If you’re like me (and there’s a good chance you’re not, but bear with me), the call of record stores or anyplace that might sell records rings loud and clear when you’re in a new town. The allure of the unexpected, the hunt for obscure treasures, the inherent possibilities of a browse through the racks (or dusty cardboard box, as the case may be) of a hitherto unexplored record seller is undeniable and unavoidable. Even if its just a quick browse to quench the curiosity.
I found myself in such circumstances numerous times on a recent road trip with my family, which brought us through many states, but most significantly to Mississippi and Florida. So, leaving out the beaches, restaurants, parks and museums (this is a music blog, after all), what follows is a town, village and city hopping journey through the record stores I’d recommend highly, a few less highly, and some curio and antique stores selling records (‘cause everybody seems to be jumping on the record revitalization bandwagon these days.)
Oxford, MS: Oxford is a university town, and a literary town, home to many authors and bookstores. This student / creative population almost guarantees a good record store, and Oxford doesn’t disappoint. The oddly, but somehow catchily-named The End of All Music is one of the best record stores I’ve ever visited. Having recently moved from the outskirts of downtown, they’re now right in the heart on the town square in a second-floor space. A diverse and deep selection matched by very reasonable prices – not a common combination. Lots of interesting memorabilia and posters on the walls as well, including a light-up letter board which they may change from time to time. Or they may not – after all, the phrase on it when I was there doesn’t really need updating, does it?
Though it’s by far not the only thing I listen to, I find my record browsing interests veering more towards 1970s jazz the last few years, specifically “soul jazz” or “spiritual jazz” like the Pharaoh Sanders album Village of the Pharaohs I picked up here – an exciting find as Sanders is not a common site in used record stores. The melodic and atmospheric jazz and instrumental music of ECM Records’ 70s and 80s output is another long-time interest of mine and finding a sealed, original copy of Eberhard Weber’s Little Movements made me very happy. Brazilian funk/jazz artist Deodato’s 1975 First Cuckoo (bought partly just for the album art, though I have some of his other stuff, which is decent if a little dated) rounded things out.
Ocean Springs, MS: A museum dedicated to the art of Walter Anderson is what Ocean Springs is mostly known for (and why we were there), but there is also a smattering of antique and curio stores, one of which had a box of records at the back, all priced at $2 each. I took a quick look, skimming through the polka and Lawrence Welk LP’s, when – tucked in near the back – was a sealed copy of Michael Chapman’s Life on the Ceiling from 1980. Exciting to me, but less so to most probably, yet Chapman is one of the best of the experimental British folk & instrumental guitarists/singer-songwriters. This copy was the alternate U.S. cover, admittedly kinda blah compared to the UK cover that, um, featured his naked wife upside down on the ceiling. An image, which, I guess was just too much for sensitive American eyes (or chain stores, at least). She featured nude on two more of his albums as well. Those crazy Brits.
Micanopy, FL: A cozy, quiet little town, just south of Gainesville, and a place I’ve been visiting since the 1980s. It just feels good there. Even Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett mentioned Micanopy in song. To my knowledge, there’s never been a record store in Micanopy (too small a population to support one), but the handful of antique/junk shops seem to have latched on to the news that vinyl is hot again. Unfortunately, they’ve all gone the greed route – each store I was in while there was pricing pretty much everything at $10 and up. No, I won’t pay $10 for a beat up copy of Night Ranger’s Midnight Madness and neither should anyone else.
Sanibel Island, FL: To my surprise, tropical resort paradise Sanibel has a record store. It’s called, appropriately enough, Sanibel Music. Part musical instrument seller and part vinyl vendor, the owner was conducting a guitar lesson in the storefront the morning I stopped in. A nice store, though nothing really grabbed my interest and I left empty handed. I was lucky enough to catch a really good singer-songwriter/guitarist named Pat McCune at an outdoor restaurant patio on nearby Captiva Island and bought one of his CD’s.
Clearwater & Dunedin, FL: I found myself on Record Store Day in my old stomping ground of the Tampa Bay area. The record stores of my youth here are long gone, but two new ones have sprung up in the last few years – Kingfish Records in Clearwater and Dunedin Records & Audio in, you guessed it, Dunedin.
Though I think the idea of the annual Record Store Day is great, it generally doesn’t excite me too much since I find it more interesting to search the used bins for treasures than spending $30 for a Pink Floyd repressing. I mean, I’m glad so much new and reissued music is coming out on vinyl, but the high prices take some of the fun out of it (for me).
Anyway, Kingfish was crowded, but had a nice selection (though the owner/manager standing by the door to make sure nobody stole anything was a little excessive in my opinion, but hey, maybe they’ve had problems). Lotsa stuff priced at $5.98 and I soon had a small stack of albums in my hand. $5.98, as long as the album in question is in decent condition, is a price I can justify to take my chance on something I may not have heard before. These included Brazilian legend Milton Nascimento’s Encontro e Despedidas (with guest Pat Metheny), Tom Jans & Mimi Farina’s Take Heart (Jans was a great overlooked southern California singer-songwriter and Farina was Joan Baez’ sister), Art Lande & Rubisa Patrol – Desert Marauders (I had no idea what it sounds like, yet I’ve always liked the album cover and it’s on ECM), an ECM sampler called Music with 58 Musicians Vol. 1 (’cause there’s a total of 58 musicians spread out on the different tracks, if you counted them all up…).
Lastly, guitarist Wilbert Longmire’s Sunny Side Up (yeah, that was one I got largely for the cover, having never heard Longmire before. I’ve always liked album covers featuring food…I’m not sure why. Hmmm..maybe there’s some kind of unintentional connection with the name of this blog). I also picked up a nice copy of Wings’ first, Wild Life, an album I’ve been looking for for a while (generally sneered at by the critics, but I’ve always liked the songs I’ve heard from this early Paul McCartney outing).
Dunedin Records & Audio is part stereo store and part record store (a diversification not unlike Sanibel Music and a good idea to keep cash flow a bit higher if records fall out of fashion again). The records here were in a windowless room set back in the store space. Though it was cave-like, it was a decent sized room and had a fairly big selection at reasonable prices. Just one purchase here: flautist Herbie Mann‘s Turtle Bay, which features some interesting cover songs like The Allman Bros.’ “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed”. They also had free sampler CD’s, a free Record Store Day canvas bag, and a free poster.
So, that’s “How I Spent My Spring Vacation”, from a music viewpoint. If you find yourself down south, check out some of these places – you may find some good stuff too. And even if you don’t, the journey of browsing is more than half the adventure.
You may even find a shrine to the romance of Brazil and Brazilian music in a bookstore bathroom…