As digital music takes over the airwaves and our iPods, what keeps music lovers, KCRW fans and dedicated DJs going back to old fashioned record stores? Maybe it’s the striking artwork on the album covers, the feeling of resting a record ever so gently on a turntable, or that warm, vinyl sound. Producers Saul Gonzalez and Michael Garber took their cameras inside three record stores on the east side of town, where vinyl is very much alive. Watch below.
I moved out here from the East Coast in the ’80s, and the whole L.A. scene just blew me away… I have had some of my most precious times hanging out at record stores. — Gary Calamar
Also, check out our interview with KCRW DJ Gary Calamar about his vinyl memories and what he makes of the resurgence in record collecting. We’ve gathered a few record store recommendations from other KCRW DJs; and we have a map where you can get the lay of the land, find a record store near you, and add your own hidden gems.
Video: On the Record: LA Vinyl
Interview: Gary Calamar, Author of Record Store Days
KCRW fans know Gary Calamar as one of the station’s beloved DJs, but he’s also an L.A. record store historian and a guy who got his start in the music business selling vinyl. He co-wrote a book about all of this called “Record Store Days,” with journalist Phil Gallo. KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez spoke to Gary about his love of record stores:
Gary Calamar: I am a record store fiend. I grew up loving every record store I saw. I was in love with every aspect of it – the music of course, but also the posters on the wall, the people that worked there and the community of people that hang out at record stores; and when I became old enough to work I started working at record stores. First in Yonkers, N.Y. at Gimbel’s record department, then moved out West and got a job at Licorice Pizza, worked at Moby Disc and Rhino. I have had some of my most precious times hanging out at record stores.
Saul Gonzalez: Those are record stores that I associate with L.A. and the record store scene in the 1980s.
GC: Yeah, I moved out here from the East Coast in the ’80s, and the whole L.A. scene just blew me away. Just visiting Tower Records on Sunset, and places like Music Plus and Licorice Pizza, and the small stores like Bomb Records and Vinyl Fetish. I was hoping to land a job at another record store. I got hired, luckily, and was a manager trainee at Licorice Pizza. It was a great way to be introduced to Los Angeles and the L.A. music scene.
SG: What did these record stores, both in this city and other cities, mean for the music industry in a larger way?
GC: Record stores were where all these records were being distributed and purchased — all the work, all the billboards, all the airplay, all the advertisements, all came down to what happened at record stores. Paying your $10 or $7.99 for a record is where the final part of the equation came in. That’s where record companies would do their promotions, and hook up and have different arrangements with different stores. It was a major cog in the machine. People weren’t getting their records from the mail, there was no Amazon or iTunes and going to the record store was where it all took place.
SG: Was that good for music?
GC: I am not of the mind that it has all gone to hell now. I mean I use iTunes and Amazon, and I still love going into record stores. I certainly appreciate the convenience of iTunes, and in a way I could be buying more now than I was then. I think it was good then and I think it is good now.
SG: In this video, we profiled just a handful of new independent record stores, very small places, what do you make of that little renaissance happening.
GC: I think it’s great! I think that if there is a vinyl resurgence, and these very passionate people are running these stores, I wish them the best… Freakbeat in north Hollywood and Fingerprints in Long Beach are both doing phenomenal jobs, and they are in no rush to close down. They’re doing well.
SG: Although we are not going back to the era, there is a niche group that has turn tables at home and a growing vinyl collection…
GC: Yeah! Absolutely! All these great albums are coming out on vinyl now. I will buy vinyl just for the artwork and keep vinyl just for the great artwork.
Recommendations: KCRW DJ Marion Hodges weighs in
Wombleton is one of the best, but since it’s been featured already, I’ll just say that some of my best finds of late have come from there. Atomic Records in Burbank has always treated me well. Rockaway on Glendale Blvd. is another one with a nice, diverse selection. I haven’t been there yet, but there is a new record store that’s also on Glendale Blvd. called Mono; it’s small but I’ve heard that it’s good. I’ve also been meaning to check out Records L.A. on West Adams Blvd. They carry mostly rare soul, funk, and other things of that nature.
However, since I have to choose one to endorse, I’ll go with Freakbeat in Sheman Oaks. I used to work in Woodland Hills so every few weeks I would give myself a treat to break up the long drive back to Echo Park, and stop by Freakbeat. People sell whole collections there, a lot, so if you go on the right day you can get a nice little haul that is all within the same theme. But the selection of what you can find there is very diverse. They have a pretty thorough selection of new records too, which you don’t always see from a store that has so many great used records. The staff are all super knowledgeable (as you might expect), and really nice. There are three listening stations too, so you can try before you buy.
YOUR TURN TO SHARE: Add your favorite Los Angeles Record Shops to our Google Map
Here are the record shops that we’ve highlighted, along with other KCRW staff and readers. Feel free to drop a pin for the shops where you find your own vinyl gems.
View Los Angeles Record Shops in a larger map