“Waxing Philosophical, L.A.” is DUM DUM’s Tuesday column written by Christina Gubala, co-founder of L.A.’s premier cassette-tape label, Complicated Dance Steps. A die-hard vinyl collector, you can find her spinning records at local bars near you.
Our city has a continuing history thick with vinyl love, now more than ever with record shops opening their doors instead of shuttering. Each week, Gubala breaks down a fresh new wax purchase, and writes about the record store as well, mapping it as part of L.A.’s history in the making.
The first time I heard about Records LA, it was via the breathless exclamation of one of my crate-digger friends. He had stumbled into the east Culver City hole-in-a-wall with stellar signage on a summer afternoon in 2010, and upon recounting his experience to me, promised “I have not seen a place like this in LA.” While I doubt it’s true that Records LA is the first of its kind, it’s definitely not like anywhere else I’ve been record shopping in this city, and every time I visit, I am reminded of this.
The radiant Craig family is the life force behind the personable space, and their bright loveliness has been sewn into the character of the store. Paterfamilias Scott Craig, a Detroit native with an encyclopedic musical memory, employed his professional carpentry skills to create a unique yet straightforward retail space that puts the focus on a communal intake of music. The store only opens its doors on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, inevitably creating a weekend barbeque vibe soundtracked by some of the most interesting, rare records in the city. Scott is one hell of a selector, but often, it’s up to the customers to select the afternoon’s picks. If there is a record in the store that you want to hear, be it a $6 Uriah Heap cut or a $35 Rotary Connection wall record, Scott will happily plop it down on the turntable for all to hear (and of course, for all to deconstruct with opinionated gusto).
It’s the kind of place where people go to feel free asking extremely specific questions, knowing that someone in the store will probably have an answer for you. It’s the kind of place where you can sit, drink a beer, and listen to every single John Coltrane record and then follow it with a Klymaxx 12” without anyone batting an eyelash. The Bollywood section alone is worth a write-up, but since it’s perched above the reggae 45s, I’ve yet to devote it the attention it warrants. On the wall, simple wooden slats hold lust-inducing rare gems that usually cost less than one would expect (I snatched up an original copy of Shuggie Otis’s Freedom Flight for just $15 once!), but you have to be brave enough to interact with the culture of the store.
So what is the culture of the store, really? In a word, family. On Thursday of last week, Scott alerted the Internet that at 4pm they would be celebrating his son Curtis’s second birthday party in the store, and that all were welcome. Curtis Craig, or “DJ CJ” as Scott calls him, is an integral part of the Records LA ambiance. At 18 months, he was borderline professional at flipping 45s on command, and his second birthday last week was nothing short of a musical experience. I rolled onto the scene right as the assembled group bellowed, “Happy birthday to yoooooou…. and many more!” to young Curtis, who’s chocolate-smeared smile perfectly articulated the prevailing sentiment: it was party time.
I quickly grabbed a rice crispy treat and pulled a record off the wall (for the listening queue), retrieved the records I had left on hold , and positioned myself near the back door’s refreshing breezeway to watch Curtis rifle through his presents. His first gift, a tiny guitar from his grandmother, became the vehicle with which he delivered a personalized birthday song to each one of us, and his infectious little smile spread to every face in the store. I fitted a Jon Lucien record called Mind’s Eye to the listening turntable, and we all basked in Jon’s seaside scat while chatting about other record stores in town. Customers swapped stories of their finds gleefully, spreading rumors of epic spots as far as Laguna Beach, and in that moment I felt as though I was experiencing a true slice of Los Angeles history.
There is an historical gravitas to Records LA, whether intentional or not, and upon leaving the store that day I was suddenly overcome with gratitude that I was able to participate in it, if briefly and in a very minor way. I left that day with a short stack of records, the most titillating of which was my Numero Group reissue of Pisces’s A Lovely Sight. The record, originally recorded in 1969 yet never released on wax, boasts properly psychedelic album art and at least one scorching single entitled “Dear One.” I listened to it first, of course, when I was finally alone with my purchases, and reveled in the velvet loveliness (pun intended) of the For Your Pleasure-esque crescendo and sultry vocal work. This is one of the few tracks on the record in which Linda Bruner mans the lead vocals, and that is to the release’s disservice. There aren’t many tracks on this record that hold much of a songwriting candle to the band’s contemporaries (a word used generously here) like The Kinks and The Doors, and after three listens, I can say confidently that aside from the beguiling “Dear One” and “In The Dreams Of Paula”–a small slice of The Magical Mystery Tour’s Midwest legacy–this record is generally forgettable. If ever you find yourself caught between it and, say, Gandalf’s Gandalf, go with your inner nerd and leave Pisces for the next KXLU listener who’s fallen hard for “Dear One.” (What can I say? They really like that song.)
Records LA is located on West Adams St. between La Brea and Fairfax, close to some delicious mariscos and the 10 freeway. It’s doors open to the public around noon and close around 7pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but you can catch Scott Craig DJing around town frequently, and I highly recommend checking out both him and his shop.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011