I began collecting records at about age 8, in 76 or 77. Primal influences were the pile of 8-track tapes my parents owned: red & blue Beatles comps, Sgt. Pepper, 3 Dog Night live, Neil Diamonds Greatest Hits, two Elvis tapes ("Aloha From Hawaii" and "From Elvis Presley Blvd."), a Sonny & Cher tape, and not much else. I also found a pile of original (and trashed, without covers) Beatles LPs in our old console stereo. I soon moved on to buying my own stuff...mainly upgrading the Beatles LP's (they were on Apple and orange Capitol by then), buying Stones albums and top 40 hit singles.
Within a couple of years I stumbled into the world of serious collecting. Those of you who are serious know that this refers not to expensive rarities but rather to obsessive scouring of creepy, out-of-the-way shops for dirt-cheap finds. I developed a weird obsession with the Atco label...I liked the way the graphics on the covers & labels looked alike, or something. This started after I scored a copy of Vanilla Fudges The Beat Goes On for 50 cents in a decrepit, multi-story antique / junk shop run by an old fellow who looked like Santa Claus, or an ex-Nazi. This place had a whole wall of LPs. The shop was at a major intersection and the building itself curved around the corner. It (the building) no longer exists but there is a tombstone of sorts on the corner memorializing the building (for you Connecticut folks, this was also the site of the SNET building at Main & East Center streets in Manchester, CT). I remember buying the Fudge and a Bee Gees 45, and passing up Corporation (Capitol) & Electric Prunes Mass In F Minor as they looked too weird. The old 1960s psych albums were not in demand back then, the latter two LPs sat in that shop unsold for years at a dollar apiece.
Another cool source was a nameless flea market / antique co-op in a run-down strip mall in my hometown of East Hartford, CT. There I bought my first Jimi LP, Smash Hits. This was a fairly wasted copy and at the beginning of the solo on All Along The Watchtower the needle would get stuck, resulting in an eerie, extended one-note solo. All the LPs there were 25 cents; other primal finds were The Super Hits Vol. 2 (Atlantic, with Buffalo Springfield & many soul tracks) and the first Crimson album. By then I was also interested in Atlantic LPs...I didnt know what jazz was so most of the stuff on that label seemed completely alien. There were two Atlantic LPs sitting at this shop for months: Crimson, and Do The Bossa Nova With Herbie Mann. I was frightened by the cover art on In The Court Of The Crimson King and it took months to decide to actually buy it, but it became a longtime favorite. They had thousands of 45s there for 20 cents apiece, including a lot of obscure promos; I snapped up beat copies of Incense & Peppermints, Instant Karma, Cold Turkey and strangest of all, Story Of My Life by Unrelated Segments, probably the first garage punk thing I owned. Eventually they renovated the strip mall and kicked the flea market out. It reappeared shortly thereafter in another run-down strip mall nearby. It lasted for several more years (until 84, I think) until the proprietors were busted for selling illegal fireworks at the counter, which was probably their main line of work to begin with. I fondly recall buying a very beat-up Grand Funk "Live Album" there after reading about how critically reviled GFR were in the early '70s.
Cutout bins were king for seeking out the twisted refuse of the record industry. The best cutout bin in my area was at an establishment called "Railroad Salvage" in East Windsor, CT. It was still open until late 2002, but the New Jersey rack jobber who supplied the record department removed his wares in the mid-'80s. This place had a record department that was entirely cutouts- no popular / top 40 items to wade through at all! I found sealed copies of a lot of early '70s UK & European imports for $2 or less there (like Forest "Full Circle" and the first Magma LP), and purchased many obscure US major-label LP's (like "Afterglow" on MTA) for as little as 59 cents. Many of their better selections were on cassette or 8-track (most of the Love albums, and J.K. & Co's "Suddenly One Summer"); I think by then a lot of the good '60s vinyl had already been scooped up. Railroad Salvage had a truly weird inventory, featuring things like secondhand jukebox-pull 45s, LPs with no jacket (these came in a plain innersleeve shrinkwrapped to a piece of diecut cardstock, like half of a 12" disco sleeve, for 39 cents apiece- I've never seen LPs sold in this manner anywhere else, before or since), and those 4-song cassette EP's (another item that literally seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth immediately afterward...ever seen a US major-label cassette EP from 1968-70?) I went back there in 1997 and was surprised to discover they had several hundred LP's stashed in their back room (as well as, astonishingly, an entire pallet of NOS 78 RPMs of Italian songs...remember this was 1997!) If anybody knows of any cutout distributors or rack jobbers who still have original 1960s-early 1970s era vinyl, please let me know, you will get a big reward for any worthwhile tips!
Slowly but surely, the cutout vendors and vinyl in general did a disappearing act from the late '80s onward. I started getting into buying records through specialized mail-order dealers. I eventually began picking up spare copies of certain records to trade to dealers for records I wanted. Later I began buying any record that looked even remotely interesting from flea markets, thrift stores, cheap used shops, record shows, etc. In 1989 I began occasionally selling some of my finds in Goldmine to pick up spare cash. Finally in the mid-'90s I became a full-time mail-order dealer myself.
The general disappearance of vinyl from the traditional places where it once was so cheap and plentiful has made the search more of a work-type thing, but there are still some strange tales to tell. A few years ago, I ran a small ad in a local paper seeking record collections. A man answered and invited me to the trailer park where he lived to view his collection. Most of the records were jammed into a closet inside one of those very narrow trailer-home bedrooms (if you've been in trailer homes, you know what I mean, the "children's bedroom" type small room). I pulled a few Beatles records from the guy's stash (the usual beat up common titles, like most collections that come up for sale these days), mostly just to be polite. While I was angling for a light source to check the condition, I noticed what was on the wall of the guy's room. The fake-wood veneer paneling was papered liberally with a huge number of newspaper clippings. As my eyes grew accustomed to the slightly dim light I realized that ALL OF THEM WERE OBITUARIES. I began to wonder if the guy was going to kill me and stuff me in the closet with the beat-up records. After some more obit-gazing I finally realized they were all of well-known celebrities (many were jazz musicians) and I breathed a sigh of relief. This guy didn't have any other decorations on his walls. I got out quickly after buying a handful of cheap LP's.
The long awaited "JERRY STORY"
In case you don't know, I'm generally called "Jerry" by my friends. When I began doing mailorder, I was in college and living with a bunch of roommates in a huge, rambling, decrepit old rental house on a truly stunning piece of land in Coventry, CT. This was the type of place that had freaks sleeping in tents and VW buses in the yard, 17 people living there at once, "you know what" stored in the freezer, many bonfires, keg parties with live music, etc.
Anyway, I started selling records by advertising in Goldmine. From the start I used my full name, Jerome, in all ads. This way all the roomates would be aware when answering the phone that it was a 'serious' caller asking for me on the other end, hopefully avoiding any "Cheech & Chong" type phone mishaps. However, I was also in the habit of posting "Records Wanted" flyers all around the UCONN campus area, the usual college-type flyers with tear-off number strips on the bottom. These phone number strips said something like "Buying LP's-Call Jerry @ 742-0117". On the whole, this was a nearly fruitless endeavor, mainly done to convince myself I was, er, working. One exception was a call from a former Capitol office worker who sold me a big pile of sealed copies of nearly all the rare Capitol '60s LP's for next to nothing. But mostly I received calls from drunken old guys with water-damaged Benny Goodman 78's for sale ("they were in a flood in th' hurricane...but really they're still OK!").
Or so I thought. One Saturday morning I was roused from a restless slumber into a blinding hangover by the jangling telephone. I still owned a rotary phone then (about 20 years ago). The caller asked for "Jerry". "Hmmrph yeah uh hmm" I mumbled in reply. "Calling about your flyer". The caller had a collection of LP's for sale. She lived right down the road. As my head cleared slightly I explained that I would be glad to check out the record stash LATER IN THE AFTERNOON. "Sounds fine. I'll be out, but my husband will be here, just tell him you're here about the record albums".
Down the road in peaceful, rural Coventry was an intersection marked by a very badly body-rotted 1954 Oldsmobile that had been parked in the yard of the corner property for quite a long while with a "For Sale" sign on the windshield. In my post-booze fog I thought the caller had said "I live in the house with the old car out front". So after a few coffees I cruised down the road and knocked on the door.
A man answered the door. "I'm here to look at the records for sale. Your wife called me, said she'd be out but to ask you to look at them". The guy was completely baffled. His wife was, indeed, out, and he had a lot of records, but selling them was news to him. "Maybe she meant her dad's old big band records?" he asked in complete puzzlement.
I asked him what sort of records he had, and he told me an intriguing story. He had worked as a truck driver for a record distributorship in East Hartford, CT, from about 1965-1971. He explained that the distributorship had a very loose policy with the returns that came back from retailers. Sometimes the warehouse employees would play frisbee with the returns. Sometimes they would just pitch them in the dumpster. But this gentleman took them all home and stored them in a room in his house. My jaw dropped as he explained that he never opened or played any of these records, and he had no interest in selling them. "I don't know what my wife was thinking. That was my era, the '60s, and I really just want to keep them".
Needless to say I was bummed out and a bit confused. Apparently the records in question were a) potentially an amazing collection and b) not for sale anyway. Ouch. Then he asked if I wanted to buy the RUSTED OLDS in his yard. "I don't need a car, I just buy records" I replied dejectedly. I gave him my name and phone number and asked him to call if he reconsidered. "Jerry, eh? My name is also Jerry. My wife is named Geraldine, we call her Gerry. Our son and daughter are each named after us, and both of them are called Jerry too". With this mind-shattering bit of info I went on my way into the glare of the summer afternoon.
Later that day the situation sorted itself out. I had gone to the wrong house. The real caller lived ACROSS from the house with the decrepit Olds, and didn't have any good records anyway. The guy I visited mistakenly (Jerry) called me back, highly agitated, when I was not home, and asked one of my completely baffled roommates what I was doing coming to his house asking for records when his wife never called me to begin with, and how the hell did I know about his record collection safely stashed inside his house. I called back and HE was out and I explained to his daughter (Gerry) that it was their neighbor across the street who had called, I had merely gone to the wrong address. Their phone numbers were one digit apart. I told her to tell her dad that I'd pay a LOT OF MONEY for his records. I never heard from them again.
Moral of the story: never answer the phone when you are hung over.
Another kind of strange thing happened when I looked at a collection at the home of an older fellow. Most of the LP's were early '70s rock: Badfinger, Grateful Dead, Santana and the like. Obviously they originally belonged to somebody much younger. As I sorted through the records the old gent launched into a confusing tirade. "These were his. He went away. Doesn't live here now. He owes us a lot of money. He stole my checkbook and wrote some checks. We want to get our money back by selling some of his things." The old codger didn't explain exactly who "he" was; one can only assume it was his good-for-nothing smackhead nephew or some such person. The records were of the well-worn $1 flea market / tag sale variety, and this guy only wanted to sell them if I took the whole lot for a couple hundred bucks or so. On my way out, a very small dog ran after me, yapping incessantly. "Watch out for him, he chewed a man's leg off once" shouted the old fellow. I didn't buy anything on that trip.
Anyway, if somebody can hip me to the location of any secret cutout warehouses, I'll write about them afterward. And if anybody reading this worked for any of the long-gone local distributors / one-stops in my hometown of East Hartford, CT, I would like to hear YOUR stories!