Friday, April 12, 2013

On The Road To RECORD STORE DAY! A ROAD TRIP with SPAZ & Friends!


Stephen SPAZ Schnee and a few of his pals get a jump on RECORD STORE DAY by taking their Bay Area record shopping ROAD TRIP two weeks before RSD 2013!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Discussions Magazine or any of it's affiliated companies. 

Like Christmas, RECORD STORE DAY is a 'holiday' that I talk about all year long. I encourage all music lovers to support record stores, join the hipsters, and celebrate the majesty of the record store experience.

But if, for some reason, I miss out on hitting a local shop during RSDI more than make up for it the rest of the year when I hit shops in SoCal on a semi-regular basis. I may not graze the stores like I did 30 years ago, but 95% of the places I used to shop at are gone ... and they weren't necessarily replaced by any up-and-coming hipster-havens. They just fell victim to the changes in the business and withered away. I really do miss the ease and variety of the old stores ...

But anyway...

The real draw for a lot of people on RECORD STORE DAY are the numerous exclusive vinyl titles that are released to indie stores that day.  Most are gone within hours, never to return to the shelves at normal prices.  As for me, I go into record stores with a pretty clear idea of what I'm looking for, but no real list. I love the fact that RSD offers exclusive releases that help promote it's cause, but I tend to hit the bins in search of equally exciting and less exclusive titles. More than likely, I'm looking for something from my favorite period of music (1977-1985).  It could be a cool Punk title, maybe an AOR release, an R&B/Soul reissue, a Power Pop gem or a New Wave nugget... or none of the above. I'll be happy to find anything that interests me.  And if I don't? Well, the the search was (and is) half the fun...

There is no such thing as a bad record store.  I may have said the opposite some 30-40 years ago when there were at least a dozen of them within shouting distance, but I know better now.  These days, I don't care what kind of music a shop decides to carry - at least they are selling music and offering their customers a chance to enjoy the 'record store experience'.  Even a single bin of CDs in a Walmart is better than no place in town to shop for music.

Because record stores have become so scarce in OC and LA over the years, my buddies and I like to set out on a record/CD shopping road trip to the Bay Area once or twice a year. We've been doing it for close to 10 years now, although I've personally missed out on it a few of the trips. There's five of us (Jim, Shawn, Frank, Mike and myself) but the road trips usually only include three or four of us at a time. If all five of us went at once, we'd probably have to rent a mini van!

So, who are we? Just five friends who love music. Are we music geeks?  You might think so, but we don't. We are just five guys who share common musical interests (mostly '70s and '80s New Wave, Power Pop, Punk, etc) but we each  have a particular genre (or two) that we are fond of that the others are far less passionate about.  Me?  I'm a fan of AOR/Melodic Rock (and, lately, NWOBHM) while Shawn follows Prog (old and new), Frank is into Rock and Jazz (with a dash of downtempo and instrumental Hip Hop), Mike chills to Ambient/Electronic and Jim gets his glitter on with '70s Glam/Art Rock.   We meet a few times per month and sit around in Jim's music room and listen to new stuff (and reissues) and discuss all things music and entertainment.  We share our latest discoveries and try to introduce each other to new/old sounds. Sometimes, they start going on about sports, which is my cue to leave early.  I have no time for sports...

When we go record/CD shopping, we always try to beat each other to certain bins because, let's face it, there are many cool things out there that we all want but there's usually only one copy in the store if we are lucky to find it at all.  Locally, we'll hit fantastic shops like Fingerprints in Long Beach, Rhino Records in Claremont or Amoeba Music in Hollywood, but our most anticipated record store trip is when we drive from Orange County up to San Francisco, Berkeley and surrounding areas to do our shopping. 

This year, we managed to make the trip exactly two weeks before Record Store Day 2013. It was an extremely memorable trip that only three of us made this time, and it was worth every moment. Its not just about what we find in each of the stores (we hit 9 of them over a 2 day period), its also about the stores themselves.  Each of them have their own personality although they are all part of three separate indie chains (Amoeba Music, Rasputin Music and Streetlight Records).  Why an indie chain can't survive in Southern California is beyond me.  Someone needs to make this happen!

In this posting, I thought I would take a little time and fill you in on all the shops we hit this time around in hopes that it inspires you to visit these stores... or any record store for that matter.  There is still so much magic to be found in the 'record store experience'.  No matter where you live, I'm sure that there's a pretty decent record shopping road trip that you would be able to map out yourself.  So, next time you go visit relatives or maybe head off to a vacation destination by car, do yourself a favor by checking out any record stores between your points of departure and destination.   For guys like me, that sounds incredibly exciting! Oh, and when you do decide to visit an indie record store, give yourself plenty of time. There are treasures to be found in each and every one of them but you need to give yourself the opportunity to search for them.

So, feel the passion, the inspiration and the love of music and go visit a record store today, tomorrow, on RECORD STORE DAY and every chance you get!  You know, if I had the money, I'd love to put together a cable TV series where I travel all over the U.S. and visit cities with great music scenes and/or stores, but for now, you'll have to settle for a blog post about some of the record stores in the Bay Area!



2455 Telegraph Ave. 
Berkeley, CA 94704
While it's the smallest of the three Amoebas, the Berkeley store has an amazing inventory of new and used CDs, vinyl, DVDs, posters, t-shirts, etc. Over the years, I've found some amazing treasures there.  Their clearance bins are filled to the brim with worthwhile used titles that will keep you occupied for quite awhile.  Their new titles run the gamut from the undeservedly obscure to the most happening hipsters... and then some.  From one end of the store to the other, Amoeba Berkeley is definitely worth your time. The list of great CDs that I've purchased from this one store over the last 10 years would probably be triple the amount of CDs an average household purchases from all sources over the same amount of time!  (And yes, I am seeking help for my Amoeba addiction!) The staff is always cool, the music being played is always different and it all adds up to a great shopping experience every single time...

2401 Telegraph Ave. 
Berkeley CA 94704
(510) 704-1146
Located a block away from Amoeba Berkeley, Rasputin Music is a surprisingly refreshing indie chain that will appeal to any type of music fan. Mixing the beloved look of old chains like Licorice Pizza and Wherehouse with the cool swagger of indie stores like Amoeba, Rasputin may be less intimidating to the casual music fan than Amoeba, but there's more to their stores than meets the eye. While they may be part of a small chain, each of the Rasputin stores have their own distinct personality that reflects the passions of those that work there. The Berkeley store has a 'basement' filled with vinyl that will make you dizzy... that is, if you can get through all of the great new and used titles on the first floor! Again, I always find treasures here. During our recent visit, it was nice to hear them playing the first Suede album as opposed to the recently released Bloodsports album (which would have been cool, too). I didn't spend half as much time here as I wanted, but they've got a great selection of new and used CDs, DVDs, vinyl, etc. I couldn't find a 2XL Rasputin Music t-shirt so I didn't buy one (and I'm not too fond of the guitar sperm design anyway). 
BTW, Rasputin has the greatest bag illustration that pays tribute to record stores and chains that have fallen by the wayside over the years! I wish it was a poster! This bag is available at any of the stores so buy something and enjoy the illustration on the bag!

15590 Hesperian Blvd.
San Lorenzo CA 94580
(510) 276-8921
This was the second Rasputin we ever went to when we first started these road trips a decade ago.  On that first visit, we were impressed by the Berkeley store so we thought we'd take in another before we headed back home.  Because it has such a different vibe and atmosphere to the Berkeley one, we realized that all Rasputin stores must be cool so we've been taking more in with each visit to the area.  Ten years later, this store still a must-stop on our trip. I love to go through the clearance bins here, too.  I'm always so overwhelmed by the large amount of titles to choose from... and I don't mean that in a negative way at all.  There is just so much great stuff... assuming that you have some musical knowledge and plenty of time. They have tons of new titles as well.  All Rasputin stores are very well stocked with new product. One thing I noticed this time was that they have an amazing collection of new rock t-shirts that I was drooling over.  Everything from Journey to The Clash, Blondie and Devo... there was something for everyone.  Well, except me... because they don't carry 2XL in this store, either.  But I won't complain.  I'll eventually get my Rasputin Music and Rock t-shirts somewhere down the line... 

1820 S. Bascom Ave. 
Campbell CA 95008
(408) 558-0781
So far, this is my favorite Rasputin Store.  We've been there a few times and I've walked away with some real treasures from this shop.  Once again, the personality of this store is different from the others.  One thing I love about it is that there are bin cards for artists you'd never see a bin card for anywhere else in the U.S. (apart from maybe Amoeba).  The one that stuck out this last visit was TV Smith.  They even had the TV Smith's Explorers CD in stock.  I almost bought it, but I'm pretty sure I still have it.  I really do need to get my CDs out of storage!  Now, I'm worried that I may not have that CD anymore!  Ugh.  Maybe I need to take a trip up to Campbell sooner than expected! Love this store!  I even picked up some Ooberman titles in the used bin during our trip here last year (which would have been the 'score' of the day had it not been for finding the Joe E. CD here on that very same trip!)  Oh, and I didn't end up with a Rasputin or rock t-shirt again.  Maybe the good folks at Rasputin Music are subtly encouraging me to lose weight.....

939 Pacific Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Normally, our first day of record shopping would have ended with Rasputin Music in Campbell.  We'd all been on the road since 2am (although I probably slept most of the way up and nodded off 'tween stores) and it was normally time to chill... but plans changed once we decamped to our Road Trip HQ so we headed out again to dinner... and one more record store. Normally, Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz is our Saturday night spot, but we shook things up a little this trip.  And trust me, for us old guys (some who are pushing 50, including myself), moving a record shopping excursion from Saturday to Friday is 'shaking things up'! But the Santa Cruz store did not disappoint.  It's always fun to shop here.  Great atmosphere, lots of product and located in a great area.  It's a perfect spot for those looking for the current hits, oldies, imports, etc.  It may not have a huge inventory like the other stores on this list, but it's also smaller.  Like Rasputin, it brings back the good old feeling of chains like Licorice Pizza, Music Plus and The Wherehouse.


1855 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
If Amoeba Music in Hollywood didn't exist, THIS would be my favorite record store of all time!  Located in an old bowling alley, Amoeba in SanFran is worth the drive alone.  It's big, jam packed with new and used product, the staff is great, the atmosphere is inviting... there is so much to praise about this store. Amoeba is a place where true music fans gather together to shop. Yeah, there are plenty of folks who come in, buy that one title they wanted and then leave, but I've observed so many people with that 'fire' in their eyes, searching for something that they can't live without.. and I've seen so many cradling their treasures in their hands as if they were new born babies or In 'n' Out Burgers: it's true love! While the customers may not interact with each other, there is a sense of community in this store (and the Hollywood store as well), much like a record swap meet. Sure, you've got folks from all walks of life who are still buying the building blocks that create the soundtracks of their lives.  And did I say that the store is jam packed with great product? Even if they don't have that one item you are looking for in stock, there are so many other things that will help fill that void.  A wonderful experience from the moment you walk in to the moment they escort you out because you refuse to leave hours after they closed!

1672 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2448
This shop is relatively new (it wasn't there last year at this time when we did our last road trip), so it hasn't had enough time to grow its own personality. It's a great store, yes, but it needs to sink it's roots into the area a bit more before it begins to flourish and come into it's own. At this point, it's kind of like a 'Greatest Hits' of all the other Rasputin stores that we visited. For some, all they want are the best bits, which makes this the perfect store. For others that know and love the other stores, we can't wait to see how this one grows up!

980 South Bascom Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
I really love the Streetlight Records chain a lot. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the SanFran store, although this one seems like it would be out of our way compared to that one. Well, I wasn't driving, so I'm good with whatever shop we stop at. I do love this store. They've got some cool and unexpected treasures in their bins.  Imports, domestic, etc.  The staff are really cool and the store has a great vibe. Very much like the Santa Cruz one, but it does seem bigger. I picked up a few vinyl favorites here as well as some CDs. Again, I ended up putting stuff back that I wish i could have afforded. That aggravates the heck out of me. Why can't I win the lottery and just buy whatever I want when I go into these record stores? Stupid lottery.

DAY 3: 

6400 Sunset Blvd. 
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 245-6400
I've visited many record stores in my life - from indie stores to chains.  I've visited little stores, big stores and everything in between.  I've worked at record stores, sold (wholesale) to record stores and shopped at record stores pretty much all my life.  I've seen shops rise and fall.  I've met life-long friends in record stores. I've learned so much from people I've come across in record stores, whether they were employees or customers.  I've managed to escape from reality and hide in a record store for a few hours.  I've discovered so many great artists that I would have NEVER heard if I had not gone into a record store.  So, my love and passion for record shopping is a big part of my life, right?  Well, Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard is pretty much all of my favorite record stores rolled into one... and I mean that both physically and emotionally.  It reminds me of Music Market, Tower Records, Camel Records, Licorice Pizza, Music Plus, Pepperland, Fingerprints, Middle Earth, Beggars Banquet, Record Trading Center, Up Another Octave, Rene's All Ears and Arons Records all rolled up into one. It's like everything that I've loved about record stores in my nearly 50 years on this planet has been transferred into this one store. All the wonderful things that make each of the stores in this article special are present here. Within these four walls lies my past, present and future in terms of music.  I've seen at least one title from almost every band I've ever loved here (whether it's on vinyl or CD), I've scored numerous reissues/new releases here and I'm sure I'll be buying many more titles in the years to come, God willing.  Any average music fan could spend an entire day here and still not go through everything. There's so much here that I always have to put things back cuz I can't afford it all in one go. In fact, I must go back very soon before all the deleted Elvis Costello 2CD sets are gone!  It's a ginormous store, but it manages to retain that small indie store atmosphere. This is where I want be be buried when I die. But, please, just not in the Jazz Room. 

FYI, during this trip, I was able to pick up titles (on CD and vinyl) from some of the following bands (and yes, I'm STILL obsessed with music from the late '70s and early '80s...):


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