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Battered but unbroken, Brooklyn music label sees ‘new golden age of vinyl’

Norton Records survived Hurricane Sandy and has made a comeback, like vinyl itself, with a brick-and-mortar store.

Hurricane Sandy battered much of New York City but one of its lesser-known victims was a Brooklyn music label specializing in rock and rockabilly sounds released on vinyl records.

After the October 2012 storm roared through, Norton Records in Red Hook was flooded, its inventory destroyed and its future uncertain.

“We lost virtually all of our stock,” co-founder Miriam Linna said. “I think at that time it was a quarter of a million records.”

But the label that produces current artists and releases classic reissues weathered that storm, and has withstood others.

More recently, it includes the 27 inches of snow that fell on New York the day after Linna and her husband and co-founder, Billy Miller, opened their first record store in January 2016.

But adversity was nothing new for the coupleboth musicianswhose label has stayed afloat, even through the so-called death of vinyl in the 1990s and into its steady comeback.

The most devastating loss, however, did not involve the label itself. Last November, just a few months after the Prospect Heights record store opened, Billy Miller died, after having lost a leg in his battle with multiple myeloma.

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Linna considered closing the Washington Avenue record shop after that. They had opened it, in part, so that Billy “could hold court and just talk records with people,” she said. “His whole life was built around telling people about records — our label existed to bring music that was unknown or little known that we were enthusiastic about.”

Friends and fans urged her to keep it going, and she has. The store sells mostly vinyl records, but also has CDs, books and on its website, highlights the two-dozen artists whose music it has released or reissued.

Linna said she and Miller had always persevered.

After Sandy, Linna said her husband set a goal “to get a small, limited quantity of our label back within a year, and we pretty much reached that impossible goal.”

By early 2016, the 30-year-old Norton Records was again releasing music and was expanding. That was helped in part by vinyl record sales, which rose 26 percent last year.

Today, Norton Records — and Linna — shows no signs of slowing down.

The label will release “Kickin’ Child,” the lost 1965 Columbia recordings of Bronx-born Dion DiMucci, the former teen idol better known as just Dion, on May 12.

Linna and Miller’sKicks Books will publish a history of Detroit’s Fortune Records, which released blues and doo-wop music from 1946 to 1995.The independent label was Miller’s favorite.

In addition to a visual retrospective on the impact Sandy had on Norton Records, Linna is putting together a tribute to her late husband.

The Billy Miller Memorial Celebration will take place April 29, at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It will feature some of Norton Records artists, including Linna and her band, Miriam & Nobody’s Babies. Proceeds will benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. The event will coincide with the WFMU Record Fair.

“It’ll be a great time for Billy’s memorial," Linna said, "because so many of his friends who were record collectors who were not here when he passed are going to be able to come and help us remember and celebrate his life."

 
 
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