We visited Sigurjón Samúelson out in Djúp because we had heard about his record collection. When we arrived at his sheep farm and watched him step down from his tractor, we were concerned that he might be too busy to take the time to speak with us. Actually, he was more incredulous about our interest than he was disturbed about being distracted from his work. "Why are you interested in me," he asked. "Engin þekkir mig." Nobody knows me. Nonetheless, he invited us in, and spent the next two and half hours showing us his collection.
"I couldn't play an instrument," says Samúelson, "so I decided to play the gramophone instead." And he has now for almost 60 years, a pursuit that has resulted in his amassing a collection of nearly 7000 record albums, many of which date back to the early 1900s. The collection consists largely of 78 rpm discs and includes (in addition to many of the classics like the complete works of Beethoven and Enrico Caruso), all but seven of the records produced in Iceland during its entire history of record production. His favorites are those of the "harmonica" (that is, accordion) players, and he indulged us in an assortment of recordings, including a 1930 version of a waltz and polka by the harmonica duo Gellin and Bergström, who immigrated to Ísafjarðardjúp in the early 20th century, and several cuts from an autographed copy of the cd, ‘Nú ilmar vor I Dalnum,' (Smell the new spring in the valley) by Jónaton Sveinbjörnsson who hailed from Bolungarvik.
His collection resides on several shelves which cover an entire wall of a 12 x 12 foot living room as well as most of the space in a smaller adjacent bedroom and in his basement. In addition to a modern stereo system consisting of a Harman Kardon receiver, a modern record player, Panasonic tape recorder, and a cd player (not to mention a Sony portable dual cassette tape player), in the bedroom he also keeps a vintage Edison cylinder phonograph, which he winds up and plays for us. In the living room, he has one old Victrola/Gramophone, in beautiful condition with the original label embellished by the dog with his ear to the speaker and the logo ‘His Master´s Voice.' There is also a second Gramophone here, in which the volume is controlled by opening or closing two small door panels on its front.
While the records never leave his house, the music often does. He makes tapes of his albums, and then with the help of a friend, he burns them onto cd. With these he often provides the soundtrack for social events. Sigurjón has often been hired as a DJ for parties, weddings, and the like throughout Iceland and the Westfjords. People hire him because they want the old music, and he tries to figure out what they will like best when he talks to them, considers their age, the occasion, and what they seem to lean towards.
Samúelson tells us with a smile that he thinks he was born in 1936, and that he grew up in the old turf farmhouse that once stood behind the location of his present residence. He took over the farm from his father about 50 years ago. As he thinks ahead, he wonders about retirement, what he will do when he can no longer care for his 200 sheep. Gústí asks him if he has considered a retirement community, and he laughs. "They would never have me. I‘m too loud. I‘m always playing my music."