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Library of Congress receives over 200 hours of rock royalty interviews

Les Paul created custom guitars for rock and roll heavyweights such as Eddie Van Halen.
Les Paul created custom guitars for rock and roll heavyweights such as Eddie Van Halen.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

Is that a gesture of cultural preservation, man? Well, turn it up, man.

The Library of Congress received a musical infusion Monday thanks to former Capitol Records/EMI president and retired music executive, Joe Smith, who donated more than 200 audio interviews of some of the world's greatest musicians.

During his two years in the top seat, Smith, now 84-years-old, recorded interviews with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Artie Shaw, Ray Charles, Ahmet Ertegun, Les Paul, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Elton John, Tina Turner, and hundreds more to amass his 238-hour archive.

In 1988 he compiled a number of interviews into a book, "Off the Record." Today, the unabridged rock and roll recollections are digitized in world's largest library, and available to researchers at the Capitol Hill reading room. A select number of interviews should be available later this year on the library's website.

"These frank and poignant oral histories of many of the nation's musical icons give us unique insights into them as artists, entertainers and human beings," Librarian of Congress James Billington said in announcing the gift.

"I was an insider," Smith said in an interview. "I could get to Mick Jagger when somebody from the press could not, and I could get to Barbra Streisand when most people could not get to her." 

In his book he recalls one such conversation with The Eagles at the verge of band breakup where an unconventional deal was struck -- they would agree to do a live album if he could answer questions about the Baltimore Orioles. He did. And so they did.

The library holds nearly 3 million sound recordings in total. The Joe Smith Collectionwill be housed in a bunker in at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and copies will be sent to the Yale School of Music, California Institute of the Arts, and to Berkeley College.

Lisa Brenner can be reached via Twitter @lisa_brenner