“I was born in West Philadelphia on January 8, 1944 (Elvis turned 9) and lived in the Stonehurst section of Upper Darby, PA. Before we had TV, I listened to the radio every night. I especially liked Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger radio shows---and as a result---my very first records were by them.
I next got into “novelty” records---like Stan Freeberg's St. George and the Dragonet and Buchanan and Goodman's Flying Saucer.
I'm not sure if Green Door by Jim Lowe or Elvis' Don't Be Cruel was my first ‘pop' record purchase---but it was Don't Be Cruel that really got to me. I played that record for hours at a time and drove my parents crazy! For Christmas in 1956, all I wanted was records. I got Singing the Blues by Guy Mitchell and Just Walking in the Rain by Johnny Ray, Blueberry Hill by Fats and I Feel Good by Shirley and Lee. I heard these songs on WIBG----the ‘pop' station I listened to.
For my birthday two weeks after Christmas, I got a transistor radio---and was I in heaven! I took it everywhere……put it under my pillow at night and even took it to school by hollowing out a big book. Once I got that radio, that was it for my other hobbies…no more collecting comic books, stamps, coins, and (bubblegum) cards.
To support record buying, I got a daily paper route delivering the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin from 1957 to 1961. I loved it---and hated to give it up!
I quickly became a regular at all the record shops (and appliance stores) that sold records in my area. One such place was Majestic Records in Clifton Heights. Besides selling records retail, they were in the vending business. I probably bought more records there than anywhere else since they were located so close to my house…by now we had moved to Drexel Hill. I remember riding my bike in the pouring rain to buy Silhouettes by the Rays after hearing it for the first time on the radio. I shared that story with Hal Miller (lead singer of the Rays) a few years ago when I met him at a party.
Whenever I bought a record by an artist that I liked, I looked for anything else they made. Majestic was a good place to search because they had thousands of used records that came off juke boxes at 5 for a dollar. Fortunately, Juke Boxes don't kill (destroy) records the way people do.
By the end of 1959, I had over a thousand records. In late 1959 or early 1960, I bought a Webcor tape recorder figuring I would tape records off the radio and save money. It took me a little over a year to realize it was cheaper to buy the records. But, during that time I discovered R&B radio stations and heard records that in most cases never made it to the “pop” stations…artists like Herb Johnson, The Cruisers, Bobby Marchan, Etta James, Baby Washington, Jackie and the Starlites, and Maxine Brown
Finally, high school was about to end (thank you, Lord), and my mother insisted I attend college or a least a business school. Since bookkeeping was the only subject in which I did well, I enrolled at Peirce Business School in Center City Philadelphia and majored in accounting. Unlike high school, I loved Pierce.
At the same time I was listening to black radio stations and started buying Alan Freed and other standard oldies LPs. Some of the students at Pierce also liked records---especially Bob Bintliff---who was in a Philadelphia area vocal group called the Lytations. He told me about Jerry Blavat's radio show on WCAM in Camden, NJ. It was only a 1000 watt station---and it didn't come in especially clear where I lived. BUT WHAT I HEARD-----CHANGED EVERYTHING! I became obsessed with the old group records---which he played heavily. Most of them were from New York. I started cutting class in order to go all over the city looking for records. A high school buddy (Bob Campbell) and I started to hang out and look for records together. I remember going over to Campbell's house after high school and hearing Trickle Trickle by the Videos for the first time.
On Saturday's, we would walk all over West Philadelphia looking for record stores. We found a furniture store that had records and a shop called Gold Records on 60th street that sold promo 45s for 10 cents each. I found You Baby You by the Excellents several months before the radio stations decided to flip it over.
By 1962, I was still buying records like Cry to Me by Solomon Burke, Shout and Shimmy by James Brown, Twist and Shout by the Isley Brothers, Twistin' Matilda by Jimmy Soul, along with early Motown Records by Mary Wells and the Marvelettes. One Saturday afternoon, Bob and I decided to go in town (Center City) to buy some record sleeves. We searched the phone book---and found Disc Makers---a South Philadelphia pressing plant that had sleeves. We took the El (elevated train) to Center City and started walking down 13th Street since there were a lot of stores. While we were walking, I spotted a sign in a window that said ‘Records---3 for a dollar'. I said to Bob---look at that sign---and he immediately started to run to the store. By the time I entered the store, he was already finished looking through about one third of the records. I took most of the remaining records and piled them in front of me and told Bob ‘you may be quicker than me but you're not going to see more than me.'
I found Foot Stompin' by the Flares on Felsted---a record I had been looking for. At the time, Bob knew more about group records than I did. He saw a record at the end of my pile and said ‘I'll take that record if you don't want it.' I was still mad that he ran into the store ahead of me so I said “No, I'm buying it!” even though I had no idea what it was. We finished going through the records---and finally got to the pressing plant---which had closed. Luckily, a guard gave us a box of sleeves, plus some promo records for free.
Now it was time to head home. Since the pressing plant was near 10th street---we walked back to the train on 10th. When we got to Chestnut Street, we spotted the Record Museum that sponsored Blavat's radio show. We had to go in! The store was packed with kids. The walls were lined with lists of records the store wanted to buy. Most were $1.00---then prices gradually went up. Since I had a thousand records in my collection, I thought that I would have some of the records listed. I'd never heard of 99% of what was listed---correction---make that 100%. The last record on the list was $12. I almost passed out. It was the record I just bought for spite because Bob wanted it. I went up to the counter and said I had the $12 record listed on the wall. The guy behind the counter didn't believe me so I pulled it out of the bag and showed it to him. He looked at me and said he'd give me $6 cash or $12 credit. That made no sense to me…I said “give me $12 like the sign said.” He said “no.” I got mad. Then, a kid standing next to me kicked me and said quietly to meet him outside and he'd give me $10 for it. I went outside and sold the record to him! I was so excited I called my mother to tell her that I bought a record for 3 for $1 and sold it for $10. She said “dinner has been on the table for a half hour…get home….NOW!”
Campbell and I went all over Philadelphia, Chester and Camden---going anyplace that had records. We went into black areas because the records we were looking for were mostly by black artists. We visited every record store listed in the phone book. Another good place was Paramount Records at 15th and South and 18th and Ridge. They had tables of promos and dead records. I got Lucky Me I'm in Love by the Eldomingos there---it was probably a new record at the time.
One of the best places we found was Ham-mil Trading---around Broad and Girard. It was a warehouse filled with radio station library dumps. You had to go through all the records in green sleeves like Perry Como and Lawrence Welk---and then records like I've Searched by the Heart Spinners on Xtra would be mixed in. I started buying records by artists that ended in the letter ‘s'---which usually indicated a group. The records were 10 cents each.
Many of the department stores and all of the 5 and 10s had old records on tables from 8 cents each at John's Bargain Stores to 25 cents or 3 for a $1.00 at H. L. Greens. I found Kiss Me My Love by the Honey Bees for 10 cents at Lit Brothers and quantity of the Nutrends on Lawn at Sun-Ray Drugs on 69th Street in Upper Darby.
Although Blavat turned me on to group records, after a while he'd play the same records over and over and over again. He made records standards in Philadelphia like Long Tall Girl by the Carnations, Lost Love by the Superiors, While Walking by the Fabulaires, Bila by the Versatones, To Make a Long Story Short by Eddie and the Starlites, Please Say You Want Me by the Schoolboys, Let It Please Be You by the Desires, Now by the Veltones, I'm So Young/Everyday of the Week by the Students, Wedding Bells by Tiny Tim/Hits, WPLJ by the Four Dueces, If You Want To by the Carousels, and God Only Knows by the Capris.
One of the employees at the Record Museum, Frank Koch, told us about Times Square Records---so we decided to branch out and go to New York. Bob and I went by Greyhound. When we saw some kids with record boxes we asked them where Times Square Records was located. They said ‘follow us, that's where we're going.' When we got there we were unable to get in. The store was tiny and it was packed with kids. As we waited outside to get in, a song played over and over on the speaker located over the door---and it was great. When we finally got inside, I asked about the record that was playing outside and they said it was I Can't Believe by Dino and the Diplomats. That was my first purchase at Times---along with Dorothy by the HiFives and Mary Lee by the Rainbows.
One of the guys behind the counter (Rick Nelson---not the singer) looked at me and said I looked familiar. I said ‘I doubt it---I'm from Philly.' He said ‘yes…that's it.' Then he yelled over to Slim (the owner) and said ‘here's the kid who sold me Just a Lonely Christmas by the Moonglows on Chance for $10 outside of the Record Museum. I looked on the Times Square list---and they were offering $26 for it.
The walls were full of records. A lot were $1 each---but many were $2, $3, $5, $6, $8 and $10---even as much as $20. I couldn't believe it. I borrowed some paper and a pencil--- and Bob and I wrote down all the records as well as the prices. We typed the lists on my mother's typewriter---and carried the lists everywhere we went. In my spare time, I tried to memorize them.
When we did find some records that were on Slim's wall (most were pre 1956) they didn't appeal to us. They were too bluesy, so we would take them to New York for credit.
Before Blavat, I never heard of the Harptones, Channels, Paragons, Jesters, Charts, Nutmegs, or the Heartbeats. To get money to go after these records, I sold all my non-group records for 10 cents each to friends---and to a hoagie shop owner where I ate. He gave the records to his kids. The records included all my Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Elvis. It wasn't the brightest thing I ever did. Ironically, I was able to replace all those records over the years. They were the records I grew up with and I loved them. Still do!
Besides Times, there was another store we spent a lot of time in. Arcade Records---at 42nd and 8th Ave---located in a subway concourse just like Slim's. A guy named Freddy would take records from us. He usually offered us more than Slim…so we went to him first. Arcade had a wall just like Times. Even though I was still going to Pierce full-time, I got a job at the Record Museum stapling lists at a dollar an hour. I would work an hour a day. All the records in the bins were $1 each, so at the end of an hour, I'd pick out a record and go back to school.
Before working there, the first record I got at the Record Museum was I'm So Young b/w Everyday Of The Week by the Students. It wasn't on Note, Checker, or even Argo. It was on Golden Goodies. I traded them Gee b/w I Love You So by the Crows on Rama (red wax) that somebody at Pierce gave me…I didn't like it so I traded it even up!
Another favorite record of mine was I Remember by the Five Discs. One day, I found another record by them at the Record Museum entitled Roses b/w My Chinese Girl on green Dwain. I took it without hearing it. That's when I got another lesson in records. They told me it was $5. I said it was in the bin with the $1 records. They said it wasn't supposed to be. So, I worked five days to get it!
My mother was originally from Owensboro, Kentucky---so my family would drive there for a week or two every summer. I usually sat in the middle of the front seat and turned the radio dial until I heard something I liked. I remember hearing records in Ohio and Kentucky that never got to Philly---or if they did---it wasn't until a month or two later---like Music, Music, Music by the Sensations, Lover's Island by the Bluejays, It'll Be Easy by the Sultans and the Wizard of Love by the Lydells.
When I first heard Blavat and the group records that were unknown to me, labels didn't mean anything---it was only the music that mattered. After the record Those Oldies But Goodies by Little Caesar and the Romans became a big hit, most 5 &10s and discount stores sold old records for as little as 8 cents to 3 for $1. It was a new way to market dead records calling them “oldies but goodies.”
As we went all over Philly, Chester and Camden, if I found something I liked, I went back and bought more of the same record. I thought I would be able to sell them to friends and/or people that I met at Times. I found and bought quantity of Queen of the Angels by the Orients on Laurie and I Want to be the Boy You Love by the Four Buddies on Imperial at W. T. Grant's 5 & 10c store in Center City for 10 cents each. I sold them in New York at Times and Arcade---and to other collectors for $1 each.
Once at Lit Brothers Department Store---at 8th and Market in Center City--- there were boxes as well as loose records thrown on a big table. I remember seeing a 100 count box of While Walking by the Fabulaires on Main Line for 10 cents each. That was a big Blavat record---one that he played almost every night. So…how many do you think I bought? Answer: NONE! I didn't need to buy any---I had it on Lost Nite!
The record that finally got me to original labels was Darla My Darling by the Academics on Ancho. It was on Slim's wall for $5. I really liked the record but would never-ever pay $5 for a record. I would get Slim or Harold to get it off the wall every time I went to the store and have them play it for me. They would always say ‘Are you going to buy it?' Yeah…probably….but I never did.
One time I took about 800 45s up for credit. I must have gotten better credit than I thought so I finally bought Darla My Darling. It became my most important record since it cost me more than I ever paid for a record. (It hadn't been reissued on Relic yet). During my time at Pierce, I got a job working as a bookkeeper at Rayco Auto Store. I loved working there. When I wasn't there---I was in New York City or all over Philly looking for records.
Another place we found to be a gold mine was the Coast to Coast Hit Record Company at 55th and Baltimore. They bought record dumps and packaged them for stores throughout the country. When BF Goodrich bought Rayco, they wanted the manager to do the books---so I lost my job. I went to work at Coast to Coast for $1 an hour---$40 a week--- before taxes. I was in heaven finding all kinds of stuff. Whatever I didn't keep I sold to people who I turned on to the sound---or took them to New York for credit.
Coast to Coast had tons of RCA records. We found both Fantastics and Canadian Sunset by the Impacts---which Slim at Times and Freddy at Arcade wanted all we could get. We got a $1 for each record in credit. They cost us 10 cents each. They had label dumps on Cadence and Colpix----and we found quantity of the two Metronomes on Cadence---as well as all the Marcels records---but the big label they had huge quantity on was Motown---and all the subsidiaries…including Tamla, Miracle, Tri-phi, VIP, etc. None of these records meant anything to us because they were too new sounding and most were played heavily on the radio. My job involved unloading 40 foot tractor trailers of records on a hand truck. Once---I unloaded at least 25,000 copies of Motown 1039, Laughin' Boy by Mary Wells. Didn't anybody buy that record?
I may have been in heaven working around all those records at Coast to Coast, but my mother wasn't very happy. She didn't send me to Pierce to work in a record warehouse unloading tractor trailers. When her dad in Kentucky gave her and her brothers and sisters 40 acres of land each, she decided she was going to move her family to Kentucky for a new life. I fought and fought against the move…but lost. If I had a good job maybe it would have been different.
I remained at Coast to Coast until Christmas of 1963, then moved---reluctantly--- to Owensboro, Kentucky. I got a job at a fertilizer company (no comments, please) doing the books. When I wasn't working, I was in Indiana, all over Kentucky, and often in Tennessee looking for records. The best place was Randy's Records in Gallatin, Tennessee. It was a mail order record operation that I actually found out about in New York. The women who worked there let me behind the counter and I went through the records pulling and playing whatever looked interesting.
I found and bought records that weren't known in New York. Some of my favorites included: I Love You the Most by the Ripcords on ABCO; Sunday Kind of Love by the Highlanders on Rays; Are You Sorry by the Whispers on Gotham; This is The Night by the Kool Gents on VeeJay and Everyone Should Know by the Jayhawks on Aladdin.
I spent most of my time in Kentucky playing records and getting deeper into the pre '56 stuff.
I saved enough money to return to Philadelphia on July 5, 1964. On the way back, I stopped in Cincinnati and bought the Videls on Early and Over the Rainbow by the Moroccos on United and many others---in a record store in the Avondale section of Cincinnati--- the section of the city which was home to the Students on Note (I found this out years later).
I planned on being an accountant---so I sent my resume to Scott Paper in Philadelphia. I drew unemployment while I waited to hear from them (which would have been never). Bob Campbell was in the service so I went all over Philadelphia again looking for group records. Blavat was very hot and other stores were selling group records in addition to the Record Museum.
One Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call from a friend and fellow collector, Frank Torpey---who said he found a store that had Chance records. I told him he was nuts. He said he was going anyway---and if I wanted---I could join him. The store was Empire Records at 52nd and Chestnut in Philly. As soon as I walked in, I knew that I had been there before. The woman behind the counter overheard me talking about records to Torpey and asked me if I was interested in a job….and I said, yes! I called the number she gave me and went to work on Monday. My job involved going to the airport every morning, picking up thousands of 45s, bringing them back to this guys house, breaking them down, going up stairs to have a bagel and coffee, picking orders that came in over the phone, and delivering the records all over the city to mostly black record shops. My pay was $60 per week. Soon, I was ordering from distributors---and about a year later---we moved to a storefront location at 6213 Lebanon Ave. in Philly. I loved making deliveries because I looked through the records while I waited to be paid. Sometimes I took records for myself instead of getting paid that week.
My return to Philly was marked by meeting three people who would really affect me. I met Glenn Landis, who dressed like an attorney carrying records in an attaché case. I met him in a record store across the street from the Record Museum called Penn Records. He invited me to his house. I went with Jack Strong---another collector friend and lead singer of the Lytations. The bureau in his bedroom was filled with rare records instead of underwear. Jack loved the Flamingos and the Five Satins---and got a Flamingos on Chance and the Five Satins on Standord from him. I remember buying Heart's Desire by the Avalons from him for $5. Original labels began to kick in with me at this time.
Next came Mike Adler---a brash young kid who said he was the ‘king of the old sounds.' He discounted rare records, bought collections and put out lists. When I lived in Kentucky, I bought records through the mail from Times Square. Apparently, Mike bought Slim's mailing list because my mother forwarded Mike's lists to me from Kentucky. Many of my collector friends couldn't stand Mike---but I liked him. He had records---most of which I didn't know---and I could give him post dated checks. One of the first records I bought from him was Miss You by the Crows on Rama (red wax) for $30.
Now that I had my job working for Norman Cooper's Record One Stop, I usually had $10-$20 left after expenses each week to spend on records. I remember in 1965 or maybe 1966 giving Mike one hundred $10 dollar checks for $1000 worth of original label vocal group records. Mike's mother would call me every Saturday to see if she could deposit one of the checks.
Then there was Barry Rich. Somehow, he heard I had a lot of records and he wanted to see them. I wasn't interested---but he said he had Chance records for trade. I really didn't know anything about Chance records at the time---it's just that everyone in New York was always talking about them. I had not yet fully acquired a taste for them or anything else recorded prior to 1956. Barry got me to trade all the records that I got in Kentucky for New York uptempo records---which was still a priority sound wise. Later I found out that they were new records which anyone could get for $1.
In those days, there were no rules---no record books---and no price guides. At the time, I knew what I liked---and I was rapidly getting deeper into the pre-1956 sound.
About a month after I returned from Kentucky, Barry suggested we go on a record trip together. I agreed---borrowed about $100 from my friends---and off we went. We went all over Ohio and into Kentucky and found a lot of group records---including a 25-count box of the Students on Note for 10 cents each. Unfortunately, I ran out of money---early!
I continued to go to New York every couple of weeks---always on a Saturday.
There was a store in Upper Darby, Pa., near the steps of the 69th Street Terminal called Record City. They had a ‘rare wall' and sold mostly group records. I met two collectors in the store from 49th Street in Philly---Louie Tavani and Frank ‘Tank' DeSantis. Jack Strong and Frank Torpey (from the Lytations) also frequented the store. We sold our doubles in there and split the money with the owner, Herb Simpson, after hours. We didn't tell anybody they were our records. We told everyone how great they were---and---they were a lot cheaper than in New York City.
Frequently, I would take all four of them to Slim's. On one trip, Jack said he had an idea for a group song. In the two hours it took to drive to New York, he made up the lyrics and taught each one their harmony parts. When we got to Slim's, they sang the song ‘live' on the radio since Slim was broadcasting from the store that day. When the phones lit up, Slim announced he was going to put the record out on Times. He had already put out a Lytations record on Times and we got nothing for it…so Jack and I decided to put it out ourselves. The song was called The Clock, and we put it out on the JAVA label (short for Jack and Val). I called the group the Contenders---an idea I got by looking through my record collection and naming them after the Saxons on Contender.
By this time, the only thing I was interested in was group records. Many of the early groups that I liked were ‘white' like the Quotations, Imaginations, Lydells, Earls, Capris, Passions, Visuals, Caslons, etc. As time went by, my interests started to shift and I really began to appreciate the black groups---much more than the white group sound. An example would be Take Me As I Am by the Duprees. It was my favorite Duprees song until the day I heard it by the Demons and learned the Duprees stole it from them.
When Slim went out of business in 1965, I continued to buy from Mike Adler. I decided to try my hand at selling records by mail like Slim and Mike did---with my first list of 40 records being issued in January or February of 1966. I was still working for Norman Cooper, and I kept my records in the back of his store in a 200 count box. I had the names and addresses of people I met at Times and Arcade. I also had the little magazines---like KBBA (Keep the Big Beat Alive) that were sold in New York containing want lists from other collectors. In late 1967, Mike Adler decided to get out of group records and go into the cut-out LP business (Soon to be Scorpio Music). He called to tell me he was going to sell his inventory to Sam Wood in New York City. He suggested I buy his mailing list for $100 which didn't make sense to me---but he said I would not regret it. I decided to borrow the money against my salary from Norman.
“When I bought the mailing list from Mike Adler, I put out a list of my best group records….probably within a month…hoping to hit before Sam Wood did one. The response was amazing. Adler was right---I sold a lot of records to new people---from all over…mostly the eastern corridor from Boston to Washington D.C.--over to Pittsburgh. I put out lists every 6 months till around 1970. I bought collections from people who lost interest or had money problems. (Some things never change). I kept what I needed and sold the rest.
I worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week running Norman Cooper's One Stop---breaking for dinner---usually a cheesesteak or cheeseburgers---or something else nourishing---then back to the store working late into the night filing orders. Sunday was my day! I either traveled to buy records or worked all day and night. To sum up my life --I HAD NO LIFE! Just work….work….work! The problem was---I loved what I was doing. I was selling records to make money to buy more records---mostly for my collection and I enjoyed my work at the One Stop.
My boss, Norman, was always interested in a deal (mostly shady). One of our accounts---Stan Watson---from Stan's Record Nest, came to him and asked if he wanted to invest in a group that had just recorded a song that could be a hit. He put up $10,000 and became a 50-50 partner on the record and the group. They put it out on their own label, then Norman, through his friend Al Melnick (the local Amy/Mala distributor) placed it with them. The result was a #5 record nationally---La La (Means I Love You) by the Delfonics. But even more interesting---was---after the record slowed down---Stan said he was going to kill Norman. He came to the store with a gorilla---threw a chair, broke a window and got Norman out of his life by giving him his $10,000 investment back. Nice deal, huh! It's not over. About a year later, a guy named Bill Perry, who had just finished painting a house and had more paint on him, came into the store with a dub (record demo) of a group he wanted Norman to hear. I told him he was in Vegas---but I would listen. I did---and told him it sounded so bad that I could get $10 for it as an oldie! He stormed out. Coming back a week later when Norman was there---Norman (who had lead ears and still does) made a deal and gave him money. Al Melnick and Cooper put out the record on their own label, Sebring, and prepared to give it to Amy/Mala, when they got a phone call that Bill Perry took the master to New York and peddled it to a finance company that wanted to get in the record business. He sold them the group and their name---the group was the Stylistics now on AVCO!
After their first record, You're a Big Girl Now, Avco commissioned Tommy Bell, who was having success with the Delfonics, to produce them (since the group was also from Philly). Tommy had recently met a girl who wanted to be a singer. She also wrote her own material. He didn't want to record her but was impressed with her writing ability. They became partners and used her songs with the Stylistics---most of which were huge hits. That's how Tommy and Linda Creed hooked up.
We had another customer who owned a record shop at Broad and South who was producing records locally---selling 25,000 between New York and Washington D.C.---until two records exploded nationally and changed his life forever---Cowboys to Girls by the Intruders and Expressway to Your Heart by the Soul Survivors. If you haven't figured it out yet……. it was Kenny Gamble!
Another account of ours, King James, had two record shops and a combo that played locally, came in and asked us if we would hire a new member of his band who needed a day gig---to make more money. We hired him---and instead of eating lunch with everybody, he'd play his instrument. We were always supportive saying things like ‘we're having trouble keeping our food down'---or---‘how about playing that crap at home.' About a year later, he got an opportunity to go to New York and play on an LP by Hank Crawford for a new label, CTI. He went and came back talking about who he met and how much fun he had. The LP--- It's too late--- was a hit (Carole King put to jazz) ---so a few months later---the same players went to New York to cut a follow up LP---including our worker. Timing is everything! Hank Crawford failed to make the session, so Creed Taylor, who owned the label, was about to send everybody home, but first asked if anybody had anything of interest. Our guy said he did and they ended up recording him with the others. He came back on cloud 9----thrilled! When the LP came out, it wasn't long before Grover Washington, Jr. was traveling all over the world---selling tons of LPs!
Norman let me use the back room of the One Stop to store my records. My friend Louie, from the Contenders, built racks---which eventually collapsed from the weight! I used Norman's phone number on my lists for daytime orders. Before I moved into an apartment, I lived with Jack Strong's family in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. The phone in the bedroom where I (occasionally) slept was my night number and my ads said call anytime---and I meant it!
One night---around midnight---I was lying in bed, probably watching TV, when the phone rang. It was a guy who said he had something from my want list. I asked him where he was…he said New York City…and that I had to come up to get them. I said OK—how about Sunday? He said no---it had to be right now! He said to meet him in the Bowery section of the city at 3 a.m. I got up and started to get dressed…and Jack…who was in the bed next to me said ‘where are you going?' I answered---New York---somebody has something I need. I got to the destination 15 minutes early and sat in the car watching hookers and drunks--- thinking maybe I was set up. This could be a joke---and I fell for it! After about a half hour, I saw a guy coming out of a bar---going to the corner---and looking around. I yelled ‘Paul'---and he called out ‘Val'---so we connected. He went back into the bar and came out with a big duffle bag---got in my car--- I said ‘let me see the records.' He said they're at my parent's house---in Queens. ‘Your kidding, right---I've got to go to work this morning---how long is it gonna take?' He gave me directions and we drove to his house. He said he was into Hare Kristna and was going to England later that day. He hadn't been home for a few years. When we arrived it was almost 4 a.m., dark, and quiet. He said he didn't have a key so we have to go through the window. I said ‘no way!' You go in, open the front door and let me in'---which he did. We tiptoed up to his room and under his bed were boxes of 45s with inches of dust. I found some records that I didn't know and asked if I could play them. He said ‘yes'---but play them low so I don't wake anybody up. As I was playing them---somebody walked by to go to the bathroom and saw the light on and yelled ‘Paul'---probably his sister. She started yelling ‘Paulie's home…' Now, here comes everybody in for the reunion. His mother and dad saw me and said ‘who's he?' I answered I'm just providing the music. When he said he was leaving for England, they had a big fight. I don't remember if I took him to the airport or back to the city---but I do remember I got the Calendars on Cyclone and the Sparrows on Davis---among others. Many years later I got a letter from Florence, Alabama, saying perhaps you remember me---I'm Paul Auerbach and I sold you some records back in the 60s! He was a teacher down there---and 10 years later, I met him at UGHA. It was fun!
It didn't seem to bother Norman that I was getting a lot of mail. (I got checks---he got bills). I wasn't making a lot of money at the One Stop, but I didn't care because my business, R & B Records, was growing.
I was buying so many records that my lists grew into a catalog. Mike Adler told me to use his printer Joe Adamo in Philly. I did---and he was great. One of the best things I ever did was putting my want list at the end of the catalog--- I offered as much as $100 each for a lot of them. The rarest records were no more than $100 at the time---so I ended up getting a lot of what I listed---with most of them coming by mail---so I didn't have to travel as much.
In the summer of 1970, I met Patty on a blind date. (Not so soon to be my wife). It took me a little while to get it together. (20 years). She traveled with me sometimes to buy collections spending most of her time trying to get customer's wives and girlfriends to join the club ‘WAC' (Women Against Collecting). Now you see why it was 20 years!
Around '70 or '71, a disc jockey named Gus Gossert went on the air in New York City playing standard oldies. Some of the Times Square collectors like Wayne Stierle, Stan Krause and Chris Markou met with and told him if he played the group records that were hot in the early 60s he would be even more popular. He didn't know the music but decided to go with it. The city went crazy---like it did when Alan Frederick's played them on his Night Train Show, that Slim benefited from.
When Bob Campbell was in the Navy, he was stationed in California. On weekends, he traveled by bus up and down the coast looking for old group records. On one of those trips, he met two brothers in San Leandro in a shop that had great records. Bob told them about the group record scene on the east coast---Times Square, etc. Since the west coast was fertile with few collectors at the time, the two brothers started stock piling group records. They loaded up their car and traveled east in the mid to late 60s and sold a lot of records in New York. When they returned to California, they started doing lists. If you haven't figured it out yet---they were Henry and Art Mariano. Henry (Rare Records Unlimited) was my biggest competitor in the early to mid 70s. We attacked each other in ads and on our lists and catalogs---but actually got along well together.
Meanwhile---back in the states---New York to be exact, all of a sudden---group records were hot again---real hot! Collector record stores were popping up due to the demand (Relic, Journal Square and a few others were there throughout the 60s.
Magazines came out featuring the old groups. New York had Bim Bam Boom and Big Town Review (later Time Barrier Express and Yesterday's Memories). The west coast (California) had the Record Exchanger, R & B Magazine and Quartette. I advertised in the ones that took ads.
In the middle of all the action was a very aggressive guy named Mike Rascio (for business purposes Charlie Greenberg). He started bootlegging rare records on the original labels in the mid 60s---short runs of 25---since there wasn't much action then. But as time went on, he went to 50---then a hundred---even 200, etc. You could only get the boots from Collector's stores or him direct. Henry and Art Mariano started doing the same thing as did Art Turco (Record Exchanger) on the west coast. Rascio dropped his retail prices from $5 each to $3. When others did the same, he bought a pressing plant in Deer Park, Long Island, and pressed for $1---50c wholesale. They were just like new 45s! He later got in trouble when he graduated to current LPs like Saturday Night Fever!
Back to Gus Gossert. He started doing live stage shows fueled by his radio show at the Academy of Music in the city. Lines went around the block. He brought back groups like the Harptones, Channels, Nutmegs, 5 Discs, Orioles and Moonglows. People came from out of state to see these shows.
Radio shows (mostly on college stations) ---made themselves known. Shows like the Time Capsule---which aired in New York (Fordham University) and Philly (Temple University) ---featuring group records got more and more people interested. Reissue labels like Lost Nite also kept churning out more and more records. The hobby was very much alive and well.
I'm pretty sure it was July or early August of 1972, when John Stainze (from Moondog's Records in London) and I went to visit my parents in Kentucky---coupled with a road trip to Nashville and Atlanta. For some reason…we ended up back in Nashville on a Saturday…specifically at Buckley's on Broadway. John was looking at 78's and I was getting very impatient. I had to go back to Kentucky and be back in Philly for work on Monday morning---and besides---I didn't like 78's…and still don't!
While waiting for John to finish---someone walked into the store and asked for a current 45. The woman behind the counter didn't know it---but I did---so I told her what label it was on. She had the record in a shipment and made the sale. We started to talk. Her name was Larue---she was friends with Skeeter Davis and Faron Young. She asked how I knew about the record and I told her what I did in Philly. Then she wanted to know why we were in Nashville. I said ‘looking for old 45s….not 78s…like that idiot over there is looking at.' She said they had two upper floors loaded with 45s (and 78s) ---and that no one had ever been up there…but we could…'just be careful you don't fall through the ceiling…stay on the wood.' We went up and started finding outrageous records…things I'd never heard of at that time…like the Eagleaires on JOB red wax, the Carousels on Spry, and hundred of others that I've long forgotten. John found Rockabilly and Blues including Elvis on Sun---45s and 78s. When Larue came up to tell us the store was closing, we convinced her to stay late and we'd ' buy her dinner and take her home.' She agreed. I remember her being on top of the records as we took her home. We left that night for my Mother's…very, very happy! It was the first time I didn't want to go back to work. If I didn't have to be back in Philly we could've stayed in Nashville…'cause we only scratched the surface.' We found out later two guys from England came in after us and cleaned the place out. (Chalmers and Eggleston).
When I got home, I was welcomed with a lot of mail and a big pile of returns by my desk (current records). When I looked at them---I saw most were NOT returnable. So I asked who took these records back? Norman said he did! We got into a battle over who cared more about his business….me or him! Then he said ‘why don't you just quit?' ‘That shocked me….I worked my ass off for 8 years watching his business grow and grow---and he tells me I should quit!!' Up until that time I never considered leaving--- even though my mail order business was doing really good. The reason I left was because I didn't feel appreciated.
I'd recently bought a duplex apartment---which is where I moved my record stock. Since I did mail order, I thought I could work out of my home and not miss a beat. I got a P.O. Box in Havertown. I worked two months out of my apartment. Despite what you may have heard, I enjoy people…and I wasn't seeing any working from home.
I decided to look for a store. I found one near 69th Street in Upper Darby--- a very big shopping area…. (Malls were about to change that)---I was a street away from the high rent area close to the 69th Street Terminal---where all transportation came to. Rent was $150 a month. I opened November 22, 1972 at 146 Garrett Road in Upper Darby.
I always had trouble getting up in the morning. (Still do)! My store hours were 3 p.m. in the afternoon ‘til I got tired…usually about 3 a.m. My neighboring stores thought I was a drug dealer…actually…there's not much difference…just that records are legal. They couldn't figure how I could be in business with those hours. They didn't know I did mail order.
My first customer was a young girl with long black hair down to her waist. When she asked what's this store all about….I realized it was a boy… (whose barber must have died!) I told him we sell shoes…what size are you? I had about a hundred LPs in a browser. He asked how much they were---I said a $1 each (I was used to wholesale prices from Norman's). After spending an hour looking, he picked out a sealed McCoys LP on Bang. I told him it was $2 and he said ‘you told me everything was a $1. I said “everything but the McCoys.” He bought it and became a regular customer. (Remember the 5 Discs on Dwain and me at the Record Museum.) Anyway, that kid was Mike Hoffman. He currently owns a very successful retail store in Downtown Philly (AKA Music) selling CDs and Import LPs. If that McCoys LP was a $1, he'd probably be pumping gas today.
One Sunday, I was at a local flea market when Bob Campbell's wife, Patty, came up to me saying she saw the prefect sign for my store. I said…'where?' She took me to some low life who was selling junk including a big “DO NOT ENTER” street sign. She was right…I bought if for a $1 and nailed it to my front door. It's been with me ever since. My Trademark!
When I opened the store I planned to only sell original vocal group records. I had some local collectors as well as a lot from New York City coming. However, it didn't take long for me to realize most people wanted records they grew up with…hits!…and I would have to sell things I didn't like if I wanted to pay the rent!
When I was about 14 or 15, I always wanted a pin ball machine---but my mother wouldn't let me have one. I called an operator in Philly and bought one---and put it in the store on free play. Also, I bought a refrigerator and stocked it with beer-----the more beer----the more records I sold!
My first employee was Bonnie Gustin. She worked with me at Norman's…and insisted on coming with me. I said it was okay as long as I didn't have to pay her! (Just kidding) I used her a lot in my ads in Magazines----‘Spend $200 and take Bonnie in the backroom for 15 minutes.' She stayed through most of the 70s.
I started getting “press” around 1970. I went to Detroit and bought two 45s (“You Did Me Wrong”/the Buccaneers on Rama and “Baby It's You”/the Spaniels on VeeJay – red wax) from a dealer for $800---which was lot at that time. Somehow the story made it to Newsweek Magazine in an article about 50s collectables.
I continued to issue catalogs with my want list in the back. The last catalog I ever did was in 1974. It took at least 6 months to do it. It had over 15,000 records listed with my prices. It was free like all previous catalogs--- even though it cost a $1 each to print.
Somewhere around this time, a guy from Detroit called me saying he was doing an article on old records that were valuable. He interviewed me and asked me to bring in my two rarest records---he'd have a local photographer come to my store. I said OK---and brought the Hide-A-Ways on Ronni and the Encores on Checker into the store for a picture. He promised to send me a copy of the article when it came out…but I never heard from him again…and forgot all about it.
In the summer of 1975, Patty and I, along with Henry and Art Mariano and their wives, went on a cruise. We had a good time…probably because Art did not come out of his cabin until we were almost home. I went to the post office the Monday after we returned. I usually got between 15 and 20 letters a day. When I opened my P.O. Box it was empty! I went to the counter to ask why…when someone yelled out “he's here.” When I asked where my mail was, they opened a door … told me to come in…and said…. ‘There's your mail'…pointing to a stack of 3 foot long plastic mail trays… stacked at least 6 or 7 feet high…(with more coming for months). I had no idea why! When I got to the store, the phone was ringing off the wall. It was a lady who said she lived in Philly and wanted to meet me. I asked her why? She said she saw the article and was I really a millionaire? I asked her ‘what are you talking about---what article?' She said it was in the National Enquirer and that if I got with her, we wouldn't be talking about records!!. So I ran out and bought one. In it was that missing article with my photo from months before. The article implied that everyone had records in their attic or garage that were worth a fortune…and that I made millions selling them! The last line of the article was…'if you want to know what your records are worth, write for Shively's latest catalog! The guy who interviewed me sold it to the National Enquirer---and they put their spin on it.
I called my printer and told him what was going on. He said he could handle it. I hired a lot of people part-time to open the mail. I decided to sell the catalog for $3 (refundable with your first purchase). I had a rubber stamp made and bought the post office out of post cards.
Patty was my first casualty. She gave me an ultimatum---catalogs or me! I said goodbye! I had to ride this out. It was the craziest thing that ever happened to me---and it didn't cost a dime. When it was all over, I sold over 100,000 catalogs. I got most of the records on my want list…and a ton of new customers. I was having trouble keeping up with everything…always looking for people I could trust to open and answer the mail.
There was a young kid who came into my store on weekends for pop records like Paul Anka and Fabian. He was still in high school--- (one of his teachers told him about me.) When all this was going on with the National Enquirer, I asked him ‘how his handwriting was.' He said good----that was his opinion. I couldn't read anything he wrote, but I was desperate----so I hired him to do postcards. That's how Chuck started with me. He was quiet and shy when he started, but not for long.
One of my favorite stories: A couple came in late one night---they had been drinking---and were pretty wasted. The woman asked for a record that I probably said we didn't have---but Chuck jumped in and said he saw a copy in the back… ‘wait here I'll get it.' After ten minutes, the lady asked ‘where's the guy with my record?' I said he's looking for it. She said come here…and then got in my face and said ‘when that a--hole comes back, tell him to stick the record between his cheeks!' Then, they stormed out. About 15 minutes later…here comes Chuck covered in dirt with the record in his hand. He looked around and asked ‘where's the lady?' I said she left---but before she went---she told me to tell you something. I said come here---he came face to face with me and I told him to ‘stick the record between your cheeks!!'
Chuck is unlike anybody I've ever met when it comes to dealing with people. He'll go out of his way to find something for somebody even if it takes two hours and only sells for $5. It doesn't make me as happy as it does the customer! These days---he basically runs my business. He answers phones, waits on customers, pulls orders, files records when time permits, and orders CDs---and does it all with a smile on his face. After all these years with me---he's still amazing---very pleasant and patient. Nobody wants me---they all want the nice guy!
After the National Enquirer incident, I started getting want lists and calls for all kinds of music. One day, I got a call from John Lamonte---a friend from my Coast to Coast Records days where I was working in 1963 when Kennedy was killed. He said he had an interesting load of 45s (about 500,000) that he wanted $10,000 for--- no cherry picking. I said I needed to see them. I went with Chuck and Bonnie after work one night to check them out--- when I opened the first box---a mint copy of “Two Loves Have I” by the Diamonds on Atlantic was on top. I closed the box and said ‘SOLD.” Unfortunately, that was the best record in the load. He probably went out and bought it and set me up. After going through the load (which took months) ---I kept 100,000 45s and dumped the rest. That was the beginning of me buying loads.
Besides buying from record collectors---most of my inventory came from Juke Box operators, closed record shops, radio station libraries (my favorite) and record distributor dumps (containing promos and stock copies).
I was friendly with a lot of disc jockeys from Philly and nearby cities. I gave them records and in turn they plugged my store. In the 80s, I started advertising on popular shows that played records I stocked---that continues to this day.
Even though mail order was always the bulk of my business, off the street retail in the 70s and 80s was very good. Since the store wasn't very big, there were usually people waiting outside to get in…especially on Saturdays. From the 70s through the 90s, the first thing I did when I came to work---was take the phone off the hook and throw it on the floor. When I did take calls, the trash can got a lot of the action, too---‘cause if I didn't like the way the conversation was going---I'd throw the phone in the trash---while the guy was still talking.
One time, I had this nut calling me with a million questions. I told him to listen to something and I'd be right back. I played both sides of a parakeet training LP that went for 30 minutes---and when it was over---he was still there! I'd say he represents about 30% of the type of phone calls we get. On second thought, make that 50%!
By the early 80s, my duplex was loaded with records. Instead of renting the upstairs like I did for the first 10 years, I had racks from floor to ceiling put in. It wasn't zoned for that so I put drapes on the windows and timers on the lights to look like it was lived in.
1990 was a MILESTONE year for me. First and foremost---I did it---or maybe I should say---WE did it. Patty and I got married. We bought a house together in 1989 and we were finally getting along. With all our differences---there's hope for everybody. Also in 1989, I bought three big loads---the best being from Oklahoma City. It was all soul from the 60s and 70s. Before we bought the house together, I even had the basement of Patty's house loaded with records when I bought out Broadway Eddie in Camden in the late 80s. (Good stuff).
Here comes the other MILESTONE in 1990. After 18 years in that small store---I decided to make a move. I was tired of going to the duplex 3 or 4 times a week for records. I wanted everything under one roof. I found and bought a store a block away at 49 Garrett Road. It had a big external wall on the second floor that I could paint a sign on…that way anyone who came to the old store would be able to find me. I had racks built by Jack Strong (the singing carpenter). Later, more by Moose (Warren Maurice) ---who put racks on top of racks---using every inch imaginable. It took a few months (evenings and Sundays) to move everything in. Once everything came out of the duplex, I sold it. Renting is not for me.
Beside the main floor, the new building had a large basement and a 2nd floor. When we got everything in, we had a lot of extra room---but not for long.
In 1991, I got a call from a friend in San Francisco (Kirk Roberts) telling me about a huge Juke Box load in New Orleans. “TAC” was the biggest operator in the city. They'd recently gone bankrupt defaulting on a large bank loan so the bank confiscated the records. The inventory consisted of at least 750,000 45s---heavy on soul---which by now was my best seller. I bid $40,000 with the bank and won the records. I tried to get the bank to ship them to me but they said no. I had to fly there with a friend and have it done. We shipped everything in two 48 foot tractor trailers with the help of 15 people from manpower. Two days later, they were being unloaded into the store. That deal killed all space upstairs and in the basement. It was an adventure I'll never forget. No way could I do that today……
Basically the 90s were just like the 70s and 80s…A BLUR!
In the late 1990s, I hit a brick wall. I became very depressed and didn't think I'd ever come out of it. I told my closest friends I'd be dead in a year. Nothing to live for….I was miserable! (See my testimony at the end of this article for the results.)
Usually we get collectors from overseas or out of town every week.
It's hard to believe that we've been in this location for 19 years. Where did the time go?
I've probably bought thousands of record collections since 1966. I prefer buying to selling. If you don't believe that, come to the store and see if you can get in. If you weigh more than 100 pounds you'll definitely knock something over.
People always ask me what sells the most other than soul…and the answer is nothing. We don't sell a lot of anything…just a little bit of everything.
I still have the passion for collecting group records that began with Blavat in 1962. I only collect 45s (no 78s or LPs) by male groups or female lead with male group backing. I also collect Gospel groups…which got my attention around 1970…when I heard the Harmonizing Four on VeeJay and Sam Cooke/Soul Stirrers on Specialty. I go from the early 50s to the early/mid 60s---stopping when soul starts.
I've gotten 99% of what's known---fortunately there are still records being discovered, today.
Finally, I've really been blessed. When I was a kid---I never thought you could make a living doing something you love. I've had a lot of fun---although Patty and Chuck would question that. I've met and have a lot of nice friends---most came through music. But most of all---I'm thankful and grateful to have Jesus, Patty, and Chuck in my life. Without them---I couldn't do what I do.
When I started out---most of my customers were in high school or college. Now…they're making funeral arrangements.
'Life is like a roll of toilet paper…the closer you get to the end…the quicker it goes'…
The Potter's House Christian Church
Upper Darby, PA
Val Shively's Testimony
I thought I had it all together. I turned a hobby into a successful business, had a beautiful wife, had money, had a lot of friends, and was generally liked and respected. Even though I had all this, I wasn't happy. I was always negative. My favorite expressions were, “I never had a good day.”
I buried myself in my work. My work was my life.
Then one day…CRASH! I lost my mind and my passion for everything (work, people, music, and food). Nothing meant anything. I was on automatic pilot for almost a year. When my wife Patty wouldn't take it any more, she and I tried “couples counseling” as a last resort. After many sessions that weren't bringing me out of my funk, the counselor said, “Maybe it's a spiritual thing…do you go to church?” I told her no, I live the by the Golden Rule. “Do unto others…” I told her that I knew too many people who attended church and live anything but a Christian life.
But…the seed was sown, and I decided to explore it. Patty and I first went to traditional churches, then a non-denominational one that I liked better. The fourth Sunday I decided to try the storefront church across the street from my store. It was unlike any church I ever attended—no crosses, no sign of Jesus---just a room with a lot of chairs. At the end of the service, the pastor pulled an altar call, which I answered. I prayed a sinner's prayer with a young person who assisted me. When I walked outside, the heavens opened up to me! All the negativity, sin and stuff that choked my life were lifted off.
I felt completely new…free and happy! A feeling I never felt before. It was a miracle—could accepting Jesus in your life and repenting from your old like do this? WOW!
A few weeks later, I was baptized.
That was over 10 years ago. Since then, my life has taken a new turn. I try to put the Lord first, read the Bible, tithe, and start and end each day in prayer.
Before I received the Lord, I worshipped money and its power. I did business practices and things in my life that weren't always “the right thing”. I had the filthiest mouth and like most people, I thought possessions gave you happiness. That's probably why I was everything but “happy”.
I'm so grateful to God for all his blessings. I'm still married to Patty (we just celebrated our 20th anniversary). I work less and try to spend more time together. I still love my work, although it's not as important as it was. God knocked it out of first place, where I had it in front of Patty, family, and friends.
God works in mysterious ways. His ways aren't our ways. If my life hadn't taken the nosedive it did, I wouldn't have God, the joy, and the peace of mind that comes from serving him today.
So…when things are not good in your life, maybe it's God's way of getting your attention and preparing you for a new life or journey. I'm nobody special and He did it for me, so He can do it for you too. So, if you want true happiness and joy, and a secure future (eternity in Heaven), love and serve Jesus beginning today, if you don't already.
P.S. We're not promised tomorrow. Look at the 3000 people who went to work on 9-11.