Flying to a DJ gig with my records always entails the same conversation:
Old guy on the plane: What do you have in the bag? Looks heavy!
Me: They're records.
Old guy: Records? Vinyl records?
Old guy: Kids still play records these days? I didn't think anyone listened to records anymore!
Me: Oh, but they do, Grandpa. Oh, but they do ….
Call us what you want: Luddites, phonophiles, record nerds. For a lot of people, records are a serious business. Not a, “Yeah, I have my Dad's Beatles LPs”-type business, but more like a, “Yeah, I just flew to Finland to pick up that test pressing of “The White Album” with a typo on the label for $7,000″-type business. Record nerds are a peculiar group comprising mainly DJs, store owners, musicians, and music writers. We are like your average music fan with a serious case of OCD. For the true nerd, records come before food and get in the way of relationships; searching out a particular record can become the focus of one's life.
With the Bay Area's rich history of music and our current unofficial title as “The City With Most DJs per Capita,” it should come as no surprise that many of the nation's top vinyl junkies reside right here in our own back yard. Some of them you may have heard of, most you probably haven't. Either way, anyone this obsessive deserves to have his head examined, which is what we did.
Justin Torres (30), S.F. Radio sales assistant, record dealer
Approximate record-collection size: 22,000
Preferred genre: Sweet soul and anything from the Bay Area
What's your favorite record or favorite record label? “Johnny Baker['s] 'Fog City (and You Girl)' (Fog City Records) [is] such a great mid-tempo beat with Johnny's sweet voice singing about hoofing it up these S.F. hills through the fog to get to his woman.”
What was the first record you bought? “Eazy E's first record and Main Source's Breaking Atoms from Joe at Creative Music on Ocean Avenue here in San Francisco. Creative Music is still the best local record store in the Bay after 18 years.”
What record are you most looking for right now? “A Project Soul 45 from Vallejo. They changed their name to the group you all know as Con Funk Shun.”
What would you do for it? “Fly to Indiana where Felton, the lead singer, now lives and convince him to give me a copy. After talking to him and his mom (yeah, I even tracked her down), I'm convinced he has a copy! Anyone out there have a copy I can buy?”
James Glass (100?), East Bay. Professional weasel
Digging since: 1980
Preferred format: Soul, jazz, or disco 12-inches
How far have you traveled for a record? “London and Tokyo.”
What record are you most looking for right now? “Stevie Wonder 'As' 12-inch.”
What would you do for it? “Almost anything.”
What's the most you've paid for a single record? “I'm embarrassed to say except that it was almost the same as my rent.”
Stephanie Aguilar Gardner (aka DJ Stef) (42), S.F. Graphic designer, DJ
Digging since: “When I was four or five I started sending my mom to the store with a list. 45s were only 49 cents back then.”
Preferred genre: Hip hop
What's the best place for records in the Bay Area? “The KUSF Record Swap.”
Have records ever come between you and a man? “Yeah, an ex got mad and broke my Cactus Album [by 3rd Bass]. I never replaced it.”
Stephan Colloredo (28), Richmond. Owner, psychedelic vinyl mail-order Jellyfish Records
Digging since: 1993
Preferred genre: Psychedelic rock, obscure homemade vanity pressings
How are your records organized? “By country.”
What was your best dollar-bin miracle? “Finding the one Christian-psychedelic record that made up for the hundreds of others I've tried my luck on.”
Would you ever get rid of your records? “There are days where I get very burned out, asking myself why the hell I'm doing this and have thoughts of settling down on a specific Mediterranean island, returning to my childhood roots, fishing for octopus, and forgetting about all the headache, stress, and eccentric individuals you encounter in the world of record collecting. But at the moment I'm still very much into it and I don't see myself selling the collection any time soon.”
Will Louviere (36), East Bay. Traveling salesman
Fun fact: Will has an online museum of wild record covers at www.showandtellmusic.com.
What makes the Bay Area good for records? “Lotsa hippies and tripped-out ex-'60s people.”
What makes the Bay Area bad for records? “Lotsa hippies and tripped-out ex-'60s people.”
What is the record you are most looking for right now? “I'd like to find an original copy of Psychodelic Sounds [sic] by Jr. and His Soulettes.”
What was your best dollar-bin miracle? “The Royals, Royal Music, Salinas, California.”
Barry Wickham (age undisclosed), Petaluma. Record seller
Digging since: 1978
Preferred genre: Fifties garage, psychedelia, surf instrumentals, and '50s rockers
What's the best place for records in the Bay Area? Rooky Ricardo's
How far have you traveled for a record? “To the state of Vermont. It was a bust!”
What's a memorable dollar-bin miracle? “I held a sealed copy of Damon's Song of a Gypsy LP in my hand for 33 cents. It would fetch over $2,000 today.”
Any advice for aspiring record collectors? “Collect what you truly love, not what other people think is cool. Take chances and be a trailblazer. There's an endless supply of great and obscure music out there waiting to be discovered.”
Oliver Wang (aka O-Dub) (31), Oakland. Music journalist, scholar
Preferred genre: Hip hop, jazz, soul
Fun fact: This UC Berkeley Ph.D. student released his first book last year, Classic Material: The Hip Hop Album Guide (ECW Press).
Do you have a record-collecting mentor or influence? “Beni B. was the first real collector I ever met and the sheer size of his record collection just blew me away. I don't know if his place is still like this, but every space was stacked with records — even his coat closet. As a mentor, though, I'd really have to credit Cool Chris at the Groove Merchant. I've learned more about music by spending time at that store than through any other resource I can think of.”
What's the rarest record you own? “An intact copy of Aceyalone's “Mic Check” contest remixes. These were always just promo-only but when Capitol released them, they had to physically mar side B because of sample clearance problems. They literally ran razor blades across the surface, making that whole side utterly unplayable. I managed to get one of the early versions, before the flip side was destroyed.”
Beni B. (38), Oakland. President, ABB Records LLC
Approximate record-collection size: Stopped counting 15 years ago.
What's the best place for records in the Bay Area? “A three-way tie between the ABB Office, [DJ] Shadow's basement, and the Groove Merchant.
Do you have a record-collecting mentor or influence? “No, not really. I got my hands dirty and listened to everything, just like the late Mark Edmunds from Baytown Records, Matt Africa, Soulman, Mr. Supreme, Fusion, Marcus B., James Glass, Dez Parkes, and Josh Davis. Word up. … There are a handful of cats who have the ability to change the value of a record just by mentioning titles or whatever. They know who they are. Premo [DJ Premier] said it best, 'I'm in love with the records I make, not the records I sample.'”
Richard Vivian (56), aka Rooky, S.F. Owner, Rooky Ricardo's record store
Digging since: “I was 10.”
Approximate record-collection size: 50,000 45s, 5,000 LPs
Preferred genre: Early '60s and early '70s soul, girl groups, early '60s Top 40
What's your favorite record? “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvellettes
What was the first record you bought? “The Woolworths in downtown San Francisco was the most exciting place for me as a kid. There was a huge record department. We'd come over (from Walnut Creek) and they had the Top 100 records, and 100 of each of them. They had every current record you could possibly want. The first three I bought were 'Walking After Midnight' by Patsy Cline, 'Blue Monday' by Fats Domino, and 'I Dreamed' by Betty Johnson.”
Any words for aspiring record collectors? “There are a lot of people out there with a lot of knowledge. The more you know, the more you realize you don't know.”
Chris Veltri (aka Cool Chris) (32), S.F. Owner, Groove Merchant Records.
Digging since: “I bought my first LP: the Knack, My Sharona.”
Approximate record collection size: “Lost count.”
Preferred genre: “This particular week it is South American psychedelic and San Francisco-based no wave groups from the early '80s.”
What record are you most looking for right now? “The Soul Expedition by Freddie Terrell ($700 to anybody that delivers a mint copy).”
What would you do for it? “$700 is enough!”
Records or food? “Have you tried eating a record? They taste like shit, even the red ones.”