My Liner Notes - Steve Kane
By Steve Kane on Jul 25, 2011
Liner notes appear on the sleeve of an album or CD case and contain a mix of anecdotal or factual information. They often reflect the artists’ personality and contain meaningful statements about the art or life issues. My Liner Notes is a regular feature on Music Canada that allows people of all walks of life to share personal reflections about music.
An Appreciation for Record Shops
Record Shops have occupied an important place in my life personally and professionally for as long as I can remember. It’s a safe bet that there hasn’t been a week go by, since I was 10 years old, without a visit to a Record Shop of some description. This is certainly a strange and difficult time for physical music retailers ….ahh screw that, they are RECORD SHOPS. Whatever you want to call them, over the past decade we’ve seen major chains disappear and with a few notable exceptions chains like Sunrise or CD Warehouse, who have worked over the past years to reinvent themselves as Pop Culture Shops, or community specialists like Archambault, regional chains are a thing of the past. Some independents have just folded their tents or, perhaps, have migrated to the web as mail order operations (which is, of course, how Virgin Records began life).
It’s not all bad news though as many Independent Record Shops survive, and in some cases, flourish by doing what they’ve always done best, which is to curate their collection (aka stock) and cater to their community of music junkies. A great Record Shop, in my experience, should be staffed by smart, goofy, passionate interesting people, while the place itself functions as a gathering place and salon, where you can get turned on to something new by staff or fellow shoppers.
I’m not a Luddite: I wouldn’t leave the house without my iPod; I’ve embraced digital downloads (I love that digital has broken the tyranny of the album release cycle) and streaming services. The winners in the streaming wars will be those services who best approximate the experience of a great Record Shop, complete with context and recommendations, and that curates based on what they learn about your listening preferences. Access at the touch of a button is amazing, but I still love flipping through the bins either searching for a specific album or waiting for inspiration to hit.
Here in somewhat chronological order are the Record Shops that have fed my ears through the years:
Band & Sons, Edinburgh, Scotland
... My Dad used to take me there when I was a little kid while he bought records, and one day when I was about 4, he told me to choose a record of my own. I chose either a Johnny Cash or Frankie Laine disc because the artist was dressed up as a cowboy on the cover. From what I recall they still had the big old listening booths that a couple of people could squeeze into with a handful of 45’s to check out before buying. They also sold sheet music, instruments and it’s the same shop my father would buy reeds for his bagpipes. I don’t know if it’s there any longer, but I did have the pleasure of meeting and working with a records man named Alex Clark who, before coming to Canada, sold records in Scotland where Band & Sons was one of his accounts.
Sam The Record Man, Yonge Street, Toronto
…This store would later play a huge role in my professional life including meeting and getting to know Sam himself and other members of the Sniderman family. I also met great members of their staff including Ron Morse, who is now a co-owner of Wax Records, a very smart Indie label that is distributed by Warner Canada. When I was about 10 years old I was taken to this legendary Record Shop by a young English couple who were friends of my parents. He turned me on to Deep Purple, The Who and she looked like Twiggy …they both wore a lot of velvet. I recall being overwhelmed, not necessarily by the selection, but by the electricity, the carnival atmosphere, and the sound. I don’t remember what record I bought but I do know that it started a love affair with the store that persisted until the day the doors closed for the final time.
Wilson & Lee, Simcoe Street, Oshawa
…Almost interchangeable with Band & Sons, with sheet music, instruments (I took accordion lessons there) and I think they still had a listening booth. I would ride my bike there every Saturday to buy a couple of 45’s, always something in the top end of the CHUM Chart. If memory serves they had the chart posted or you could just pick up the pocket size version, decide what you wanted, and then go to the counter where the shop assistant would pull your selection from its numbered cubbyhole. They would show it to you to confirm that it was indeed the record you’d requested, and finally you would hand over your allowance, and pedal home to spin the disc on your portable record player.
The Record Stop/Sam The Record Man/A&A’s ,Oshawa Shopping Centre, Oshawa
…Once I had “graduated” from 45’s to LPs, it was part of a weekly ritual to make the rounds of the Record Shops at “The Centre”. I know that one of them sold CREEM Magazine and that I was intensely jealous of the kids who had part time jobs there while I was selling socks after school at Eaton’s. It was at these stores, particularly Sam’s and The Record Stop that I got into digging through the bins trying to catch up on artists and albums that weren’t showing up on the CHUM Chart. For instance, Record Stop had a good (for the time & place) Reggae selection and it’s there that I bought The Heptones “Night Food”, and Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves". There was one guy who would nod approvingly at my purchases, and there always seemed to be cute girls around.
Star Records, Oshawa
…Last year I was contacted by the Oshawa newspaper asking if I would say a few words about Star Records' 35th anniversary. I could have just said “Star Records changed my life”. Walking into Star and hearing The Ramones, Flamin’ Groovies, The Saints, Radio Birdman, or Eddie & The Hot Rods for the first time, I knew that this was a place that I wanted to hang out. I would, on occasion, skip school on the days releases were supposed to show up in the import order. I remember spending the entire day listening to "Sandinista". In the end, this was more than just a Record Shop, it became a clubhouse for a group of people - an idea that the owner Mike (Shulga) Star, took to the next level by starting The Star Club which featured not only local acts, but the leading lights of the Toronto Punk/New Wave scene.
…This was another store that became a bit of a club house during my University days, especially the side of the store that had bins of cut outs or deletes for a couple of bucks each. This was a room where you could really discover forgotten gems or very cool records that just hadn’t sold ….I probably bought my copy of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” there. The owner, Mike, gave a little money to my friends and I towards the production of our punk rock fanzine “The Black Triangle”.
Record Shops in London, Paris, Nice, Amsterdam, Hamburg, West Berlin, New York, Ann Arbor, etc
…the routine was find a bed and then immediately find a Record Shop, because that’s where you’d find out about the good bars, the local bands, what gigs were in town, and if you were lucky you could end up with a guide too, in exchange for a couple of beers.
Records On Wheels, Yonge Street, Toronto
…Rosie Iurello (R.I.P.) gave me a job on the recommendation of my friend Debra, and I spent the next few years learning about record retailing, record companies and meeting a wonderfully wacky cast of characters who were deeply passionate about music, and spreading the word of their favourite artist of the moment. It was fun to actually put a record by an artist you loved into the hands of a stranger, and knowing that selling 10 Rick Astleys meant we could order in a few more Minutemen imports. The store was known for it’s vast import selection and as somewhere sales reps could spot records that might be ready to break wider, R.E.M. and Sinead O’Connor come to mind. It was also here that I met I.R.S. Records’ Paul Orescan, who eventually offered me a job on the other side of the counter.
Legendary Toronto Record Shops
...The Record Peddler, Vortex, Driftwood, Jonathan Lipsins' Incredible Records, Ed’s Record World, Around Again Records, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum, Sunrise, Sonic Temple, Monster Records, Discovery, Rotate This, etc., etc.
Soundscapes, College Street, Toronto
… I walk there every Saturday and always run into friends old and new. I still love the thrill of discovery or the simple satisfaction of picking up a record I’ve been waiting for, or taking the recommendation of Greg or one of his great staff even when they know it’s a little outside of my comfort zone. I like the walk home thinking, about which to play first, and posting that week's purchases on my Facebook wall which can lead to more discussion, discovery and the beginning of next week's list.
I hope that these places, the clubhouses that are still open, can not only survive but thrive, not just for the sake of The Industry but so that every once in a while some stranger can put a record in my hand and tell me that I need to hear this one.
Steve Kane is the President of Warner Music Canada.
Music Canada Editor: Do you have a record shop that made an impact on your life? Where do you go to find all the latest music?