Sad news about a longstanding titan of the record industry: Phillip C Hertz, owner of the late Chicago-based distributor, sometime label and vinyl jobber Crosstalk International, has died.
I first met Phil in a place that for five years was proud to call itself “Chicago’s most DANGEROUS record store,” The Quaker Goes Deaf. (The address of the record store – 1937 W. North – was used as the shipping address for Crosstalk in the late 1990s.)
Someone else will have to (and they surely will) fill in the details of those years, as our paths wouldn’t cross again until ten years later. By this time Crosstalk had a warehouse at 650 W. Lake. Phil was a long-time subscriber to 5 Mag and we had a lot of good talks about the state of the industry (and a little inside gossip, or shit-talk. I remember one memorable discussion on records that sold well in real life versus those that merely appeared to sell well on the internet. As the keeper of the books, Phil knew all.)
“Phil was definitely the only person in America willing to work with me for distribution,” Ryan Scannura of the Deep Club label told me. “Phil took chances and seemed to really care about the little guy.”
“I miss our chats at the warehouse, your sharp informed criticism, and the deep well of dance music knowledge,” Andrew Gordon of Chicago’s Stripped & Chewed wrote in a Facebook post. “I know you always dreamed of success as a drummer, but you were swept up by dance music and record distribution – rising to the occasion at every turn.”
Last summer, I was as surprised as anyone to hear that Crosstalk was shutting down and liquidating. Phil posted a letter online; I marked it to read it later, but when I hit refresh the entire Crosstalk website was gone. It happened that fast.
Thereafter he began the process of liquidating the stock at 650 W. Lake – a depressing collage of photographs of cardboard, paper sleeves and a gradually emptying room.
Andrew Gordon of Chicago’s Stripped & Chewed Records described the last few years of Crosstalk as “rough,” which seems an appropriate way to phrase it right now. Two other label owners I spoke to said they felt blindsided by the decision and suffered a significant financial fallout from it.
In a tribute to Phil, Gordon wrote in part that “to anyone doubting your dedication or contributions, I’d say: ‘we would not be here today without him and many others can say the same.’”
Crosstalk was “going downhill fast around the time our second record came out,” Ryan Scannura said. “I came in at the tail end. But now that Crosstalk is gone, no distro in the US is willing to distribute my music. Phil and his partner(s) were solely responsible for pushing a lot of the new, innovative dance music from around the US.
“Crosstalk’s demise left a large hole in America for dance music, one that has still not been filled and may not pick up for a long time, or ever.”
Phil had been spending an increasing amount of time in Mexico and Latin America even when Crosstalk was still around (“Getting ready to get out of the freezer again” is how he put it to me in mid-Winter); as far as I know he lived there much of the time if not exclusively when it was not. Friends told me he had revealed that he had cancer, though I was not able to verify this with family.
The last time I spoke to Phil was for a piece I envisioned as a kind of beginner’s guide for getting a record pressed in 2016, given that much of the non-technical information circulating referenced another era and was woefully out of date.
I initially contacted five distributors. One told me he didn’t care, another that he didn’t have time, another said I wouldn’t like his answers if he cared or had enough time to tell me (he didn’t have either). I’m not exaggerating this. I suddenly understood why no one had written this “beginner’s guide” before.
Phil answered: “No problem.”
Working in the music industry breeds a famous kind of cynicism, it’s practically endemic, but I remember Phil for always sweetening a biting observation with a compliment, at least to me.
In a piece about helping young people ready to leap from digital to vinyl, he questioned whether they were really ready to make the jump at all. “Pfff… it’s all social media now,” he told me. “Shit is too expensive to make and there’s not a big local vinyl scene like there used to be. Tbh it’s cheaper to make tracks and give them away till you get a following, then you can press some shit, or license it out.”
That’s pretty good advice, though not necessarily encouraging. But he also singled out Andrew Gordon and the guys from Stripped & Chewed in particular for praise.
“I didn’t expect some of the releases to be that popular,” he said, but was “pleasantly surprised” to be wrong. It was one of the few times.
Photo: Phillip C Hertz of Crosstalk International/Twitter