing job. One of the job requirements at Hatch was that you had to move in your own printing press. To make room for Ravin’ Ray’s printing press, Hatch decided that their old concert poster files were taking up too much room and they were going to throw out their file copies of thousands of posters they had printed in the last 19 years. Ray had promoted a few of those concerts and thought that it would be great to have the posters and give them to the country stars he promoted and was friends with. He made a deal with Hatch to work for free for a few months in exchange for the file copies that Hatch was throwing out. Eventually, Ray left home and moved to Alaska, on The Kenai Peninsula. After many phone calls, I finally convinced Ray that I should come up and meet with him. I told him that I would like to spend $250 for each poster with a picture on it. Ray replied “Okay.” I first flew up to see him around July, 2002.
Ray was the meanest, nastiest guy that I ever hope to meet. Suffice it to say, he has been married 7 times. I’ll never forget his laughter when he told the story about “clocking” his kid in the head when he used the “F word” with his mother. He used racial slurs that I had never heard in my life. Here I was, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn. He had just picked me up at the airport. I was in his car when he told me that the posters were $350 each, I said that when I told him that I would like to pay $250 each that he replied “Okay.” He said, “I was replying Okay to you wanting to pay $250 each. I wasn’t replying okay that I was going to charge you $250.”
It was at this time that a smiling Ray showed me the loaded gun that he had in his glove compartment. So before I even got to see the posters, I told him to turn around and take me back to the airport. However, I was in Alaska with $60,000 cash hidden in my pockets, and one of the greatest finds in concert posters was just a few miles away. I decided to stay and Ray turned the car around again. When I saw the posters, I was floored. They were wonderful but the price he wanted was way over what most of these posters would sell for at auction, if they would ever show up for sale. I know how rarely these were found and how great many of the obscure artists were. Out of the entire stash, I had previously only seen about 10. There they were, 38 boxes of incredible and original posters, lovingly cared for, unfolded and placed in beautiful handmade wooden boxes. He had even gone through the trouble to wood stain many of the boxes. I bowed to his prices and spent way over $60,000. I was able to sell enough to keep almost half of what I purchased.
I spent over 12 hours a day with Ray, for 3 days. I found common things to talk about. Music was our first bond. He loved country music and saw that I loved country music. He told me about his glory days in the business when he went to church with Johnny Cash and was writing country songs performed by major artists. Beer always helps. We went to the VFW hall and had a beer. We talked “beer” for a while and laughed. I told him that I danced. He told me that this girl friend did swing dancing and when she showed up later, it was she that came up to me and asked me to dance. I think that is the moment that I won Ray over. We had smooth sailings after that. I came back a second time and spent another $50,000 and sold enough to keep half. There were still wonderful posters in Ray’s storage space when I last saw him but the prices were so high that it no longer was worth a visit. I would call Ray from home every few years and ask if he wanted to sell the rest of the collection.
Ray died a while back. I kept in touch with one of his 11 sons who had somehow survived his dad’s attitudes and was truly a nice man. Last year the son called me and said that he was willing to sell the rest of collection. I told him that I needed an inventory. I needed to know what was left. A year later, he called me. I received a DVD of close to 8000 JPGs of 1953 to 1972 Hatch Showprint concert posters.
In my dealings with concert posters, I was friendly with Jim Sherradin, manager and curator of Hatch Showprint. Jim is coauthor of the book on Hatch, gives lectures throughout the world and the Recipient of the 2013 Governor’s Arts Award.
Hatch is currently owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is a tourist attraction in Nashville, and still loved and used by major artists to create posters. I called Jim and told him that I thought I could make a deal for the old archives. Jim told me that the Country Music Foundation just couldn’t afford the posters. They are moving this year and every last penny was budgeted. We discussed it more. This was obviously a major piece of Hatch and Country Music history. Jim and one of the Vice Presidents were sent copies of the JPGS and it was decided that a patron could be approached. After months of negotiating, I was able to put together a good and fair deal for both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Ray’s son.
So on Monday, I left a weekend camping trip consisting of 200 roots musicians and folk dancers, came home for half an hour and then took a flight to Alaska to meet up with Jim Sherradin and buy the collection. Upon seeking the posters, Jim was stunned that he knew exactly where many of the old hand carved woodblocks were but had never seen the context in which they were used. It was to be a marriage of the original printing plates and blocks that are still at Hatch and the objects that they created. The sale was completed and the money was wired. After we saw the beautiful wooden boxes being put on a palette, shrink wrapped and sent off to The Country Music Hall of Fame, we went in with Ray’s son and wife, who had cooked us yet another meal. We talked of Ray and his legacy. You could see his son tear up as we talked about Ray. I must admit, I teared up a little, myself.
Be sure to visit my website at www.kardboardkid.com to see posters from my collection and some of the for sale items. Contact me for more bluegrass and country posters.