The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Record Store writing

This is the kind of stuff I write when I don't know what else to write about...

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Before there were hippie record stores that were full of ‘rock’ records – there were record departments in music stores or department stores. Closest to my house was a place called “Cal Store” – a forerunner of Target-type stores. Typical to a store of this nature, the record department was next to the “Stereo department”, where you could buy equipment, such as turntables, replacement needles, blank reel-to-reel tape, speaker wire etc. The Cal Store record department was essentially two side of a single aisle, with standard wooden record bins – I remember Al Hirt LP’s, the one where the cotton candy is coming out of his trumpet bell. There were cases of 8-track tapes near the counter. I don’t remember if you had to pay for the records at this counter, or if you could take them up to the main check-out lane. After a few years, they moved the Cal Store record department (and the stereo department) over nearer the front door of the place. It was then enlarged to perhaps two x two sided aisles – I remember standing in this record department and hearing the debut LP by Santana being used to demonstrate an “expensive” stereo, nearby.

Then there was Wallach’s Music City – if you went in via the rear entrance, you had to walk past first the sheet music, then displays of all of the band instruments and pianos that they sold – you walked through a turnstile into the record department. It seemed vast, particularly when compared to the Cal Store. Giant aisles (two sided) of 7” singles and EP’s, a row of “demonstration records” that you could take into booths with turntables and try to audition; goodness knows really how many aisles of LP’s there were – but it must’ve been 4 or 6 long-ish aisles, compared to Cal Store’s 2 aisles.

Near where you entered the “audition booths”, there was a separate entrance to the area where the reel-to-reel tapes were, where a clerk sat at a stool. At my Wallach’s Music City, I remember a nice young woman – she was chatty with me – heck, I am surprised that a twenty-something would’ve deigned to speak to little me – probably all of 12 years old! I probably asked when there was going to be a new Rolling Stones LP – perhaps the then-forthcoming “Sticky Fingers”? The ‘deal’ at Wallach’s was that you could trade in an old LP (I think they thought exclusively, “One at a time”) and get a certificate for $1 off any new LP. So, a stereo album retails for $4.98; it’s “on sale” for $3.98 the week it’s released – I bring in a Mantovani LP that belonged to my parents – and woof! A $2.98 Ten Years After LP!

I also knew Wallach’s as a good source for 45’s – which were much more affordable for a ‘pre-working place’ 12 year old. To give you an idea of just how long ago this was, I remember taking Coca Cola bottles back to the liquor store to get the 3 cents ‘deposit’, and putting that money together with my unused lunch money and allowance – such as it was – and having enough cash to but an Elvis Presley EP, “Shake, Rattle & Roll” – with a hard cardboard sleeve and 4 delicious rock & roll songs. Yes, you could still buy Elvis RCA EP’s up until the end of the 1960’s – with Nipper replaced by that weird ugly yellow RCA label. And they let you ‘special order’ 45’s, too. Wallach’s is where I learned about the “Phonolog”, the massive encyclopedia of recorded music that is goldenrod in color. Wallach’s also had “Hit Sheets” of the LP & singles charts – printed on goldenrod legal sized paper. You could also pick up a small-ish pamphlet from KHJ, if you just wanted to see a snappy singles chart.

My calling in life became apparent to me when I decided to look up “phonograph records” in the yellow pages of the telephone book. Where were all of these places? You mean there are places other than Zody’s, White Front, W.T. Grant’s, J.C. Penney’s, Sears, Cal Store…that also have records?

The funniest name under “phonograph records” was “Licorice Pizza” – you know, flat black round thing…pizza…as you may or may not know – Licorice Pizza was a chain of hippie record stores in Southern California, started in Long Beach that eventually swelled to a 31-store chain, with a distribution center (“Superior Music”) in Glendale, CA. Their ‘gimmick’ was that they gave away free licorice, when you bought an LP.

Without question – the first thing I ever tried finding at a hippie record store was the album “An Evening With Wild Man Fischer” – which the Licorice Pizza in downtown Long Beach had in stock! This is an LP that I do not think the Cal Store would ever have stocked.

Seemed like overnight – but before long, there was a hippie record store in every zip code – I love some of the names – Swinger’s Psych Shop, The Magic Mushroom, Mundae, Platterpuss, Fields of Zaad, Wheatstone, Middle Earth, Jeremiah McCain, Psychedelic Supermarket

Sometimes – you had to go to the square places to find decent prices, or a larger selection – but I was always fond of good hippie record stores – I mean, there’s no ‘romance’ in going to Muntz Stereo, Pacific Discount Records, American Records (the people who became The Wherehouse), Vogue Records

I wasn’t to drive a car for another 5 years or so – but if it came on 4 or 8 track tape, Muntz Stereo had it in stock. Gee, I do not even remember if they carried cassettes or not! I just remember when they decided to get rid of their 4 track tapes for 9 cents – and you had to buy one of those little adaptors to make them work in 8 track tape machines! I think that’s how I finally got to try the Incredible String Band!

When American Records turned into The Wherehouse overnight – their big sale was any single LP for $2.44. Um, I bet that’s when I got “Swiss Movement” by Les McCann & Eddie Harris – which I had heard being played in a record store – somewhere. There were three Wherehouse stores near my home, two of which were accessible by bicycle! Wow, they’re stocked like a hippie record store – but…those stores did not smell like incense or German Shepard dogs! Then, I noticed that The Wherehouse carried “imported” LP’s – those forbidden, expensive LP’s that I craved! Used to be, you had to go to Hollywood Blvd. to find imported Beatles EP’s or Rolling Stones LP’s – now a place near my home had ‘em!?!?!?!!!!! AND they had a ‘cut-out’ (i.e. inexpensive) bin!! Oh, the fun we had the first time we re-assembled one (or two) of their plastic bags to read “Whorehouse”, instead of “Wherehouse”! Where? The Wherehouse!!

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I have some friends who live near the fires in Griffith Park - gee, I hope they (and their families) are OK - and that their record collections are unharmed!

- Ron


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