Sunday, June 28, 2015

Vinyl Lives, Record Stores are Helping Lead the Way


 Warm Analog Grooves


 The Resurgence of Vinyl


I’ve been a vinyl freak for most of my life. It all started when my older brother brought home groovy 45’s like Take A Look (My Friend) by the Bossmen, East Side Story by Bob Seger & the Last Heard and 96 Tears by Question Mark & the Mysterians. I liked Question Mark the best because he lived on the 800 block of Howard Street next door to my cousin Sally Rork.  She arranged a meeting between my idol and my brother and me. It was a prophecy and a promise for better things to come. Question Mark told us to buy all his 45’s so we did. We bought “I Need Somebody” “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby”,” Girl (You Captivate Me),” and  “Do Something To Me.” I then turned my attention to The Bossmen (On The Road, Baby Boy), Terry Knight & the Pack (Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I), the Excels (California on My Mind) and Bob Seger’s Heavy Music, salacious boner rock & roll. I was coming of age. The first albums I bought were “The Beatles 65 and the “Beach Boys Today.” They were Christmas gifts for my mother. She seemed really delighted my largesse. As I continued my quest for everything vinyl I bought albums by the Frost, The Beatles, Bob Seger System, the Dave Clark 5, the Tremeloes and the Beatles…loved those fabulous harmonies and that insistent big beat. I had it bad and though the seventies, eighties and the new millennium I collected thousands of albums from record stores, mail order catalogs, and garage sales. I bought so many albums from Who Put the Bomp, a mail order magazine that I had a first name relationship with the owner Greg Shaw. He was a true believer and so was I. But then I would get the itch and I would sell all that beautiful vinyl and start all over again, only to repeat this agony like a modern Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain. I continued this pattern of behavior many times until I settled into a comfortable relationship with eBay for the long haul, purchasing back my last big collection until I was suitably embarrassed. My story is not dissimilar to anyone who loves music. To this day I do not regret a single moment in my quest for vinyl. It’s a hunger that cannot be quenched.

Fred Reif has been in the trenches and witnessed the guerilla warfare of the record collecting industry. He had his own store in Saginaw before he moved over to Ann Arbor to run Schoolkids records. He has bought and sold countless record collections in his time and he’s pretty savvy about how this industry appeals to teenagers as well as aging baby boomers. He scratches his head about the new age collectors buying habits. Recently Fred watched it happen in Frankenmuth where teenagers would buy albums by Kiss, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Willie Nelson as well as the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane. The younger generation is building their own collections, buying the easy ones first before diving into the more expensive collectable albums (and 45’s). At this stage in their collecting hobby they are primarily picking up the hits. The aging baby boomers are getting rid of the records, rock & roll became rock! Fred realizes that vinyl gets only a small percentage of the sales something like 2% to 6%. In the past few months Jazz recordings are so stalled out those classical recordings are doing better. The 55 and 65 year old demographic is still buying vinyl, but they are not playing the records. Fred listens primarily to Caribbean music but he sells lots of Rock & Roll and Blues 78’s. He sells on eBay but it’s a mixed bag, “It’s harder to sell on eBay because they raised their fees. I used to get 50 free ads a month, now it’s only 20 free ads, plus I’m charged 10% for the sale and 10%for the charge on shipping.” To Fred eBay is trying to get rid of the smaller dealer and Record Store Day promotes vinyl, it’s a free ad for record stores – like Sweetest Day. “I buy obscure stuff and I go to thrift stores everyday, says Fred, I buy collections, most are junk but if I’m lucky I’ll get my money back. I like 45’s the most, that’s all we needed to have, travelling bands would come into town the popularity of one song, like Incense & Peppermints.”
A long time connoisseur of vinyl requested anonymity. But his voice is heard loud and clear. “This is an energizing time period in the last three years, 50% of my sales are high school and college kids. In the 90’s Jack White pushed vinyl and it promoted interest in other records.”  By 2000 eBay changed this for the next 5-10 years.  Now people want to buy things. “Stores are seeing teens buy regular LPs like Hall & Oates and John Mellencamp. The classic stuff by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Rush are gone, you can hardly find them anywhere (for a reasonable price). Young collectors want the original package. They want to hear the pops and clicks in the music.” In the last 15 years vinyl has been dumped, destroyed and thrown away. Millions of records ended up in the landfills. However on the other side of that equation were the grandparents of the new age collectors are giving their collections to their grandchildren or they would take their parents records and the parents didn’t care. Vinyl became HOT again! Now you see stores pop up from Flint and Frankenmuth to Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and even Brazil. For my anonymous connoisseur the lust for vinyl is growing, “kids buy vinyl, they have to take care of it, clean it and put it on the turntable,  it’s a whole vinyl experience, vinyl is something that you physically own but once it’s gone, it cannot be replaced. Music is a personal thing. Preserve your vinyl!”

I contacted Jordan Pries from Electric Kitsch to get his view on the resurgence of vinyl. “Vinyl …it’s almost new again. Their parents got rid of their collections so their children grew up with CD’s and downloads. So it’s almost a new format again.” Pries cites the White Stripes and the Black Keys who were total vinyl heads, to the resurgence of record collecting. “Young people liked those bands and the bands pushed vinyl, it’s like a new way of approaching music. It’s not like reading a great book which is a different media, with the ascendance of the internet music became a something you download, not something you hold and place on a turntable. They could release one song at almost no cost for a physical format. For Pries there is more than music at stake, art work, credits and cool liner notes would be lost. Pries sees younger people buying newer records that aren’t cheap. “They will pay $15-30 dollars and it’s mostly newer music from artists like Arctic Monkeys, Black Keys, Amy Winehouse and Lana Delray. Some teens and adults will buy a record a week.” Reissues and Box sets have been very popular lately especially with classic rockers like Led Zeppelin, Beatles and Pink Floyd.  Jordan recalls his early days of collecting. “Tuesdays were usually the release date. We used to get in line at midnight to get the latest releases such as The Battle of Los Angeles by Rage Against the Machine or Pantera’s The Great southern Trend Kill.” Pries cites industry sales figures for vinyl – 3 million last year; 9.6 million this year so far and should reach 16 million! It should double production.   United Pressing is pressing hundreds of thousands of discs. A buyer from Wichita Kansas found 13 record pressing machines. He will now have capacity to produce huge quantities of vinyl LPs. For Jordan Pries record collecting is personal, “My dad was a record collector and he gave me his collection of classic rock & roll albums that included Del Shannon, The Byrds, The Beatles and Pentangle. My dad was also a musician; he played the organ and was in a popular band called the Coachmen. They released two 45’s on the Target label out of Wisconsin, Girl in the Wind and Hey Bulldog.” Pries cites Jack White and his Third Man Records for bringing some sanity to record collecting. “He wants record stores to survive. They will sell to stores like mine so I can sell LPs cheaper.”


In December of 1974 Bill and Judy Wegner opened Records & Tapes Galore. At that time the industry sold vinyl albums and 8 track tapes and cassettes were starting to gain a following. Bill Wegner explains, “We sold a lot of albums, several thousands. We had a one stop distributer who would get all the labels like Capitol, CBS, Warner Brothers and RCA. For a small store we did really well. They pushed hard and always had promos to give away. A particular rack jobber had an old beat up car, he was a bit frumpy and looked like Peter Falk.” Bill had an open invitation to take anything the man offered even if it was the latest, hot off the presses LPs from major artists like Deep Purple or Joe Walsh. The idea was that Bill would play the freebies in the store to promote sales. Bill’s business was booming though the seventies and eighties but it slowed down in the nineties. “CDs came out in 1984, Bill recalls, and it just exploded. RCA promoted CDs as the perfect sound forever…but it was actually the imperfect sound forever.” This led to a mass exodus of from vinyl, people got junked their turntables and bought CD players. Bill recalls, “At one point the industry jettisoned vinyl altogether. By the 1990’s very few albums were being produced and in the mid-nineties LPs ceased production except for a few boutique labels. In 2015 album sales have exploded again and companies are having difficulty keeping up with the demand. It is a marriage of technology and art.”

Bill admits that he sold a ton of CDs during a brief renaissance that emerged in 2010/11. “It is a tribute to several movies that had prominent roles for DJ’s and kids got interested and the DJ became a focal point. He would play the music loudly and use two turntables that could allow the DJ to mix one song into another. Discotheques were prominent and the DJ was the hero. Vinyl was featured in these films, it took the place of the record shop.” Bill has his pulse on the action, he knows that kids have MP3’s but highs and lows are chopped off . Bill says, “Its music but not all of the music.” There is no doubt that kids got into their father’s vinyl collection. It was like tasting forbidden fruit. The kids learned by watching dad dust off the vinyl, hold it  carefully on the edges and set the needle down on the grooves…heaven! Bill is knows that people from one era have an affinity for music from their time, makes sense. Bill reports that older folks are energized by the resurgence. “The LPs that are coming out now are 2/3 new releases and 1/3 reissues,” says Bill, “Is it a fad or will it sustain and grow. It’s hard to tell.”

“I love music and records do have power for me, it involves me more and compels me to drop my newspaper and listen intently to those beautiful sounds”

Peace & Love

Bo White



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