Kingsport man finds hundreds of records recorded in the Tri-Cities

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL)- Lonnie Salyer said he’s always had a love for music and history. By chance a couple years ago he saw a record that caught his eye, a record made in Kingsport.  That peaked his curiosity and sent him on the hunt for other records recorded in the Tri-Cities region.

“I found out they were about 14 or so record labels in the Tri-Cities from basically Big Stone Gap to Rogersville there were all these little labels and there’s some really cool music out there,” Salyer said.

He has a full time job in Kingsport, but every chance he gets he goes to garage sales, flea markets, searches online, wherever he can to try and find locally recorded records. He said these records are missing pieces of our region’s history he is hoping to bring to light.

From R&B, to gospel, to bluegrass, Salyer said he’s amazed at what he has found. Since his quest began, he’s collected 300 local records from the 1940’s through the early 1990’s.

“There’s a whole range of music here that’s happened over the years and a lot of it’s lost in history because it wasn’t written down,” Salyer said.

He said he finds most of the records at yard sales for under a dollar, but many are worth a lot more. “Some of the soul records and a few of the garage rock records easily sell from $200 to $2,000,” Salyer said.

He said he has found these local records for sale all over the world. His most recent rare find is a record recorded on Johnson City label Spot Records that somehow made it all the way to the U.K. An original pressing of “Kenny Springs and the Scat Cats” is now on its way back to the Tri-Cities.

Salyer is getting the community involved in finding these forgotten records through social media.

“I created “Big Lon’s Crateful Dig” and basically that’s just a page to show ‘hey I found this, anyone have any information,’ and from that I’ve generated of lot of a oral history,” Salyer said.

He said one of the most rewarding parts has been connecting families with the voice of a loved one. People have told him, “’This is the only recording of my dad or my grandmother singing or playing guitar’” Salyer said. “And I’ve been able to share that and give back to people.”

Salyer said his quest is far from over, as he continues to string together some key notes in the composition of our region’s history.

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