For a self-proclaimed “quality over quantity collector” who’s had over 30 years to aggregate then refine, the mind wanders about the heady heights Tone B.Nimble has reached in his digging pursuits. His first flings with dance music were as a DJ in the middle of Chicago’s flourishing house movement, taking lessons from Messrs Hardy, Louis and Knuckles on how to move dance floors. Then when hip-hop hit the windy city, he became a core member of All Natural, and Tone still applies that hip-hop hunger for grooves and breaks into his present-day digging, DJing and producing. Currently, he splits his time between Al-Tone Edits – “a label for disco savants” – cassette imprint Soul Is My Salvation, the Rejoice gospel party and, as he tells us in the below interview, a pursuit for originality. He’s also put together a fiery mix of soul, disco and gospel.
Catch Tone B. Nimble on his first European tour in March, stopping off in Berlin, Amsterdam, Bern, Paris and Bochum.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
My uncle was the record collector in our family. I had a few records as a kid, but I didn’t start purchasing records regularly until 12 or 13. At that point I was buying them to breakdance to and others that I enjoyed hearing at the roller rink. As I learned to DJ two of my earliest purchases were ‘Tittle Tattle’ by Baricentro and Tommy Boys ‘Greatest Beats’.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Collecting records as kid was about finding the cool records I’d heard someone else play or sample. As I got older I pursued originality with my selections. Nowadays it’s about finding the lesser known records and, if I’m lucky, an unknown tune. It’s a bit of an obsession looking for rare records. I also try and make a habit of purchasing new releases.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I store my records at our home on wooden shelves. They are alphabetized by genre.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I don’t really have a favorite spot at this point. They are all hit and miss, but I hit up record stores, flea markets, record shows, and thrift shop regularly. I also search the web all day every day.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
I’ve met so many record guys over the years, but one gentlemen that I’ve admired since I was a teenager is Charles Williams. I met Charles when he was working at Imports Etc. during the mid-80s, and over my 30+ years of collecting records he has always worked in a record store, and has been on top of all the quality tunes from all genres. All of the record guys from Chicago hold Charles in high regard.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Too many to name, but I enjoy the chase.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I prefer to shop solo, because I’m on my own timeline. Sometimes I’m moving fast and other times I’m trying to see every record in the spot. If I do shop with someone it’s my man Albumz.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I generally look for gospel records first, which is normally a fast process. After that I generally have and idea of the store, and proceed accordingly.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
I love artwork, but it’s an easy way to get burned, especially with gospel records. Some of the freshest covers have zero jams, and some of the plain stock covers contain that magic.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
The mix was recorded in my basement. It’s basically some of my favorite gospel records with a few other jams included.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Everyone’s ear is different, so I prefer that the listener determine if there are any standout tunes.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
There’s a bunch of dope collectors out there: Sadar, Mark Grusane, Madlib, Darryn Jones, Brian Reaves, Rich Medina, Solson, Geology, Andy C, the list goes on and on. I would say Red Greg’s collection intrigues me most, as his taste seems to be similar to mine. At this point I’m more of a quality over quantity collector, but the collectors I mentioned have both quality and quantity.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
There are lots of young collectors out there. Dylan McArthur out of Toronto has a pretty insane Nigerian collection. (Tambourine Party).
Growing up in Chicago in the mid-80s, you rubbed shoulders with some of the dance music greats. What were some of the key things you took away from you time dancing, conversing, living in their company?
During that period the older guys paid close attention to a DJ’s technical skills, in regards to blending records. Their attitude was “can you put together a smooth set with tight blends or are you train-wrecking all night? At that time everyone had the same records so how you programmed/sequenced them was essential.
Your roots lie in hip-hop, as one of the core members of All Natural. Does hip-hop still inform your musical exploits?
My roots are actually in dance music. Everyone from Chicago of a certain age was into house and disco that was the movement for Chicago youth during the eighties. I eventually got into hip-hop and immersed myself into the culture. I consider what I presently do very hip-hop as a digger of old records. In fact digging for funky grooves and breaks is part of hip-hop’s foundation.
You’ve talking about emotion being a key principal of your DJing, and something that makes gospel so special to you. What DJs do you think handle this emotive relationship with music the best, and why?
I think a lot of DJss do, but Theo and Sadar come to mind. I would say Ron Hardy was the epitome of this aspect!!!
How are things cooking with Soul Is My Salvation?
The SIMS Vol. 3 cassette should be available in late spring via Record Breakin. I also hope to expand the SIMS theme to include a website and a gospel themed event.
What’s in store for Al-Tone Edits this year?
In the next month or so we have another Al-Tone collaboration….I’ll let the other party make the announcement. This summer we’ll be back Al-Tone Edits Vol. 10. (Peace to my partner Albumz).
Outside of the label, do you have any other releases planned?
I have a gospel comp in the works, but it’s a lengthy process. No timeline for this release. Also at some point I’ll release something with my man Marc Davis (Black Pegasus).
Anything else on the horizon that’s getting you excited?
I learned years ago about getting excited, but I am curious to see where the newest chapter in musical journey leads……… also I appreciate the opportunity Thomas and Edouard J.A.W. presented.