Every day is vinyl-record day for advocates of this form of pop culture who collect the pressed memories of the past.
However, at least in the county of San Luis Obispo, Calif., Vinyl Record Day is officially August 12—the date most often identified as the day Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and the date the non-profit Vinyl Record Day organization set aside to “preserve the cultural influence, the recordings and the cover art of the vinyl record.”
For those of us who grooved to the recorded sounds augmented by the platter chatter of disc jockeys who spun virgin vinyl, those years represented a golden era that Cds and iPods just can’t quite replace.
The love affair with vinyl started with the 1930 release by RCA Victor of the first commercially available long-playing (LP) record, called a “program transcription disc.” Years later, the 12-inch flexible plastic memory-makers caused Woodstock star guitarist Jimi Hendrix to note, “LPs are like personal diaries that help us not lose touch with what is individual, yet shared by millions worldwide.”
That was the feeling captured in August 2002 when the first Vinyl Record Day took place in California, a day of music designed to appeal to all generations—and all of it played on vinyl.
“We went from big band swing to R&B, surf, country, disco, Elvis and the Beatles,” said Vinyl Record Day founder Gary Freiberg. “[The music was] not limited to one age category, race, gender, or ethnicity…but just because we love vinyl. Vinyl Record Day is intended to stimulate demand for vinyl to ensure future generations will continue its preservation.”
By all accounts, the vinyl-record cult is alive and well today in Arizona, where collectors of all things LP thrive.One Tucson collector of some 5,000 vinyl discs (who wished to remain anonymous because of the value of his collection) said local garage sales yielded valuable albums as well as 45- rpm records brought here by back-East music lovers who relocated and then sold their vinyl memories.
Arguably the largest collection in the state is the property of Scottsdale’s John Dixon, who started his collection of some 150,000 pieces in various forms of delivery (33 1/3-rpm, 45-rpm, 78-rpm, wax cylinder, CD, Blu-ray, etc.) back in the 1950s, while he was in high school where he used to play records over the cafeteria loudspeaker at lunchtime and act as a DJ for “sock hops” in the gymnasium.
“For me, it’s the tactile thing,” he said. “The very physical act of opening up an LP, taking it out of the jacket, and dropping a needle. It’s a holdover from things we remember from the past, like reading liner notes, not just a little booklet in a CD jeweled case. The iPods and earbuds of today miss all that.”
“The first vinyl I can remember was a 78rpm patriotic disc that started the day as signon for many stations,” said Frank Kalil, former program director for KTKT, the station that helped usher rock ’n’ roll into the Old Pueblo. “I handled a lot of those bigholed 45s, but they slipped through my fingers and my life because I never kept a collection.” Today, Kalil’s record repertoire consists of 300 Lps of his favorite artists.
Two stars of KTKT radio’s Swinging Seven disc jockey lineup in the 1960s grew up with the maturing rock ’n’ roll industry. KTKT DJ Ray Lindstrom used to play “moldy oldies from the classical closet” and was heavily involved in vinyl, in part, because he and fellow DJ Burt Schneider were teenage owners of Zoom Records, Southern Arizona’s first rock ’n’ roll record label.“I don’t understand [vinyl’s] resurgence— this from a guy who used to go to the pressing plant and watch a hunk of black vinyl be turned into a gleaming seveninch disc,” said Lindstrom.
“It’s romantic to think of the old days of ‘spinning wax’ and ‘dropping a needle,’ but when it comes to sound created, that’s another story. You want nostalgia, think of spinning discs. You want great sound, go digital.”
In the mid20thcenturyAMradio days, stations would receive “not for sale” discs for air play, but there were no prohibitions about Djs taking extra copies home, and many did—like three jocks from the now defunct KIKX radio.
“More than a few of those are still in my closet,” said Ed Alexander wistfully.Shadoe Stevens said he does miss album cover artwork, but has no feelings for the vinyl itself and has sold his collection of 10,000 discs.
Grant West remembers that his collection grew both by intent and accident. “I got my first record when I was five years old, a stash that has grown into several thousand, all of them timeless favorites,” he said, including some boxes of 78s that literally go back to the very first disc pressings.“Vinyl made a big impression on me, one that has lasted a lifetime. Will kids getting iPods today have that intense a memory of that first song like we did our first vinyl recording? I doubt it. Technically, digital audio may be a quality product, but it never approaches the warm fullness of vinyl.”
Local country musician Al Perry still adds to his collection—3,000 45s,5,000 Lps, many involving Arizona musicians, like Linda Ronstadt, Duane Eddy, Marty Robbins and others.
For Perry, vinyl is king: “My brain doesn’t hear digital the same way it hears vinyl. If a record is well-mastered, it sounds way better and it gives you that visceral satisfaction of taking it out of the sleeve and watching it spin on the turntable. I’m tired of hearing that ‘vinyl is making a comeback.’ For me, it never went away.”
Lee Allen is a local freelance writer and former disc jockey. Comments for publication should be addressed to letters@ desertleaf.com.