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Bloodshot Records Marks 25th Anniversary With New Compilation Album

"It just started off as three music fans getting together and wanting to document a scene that was happening in the city that we felt was going underappreciated or unnoticed,” founder Rob Miller said

Rob Miller, owner of Bloodshot Records, in the label's storefront at 3039 W. Irving Park Rd.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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IRVING PARK — It’s been 25 years since Bloodshot Records started in a Wrigleyville basement.

Rob Miller, Nan Warshaw and Eric Babcock wanted their new label to focus on roots-infused indie rock, punk rock and alternative country.

The label has survived and thrived, although Miller is the last co-founder still with the label.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bloodshot Records is releasing a compilation record titled “Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots.”

“Not to be naive and Polly Anne-ish and all that, but it just started off as three music fans getting together and wanting to document a scene that was happening in the city that we felt was going underappreciated or unnoticed,” Miller said. “So we just thought we’d start putting together a compilation and here I am 25 years later.”

Bloodshot’s first compilation, “For A Life of Sin: Insurgent Chicago Country,” a tour of Chicago’s roots and country music scene, was first released in 1994. 

The label’s newest compilation, ““Too Late to Pray,” revists that format and features 22 original and cover songs by artists like Robbie Fulks, Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild (featuring Steve Albini), Freakwater, Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds (of Lawrence Arms), Half Gringa, Handsome Family, ROOKIE, The Hoyle Brothers, Sima Cunningham (of OHMME), Kelly Hogan and others. 

The record is set to be released Nov. 8.

Bloodshot’s original basement headquarters became untenable after a few years and in 1999 the label moved into its current home at 3039 W. Irving Park Rd. Running Bloodshot all this time, Miller said some of the highlights have been working with personal heroes of his.

“I’ve gotten to work with so many people whose records I already had in my record collection — people that informed who I am and what this label would be I’m now dealing with on a professional level,” Miller said.

“Be it Wanda Jackson, John Langford or Dex Romweber or Charlie Pickett. I mean it’s all these people, and then if you look at my compilations, like all the people we get to hang around with and help shepherd their music out into the world. I mean that’s always amazing.”

Earlier this year, in honor of the anniversary, Square Roots Festival’s organizers invited Bloodshot to curate one of their stages. Miller said it was unbelievably humbling to be asked by the festival to help with this year’s programming. He invited Murder By Death, Mekons and John Langford and a few other Bloodshot mainstays to perform at the Lincoln Square festival. 

But for all the highs there have been some lows over the years too.

“There’s a lot of things where you’re standing back watching an artist either self destruct or make really bad decisions and going, ‘This is going to hurt,’” Miller said. “It’s maybe not just one big thing but death by a thousand small cuts and that’s disappointing.”

Another memory that sticks with Miller is deleting names from their mailing list in 2001 after the Twin Towers were attacked. 

“Everyone here does all kinds of stuff and one of the things I do is maintain the mailing list, like where all the data comes in and cross referencing it between bands and regions and all that stuff. And I remember sitting in that office on September 11th, 2001 and looking at our list there were people that were in the tower,” Miller said. “I saw a couple of their names on the screen and then you just highlight those and you’re just kind of deleting them. That makes everything else feel like, ‘Who gives a sh–.’”

Eric Babcock left the label in 1997 and went on to found the Nashville, Tennessee-based Catamount Records. And earlier this year Nan Warshaw stepped away from the label after musician Lydia Loveless alleged years of harassment by Chicago musician Mark Panick, Warshaw’s domestic partner.

“She stepped down from the label for personal reasons,” Miller said.

A few years after launching the label, Miller said Peter Margasak of the Chicago Reader asked him what the future held.

Miller said he would never have predicted vinyl records would make a comeback or that music streaming services would allow someone to have thousands of songs at their fingertips. 

“I told Peter I can’t even imagine what will happen next. So the answer remains the same,” Miller said. “I mean it seems like three weeks ago it was our 20th anniversary. We just put our heads down and work, and as long as there are people here who keep discovering music that we find value in, then we’ll remain relevant, enjoy what we do and not be putting out garbage music.”

“Too Late to Pray’s” release party is set for Nov. 9 at Workshop 4200, 4200 W. Diversey Ave., and will feature performances by ROOKIE, Wild Earp & The Free For Alls, Big Sadie, David Quinn, and The Dyes.

For more information on Bloodshot’s other 25th anniversary celebrations visit bloodshotrecords.com.

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