A Longtime Dallas Record Store Employee Looks Back At The Best Record Stores In Dallas History.
I was around 9 years old when my pop took us CD shopping for the first time. I remember it vividly: We saw the racks with long-boxes for each title sticking up and, even though the pickings were slim, I took home Appetite For Destruction. Ma and pop got something like Bob Seger or maybe Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
I was absolutely enthralled with my purchase, and I probably ignored the growing cassette tape collection I’d begun amassing for at least a week once I got my first compact disc. I learned a fundamental lesson then: When you buy a new record, and you know that you have made the perfect purchase — one that will swell the heart and potentially break it — you hug that record as soon as it’s yours.
Yup, you hug it.
I know this because I spent my next 28 years watching people do this. After that fateful CD shopping trip with my parents, I spent every extra dollar I made on music. And before long, if I wasn’t doing that, I was helping other people do it while working in one of the five Dallas record stores that I was lucky enough to call my workplace for an extended stretch of time. So, for almost three decades, I watched people embrace their physical music purchases.
And I loved watching that near-universal moment. It’s a special thing, clutching to your chest that perfect piece of art that you know just changed your life. No one tells you to do it, but almost all of us do anyway.
This is how I know — without a shadow of a doubt — that finding gold in a record store is different than doing so on a digital music store or online steaming service.
Listen, I don’t buy into the theory that downloading a song means you can’t love it as much. I refuse to be that old guy, and I write this with a full 3,333 songs marked as Offline Available on my damn phone. But the happy accident of finding and holding a copy of Motörhead’s self-titled debut on tape with a crappy beat-up cover for $4.99? Or maybe finding Boards Of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children on 180-gram vinyl? It really does have almost the same effect as a surprise birthday party. It’s the warm comfort of knowing the universe is thinking of you and doesn’t mind showing you as much.
It’s one thing to get happy birthday wishes on your Facebook wall. It’s another thing entirely to… well, you get it. My point is that the thrill of putting your hands on a record that you cannot live without is undeniable. Every second leading up to and following that moment, no matter how mundane, creates an instant story that you can tell for the rest of your life.
And it always comes with details, doesn’t it? There are smells in record stores that we associate with happiness. There is an ultrasonic tingle in the hands when you find a treasure. And there are beautifully unique characters, always.
Indeed, god bless the people who work in these shops for The Pure Love Of Music — because, I can promise you from experience, it sure ain’t for the money. They’re always there, ready to play you something strange or new and forcing you to want to know more about it. They’re true guides, and spending time by their side just standing in a record store is a guaranteed way to broaden your taste. These clerks are like a Youtube sidebar or the physical embodiment of those “Made For You” links on Spotify — only, instead of algorithms, they come with actual personalities and tastes of their own.
Over the years, these acolytes have worked at a number of glorious Dallas temples.
In the ’60s and ’70s, kids would take buses and walk for miles to Lips Records & Tapes to buy the first copy out of the box of Songs In The Key Of Life or to score tickets to see Johnny Winter in concert. They’d head to the Melody Shop in NorthPark to buy their first guitar, then return just days later to buy an armload of records to play along to.
In the ’80s, they mobbed the Sound Warehouses and Bill’s Records for new Motley Crue tapes and to search through boxes on the floor for import Bauhaus singles and pretty much anything else made by German weirdos.
In the ’90s, the kids who were dropped off by their parents to shop for MC Hammer tapes got turned on to Scarface and MC 900 Foot Jesus by grinning store clerks at CD World. At RPM, the boys found out that Hum could make them cry with one song while shopping the “Just In” section, and the girls found out that the boys wearing eyeliner in the poster sections were singing songs that had been written just for them. Their parents nodded in approval when they came out of these stores, their arms either filled or or their hands held out begging for a few more dollars, because they’d shopped at Top Ten Records back around the time Officer Tippit used the phone there to call in spotting Oswald.
In the early ’00s, everyone sold everything they owned back to CD Source, CD World and Half Price Books. It was a grim time and fairly well recognized as a mistake by all. Gears turned, iPods filled and hard drives bulged as stores started to go the way of the 8-track. We stupidly began referring to the previous 45 years as the “Album Era” as if the beauty of a fully realized stacks of songs were a wasteful byproduct we should look back on as a shameful idea. Somewhere around 2006, we then wiped the sleep from our eyes and woke up, wondering why there was a sandwich shop where our beloved record store used to be.
And once more, we started shopping, especially for vinyl, feeling the warmth in our arms once again.
There is no magic or mystery to the ebb of vinyl sales since 2007. Records are fucking cool, and they make small apartments look even cooler when they fill shelves. They double as killer wall art, and they sound like dreams and smoke and memories. You have to show them off to people. They’re palpable. The 26 percent rise in vinyl sales in 2016 speaks to an almost perfect apex of great taste by young and old alike. The top 25 records sold last year had rockers buying Nevermind and Zep IV to blare for their friends at parties; smooth cats and lovers hearing Winehouse, Lana Del Rey and Miles Davis; and youngsters buying Blink 182, Taylor Swift and their introductory copy of Bob Marley’s Legend. Even Fort Worth’s Leon Bridges slid into the top 25, moving 19,631 copies of his debut Coming Home LP, a disc that sounded more like something released 60 years prior.
Collectively, these albums gave us back what we didn’t know we’d so badly missed. And, once more, it was record stores where these purchases were made. What Good Records’ T-shirts preach — that “you can’t roll a joint on a digital download” — is very much a true statement, turns out. The buzz just ain’t the same without getting out of the house to score. So once again, we go out, we get our friends together and we go shopping.
Because our computer will be the same when we get back. But we won’t. Because, through this experience, we never have been.
Over the years, Dallas has boasted a great number of record shops to help with this transformation. Trying to determine which of Dallas’ record stores — dead or alive — have been among its finest is, at best, an exercise in great subjectivity. And, yet, I will attempt to do just that here — not in an effort to slam the ones I haven’t included but to just give some extra love to those that I have. The truth is that every single record store that has existed in in or town has been a treasure.
But, for whatever reason, these stores are the ones that, through legend or my own personal enlightenment, have always spoken loudest to me.
Dallas’ Greatest Dead Record Stores.
RPM Records/Groove Net (Mesquite). Mesquite isn’t where you would’ve expected to find a GG Allin shirt or a Parliament Funkadelic record in the ’90s — but RPM had those things, and in having them, it gave birth to many a suburban kids’ record-collecting itch. Yes, there was a time when finding a poster of an iconic horror movie or a sticker from a new release was enough to open the eyes of a kid to culture and idealogy that their schools and parents probably didn’t encourage — and what a fantastic time it was. In many ways, it’s almost tough to believe that such a spot existed, which is why, these days, RPM’s story feels more legend than reality. Fortunately, owner Randy Frierson took the closing of RPM in stride, opening Groove Net, which also set up shop in Mesquite. Groove Net dealt to serious collectors, DJs and walk-ins with equal courtesy, and established itself online to the world by carrying well over 450,000 plus titles. Even after the storefront’s closing in early 2016, the online store remains, boasting over 40 years of knowledge in the business of selling records.
CD World (Lower Greenville/Addison). Before re-opening the Granada Theater, Mike Schoder turned his love of music, and more importantly, his love of sharing it into a legitimate business. After years of stocking jukeboxes and local stores out of the back of his tiny car, he launched his CD World brand and opened two of the most revered record stores around town. From ’92 on, the Greenville Avenue and Belt Line locations were the region’s go-to spots for top-notch local band bins, carefully selected listening stations and more buttons, patches and stickers than any shopper could pass up. At both locations, CD World was wonderfully DIY, always saving money by reusing anything that could be found to pass savings on to the customers. Cultivated by a rotating cast of now well=known local musicians and serious record collectors, the decree from Mike was simple: Keep the store organized, always have a stick of Nag Champa burning and Always Be Kind To The Customers. That ethos worked: It didn’t matter if you were buying tickets for a Granada show, looking for a song to play at a party, selling a box of DVDs or just getting into town and looking for the cool stores; clients were always treated like old friends. When a retail store closes and more than a few tears are shed, beers raised and toasts made, it’s apparent that something special was shared. It has been said more than once that the smell of incense will always remind an old friend of the World. It will always be that way for me.
CD Source (Greenville Avenue). Manager Larry Hanover at CD Source would begin walking toward a rack and kneel down to dig through back stock within seconds of a customer saying they couldn’t find an item. The staff at Source was always inundated with so much product that it could not practically place on its shelves, and they slaved to keep inventory filed and orderly. It’s no accident that owner Lance Price staffed his store with friendly autodidacts that knew the place with an eerie precision and almost always had a niche knowledge of something you might like. Folks filing in for early Record Store Day in-store performances would still find among the mayhem of the day a youngster working who knew science fiction movies verbatim or a slightly goth-looking character who knew every title available in the hip hop section. A quiet and kindly Kevin Myers, processing at the buy counter, could spout information about classical and classic music like a computer. Special orders were treated as importantly as customers selling boxes of items, who were given here arguably the fairest prices in town. Shoppers could spend an unlimited amount of time browsing and listening to the old CD player listening stations and asking endless questions — and they’d never get anything but smiles and help. From 1993 til 2014, CD Source strove to make every single person who walked through its doors happy, and it did just that.
Pagan Rhythms (Greenville Avenue). Located just across the street from CD Source, Pagan Rhythms’ name was plenty signal enough as to the kind of spot it was, and curious kids and area musicians both immediately recognized it as a hub both local and special. After spending the ’70s and ’80s selling records out of his car, owner Lavon Pagan recognized the need for an indie injection to counteract what Sound Warehouse was slinging along Greenville Avenue, and so, in the early ’90s, he brazenly opened his shop right next door. Here, buyers could shop to the sounds of Roky Erikson or Bloodrock blaring over the speakers while digging through an endless section of cassette singles and resale 12-inch records listed at very reasonable prices instead of listening to Warrant in a homogenized, stale environment. Among other people, the shop spoke to a young Zach Blair (Hagfish, Rise Against), who counts it, along with Direct Hit in Exposition Park and Bill’s Records as one of the places where he fell in love with music in Dallas. Remembers Blair, wistfully: “I got into a car wreck leaving Pagan Rythms and almost died — I was laid up for months! I had just bought The Jam’s This Is The Modern World on vinyl. I almost died for that record!” And yet he kept returning to the store every chance he got. It takes special kind of store to maintain a place near and dear to someone’s heart even after a near-death experience. And Pagan Rhythms was that special.
Last Beat (Deep Ellum). Effectively, walking into Last Beat in Deep Ellum in the ’90s could seal one’s fate as a diehard punk, a metalhead, an industrial freak or an indie kid — or it could damn you into knowing that you were a poseur forever. Amidst its perfect, ashy collection of handmade zines and rack after rack of obscure tapes, CDs and vinyl, shoppers would be treated to the sounds of Merzbow or Baboon as their minds were torn to shreds and stitched back together with black tape that could never unravel without leaving its glue on everything. In that sticky mess, one could find the covers of pure static noise cassettes, NOFX stickers and fliers from all-ages shows covering every old bland interest that preceded walking in. On the other hand, that brazen edge could just as easily chase you outside, scare the bejeezus out of you and send your ass back to the mall. And that was OK, too. Last Beat was a darker, more intense place. But it brought pure joy to everyone that embraced it.
Dallas’ Greatest Still-Kickin’ Record Stores.
Josey Records (Northwest Dallas). You can crush a lunch break in Josey Records, located just off LBJ, leave with an armful of finds and only plan to come back for more. With more than 15,000 square feet of bins for DJ’s, racks for heads and everything in between, this store is run by some of Dallas’ most prominent collectors (Waric Cameron, JT Donaldson and Luke Sardello), and it’s got tons of space to keep crate diggers diggin’. It also has plenty of seats for you to rest upon as you check your bank account and struggle through the decision to buy records and eat Top Ramen for the next few weeks. Ben Hixon, the head of the upstart Dolfin Records collective of musicians and a clerk at Josey since it opened in late 2014, says it’s tough to determine which section of the store is its most popular; he figures the new arrival, used and collectors sections each get equal love. And that makes sense: Boasting all that space, Josey wants to be able to bring a little something to the fold for everyone, and it miraculously accomplishes that feat without losing even a shred of cool. There’s a reason why the likes of Andre 3000, DJ Shadow and Q-Tip have all found their way into Josey since it opened not even three full years ago. And there’s a reason why you should stop in, too.
Good Records (Lower Greenville). If sadness drizzles on you in Dallas, simply shroud yourself in the Good Umbrella. After originally opening in Deep Ellum next to a stankin’ ass paint company, this spot thankfully moved to Lower Greenville before too long, and it’s there where the spot developed its true identity as a colorful shop filled even more colorful characters. More than just a fastidious record shop that eschews genre sectioning for alphabetical listings, Good Records is a culture: It maintains a small but incredibly tasteful namesake record label that has released product from Granddaddy, Binary Surprise (listen to this sweetheart of a record!) and co-owner Tim DeLaughter’s Polyphonic Spree; it’s also recently opened a new offshoot gift shop called The Good Pagoda on Garland Road. But the Lower Greenville spot is still the brand’s bread and butter, featuring a crazy knowledgeable staff led by inimitable co-owner Chris Penn, who to this day is still more fanboy than businessman. Ask him and he’ll excitedly tell you about the time Good Records sold King Crimson albums to Glenn Danzig or that legendary night when it hosted an in-store reunion of the original lineup of Alice Cooper on its AstroTurf-lined stage. The case has been made for years that Good Records’ stage is the best on Lowest Greenville, and with plenty of legendary shows to back up that claim. But even when not going all out — its Records Store Day celebrations also double as the shop’s annual anniversary bashes, and that combination is always worth circling your calendar for — the shop’s day-to-day charm as a fine place for finding great music is somehow still singular.
Hit Records (Casa View). You don’t like the Ramones and the Stones like Ron Ross likes the Ramones and the Stones. Or Aerosmith. Or The Beatles. Or, hell, just anything rock ‘n’ roll-related. Ross’ legendary Hit Records shop on Ferguson Road is sometimes called a rock museum, in part because it’s where promotional material from yesteryear is still on display, refusing to die. But, beyond that, it’s metalhead’s paradise, a place where headbanging customers, and sometimes even Aerosmith frontmen, have been coming since the mid-’70s to get their heavy fix. And his carefully kept and curated store never disappoints. Ross is simply a madman when it comes to music — and his shop reflects not only that, but also his adoration for all thing pop culture-related. Along with the music, Hit Records has enough great toys, baseball memorabilia and Three Stooges stuff to make any dork happy. The power of the product on the shelves has more than enough clout to impress any fair weather shopper into a lifetime of return visits. And if you can’t find it on the shelves, don’t fret: Special orders are Ross’ specialty. Take your out-of-print wishlist to Ross and he’ll help you whittle it down. Better yet, he’ll have stories for days to tell you about the amazing items lining his walls.
Dolly Python/Big Bucks Burnett’s Cloud 8 Records (East Dallas). In the corner of the Dolly Python vintage resale shop that houses Cloud 8 records is the tip of the spear of what has to be an utterly amazing personal music collection. Bucks Burnett has had his big toe stuck in the Dallas music retail scene for around 40 years and has stories for days. I’m not gonna repeat any of them here and risk doing them injustice; instead, I strongly encourage you go check out his record stand inside of this fantastic store and pick his brain yourself. While you’re there, wander to any section or artists and pick up an LP. Then realize that the copy you are holding is special — a test pressing, a misprint, an import or maybe some other rarity. Pretty much everything Burnett sells is of museum quality — it’s fitting that the guy opened the world’s first eight-track museum and more recently opened a cassette tape museum — except you can actually afford his stuff. It is an absolute imperative that any record collector go find this store. And when you do, be sure to look around the rest of Dolly Python when you pull yourself away from Cloud 8. Store owner Gretchen Bell has an eye that is as elegant as it is bad ass, and Dolly Python is bulging with treasures for anyone’s tastes. Any music lover is going to find Dolly Python and Cloud 8 Records an absolute can’t-miss.
DJ Bryan C. This takes it all the way back to the street. Just an insane amount of music-related things in Dallas revolve around Bryan Coonrod in some way, shape or form, and what’s especially remarkable about that fact is that he does it all grassroots-style in humble and sensational fashion. A prolific club DJ who can be found everywhere from Deep Ellum to Sachse, Coonrod is also a designer of awesome crate-digging gear through his “Gold Diggers” line of shirts made specifically for record heads. If you don’t know him though those means, you might through the fact that he’s the one who’s been organizing those Beats Swap Meets in Dallas or because he’s the one who has people lining up for crazy great deals at his pop-up record shops at the Double Wide Flea Markets. The guy is just completely eating and sleeping this lifestyle. He probably has something you want in his ever-growing, warehouse-sized collection. So if you see him out in the wild — and it’s tough not to — don’t be shy about hitting him up and asking where you might be able to find something. If he doesn’t have it himself, he’ll be able to point you in the right direction, I promise.
Cover photo by Brian Knowles.