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Soon after he relocated operations to downtown Salina, Kassem started a reissue label, which he called Analogue Productions. He contacted record labels and negotiated deals to license their artists' original analog recordings, then had them remastered and pressed on high-quality vinyl. Then he sold the new records through Acoustic Sounds' mail-order catalog. (Analogue's first reissue was a classical record, Virgil Thomson's The Plow That Broke the Plains.)
Kassem also founded Analogue Production Originals (APO), a label dedicated to releasing new music from aging blues legends. In 1997, he bought an old Victorian church in Salina, converted it into Blue Heaven Studios, and began recording APO artists there. In the years since, APO has released new material from semi-forgotten blues figures such as Honeyboy Edwards, Jimmie Lee Robinson and Jimmy Rogers (a member of Muddy Waters' original band), plus Kansas City blues legends Myra Taylor and Little Hatch. He often records these artists while they're in Salina for Blues Masters at the Crossroads, the blues festival that Acoustic Sounds throws.
"He's recorded a wide range of American blues music down there," says Chuck Haddix, local blues historian and host of KCUR 89.3's The Fish Fry. "He brings a lot of love to those projects, and he does it right. The recordings he does are high-fidelity, 180-gram vinyl, and he captures these guys at the top of their game. He doesn't put out that much, but what he does is top-shelf, both artistically and technically. It's kind of a throwback to an earlier era. I mean, he holds a blues concert series in a converted church. Things take on a greater meaning in that kind of environment."
All record collectors dream of a big score, and Kassem's came about in 2004, when he bought a collection of 30,000 sealed records from a widow in Olathe.
"It was a pretty wealthy family, and they were all busy with jobs and careers, and they just didn't have the time to deal with sorting through all the husband's records and figuring out what was worth what," Kassem says. "I offered them a lump sum, drove down and picked up some guys from under a bridge near Southwest Trafficway, and we hauled every last record out of that place."
Acoustic Sounds moved into an old Dillon's grocery store shortly thereafter. Then, in 2011, it moved again, when Kassem decided to start pressing records himself.
Kassem's voice sometimes arches up into a yell. It is unclear how much control he has over it. "Stand over here," he barks, from behind his desk.
Kassem wears hoodies to work, but not in the hip manner of Silicon Valley CEOs. He pairs them with sweatpants in a way that suggests a man who does not think too hard about his physical appearance. His cluttered office gives a similar impression. Two human-sized speakers occupy the space across from Kassem's desk, where you might expect visitors' chairs to be. The rest is just promo boxes and stacks of records.
He drops the needle on People, Hell and Angels, an album of unreleased Jimi Hendrix songs that QRP recently pressed.
"You see how loud it is, but it's not hurting your ears at all? We can talk while it's on," Kassem says. "With bad recordings, you have to turn it down to really hear. I want to be able to turn it up. Why have the volume knob if you can't turn it up?"