The Record Keepers: Carl Craig

A techno legend with a taste for ”Honey”
Carl Craig - vinyl
Carl Craig

Everybody remembers their first time. Especially when it involves Honey. “The first record I remember actually buying was Ohio Players’ Honey,” says Carl Craig, the legendary techno DJ, recording artist, and label head of Planet E Communications, who was 6 years old when that racy LP came out in 1975. “On the cover there was a woman pouring honey all over her body, and for some reason when I asked my dad, ‘Can I have that record?’ he said, ‘Yeah.’ So, I ended up with this record that my mom was definitely not happy about.”

Craig’s mom must not have cracked open the Honey gatefold to see the full Monty on the inside, or she might have forbidden him from ever buying another record. Instead, Craig continued to be an avid listener and collector. One of the main places he shopped in the 1980s and ’90s was Buy-Rite Music, which employed many future local music luminaries, such as DJ Stingray and Kenny Dixon Jr. (Moodymann).

“Buy-Rite was the spot for anything you heard Jeff Mills as The Wizard play on the radio, or Derrick May when he had his Mayday Mixes, or The Electrifying Mojo,” Craig says of the Seven Mile store, which now operates as Detroit Music Center. “Anything could come up at any time. People could get cursed out, thrown out, overcharged — it could be anything. It was amazing.”

As a DJ, Craig works entirely in the digital realm now. But as a listener and label boss, vinyl is still relevant. For his personal collection, Craig says he mostly buys jazz records and special versions of records he loves, like a picture disc of Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy and 180-gram reissues of Kraftwerk albums such as Trans-Europe Express and Computer World.

Among Craig’s prized vinyl possessions are original 1970s pressings from sound-art sculptor Harry Bertoia’s private Sonambient label, as well as a non-music LP he swiped from his sibling.

“There’s a real scratched-up record that I’m sure was my brother’s, but I just grabbed it. It freaked me out, too, because it was on Capitol Records, but it was a go-kart race with commentary on it,” Craig says of the 1964 LP The Big Sounds of the Go-Karts. “I listened to that growing up through all the scratches and all the dust to just hear this amazing thing.”

He credits that go-kart sound record as a precursor to his learning to appreciate the idea of ambient sound: “I think it’s why I like those Bertoia records so much,” he says.

But unlike a lot of collectors, who know a ballpark range of how many records they own, Craig doesn’t have any idea — and he doesn’t care, either.

“When people say they got 10,000, 15,000 records, it’s supposed to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I got a Ferrari.’ That kind of stuff doesn’t impress me,” Craig says. “I’m more impressed by a Ferrari than somebody who tells me they have 20,000 pieces of vinyl.”