Ever since the young Tom Edison invented the phonograph, people have been lining up to buy vinyl records.
Granted, the number of people in these lines have dwindled in the past 10 years, thanks largely to the debut of the compact disc, now the world’s No. 1 form of recorded material. But there are still people out there who crave the big vinyl discs and who whole-heartedly believe that the sound originating from the L.P. is far superior to the sounds made by the more pristine compact disc.
(Originally published in the “HOT WAX” section of the Montgomery Independent on September 5, 1996, article written by Jim Dunham – STAFF WRITER.)
Record shows pop up frequently in the big cities, drawing hundreds of record collectors for a day of buying, selling and trading their beloved vinyl. And flea markets still devote quite a lot of space to these audio wonders.
Montgomerian Billy Ferguson has been collecting records for almost 30 years and has amassed quite a collection over the years with more than 2,000 albums and between 3,000-4,000 45 r.p.m. records in his collection.
Too large for just one room, Ferguson’s platters take up occupancy in his den, living room, bedrooms and storage room. Every record has been cleaned, filed and rests neatly in alphabetical order in wooden crates or specially made trunks.
Billy says that even though vinyl no longer rests in the front of the record stores, it can still be found on occasion. “Most stores can still get vinyl for you. They won’t tell you that and don’t offer it up front. They would rather have you pay four times the price of a 45 for a compact disc. That’s how the music business makes money.”
Ferguson opts instead for mail order when he needs the vinyl records. “There’s about four or five places that I order from over the phone. The best by far is Repeat Records out of Elliot, S.C. You can get overnight delivery for most of the records, others take three days or so. But if there is only one song you want, you can probably wait three days for it. But 45s cost about $2.50 a pop with shipping and handling tacked onto that.”
Collecting records didn’t become a passion for Billy until he got out of the Navy. “I never really bought anything as a kid,” Ferguson says. “I bought a few records here and there. In fact, when I was a kid, we’d use 45s for frisbees. I can tell you, I sure wish I hadn’t done that now!”
Ferguson’s passion for music and vinyl has helped him land a lucrative side career as a club and mobile DJ. “I’ve been a club disc jockey for the last 10 years, working in clubs like Bentley’s, Stagger Lee’s, Patrick’s, Poppy’s, Hillwood Café, Down The Street Cafe, Sharky’s. Woodmen Tavern — I’ve spun the music in quite a few clubs here.”
When Ferguson doesn’t have a regular gig, he will line up parties where his deejay skills and knowledge of music never fail to entertain the dancing crowds.
“Most of the music I play at parties is what we call ‘oldies,’ mainly records from the 60s, 70s and 80s. But more and more, I’m using compact discs for my parties, because I’m very sentimental about my vinyl collection and want to keep that safe at home.
When compact discs seem to be superior in every way to vinyl, why would Billy hold onto his massive collection?
“You can hear a song and it can take you back to the first time you heard it, what kind of car you were driving, who you were dating at the time, whatever. Music can take you back to a time of innocence. For me, there are memories formed for almost every song that I hear. There’s no way I can replace all my records on compact disc, so I just hold onto all of them.”
Other than sentimental value, most of Ferguson’s platters hold much value. “I have some of Elvis’ stuff from the Sun label days. And a 10-inch record of “Love Me Tender” that is in mint condition. Every time I put Elvis’ music on, it never fails to turn me into a kid again. But other than those, I’d say my collection just has a lot of memories stored in it.
These sentiments are echoed by Phil Roberts, owner of Backtrax Music Exchange at 52 Dalraida Road.
“With compact discs, there’s a lot less headaches for the music companies. There’s fewer returns to the company, where with vinyl, if they sat in a box for a day or two, chances are an album or two could warp on its way to the stores. Now record companies don’t even give you credit for bad vinyl. If the delivery man drops a case of albums at my door and they all break, that’s too bad for me. The record companies don’t want to stand behind vinyl anymore”
Roberts opened his store more than a year ago as a used record and compact disc store, but admits that vinyl requests are still slim in the age of technology.
“Probably about 3 percent of my business is vinyl records here,” he says. “Nationally the figure is about 1 percent. But there are still a great number of people out there who have never even bought compact disc players. They believe the sound of vinyl is better than anything a disc can offer and will go to great lengths to get some of these albums.”
Roberts gets a kick out of some of the younger generation who come into his store to buy or browse. “They start going through the albums and laughing, saying ‘Oh look, there’s the Who on record, I didn’t even know they were ever on record.’ These kids have never even owned a turntable.”
For every 300 new releases on compact disc, Roberts estimates that maybe one of those will be issued on vinyl as well. His store recently received copies of the new album from Pearl Jam on vinyl.
Roberts believes each individual has his own reasoning behind the collecting of vinyl. “Some people like vinyl better than any other form of recording. Others look at buying vinyl as an investment, although that’s not a good idea unless you’re going after initial pressings, picture discs or something other than the normal vinyl release. A lot of people are holding onto their Elvis records, thinking they’re going to be worth money someday. Come on. The guy released something like a billion albums.”
Backtrax prices the majority of its used albums in the $5-6 range and specializes mainly in rock and roll music, although there are other genres represented amongst the vinyl.
Roberts buys used albums frequently from customers, but suggests that if you know the record that you have is valuable to take it to a record show where demand is high for odd and obscure titles and usually will fetch a higher price amongst collectors.
Roberts admits that he is still partial to the dying genre of albums. “I really like vinyl, and prefer a lot of it over compact disc,” he says. “After all is said and done, I just get a warmer feeling for vinyl. I guess it’s nostalgia.”