Recently I was looking for a certain CD, (actually, I’m always looking for a specific CD). Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa. Nothing really obscure, just something that came out several years ago. First I checked iTunes, no luck. Then I checked Amazon and found it but I wanted it sooner. I called the closest store, Best Buy and spoke with a very friendly salesperson who had no idea who Frank Zappa was and actually had me spell the last name. In a matter of minutes, I realized how much we’ve lost with the death of the record store. When I started falling in love with music, I was a constant at record stores near where I grew up. That’s how I first found Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, etc. When I started working with Buddy Guy and traveling the world, I became an avid collector and was constantly in search of the best record store in what ever town we were in. Not only was I able to satisfy my desire to hear and own every record in the universe, but record stores were also incredible reference points. Employees knew and loved music and could direct me to the best recordings by artists that I was interested in. They could also point me toward similar artists or new artists. I learned about the historic independent labels like Chess, Kent, RPM, Sun and Ace, among others, by hanging out at record stores and talking to employees and other customers. I learned about European and Asian reissue labels like Pea-Vine by talking to people at independent record stores. I’ve got a lot of CDs and records and some of them are really prized to me; my CD copy of Folk Festival Of The Blues, my T-Bone Walker CD The Hustle Is On, too many of BB King’s Kent/RPM albums on CD to mention, my Otis Spann CD with Fleetwood Mac backing him; “The Biggest Thing Since Colossus”. The point is I wouldn’t have known about these records if it wasn’t for independent record stores. Places like Grimey’s in Nashville, Ear X-tacy in Louisville, Twist & Shout in Denver, Amoeba in San Francisco, Dobell’s in London (I once went in there looking for a CD that Robben Ford had recorded with Jimmy Witherspoon, the clerk’s pithy reply was; “I feel sorry for Jimmy Witherspoon.”), Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, Revolver in NYC, the list goes on and on. Some of these stores are still around, but many are gone. The ones that remain are selling more T-shirts, incense, and assorted knick-knacks just to stay afloat. As we move into a much more digital era of music, we think nothing of buying a song on iTunes and other than the sound we’ve bought nothing! When I listened to BB King records I read the liner notes to learn who Sonny Freeman was (find out!), when I listened to Stone Crazy, I read the liner notes to learn that it was Phil Guy playing that amazing rhythm guitar. When I bought a Jimi Hendrix record the salesman might tell me to check out Eddie Hazel in Funkadelic. If I bought a Earl Hooker CD, they might say check out Robert Nighthawk. The point is it’s more than just having something to hold in your hands, it’s a cultural element that we’ve lost. Also, when I buy a song from iTunes, I never speak to a soul during the entire process. Yes they might have some kind of graphic that says; “people who bought this also bought...”, but it’s not the same thing. We do have some great resources on the web that can help, such as allmusicguide.com, Rhino records website or Wikipedia, but there’s just something about having someone who’s excited by music suggesting music to you that makes a difference.
You can walk into Wal-Mart and buy a Beatles CD, but you’ll be hard pressed to find John Lennon’s Walls & Bridges album or a salesperson that even knows such a record exists. They might not even know who John Lennon is! Best Buy is more likely to have 3 copies of Tom Petty’s greatest hits than one copy of Damn The Torpedoes but “We can order that for you...”. I realize that my line of work might make it more likely that I would be interested in this stuff, but I was into it before I started playing guitar and my love of music dates much farther back in my life than the first time I thought about being a guitar player. I’m not against progress, but support your local independent record store. It’s more than just a physical thing you’re buying, it’s a spiritual thing as well!