The first time I remember hearing vinyl and seeing a lot of it, for that matter, was when my dad used to spin, DJ Big Nate Copeland. He worked at the Berkeley college radio for quite some time, but apparently started off as a house DJ in Boston. He’s passed on now, but I have some distinct memories of hearing him manually mixing disco/90s wave/R&B vocals over a host of different sounding beats.
I grew up on Mac Dre (my older brothers put me on), Tupac, Biggie, Puffy, Mase, Missy Elliot and Timbaland — you know N’SYNC and shit like that. Also stuff like Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, S.W.V, Kirk Franklin, Al Green and so on and so forth, based on what my mom liked to listen to. I had a wide range of sounds locked in already, didn’t know much about the origins, but I’d already been influenced. There’s one night in particular that sticks with me though — this night my dad was mixing records in my mother’s living room. The vocals were powerful, almost like the lady who sings the “Pump up the Jam” song, and the beat it was meshing with had a strange repetitive sound to it. It was an instrumental, which was also new to me — a song with no vocals? I was confused. On one side of the turntables there was a vinyl spinning with only the beat and on the other side of the tables was a vinyl spinning with some random disco vocals, but sure enough they were starting to mesh together. Slowly, but surely. I say slowly because this wasn’t an easy task.
I went and stood in front of the tables to watch for a little bit then walked off, came back and watched for a little bit longer, then went back to doing whatever else I was doing. I could tell me standing over his shoulder was a little annoying for him and I have to admit-I didn’t really know the guy like that, but what he was doing at this point and time had me highly intrigued. Each time I stopped to peek and listen, each record from both sides of the table started to become one. He some how made the vocals and the beat match perfectly. At the time it wasn’t extremely praise-worthy to me because the finished product wasn’t a type of music that I was used to. I now realize that doing something like that isn’t as easy as you would think it to be, especially on a vinyl set-up. These days the computerized DJ set ups tell you exactly how and when to mix a song together, but back then you had hours of trial and error to get the exact sound you wanted to hear.
All the while he’s doing this mix, my mom is on his ass about having all his DJ equipment and records in our living room, “just making the place look ugly and shit”. I may have agreed with her then that his record collection was an eyesore; all the big white smelly boxes with big random plastic circular discs stuffed in them, which made it hella heavy to move them if need be and the stigma that came with touching them. In reality this eyesore was and is essentially worth more than any of the decor or the shelves or TVs and VCRs she had then or now. He was a bi-coastal house/college radio DJ and heavy into hip-hop, I’m sure the records he had then were worth a pretty penny now. ￼None the less I’m sure my mom could use a couple pretty pennies right now.
My pops passed in late March maybe early April 2003. The last time I saw him he was dropping me off at school and “Dowhatchalike” by Shock G was bumping on 106 K.M.E.L. We had an Irish goodbye and that was it, ironically I have that record on vinyl and I’m hyped I got it. My mom ended up making him buy a storage unit eventually and over time he shoved all his records in there. Sometimes he’d stop by to grab a bunch of records out to sell or sometimes he would grab a box from my mom’s house to add to his storage. He had a shit ton of records, most of which I barely cared to look at when I had the chance and none of which I cared to keep.
One day before he passed he invited me to a once in a lifetime bay area DJ exhibition out in San Francisco at Buena Vista Arts center. Of course I invited my friends, none of which he really liked. I’m walking around this exhibit not really paying attention too much and BAM there’s my dad’s name in thick bold letters. He was part of an installation being praised for the Berkeley college radio (K.P.F.A) he was apart of with Davey D. and a host of others. They also had his picture and name on the wall in a list of top ten house DJs in the Bay Area at some point in the early 90s. It dawned on me; he wanted to show me what he was up to before he became a social worker and what all those records actually meant to him. When he passed my mom needed to get rid of that storage as well as those thousands of records he had stacked in there. One night his buddy Johnny came over and started crying and such and my mom gave him the keys to storage, just like that Johnny was gone with my dad’s records never to return. He asked if I wanted anything from the collection, but I was 13 and didn’t care about vinyl records. I was into Cashmoney and No Limit. I had a weird feeling riding with him to my dad’s storage for the last time, knowing I’d never be taking that ride again.
Fast forward hella years — I’m subconsciously growing my love for vinyl — and wishing I never let go of my dad’s records. I never quite grew the balls to begin my own collection until I started living with my roommate from Texas. It started with a Willie & Waylon record. I would always want him to spin that record in the morning when we would smoke weed and make breakfast and then I started getting into all the punk records he would play. Everything just sounded better on vinyl and this cat had everything from Van Halen to N.W.A. I’m talking first pressings, reissues, cassette tapes, of the same vinyl still in the shrink wrap and he was always online trying to bid for another record. It tripped me out because he isn’t a DJ or trying to become one, but all these records were sacred to him. All this music was stuff his mom or dad showed him, or just stuff he grew to love on his own and decided to gain as much access to these recordings as ￼possible. It’s not like having an extensive online collection through some streaming site; this cat would take it as far as finding the test pressings of some of these records. I was intrigued. Not only did I love music as much as he did, but I envied the perseverance and felt dumb for not keeping my father’s records. I just had to start building my own collection, not just because I wanted to, but also my roommate hit me with that ever so loving phrase, “Stop touching my records dude.” I was a little timid about it at first being that I was starting from the ground up and already had given away what could of been my own extensive collection. Fuck it though, I was on it; can’t use my roommates shit no more and I need to quench my thirst for vinyl.
1-2-3-4 Go in Oakland, California. is where I brought my first record. I walked in and all that optimism quickly went out the door. I’m thinking of all these genres of music I can choose from, like 1980s where records are only 3 or 4 bucks, nah that’s wrong. I was quickly shackled to the dollar section of the place. They had a whole room dedicated to dollar records and I loved it. I could walk in with 20 bucks and leave with 20 records. I was so eager to get my own collection going that I wasn’t even considering the condition of the records. My collection began to grow and was wide, with everything from Johnny Mathis to Curtis Mayfield, and a host of random jazz quartets that I thought would broaden my horizons. A lot of those records never really get much play from my collection now except for my very first record, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “California Album”. I posted it on my Facebook and my aunt commented, “Boy what you know about Bobby Blue Bland?” I knew I was onto something, I knew I was diving into a pool of forgotten music that was just waiting for me to “rediscover” it on my own terms, in my own time, at my own expense. I shared that Bobby Blue Bland record with a few of my homies and for a whole year we played it as loud as we could. A couple of them even went out and found their own copies and later I found out that same record was going for as much as up to 12 bucks. All of a sudden Bobby Blue Bland sections in the record stores began to grow. Inflation is real, and record stores always seem like they have something to hide in my opinion because these recordings are precious and always have been.
Vinyl is a huge part of American history. All different races and subcultures have been able to push their message and tell their stories worldwide through vinyl records. These relics were once bricks to the bridge of the musical empires that reign today. Sample music is often frowned upon in some circles of the older generation, yet these musical geniuses that dig for old, never-before-heard breaks and sounds in some the most random music, not only create new music, but to revive old music that a lot of people may have never heard before.
￼Record stores can easily change the way you view music and easily change your views on life for that matter. Music defines who we are on so many different levels, so having stores that offer the widest range of various artists in one place is a potent place for a young music monger or someone just learning about a certain artist. With a swift purchase you can acquire music for a wedding, funeral, a birthday party or even a company trip. Whether it’s for the good times or the worst times, record stores have always provided the soundtracks to our lives.
Spiller Records was the first to open in Cardiff, Wales in 1984 by a Henry Spiller. It’s still open now even though it was closed for quite some time, but once again it’s back at the forefront of selling vinyl and record players. Megastores like Tower Records (est. 1960) and Virgin Records (est. 1971) both fell to the online boom of free and downloadable music through programs like Napster and other free downloading sources, eventually leading brick and mortar record stored to file for bankruptcy and liquidate all assists due to fat loans that couldn’t have possibly been paid back. Russ Solomon, owner of Tower Records, went from selling records out of his father’s drug store in Sacramento (Tower Drugs) to running a music megastore for 46 years. I remember being a kid and buying a Missy Elliot tape from Tower Records, damn I loved that place. Rasputin’s Music (1971) is the largest independent music store chain in California. The owner Ken Sarachan acquired all the leases from the Tower Record store locations once they closed up. Amoeba Music (1990) is another independent music chain that is actually up the street one block from the Rasputin’s location in Berkeley California and it ironically was opened by a former Rasputin’s employee. Wax ‘N’ Facts (1976) is a small mom and pop record store in little 5 Points, Georgia. It’s one of my favorite spots and every time I go I leave with something feeling satisfied. Not to mention their cassette tape section is hella good and cheap.
1-2-3-4 Go and Econo Jams are the two stores I frequent a ton here in Oakland. I sent a few questions to Steve the owner of 1-2-3-4 Go just to pick the brain of a record storeowner. In my opinion record storeowners essentially hold the key to a lot of America’s musical history.
First record store you can remember buying a record from
The Record Garden in Eugene Oregon. I believe it was the Nirvana “Sliver/Dive” 7″ if I’m not mistaken.
Ever steal from a record store?
How often do whole libraries come in?
Very rarely. I’ve bought 3 or 4 entire collections in 9 years
Most expensive record that you’ve ever bought?
Personally nothing over $100 although I was willing to spend upwards of $600 for the Dicks “Hate The Police” 7″ before I reissued it.
￼Most expensive record sold?
So hard to say. Lots of $500 and under stuff has come through the store. Most recently we sold a Green Day test press for $800 so that’s probably the biggest thing lately.
When you were a kid did you think you’d own a record store?
I come from a long line of side-hustlers and hard workers so doing my own thing was definitely going to happen somewhere. I fell in love with record stores around age 14 and getting my first job in one was huge. Day one I basically wanted to run the place so maybe not as a kid but as a teen for sure.
Did you parent’s own records?
For sure. LP’s were still the main format when I was very young so there were some records around the house.
Have you ever sold anything from you parent’s collection?
No. All of that went away by the time that would have come up.
Favorite radio station growing up?
Whatever the modern rock station was in Springfield Oregon and shortly after whatever the college station was. I can’t remember either call sign.
Any festivals you would suggest?
Burger Boogaloo for sure. Despite its name, it’s put on by my friend Marc and it’s the only outdoor festival I can stand. This year the headliners are Iggy Pop, Buzzcocks and X hosted by John Waters. I couldn’t ask for more.
Any other record stores in any other state you recommend?
Singles Going Steady and Easy Street in Seattle. The Last Record store in Santa Rosa (might as well be another state). House of Records in Eugene Oregon. End of an Ear in Austin. And I think that’s all I’ve been in for the last 10 years or so out of state
Advice for first time record buyers.
Don’t stress about condition and treating your records like they’re fragile babies. Be careful but have fun. They’re meant to be played and enjoyed. Frankly most of the stuff you’re buying isn’t going to put you or your kids through college any time soon so just have a good time and take care of them like something you’d like to enjoy again some time.
This is to my generation, to the crowd of people that contributed to the biggest vinyl boom since 1988. This is to the people that bought a new record player from American Apparel because it was cheap and it comes with the Lana Del Rey record (one of your favorites I know). This is to the ones who buy records now because it seems trendy and a great way to get laid. Cool! Do it! Records are trendy and a great way to get laid trust me I agree, but I also want to say cherish those records because the more records you buy the higher the price will go for all records and once you realize that you weren’t even really down for the life long experience of buying and listening to vinyl, some scavenger is going come and buy your entire collection for 300 bucks flat and sell it online for 20 times over. Then the record stores get it and have to up-charge just to cover cost and make a nickel. Cherish those records and pass them down to someone that cares. Vinyl is a way of life, always has been, always will be. The robots have taken over and everything is already digitized. Let’s hold on to something before it is truly gone, and hey, by the way, I know a couple scavengers, so if you got a record collection your trying get rid of get at me.
All photos shot by Hongry.