A lifelong collector of Stones music and memorabilia, New Jersey native Larry Leibowitz is almost certainly among the most knowledgeable and passionate of the countless fans of the infamous British band.
Since buying his first Stones album way back in 1967 when he was just a lad, the 64-year-old has amassed more than 5,000 items. The list is nearly endless but includes vinyl albums, 45 picture sleeves, CDs, cassettes, bootlegs, posters, store displays, autographs, concert programs, ticket stubs, books, magazines and one-of-a-kind promotional tchotchkes.
“I love the Stones, their music, the way they look; I wanted to be them,” says Leibowitz, a podiatrist who lives in Roxbury. “When I was older, in high school, I bought a book about the Stones that listed lots of hard-to-find things. Each page had pictures of incredible stuff. And if you’re a collector, your mindset is that you need to have everything and anything.”
Many of his items will be on display when he appears on “Collector’s Call” — which can be seen on the MeTV cable channel — July 2 at 6:30 p.m. Each segment of the show features some of the biggest collections of pop culture keepsakes in the country. Other episodes have focused on Barbie, James Bond, The Beatles, LEGO and baseball.
Whether or not one possesses the collecting gene, the show is a chance to live vicariously and learn amusing — and often, fascinating — tidbits. And given that the Stones have been around 60 years, Leibowitz manages to cover a lot of ground, pointing to rare records from the band’s earliest days, such as a highly coveted promotional album that was distributed in 1969 to a select few radio stations.
But how did he get started and devote much of his life to building what he calls The Rolling Stones Museum of New Jersey?
It all began in 1965 when he was riding with his older sisters in the back of his parents’ car. Listening to AM radio, they heard hits such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” Then one of his sisters bought the first Stones greatest hits album and he heard the songs blaring from her bedroom. Although young, he became a huge fan and, when he had money, soon bought his own Stones albums.
Over the years, Leibowitz bought all their records. Eventually, as he became more acquisitive, he and a friend would take the train from Parsippany, where he grew up, into Manhattan and comb through record stores in Greenwich Village, looking for rarities. It was a ritual shared by numerous suburban teens who sought bootleg albums that contained unreleased songs and live recordings by their favorite bands.
“We’d walk from the Port Authority and go into every store to find anything and everything Stones-related,” he said. “And we’d go to record shows. There was no Internet. The closest thing to any kind of marketplace was a newspaper called Goldmine. It came out every two weeks, I think, and had multiple listings from dealers across the country.”
Over time, he gathered all sorts of items.
He has both stereo and mono versions of numerous records; some records from other countries that were issued with covers that differ from the U.S. editions; promotional copies sent to radio stations; records with slightly different mixes of a song or two; jukebox EPs, which were largely extinct by the late 1970s; and splashy outsized cardboard promo album displays that were distributed only to record stores.
Besides the 1969 promotional album, one of the more valuable items is a version of the Stones’ first album, which was subtitled England’s Newest Hitmakers when it was released in the United States in 1964. His copy includes a photo of the band that came with the original pressing. But what makes it unique is that it has a white, promotional label for radio stations instead of the usual blue London Records label.
“It’s hard to say which is the most valuable, because some things haven’t been valued,” he said. “It’s like a lot of other things. There are other collectors out there but it’s not always clear.”
Like many other fans, Leibowitz also treasures autographs. His favorite catch came on Oct. 6, 1978, when the Stones were playing “Saturday Night Live.” One of his sisters worked as a receptionist at NBC television and phoned him to say that the band would be rehearsing shortly and that he should get into Manhattan as quickly as possible.
But he had a dilemma. He was supposed to go on a first date, but his sister told him to bring her along. “So I explained what was going on and instead of taking her to dinner and a movie, she came with me into the city,” he recalled with a laugh. “And my sister helped me enter through the security entrance where I met my idols … well, almost all of them.”
Sure enough, the band — minus Mick Jagger — pulled up to the entrance. And there was Leibowitz asking Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, the late Charlie Watts and original Stones bassist Bill Wyman for their signatures.
“They signed my piece of paper and stood with me in front of the elevator before going up to rehearsal,” he recalled with a trace of disbelief. “I talked to all of them and they were very nice. Those autographs mean the most to me – I got them personally – and they were free!”
For now, Leibowitz doesn’t plan to slow down, especially since there is, literally, a never-ending number of Stones items out there to pursue. And there will likely be more music and paraphernalia coming later this year if a long-anticipated album from the band — the first in 18 years with new, original songs — is released, as many fans are hoping.
“There’s joy in the hunt, joy in finding it, and some sense of satisfaction once you’ve acquired it, even if it’s the 10th copy of an album,” he said. “But if it’s an alternate copy — if it has some variation, like an edited version or different mix of a song, or something different about the label or the cover — it’s worthwhile, because variations make each one unique.
“So there’s a sense of accomplishment. I don’t collect for the value. I collect because I like it. And I wanted to go on (‘Collector’s Call’) because I have all these things and what’s the point of having it if I can’t show them to someone? Sometimes, I put photos of certain things on my Facebook page. But my family’s tired of looking at it. All my friends have seen them. I might as well show it to somebody else.”
MeTV’s “Collector’s Call” features Larry Leibowitz, July 2 at 6:30 p.m. Visit metv.com/collectors-call.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.