My Somewhat Brief and Meandering Record Store Memoir

The Formative Years

The Formative Years

Pompano Beach, Florida

In 1964 or so, aged 10, I used to ride my bike to the nearby Beacon Light Shopping Center. There, Worden’s “5 cents to One Dollar” sat at one end of the shopping center, a few doors down from the Dairy Queen (demolished in 2009) and Rexall Drugs (now a real estate office), where they had a good magazine rack and a lunch counter.

Worden’s (now Worden’s Art and Framing) had a couple of bins of records, a small part of the store offerings which included toys and clothes. By today’s standards, Worden’s seemed small. But, to me at age 10 (like other impressions that only kids seem to have) it looked huge. (I recently called founder Bill Worden, who kindly verified that the circa 1964 store was actually fairly large indeed –5,000 square feet!). Worden’s was the only nearby place that stocked “Meet The Beatles.” So, after asking my Dad for a $3.00 loan, that’s where I went to buy my first LP.

When I was eight, my parents bought me my first set of drums –used Slingerlands– with pearl shells. The bass drum was massive! I located some bongos too. By age ten, I was trying to figure out ways to meet girls. My friend Bill and I had the idea to put on a concert in my backyard. We invited all the girls in the neighborhood (4 or 5) and I lip-synced to Peter and Gordon’s “World Without Love” while standing on top of the pool filtering box. My friend Bill played the bongos.

Prior to that time, I had the benefit of having two older brothers who liked music. I remember borrowing some of their records, notably a ‘45’ of Neil Sedaka’s “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen.” That got a fair amount of play. And, someone (maybe my Dad) had an Ahmad Jamal album (Live at The Pershing). I loved the first cut: “Moonlight in Vermont.”

Of course I owe a musical-as-well-as-everything-else debt to my parents, who really had some great records around the house. My Dad liked Gershwin, my Mom loved Benny Goodman. My Mom used to tell me about all those 78’s of Goodman’s she lugged around for years, until one day getting rid of them. Both my parents loved jazz and the popular songs of the great lyricists like Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter, as well as musicals like “Porgy and Bess”, “My Fair Lady” and “The Music Man”.

By the early 1960’s, we had a decent stereo housed in a small living room cabinet. I don’t recall that it looked particularly complicated or fancy. The amplifier may’ve been something like an early Kenwood or Harmon/Kardon. I think we had a Garrard turntable. There were two speakers, but I’m not sure what brand.

Around that time, we bought our first ‘window’ air-conditioning unit. This was a large box shaped unit with a big electric plug. We only had this one machine installed, just to cool off the living room, so we had to keep the doors to other rooms closed to enjoy the full effects.

My parents were OK with my using the stereo and I enjoyed turning that thing up! To me, the sound was just fine and it wouldn’t distort! My next big record buys were soundtacks from the movies “Exodus” and “Goldfinger”. I played the “Exodus” movie theme a lot and really liked the way it sounded. Shirley Bassey’s vocal on “Goldfinger” knocked me out and the orchestras on both records really sounded great.

Vincent’s Music
Boca Raton, Florida

In 1966, my family relocated two towns north. I left behind my first group of good friends. We built a new house on a golf course. My parents were only two years away from getting divorced. I was slow to make new friends and the new and improved lifestyle was a difficult adjustment.

In our new family room, we had built-in bookcases and cabinets. I think our old stereo made the move with us, but it sounded even better because now the speakers were up around ‘ear level.’ We had a big table and chairs where we would eat meals or entertain and usually the stereo was buzzing with different music.

My parents, along with (it seems now) every other parent in America, made the move to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, while my brothers picked up on Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas. I carried on with my Beatles, meanwhile catching earfuls of different music (Wilson Pickett, The Who, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream and Jimi Hendrix) from my new friends, Steve and Jimmy.

Their parents had stereos too. Jimmy’s  father was a doctor. Their house had a whole room devoted to the ‘hi-fi’. With two built-in speakers –each about twice the size of our first air conditioner– the thing was truly a monster! I’ll always remember hearing Hendrix‘s “Third Stone from the Sun” and The Yardbirds’ “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” on that system.

The End  --my first band.

The End --my first band.

We enjoyed visiting Vincent’s Music, a short bike ride up Federal Highway. Sam Vincent, the owner, had lots of records, some of which he featured with small countertop displays. One of those covers made an immediate and lasting impression: “Absolutely Free”, by The Mothers of Invention (1967). Several years later, while living in San Francisco, I traded my copy of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” for a copy of Zappa’s record. My friend Chris said I was crazy. I told him emphatically that Zappa would forever outrank Tull.

Vincent’s was great. We could go there, spend some time, see what was going on and buy some of our favorite music. Mr. Vincent was very nice. He seemed to like us and had a warm and easygoing manner. He too made a vivid impression on me, mostly because he was selling records, but also because he was a good person.

In early 2005 or so, I found out that Mr. Vincent had long since retired from retail but was still around. So one day, I called him and thanked him for being such a positive influence on us kids and for his great store.

Recently, I was researching some early town history and looking for newspaper clippings with photos of Vincent’s Music. There weren’t any pictures, but there was an artist’s rendering of his second location. In the description of the new store, there was a brief mention about Mr. Vincent. Prior to moving to Florida, he lived in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where he’d been a big bandleader.

Discount Records
Menlo Park, California

A year after my parents divorce, and partly at the suggestion of my cousin Steve, I moved to California to attend boarding school. That year –academically– was a total disaster. But the California music scene was a totally different world from what I had grown up with. It was (and still is) incredible.

My school was located near a retail district within an easy walk of campus. At the time, Stewart Brand, of “Whole Earth Catalog” fame, had opened a Whole Earth Truck Store in Menlo Park (no, they didn’t sell any trucks, mostly books); and there was a great ( re-opened a couple of years ago) Kepler’s Books, also nearby.

In my time off from school, I had the good fortune of having those two stores nearby and Discount Records.

Discount, though a ‘chain’, was small, with staffers and clerks who knew the music. They had a good sound system and would usually have something interesting on when I went in. It was at Discount that I first heard “Swiss Movement”, the Les McCann and Eddie Harris collaboration that seemed beyond cool to me. In particular, I was astounded to see Harris’s picture with all the electronics he used. That alone, at that time, was a sizable indicator of the sonic revolution ahead.

Tower Records,
San Francisco, California

The mother lode!

I can never really convey the impact of Tower. That location, at the corner of Columbus and Bay –on the edge of North Beach and across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf– was a short walk for where I lived downtown. Proximity meant visiting often. No problem! On my rounds, Tower became a regular stop, which might include other great shops like the legendary City Lights Books (on Columbus) and Café Trieste (on Upper Grant Street).

Tower was a favorite of many Bay Area musicians of every stripe. The aisles were clogged with stacked boxes, the ones on top cut open to reveal the hot albums of the moment. I bought a lot of records at Tower just because of the covers staring back at me, the minute I’d walk through the front door. One, Pink Floyd’s “Ummagumma” had a picture of one of the bands trucks on an open field, strewn with every piece of equipment that the band used in performances. Others, groups –like Blodwyn Pig– also made a vivid impression, even though I somehow resisted their great covers.

Russ Solomon, the man who started Tower in nearby Sacramento in 1960, was also a bit of a legend himself by then. There’s no doubt that without him, the Age of the LP would not have been quite as spectacular and memorable. Tower became famed for really understanding the music; and for pioneering various product display methods (‘Browser’ Bins, ‘Face Out’ Displays, pictures of artists on the walls and their huge renderings of album covers —used to great effect outside their stores, the equivalent of album cover billboards). Though Tower didn’t invent every new way to display and amplify the meaning of 12×12 records (some of their techniques were borrowed from traditional retail) they sure did make every possible effort to promote it as art.

San Francisco basement montage, by C. and B., 1972

San Francisco basement collage, by C. and B., 1972

The collage below was one that I put together in the 1980’s. It’s still in use, but shows signs of water damage, thanks to Hurricane Wilma.

One of my early attempts at a music collage for my friend RPM.

Published in: on August 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm  Comments (1)