This is my first column since the end of 2013. When I stopped, I was burnt out on deadlines and commitments. I’m feeling much better now, thank you, and I’ve decided to write a column once in a while. I’ve also decided to post them directly onto Facebook. They’ll still probably be on the other sites that used to get them, and maybe The Townsman too, but they won’t be appearing on any kind of regular schedule. Instead, they will appear whenever I feel like writing one. And I felt like writing this one. I hope it moves you.
Here’s a story about growing up in Brooklyn.
When I was a kid, around 14, a few of my friends and I immersed ourselves deeply in the world of record collecting, specifically British record collecting. The British music invasion had hit us hard, and at that time, we all felt that if a band wasn’t British, they sucked! LOL.
This didn’t last that long, as bands like The Byrds and Lovin’ Spoonful began to eat away at our prejudices, and other bands like, The Syndicate of Sound, Music Machine, Count 5, Five Americans, and The Sir Douglas Quintet launched their own invasion into our young, impressionable minds!!!
Personally, I had been digging music since I was 5, and buying records since I was 8, but, as teenagers, we took it to the next level! Along with a few of my music obsessed friends, and a few other kids in Brooklyn who we didn’t know yet, but would meet later, we started ordering British records straight from England! A couple of us got air mail subscriptions to the British music papers like Disc and Music Echo and New Musical Express, so we always knew what was happening in England, before anyone else in America.
Now, the reasons for doing this were many and varied, but mainly, it was about getting music by our favorite bands, that wasn’t released in this country. The English records seemed to have better fidelity, and they came in really cool flimsy laminated covers that we loved, but for me at least, it was all about the music. British records by popular British bands of the day, would routinely have tracks removed from their American albums, throw on a few singles and B sides, and voila! Two albums where you only had one!
In this way, the American record labels got to release more albums and make more money, which most of them didn’t pass on to their artists!!! In Britain, albums had 16 tracks, and singles and B sides usually weren’t included. American albums routinely had 12 tracks, and singles and B sides were always included! You see how it worked? Every 2 albums, you got an extra one! Do the math! It wasn’t until Sgt. Pepper, that The Beatles had the clout to insist that their records be released worldwide in their original versions, and after that, all the other bands got into the act.
So, my friends and I were ordering unreleased tracks by The Beatles, Stones, Jimi, Floyd, Cream, Spencer Davis Group (later Traffic), Kinks, Yardbirds, Soft Machine, Small Faces, and The Move, and even American artists like Dylan had unreleased tracks in oddball countries like Holland. We had them all! When Fresh Cream was released in Germany with an extra track, even beyond the British version, we got it! If the Stones or Pete Townshend gave one of their rejected songs to another artist to cover, we had it! One of my friends even went so far as to order Stones’ albums from around the world if they simply had a different cover!
For me, though, it was always about just the music. If the French version of a Stones album had a track that was 40 seconds longer than the American release, I had it, but I drew the line at different album covers!
After a while, we got hooked up with the DJ’s at WOR-FM, the first free form rock radio station in New York, (later WNEW), and started supplying Murray the K and Scott Muni with records from our collections to play on the air, since British records were totally unavailable commercially in America, and even DJ’s at radio stations didn’t have what we had!!! We also spent a long night playing records on the air with Bob Fass at WBAI, when we unceremoniously showed up there with a box of records. Bob put us right on the air, and we spent the next 5 hours spinning discs and telling stories of our meetings with remarkable musicians, finally exiting at dawn!
And we were all still in junior and senior high school at the time, maybe 14, 15 years old! There wasn’t a DJ in the country who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to access our record collections, but we were kids! What the hell did we know about marketing?!! Our connection to the radio stations was a kid who was interning there. He went on to run Aaron Spelling’s production company, then became partners with Dick Clark, and then, I think, helmed a major movie studio, before I lost track of him!
But all that is the stuff of other stories. This one is about something else.
Someone else, actually. Here’s the backdrop. Besides ordering all the British bands on British labels, my pals and I liked to cut school and go hang out at this record store in the Village. It wasn’t an ordinary store, tho. It was really one of the first record stores in New York that catered to the collector market. They had all kinds of records that weren’t hits, and that no other store had. They even had records by the doo wop group my brother had in high school and college (now collector’s items)! It was called The House of Oldies, and it was owned by a cat who went by the moniker, Record Richie!!
My boys and I thought Record Richie was like, the coolest guy on earth! He was real easy going, always in a good mood, and didn’t seem to mind a gang of kids hanging out at his store all day, playing his inventory on a makeshift stereo he had installed, and I suppose it didn’t hurt that once in a while, we bought something.
It was much more than that though. Record Richie was like a father figure to us. He was a lot older than us, at the time, but he was probably, maybe, 25? We really dug his vibe, and he seemed to get a kick out of us too. I never saw him get angry, or heard a cross word come from his lips! He had an assistant named Ira, who we promptly named LP Ira. The name stuck.
Other characters were in and out. Bleecker Bob was a regular. He was a record pusher back then. He’d go around to record stores (no chains back then. All mom and pop stores), and try to get them to take a few of the records he was selling. Somehow, Bob’s bio has evolved him into an attorney before he opened his iconic record store, but if that’s true, he must have been in law school when he came into Record Richie’s, because he sure didn’t look like no lawyer!
We got turned on to lots of cool records at House of Oldies that never became hits, like The Magicians, Ivan, The Leaves, Tim Rose, first Blues Project single (still their best), and others that did, like “We Ain’t got Nothin’ Yet” by Blues Magoos and “My Little Red Book” by Love! I used to love to hang with Record Richie all day before heading up to Central Park for a show at Wollman Skating Rink at night. That’s what the Spoonful song, “Summer in the City” was about, and it captured that mood better than any record before or since! But, I digress.
One day, we were in the store, and Record Richie (we always formally called him by his full title of Record Richie, never shortening it to Richie or Rich), seemed a little on edge, not his usual laid back self. After we left the store, my friend told me that RR had confessed to him that he was planning to try the powerful mind bending hallucinogenic drug, LSD-25, for the first time, that night!
Well, time passed, we all grew up, and one day, Record Richie sold the shop. We were heartbroken, but we accepted it. We were still young, and he was moving into his 30’s by then, so we lost touch. I never saw him again, but I’ll never forget him.
The store is still there, albeit moved around the corner to Carmine Street. It’s only had one owner since Record Richie sold it, but Double R will always be remembered by me as a cool dude, a big influence on me and my friends, a major part of our lives for a time, and the owner of the first collector’s record store in New York, House of Oldies!
Years later, after living in California for a few years and then moving back to New York, I decided to replenish some of the more desirable gems from my childhood record collection, all of which I had sold to Bleecker Bob when I was 17 for $100. Lenny Kaye was clerking in the store the night I brought my records in. The collection would be worth, by my estimate, about $1.5M in today’s market. But again, I digress. So, I stopped down to the House of Oldies, at the time, still, one of the few record stores with that kind of inventory. I don’t know why they called it House of Oldies. It had plenty of new inventory. They really should have named it House of Every Record Ever Made!!!
The new owner, Bob Abramson, was there, and it only takes me 5 minutes to establish a rapport with record people, so we were on the same page immediately. (BTW, Bob is still in business at 35 Carmine Street, and when I called him to confirm some points for this article, after 40 years, he answered the phone by saying, “Fred, how’ve you been?” like it was 6 months ago that we last spoke! And the amazing thing is, he really did remember me! Bob has that kind of passion for music, records, people, and customer service! He’s amazing! If you’re in the market for classic vinyl, you should go there!) I picked up a few records like “When You Walk in the Room” by The Searchers, “Double Shot of my Baby’s Love” by The Swingin’ Medallions, and about a dozen more. That night, I went to see Bruce Springsteen for the first time, at The Bottom Line on Mercer Street. The date was August 15, 1975. The Boss covered half of the songs I bought that afternoon!
In my old columns, I used to recommend every single musical event between Cooperstown and Manhattan that I considered worthy. I will not be doing that any longer. It’s just far too exhaustive research. Instead, I will be cherry picking. I’ll throw some cool nights at ya, but I ain’t gonna be the encyclopedia no more! That’s what the internet is for!!! LOL.
Instead, whatever catches my eye that I think is cool, I’ll write it up. In that vein, this Monday night, May 8, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, an awesome young band that I’ve latched onto, called Strand of Oaks will be appearing. These guys were very good before, but my young friend Jason Anderson just joined on lead guitar, and they instantly went from good to great! Jason is a great undiscovered lead guitarist, and Strand of Oaks is now a band to be reckoned with! You will hear of them, and probably soon. If you wanna adopt them before they hit the big time, doors are at 8, Jason opens solo at 9, and Strand of Oaks at 10. Music Hall of Williamsburg. Brooklyn.
There’ll be some other cool stuff comin’ up. Phil Lesh is at The Cap with Jackie Greene, and there’s a Chuck Berry tribute at City Winery, both towards the end of the month, awesome female guitarist Ana Popovic is at Daryl’s House on May 19, and Michael Arnone’s 28th Annual Crawfish Fest, with their always amazing schedule of bands, and always delicious Cajun and Creole food, will take place again on the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, New Jersey, June 2-4. I attended my first Crawfish Fest 3 years ago, and discovered some really fantastic, then unknown bands, saw Dr. John from around 3 feet away, and ate the best food on the planet!!! This year’s schedule and more info at www.crawfishfest.com. Highly recommended! And it’s not a sprawling festival with a mountainous site, parking far away, and lots of walking. The site is relatively small, and flat, easy to navigate, and the crowds are not overwhelming (yet). A real easy lift, as festivals go, and big bang for your buck. Check it out!