Ask Terry Wachsmuth what old records he'd like to see released on CD and he hardly can keep track of his choices.
There's a John McLaughlin album, some Ike and Tina Turner recordings, a couple of solo efforts by Grace Slick, music by Weather Report, George Duke . . . The list goes on.Wachsmuth isn't speaking just as a consumer. He's the artist and repertoire director for One Way Records, which specializes in issuing compact discs passed over by the major labels. The label in Albany is one of several filling the inevitable gap created by the switch from analog to digital recordings a decade ago.
"We felt there was a need for things to get out," Wachsmuth said. "Labels weren't doing it, and no one seemed to be that concerned."
When record companies began phasing out vinyl production, they were faced with hundreds of thousands of records in their catalogs and a limited capacity for manufacturing CDs.
The pace of reissues has steadily increased over the years, but for many fans, it's been a frustrating wait.
Only recently did such albums as Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear," Pete Townshend's "Who Came First," the Ramones' "End of the Century" and anthologies of Abba, the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five and the Everly Brothers come out.
This summer, several Neil Young records, including "Reactor" and "Time Fades Away," debut on CD.
"In the beginning, you really selected only absolute best sellers from the catalog. We had to be highly selective in terms of what we released on CD," said Gregg Geller, vice president of A&R at Warner Bros. Records.
"Most of what you might have thought should have been done has certainly been done by now," he said. "What you have to look at is the handful of records that fell through the cracks."
Among those that still haven't made it are a Stevie Nicks-Lindsey Buckingham album released before they joined Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads' live "The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads," the soundtrack to the benefit concert "No Nukes," the Beatles' "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" and Smokey Robinson's acclaimed "Warm Thoughts."
Contractual or technical problems have held up those releases, but there's an obvious philosophy behind others being omitted: Why bother for the sake of selling a few thousand records? This hasn't concerned Bruce Springsteen fans, but if John Mayall or David Johansen are more to your liking, you've had to hold onto that old turntable.
Enter companies such as One Way, Collector's Pipeline, Rhino Records and Razor & Tie Music.
Their method is to approach the label that owns rights to a Mayall record or something by the James Gang and offer to reissue it themselves. The original label risks nothing and the CD is released by a company that has fewer additional projects to worry about.
"They're able to focus on being a major label that breaks and develops new artists at a gold to platinum level and, at the same time, have their catalog developed and marketed by a company that has expertise doing that," said Gary Stewart, vice president of A&R at Rhino, which markets the catalog of Atlantic Records.
"How much time is a major label going to spend on getting 5,000 John Stewart records out there?" said Cliff Chenfeld, co-president of Razor & Tie, which has released records by Stewart, Bobby Womack and the Partridge Family, among others.
"Everybody wins. Most of these records were deleted prior to the advent of CDs and a company like mine is going to spend a lot of time on them. We often put bonus tracks on, liner notes and photos."
But Wachsmuth often finds the process frustrating. Many contracts have been lost over the years, leaving ownership rights in dispute. This has prevented him from acquiring such records as "Strictly Personal" by Captain Beefheart, two Ike and Tina Turner albums, and Slick's "Manhole" and "Software."
Wachsmuth is critical of some of the big labels. He says Sony Music and WEA have been slow in putting out their catalogs and have been reluctant to let companies such as his do the work instead.
"It just takes forever to get anything out," he said. "They say, `We're thinking about doing that and then a year lapses and an album doesn't come, and another year. . . . I just don't understand why they take so long. I get stuff out. From the time they say, `Yes, you can do this' - 60 days later, you can go out and buy that CD."
He also cited frustration with Sony over the catalog of the late blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Sony is putting out an anthology, but has delayed releasing any individual albums.
"If the anthology sells reasonably well, we will be releasing the individual Mike Bloomfield records," said Jerry Shulman, Sony's vice president of marketing and development.
"I can appreciate the fact if you're a Mike Bloomfield fan, you want everything out now, but let's get real. We don't have the capacity to put out every single thing. What's at issue is whether another company should be putting out Mike Bloomfield or if it should be done by Sony."
Ironically, One Way and other companies may be too effective for their own good. Their success not only helped push the major labels into looking more carefully after their own music, but has reduced the market for any CD reissues.
"There's a finite number of albums in existence that haven't been issued; it depends on how obscure you want to get," said Wachsmuth, whose company has an eclectic catalog that includes the Lovin' Spoonful and Carmen Miranda. "Sooner or later it's going to peter out, but we expect to be doing this for another 5-10 years at least."