The revitalization of vinyl
As Jerry Rawles talks about the old country dances he used to attend at the Grange Hall in Montana, he slips a “Best of the Mom and Dads” record out of its cover, places it on one of his 15 turntables in his garage, and begins bouncing to the music. A big grin lights up the 82-year-old’s face, and he dances a few steps, saying, “it’s an easy rhythm, easy music.”Rawles stores about 4,000 records in his garage, each neatly stacked by genre and alphabetized. His big band collection ranges from Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass to Lawrence Welk. In other cabinets (all of which have rollers on the bottom for easy access that he picked up at garage sales) he stocks male vocalists, female vocalists, blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, Dixie and instrumental (from accordion to zither). Hiding in the back corner of his garage, there’s the music he calls “goofy.” It includes everything from The Allman Brothers and AC/DC to ZZ Top.”I call it goofy because you can’t understand the lyrics,” Rawles said. “ZZ Top isn’t bad, but some of that stuff is just noise in my ears.”You might think Rawles has been collecting vinyl since he was a kid -and it’s true that he moved from Montana to Breckenridge 15 years ago with some albums -but he began collecting in earnest about 10 years ago.”Well, it gives me something to do,” he said with a smile.He obtains albums through friends who pass them on (recently, he and his wife drove to Libby, Mont., for a school reunion, and a friend gave him a trunk load of albums, which decreased his average miles per gallon from 38 on the way out to 34 coming home). He also scours garage sales every Saturday from May to September and hits thrift stores. With 4,000 titles, he can’t keep track of everything, so sometimes he ends up with doubles. But one of the most fun parts involves looking up the value of the records in a reference book. For example, Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” sells for $400, and other albums can snag up to $2,000. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to part with many of his albums (and, unfortunately, he doesn’t own those high-ticket recordings).”Someday, I’ll put them on the Internet, but as long as they can fit in my garage, there’s no sense in getting rid of them,” he said. “It’s more fun to collect them.”However, he did sell his Michael Jackson collection to Gary Koenig, owner of Affordable Music in Dillon.”They were worth more money than sitting here,” Rawles said. “I don’t like the noise that Michael Jackson made.”
Sales of vinyl albums have increased close to 20 percent in the last two years at Koenig’s store, while nationwide, they’ve increased by 17 percent in a year, he said. While other locally owned small businesses have had to close their doors, Koenig celebrated 20 years in business last November, and he credits much of it to vinyl.”My saving grace has been both vinyl and having the instrument aspect,” he said. Even when a store manager who helped him start his business 20 years ago told him to get rid of the albums to make more room for CDs, Koenig “never gave up on it.”Why?”Because it’s real,” he said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”Albums are recorded in analog and were originally released in mono, as opposed to splitting various sounds into stereo.”Nothing is more natural than analog,” he said, adding that mono sound is also the more natural sound, and as producers digitize it, they change the music.He sees vinyl sales as a continuing trend as “more and more people are appreciating the sound.”Many music lovers say vinyl provides warmer acoustics, said Kevin Burns, who works at Affordable Music. And then there’s the art.”There’s sort of an aesthetic enjoyment,” Burns said. “You get the full album art. It folds out … a lot of people just like the whole experience of putting on an album. It isn’t just about the music on the record. It’s about opening it up, folding it out and seeing the art work.”In fact, Rawles believes “someday the album covers will be worth more than the music.”Then, there’s the nostalgic aspect, inherent in records.”Whether it’s the natural sound or people going retro, it’s hard to say – I think it’s both,” Koenig said, pointing out that it’s the simplest form of recorded sound; even if the world goes to hell and there’s no electricity, people can still listen to records with a wind-up phonograph (assuming they have one on hand), because “it’s pure; it’s the grooves in the album vibrating the needle and creating a frequency.”These days, producers are creating new albums of both current artists and classic bands. Many are 180-gram pressings, meaning the plastic is heavier so it holds up better. They sell for about $17-18, though some only cost $10.”They’re paying more attention to it because people want quality,” Koenig said. “About half of the new releases are (also) made on vinyl.”Four years ago, the industry even launched an annual record store day. On April 16, Koenig will participate in it for the second time, with free giveaways, 45s and limited releases.While some older people have never abandoned vinyl, younger kids are wandering into Affordable Music wanting vinyl, but “they don’t have a clue what a turntable does … they’ve never dealt with hooking up a stereo (and don’t realize) you need amplification,” Koenig said. But he’s happy to turn on another generation to turntables, which range between $125 and $1,200, depending on quality. True connoisseurs believe, “If you put an album on and a CD on, you’ll hear the higher quality – a better range of sounds,” Koenig said. State-of-the-art equipment produces a higher frequency response, picking up the highs and lows better.And while Rawles rotates playing records among the 15 turntables he owns because he’s worried he won’t be able to find “needles,” or phono cartridges, Koenig said those are also getting easier and easier to find.As far as encouraging people to sell their old records, Koenig, though he buys used albums, isn’t the most encouraging.”If somebody wants to sell their albums to me, I say it wouldn’t match the pleasure you’d get out of them to listen to them again when you have time,” he said. “If I put an album on, I pay more attention (to it than a CD). I listen to it.”
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