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It's All Mine
By Sean O'Hara and Jeff Ocampo of Wide Eyes
Deep Groove Record Shop has been at the top of my list to cover since we set out on our adventure. I have a deep love of vinyl records and music in general. I have been inside plenty of record shops in and out of Richmond, Virginia. Deep Groove is by far my personal favorite. It isn’t the rows of vinyl, or the posters that cover it’s walls, or even the fair prices. It is due to the owner and resident sage, Jay Leavitt.
I turn on my receiver and listen to that warm hum while I turn up the volume to -3 decibels. I flip Al Green’s Still In Love With You album over in my hands. I pull the plastic sleeve from the cardboard cover. I hold the record between both of my index fingers and eye it’s surface. I set the record on my turntable and set the needle down, gently. There is that familiar low static and repetitive clicking as it enters the grooves. A wave of sound comes out of my speakers. I close my eyes and stand up as I listen to the velvet voice of the Reverend Al Green. I grab my computer and watch the record spin as I jump back to Jeff and I, heading to Deep Groove.
Jeff is driving us down the cobblestone streets of Monument. Yellow and orange leaves are scattered across the road. We were looking for possible shooting of The Lincoln project. After a few minutes of scouting we shake our heads and turn towards Robinson street. We park right outside of Deep Groove. The air is a bit brisk and a cool wind makes me raise my shoulders. I push the door open like I have a hundred times before. There is a jazz record playing in the background. From behind the counter, Jay lifts up his head and looks over the reading glasses that sit at the end of his nose. He squints his eyes and nods as we enter. He greets us with a voice that is always the same. His voice never changes in tone. It never raises in volume. The speed and tempo are always slow. His words come out calm and relaxed. I picture the ends of his sentences with an ellipsis rather than a period. We get through introductions and explaining what we are going to do. He just nods and smiles and goes back to putting prices on a stack of records.
I walk past the 45’s and head to the back of the small shop. I always try and start in the low dollar bins. Records are always sorted alphabetically by the artist. I start at the far left and flip through a number of ACDC and Allman Brothers. There are things you come to expect when you have thumbed through enough record bins. You will find the same albums living in the bins, waiting for a sympathetic buyer. You will flip past Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Foghat, The Ventures, and those one off albums of the artist you love. There are plenty of those one to three dollar titles that make you laugh or cut eyes while flipping past them.
That is not to say that you can’t find true gems. I found a Beatles Rubber Soul album for three dollars. There is handwriting scrolled across the plastic cover. I read that familiar handwriting of Jay’s about the album having a bad start on the A side. I look at the vinyl itself. A few hairline scratches. Finding a Beatles album as excellent as Rubber Soul for three dollars is a ridiculously great deal. Even with a bad start and a few scratches, it is worth triple that. I am not much of a Beatles fan though, so I set it back in its bin. I find for myself an early Chris Issak album, a club remix of New Order’s Crystal, and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp. Altogether, my cost so far is six dollars.
I skim through the movie soundtracks and world music sections. I stop at the Jazz section and heavily consider a very clean copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I don’t spend much time in Jazz. I have never been much of a Jazz fan. Blame it on the smooth Jazz hits of the late '80s and early '90s. I can’t think about it without thinking of goofy haired horned players. I also have a distaste for most Jazz fans and their habit of talking in onomonopia. I admit I should not hold the sins of admirers against an entire genre, but I struggle nonetheless.
I take a long time to sift through the Blues and Soul sections. My first love in this life was the Blues which gave way to a love of Soul music. That is followed closely by a love of early Hip Hop music but my feelings on the downfall of hip hop would take up the rest of this article. I reach the Rock section and I take a moment to look around the shop. I am always so focused on the records, I rarely look around. There are posters covering nearly every inch of the walls. There are turntables old and new for sale. There are record brushes and headphones on shelves. I look over and see Jeff checking his angles and snapping away. I barely notice him when we are out. He moves like a predator. Hunting and capturing the images he wants and leaving the rest undisturbed.
Jay is on the phone with from what I can tell is someone trying to sell some old records. He continues to say he will give an honest look. I only have one end of the conversation but I can tell the person wants to gauge what they could be getting. Jay, the consummate professional, lets the caller down easy when asked about the need for Luther VanDross. He says he couldn’t sell any even if he wanted to. I laugh to myself. Luther would no doubt be a bedfellow of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I look at the albums on shelves above the bins. These are the top shelf picks. There is a Timothy Leary album for meditating on LSD. I stop at a Jeff Buckley album, but my funds are too low for a top shelf pick.
I turn back to the sea of vinyl in front of me. These bins make up the largest portion of the store. There are great Rock finds from the halcyon days of mind bending solos and the sweet sound of young songbirds who are now withered or gone. You can also come across new records, still sealed in plastic and 180 gram weight. They have never met a needle. They have not yet flowed out of speakers to someone’s ears. There has been a reemergence of vinyl since digital downloads became in vogue. Most modern albums give you a free download after you buy the vinyl. For myself, this is the perfect compartmentalization for my love of music. You have a physical copy in vinyl with all the rights and privileges that provides. Then you have your digital copy for your convenience on adventures.
There has been a surge for vinyl with the support of some well known artist. This culminates in Record Store Day every April 19th. Record Store Day is my new Christmas. You will find deals, box sets, special releases, and free records. For me, the argument for vinyl is fairly compelling.
I continue to flip through the albums of yesterday and today. I flip past an album and have to turn back. I lift it out of its place among the others. I am holding a re-release copy of Queens of The Stone Age’s self-titled, first album. I think I let out some victorious expletives and shake my head. This is why you spend hours searching through the bins. A single find that means something to you. It could be anything, but when you find it, you feel like Indiana Jones holding the golden idol.
I turn the albums over in my hands. I feel satisfied enough to checkout. I set the albums across the glass counter. The albums pass over the ticket stubs from hundreds of shows. Jay flips through, adding the prices. He adds in tax as I look past him to the albums autographed to him from various bands. He smiles and tilts his head up as he tells me the total. I give him my card and pull out my notepad. Jay rarely says more than he has to, even less when you are attempting to take notes. You have to get him in an organic conversation on something other than himself. Ask him about session guitarist, or the studio of Jimmy Cliff, or Bruce Springsteen. Anything beyond his own shop.
I do ask why he has a vinyl shop. He tells me he grew up on the 12 inch. It is what he knows. He says it has nothing to do with the sound quality. The argument for vinyl versus digital compression is compelling but I agree doesn’t make much difference if you don’t have a system to support it.
He does add that he enjoys the warmth of sound on vinyl. Especially some of the older jazz albums. I am regretting my insults to Jazz fans. Jay slides my albums into a bag as I close my notepad.
Jeff has put his camera back into his bag. We are saying our goodbyes and heading for the door as Jay adds a few last words. He takes off the glasses that sit on the end of his nose and looks across the store. He says he had to stop personally collecting. Jeff and I hasten for a moment. He looks back and says with a half smile, "In a way, they’re all mine. It is just about sharing it now.” Jeff and I look to one another. We smile and thank him again as we head out of the door and out of the warmth of the shop.
Those last words hang in my head. There is something so comforting about feeling less like we are owners and more so caretakers of the music. I don’t have a collection of vinyl for myself only. It is to be enjoyed with others. I started in vinyl listening to my father’s albums, then with my friend Blair who introduced me to collecting. A love of music and more specifically the sharing of it is one of the few things I have inherited from my family beyond a strict adherence to social obligation, high blood pressure, and alcoholic tendencies.
The sharing of music really what it is all about. Sharing the sound, the cover art, the inserts, and the memories they bring. I am warmed by the thought that I am carrying on the stewardship of sound contained these records. Jeff tells me he thinks he needs a turntable. I smile and think of a few albums to start his collection.