August 14, 2008

Hall of Records — Memphis Dealer/Collector Finds Joy in Grooves of Old Vinyl

By Jonathan Devin

Ron Hall's face still lights up when he comes across an album with his favorite song, "Gloria," on it.

"It's the best song ever written," said Hall, 58, a longtime collector and seller of vinyl records. "The band Them did it with Van Morrison singing in '66; that was really good. Then Jimi Hendrix did a version of it. Now everyone's done it."

Even though an entire generation born in the late 1970s and '80s grew up with nothing but CDs, Hall cautions those who claim vinyl is a dinosaur. For the past 27 years, he has been a fixture at the Memphis Flea Market ("The BIG One"), selling crates full of records to eager young buyers who Hall said are learning to appreciate the art of vinyl, if not the technology.

"Sometimes I'll see something at a yard sale and just go nuts over it," Hall said.

Hall worked for record distributors Record

Sales in Whitehaven, and later Stan's Distributing, based in Shreveport, La., through the 1970s, when recorded music rivaled television in the entertainment industry.

Records, he said, were conversation starters and reasons for people to get together and have fun.

"Friends of mine can come over here and pull stuff off the rack, and it seems like so many of these records have a story with it," he said. "There's a reason I have it."

A shift in vinyl sales came about, Hall said, when major distributors started buying up smaller ones. Columbia, Capitol Records, RCA, and more recently, Warner Brothers, swallowed smaller labels to cash in on their signature styles. With control of the industry in just a few hands, the need for traveling salesmen dried up as well.

"It was rough. The whole thing changed. It got down to like five major labels who controlled everything."

Hall took a job with the U.S. Postal Service in 1985, after 13 years in record distributing, but continued selling records on his own . In addition to the flea market, he sells on eBay under the handle "waxwatcher."

He describes his love of vinyl records as a never-ending search for "oddball" treasures with great cover artwork, virtually unknown music and personal connections. While many collectors delight in legends like Elvis or The Beatles, Hall's prizes are the kind that are available only on vinyl records.

"I've got an album by the group Title Unit that they cut in a roller rink in Millington," said Hall. "They couldn't have pressed many, probably 300 to 400, and sold them mostly when they played, so most of their albums left the area. I've only talked to one or two other guys that have that record."

Hall is also fond of his autographed album covers, because he can remember the stories that led to the signatures.

He recalled chauffeuring the New York Dolls before and after their Memphis concert in the late '70s. Hall's co-worker refused to drive the makeup-wearing, big-haired glam rock group, but Hall jumped at the chance.

"I'd bought their album and got them all to sign it," he said, displaying the cover proudly. "When you get something signed, that has something that you can remember, a whole story behind it. I wouldn't get rid of that for anything."

Hall's collection consists of about 2,000 albums that he keeps for himself, between 8,000 and 10,000 in storage for sale, and as many as 2,000 popular titles that sell well at the flea market. He charges about $3 per album on average, though some rare ones go for as much as $50-$60.

Music celebrities have been customers at the flea market, including Scott Bomar of the Bo-Keys, who scored Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan." The late Paul Burlison, guitarist of Johnny Burnette's Rock and Roll Trio, showed up from time to time in the early '80s.

In 2001, Hall put his knowledge and experience to paper, writing "Playing For a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage and Frat Bands in Memphis 1960-75," an encyclopedia of facts about his favorite genre, garage rock. The book was featured on WKNO's "Memphis Memoirs" series.

He followed "History" in 2003 with a second volume, "The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook." Both were published by Shangri-la Projects.

Some collectors shop Hall's flea market booth looking for album art. Customers ask for albums with motorcycles, Corvettes or certain names on them. (Hall admits he buys albums with the name "Sue" in the title for his wife, Sue).

Something about local music, though, just sings to Hall, a Frayser High graduate, who moved to Memphis in the fourth grade.

"You put on an old Muddy Waters album, it doesn't bother me at all if it crackles and everything, because I can just see him - see some old sharecropper sitting around a crank-up Victrola in a shotgun shack listening to the old blues records, hearing them crackle."


Local resources for vinyl

Goner Records , 2152 Young, Memphis, 722-0095 or goner- Buys and sells new and used singles and albums, new and used turntables and collections. Goner also is a record label, putting out new records on vinyl.

Shangri-La Records , 1916 Madison, 274-1916 or Buys, sells trades vinyl records and more.

River Records , 822 S. Highland, 324-1757. Buys and sells vinyl records, CDs comic books and more

Ron Hall , 485-9748.



A story we ran last month about the resurgence in popularity of vinyl records generated many comments. Here are some of the e- mails:

My husband and I have a collection of maybe 500-600 old LPs that we have saved from our youth in the '60s and on thru the '70s and early '80s. ... A few of them have stories that go with them. Like the copy of "Best of Cream" that I got from the girl who introduced me to my husband, who was such a Beatles fan that she did not want any non-Beatles records in her collection. It's good to know that there are others out there who might be sentimental fools also. But it is also good to know that there might be some younger people out there who feel the allure of vinyl.

- Diane Cambron, Cordova

I own around 1,500+ vinyl LPs and around 200 vinyl 45 rpm records, plus several hundred cassette tapes and several hundred CDs. I have been buying records since the mid-1960s, and still have many of the original record albums and 45s from that period. I still buy certain records on vinyl, usually through eBay, but also through stores like Shangri-La Records on Madison.

- Lee Allen, Cordova

I grew up in Memphis and Clarksdale and have been amassing vinyl for a long while. I think that my collection is about 2,000 strong, and reaches across all genres. One unique part of my collection is the Elvis portion. I have 38 of the original albums. Better still, you might remember back when, prior to the opening of Elvis' movies, RCA issued 45s in a representative cover with several of the movie's songs as a teaser. Then the movie opened and soon to follow was the LP. I have 36 of these.

- Michael Sims

I, too, appreciate the warmth and body of music on vinyl, possibly because my tastes in music go strongly to the big-band swing and jazz of my youth. My small collection contains a bit more than 500 LPs, a bunch of tapes and several hundred CDs. All my music is cataloged in a computer data base with searchable title, artist, format and location tables containing 1,300+ album titles and 18,000 song titles. It's a wonderful way to keep me busy and out of mischief during these "golden" years.

- Sam Livesay, Cordova

While I reluctantly gave in to CDs after you couldn't find all the titles in the LP format, I have always felt that vinyl had a richer, warmer sound than CDs, and MP3s sound quality isn't in the same ballpark. If I was ever to get divorced, and my wife knows this, she can have everything but my LPs and my stereo system. ... Still nothing like putting on a great record, sitting back, reading the album covers and liner notes (another lost art form) and letting the music pour over you.

- Robert Santucci

Originally published by Jonathan Devin / Special to The Commercial Appeal .

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