A collector's tale: Randy Haecker

Longtime record industry veteran talks about his collecting obsessions
By Peter Lindblad
image
A David Bowie photo
signed to Randy Haecker in 2008

When it comes to collecting entertainment memorabilia, Randy Haecker has many loves.
From records to buttons and concert posters, Haecker, a veteran of the music industry who worked his way up from hip indie labels to become part of Sony, is into all kinds of stuff. And it's not just music that he's passionate about. The Golden Age of Hollywood also offers various temptations.
Of all the ephemera he's gathered over the years, his many jobs at record labels affording him the kind of access to such material most of us can only dream of, it seems that autographed items hold the most sway. And Haecker has some fascinating tales to tell regarding how he came into possession of some of his most cherished possessions, as you'll see in this interview. It's the first of a series of talks with people about their collections.

First off, could you give me a little history about your time in the music business? Randy Haecker: Music has been a lifelong passion. One of my earliest memories is defying my parents by staying up to watch “The Johnny Cash Show.” I was 5 years old. I laid low in my pajamas at the end of the hallway, where I could still see the TV but my parents couldn’t see me. Soon after, I discovered Casey Kasem’s weekly “American Top 40” radio countdown and would pay special attention to the artists’ names and their home countries. By high school, I had acquired a sizable record collection and spent countless hours reading the lyrics and the inner sleeve credits. Music magazines were also key to my development, especially Trouser Press and Creem, which I could find at my local small-town grocery store, as well as UK publications like NME, Melody Maker, The Face and Blitz, which I was only able to buy if an older friend drove me to Austin or San Antonio on a record shopping spree.   
Immersing myself in the music press led me to the idea that “I can do that.” By 1982, I was writing record reviews for my high school newspaper and interviewing local musicians like Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns and the Krayolas. My high school writing led to a nearby journalism scholarship and while in college I interviewed acts like Depeche Mode, the Cure, OMD, Run-DMC, and 10,000 Maniacs. I was savvy enough to send clippings of my articles to the record label addresses and management offices I would find on the LP sleeves, and soon I was on every label mailing list in the country. Jackpot! Packages of free LPs started arriving on a daily basis.
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Ringo Starr
Soon, I had become friendly with numerous music publicists, and they all were asking what I intended to do after college. They told me if I wanted to be in the heart of the music business, I would have to move to either Los Angeles or New York City. So I took their advice. Shortly after finishing college, I packed what I could fit in my car and drove to Los Angeles. I chose L.A. because the weather was closer to what I was accustomed to in Texas. I got very lucky. Within two weeks, I was hired by Slash Records to be the label’s sole in-house publicist. I won the job based on my thick binder of music writing, and the fact that I had previously written about numerous Slash bands. One of my first projects was Faith No More’s The Real Thing, which became a platinum-seller in the U.S. That job eventually led to a move to New York City in 1994 where I became a publicist for Angel/Guardian/EMI Classics. The music industry was booming and during this period I worked with Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, the Kinks, Alice Cooper, Liza Minnelli, Itzhak Perlman and many others. In 1997, I moved a few blocks across town to Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment. I eventually became Sr. Director of Media Relations and worked for Sony until 2013. 
Forgive the predictability of this question, but what was it that got you into collecting music and other memorabilia and why do you continue with it? RH: My gateway into the fanaticism of collecting was a bubblegum sticker series called Odd Rods.  Basically you’d get a slab of rock hard gum along with three stickers of monsters driving dragsters. This was 1971. My dad would buy me a package whenever we would pick up milk on the way home. In grade school, everybody was into another bubblegum series, Wacky Packages. All of these cards were brash and lurid, zany and colorful, aspects which continue to have a strong pull on my id. Around this time, I would carefully scan the TV guide each week, circling monster movies and sci-fi TV shows. I was voracious in my quest to see every Universal Monsters, Hammer Films, or American International Pictures b-movie. The first monster film I experienced was “Werewolf of London” (1935), which I watched with my brother on late-night TV in the 1960s. In 1974, age 10, I attended my first comic book and “Star Trek” convention is San Antonio.  
Aside from records, what was the first piece of memorabilia you acquired? RH: Avengers #76. Marvel Comics, 1970. That was my first comic book. My introduction to Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the rest of the colorful, heroic team. Cover price was .15 cents. And boy, did I get my money’s worth. It unlocked a whole universe for me. I’ve never counted them, but I would guess my current comic book collection numbers around 10,000 issues. A copy of Avengers #76 in great shape today would land you $60, which is a good return on the original investment.  
Tell me about your autograph collection. Was there a particular autograph that required some intrepid work on your part?
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A signed 8x10 photo
of Andy Warhol, although
it is not the one Haecker
discusses in the Q&A.
RH: While I had always collected autographs from musicians I interviewed, I didn’t become serious about autograph collecting until 1994. My interest coincided with my move to New York City. I was a young gent raised on Marvel Comics, CBGB punk bands and “Saturday Night Live,” so moving to NYC was a dream come true. I decided to celebrate by tracking down an authentic autograph from Andy Warhol, who was already deceased. I started my quest at Argosy Books on E. 59th, an autograph retailer I had located in the Manhattan Yellow Pages. The clerk’s first question was “How much are you willing to pay?,” which is a blunt, no-nonsense way to start any transaction. She admitted that she didn’t have any signed photos of Warhol on hand but she suggested I call an autograph dealer on the Upper West Side. I made the call and arranged a meeting at the dealer’s apartment. His opening question of “Who are you looking for?” was quickly followed by “How much are you willing to pay?” It was obvious that money talked in the NYC autograph market. He had an exquisite, pristine black & white 8x10 photo boldly signed “From Andy Warhol.” We agreed on a price of $180 and I still buy from that dealer today.
Which brings up the question of authenticity. On the road to becoming a serious autograph collector, one has to experience a lot of hard knocks. Just because someone says a signature is authentic, doesn’t mean it is.  The person selling the item may, indeed, truly believe that an item is authentic, but unless you were there to personally witness the signing, you will never know for certain. Which is why a smart collector is a cautious collector. I tend to buy the majority of my items from UACC-certified dealers. These are established dealers who maintain a strict code of ethics and typically offer a money-back guarantee for life on the items they sell. I’ve also learned to be cautious of businesses which offer authentication services. I frequently see items that pass authentication but still look bad to a trained eye. So the bottom line is do your research. If an item’s price seems too good to be true, you’ll likely get stung.
I tend to collect signatures from the Golden Age of Hollywood, back when celebrities had clean penmanship and took the time to personalize items. Signatures from that era are worlds away from the wavy lines and illegible squiggles that pass as legitimate signatures from today’s superstars.  
Is there a funny or maybe even harrowing story behind any of them? RH: One collecting story that comes to mind involves legendary adult films actress Seka. While attending a Chiller Theatre autograph show at a Secaucus hotel in the mid-1990s, I came across Seka in a small, cramped, dealer’s table room. She cut quite a striking figure. Tanned and hard-bodied, with her patented shock of blonde hair, Seka came across like the adult film equivalent of shock rocker Wendy O. Williams. Definitely a "take no prisoners" type. The room she had been assigned was disgustingly hot. No air conditioning. Now if you’ve ever attended a horror movie convention, you know that a sizable portion of the crowd is going to be bearded, overweight men wearing Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees baseball caps and t-shirts. One such fellow was in the vicinity of Seka’s memorabilia-laden table. He was pale and audibly panting from the heat. Without warning, the fellow doubled over and fainted. But during his fall he managed to grasp the tablecloth of Seka’s table and pulled down all of her photos on top of him. Seka didn’t waste a precious second. She straddled his prostrate body and began performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In between compressing his chest with her palms, Seka shouted loudly for help. By the time the hotel staff arrived, Seka had successfully brought the guy back to his senses. I hope he had the courtesy to buy a signed photo.  
Do you have a favorite kind of collectible, such as posters or buttons, that you like to seek out? RH: Autographs are currently my foremost collecting passion. My collection is comprised of music, film, and TV personalities. Specific areas of interest are punk and new wave musicians, Golden Age of Hollywood celebrities and film directors, foreign and cult film stars. I am saddened by the fact that the audience for foreign films, like classical and jazz music, is becoming increasingly more niche. I grew up in arthouse and repertory movie theatres. When I lived in Los Angeles, I would catch classic double features at the New Beverly, the Nuart, and UCLA, and during my time in NYC, I frequented Film Forum, MOMA, BAMcinematek, Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and many others. Foreign film is crucial to increasing an individual’s worldview.
Additionally, I currently collect movie and music posters, Blu-rays and DVDs, compact discs and LPs, music buttons/badges, archival photography, and genre magazines. Previously, I’ve  collected comic books, stamps, bubblegum cards, vintage postcards, and VHS tapes.
What excites you the most about memorabilia collecting?
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Haecker said he secured each signature
separately, so it took him a decade to get all five.
From left to right: Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Jackie Fox,
Sandy West and Cherie Currie.
RH: I can’t cite any one thing. It’s wide ranging. It seems fairly obvious that when you’re a child, everything is new and exciting, but you have no money to buy anything. So as you grow older, you seek out those emotionally-charged touchstones from yesteryear. For instance, I vividly recall encountering the sleeve for the Runaways’ 1977 LP Waiting for the Night at K-Mart when I was 13 years old. The cover photograph features four attractive young women in black leather, holding tight to a barbed-wire fence as blood runs down their hands. That LP’s graphic designer knew what he was doing. That’s an image that’s hard to shake, even decades later. And my passion for pop culture has been so fervent that at this point in my life I can say I’ve met three of the young women on that cover — Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Sandy West. 
Recently, I noted a photo on Facebook of some of the buttons you've collected over the years. How many do you think you have and do you have your favorites?  RH: My button collection is not over the top. I likely have around 300. Most of them I picked up at merch tables at concerts over the years. I don’t really have any favorites. Almost all of them are impossibly cool to me. 
How many records do you figure you own? Are there a few in your collection that mean the most to you or that stand out in any way? RH: Taking in LPs and extended mixes, I have in the area of 5,000. Plus an additional 600 45 RPM singles. An album that I view as especially important in my collection is simply titled New Wave. It was issued in 1977 on the UK label Vertigo. The sleeve is almost completely crimson except for a vertical color photo of a young punk spewing beer from his mouth at the camera. I bought it at North Star Mall in San Antonio in the late 1970s. This LP introduced me to the short, sharp, shock of the Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, New York Dolls, the Damned, the Dead Boys, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. So, yes, that’s a crucial slab of wax.  
Where do you go mostly to find the things you're looking for? RH: For autographs, I reach out to dealers I trust. They typically have websites on which new items are posted each week. I shop on eBay for just about every facet of my collection. emovieposter.com holds three weekly auctions for all types of posters and movie memorabilia. For archival products to store my collectibles, I buy from BagsUnlimited.com. Regarding LPs, my crate digging days are over. I no longer feel the need to seek out record stores in every city I visit, subjecting my knees to concrete floors and my sinuses to sundry dust and allergy particles.
What's still out there that remains your "white whale" in a sense? Is there a Holy Grail piece that has eluded your grasp?
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An autographed 5x7
photo of Charlie Chaplin
from the early 19-teens.
RH: I have an ever-diminishing list of key items for which I am still searching. Of course, most of these items come with high price tags attached, so I can only cross my fingers and say a little prayer in hopes that they find their way into my hands. Right now I’m in the market for autographed items from Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, Laurel & Hardy, directors Jean Luc Godard and Erich von Stroheim, Marvin Gaye, Freddie Mercury, guitarist Mick Ronson, and Sex Pistols designer Jamie Reid.   One “Holy Grail,” a signature that I never thought I would be able to afford actually made it into my collection this year. A 1964 bank check signed by Greta Garbo.  
You collect a lot of different items. How do you store them or showcase them? I barely have room to store everything, much less showcase anything. Two full room are dedicated to my collection. Air conditioned and humidity controlled. Most items are stored in either Mylar or polypropylene sleeves, inside acid-free, buffered boxes. Almost all of my posters are rolled in extra-thick tubes, so they are unfortunately difficult to access. Framing can quickly become prohibitively expensive. Like most collectors, I’m holding out to win the lottery so I can buy a museum to house everything. The items that are most readily accessible and easy to display are my autographs. I keep them in individual protective sleeves inside Itoya binders.  
What would be the most shocking or surprising story you could tell from your years of collecting? RH: Turn back the clock to when I was hired at Slash Records in 1988. My first day on the job, label president Bob Biggs called me in his office to give me an assignment. He informed me that due to Slash’s busy upcoming release schedule, we needed to make room for incoming promo LPs. He brought me downstairs to the promo room and pointed out several shelves of boxes. He instructed me to carry everything to the trash dumpster out back. Once he left, I couldn’t help but satisfy my curiosity by looking inside the boxes. Each box was brimming with leftover mementos from legendary Los Angeles fanzine, Slash Magazine. I looked in disbelief. There were archival 8x10 photos of all the bands on the scene, there were hundreds of original page layouts, there were items that had been given away free with the magazine, there were letters to the magazine from punk fans all over the world, there were the original typed manuscripts by the magazine’s writers. I thought to myself, “Is this a test? Does he want to see if I’ll take all this stuff?” My options were limited. If I drove my car near the dumpster and loaded everything in my car, I would likely be fired. And I had only been in L.A. for two weeks and I simply could not lose this cool new job. I also didn’t know anybody in L.A. to call to say, “You’ve got to get over here pronto and get all these boxes out of the dumpster!” In the end, I managed to score a nearly complete run of the original magazine, as well as a dozen or so photos of Buzzcocks, the Jam, and John Foxx-era Ultravox. As for what happened to all those boxes once I had put them in the dumpster, I have my suspicions. My guess is that my fellow Slash employees (none of whom I knew at this point) quickly scooped up those priceless boxes and headed for the hills.  

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