Vinyl Heads

They're turning to needles, looking for purity

Even Chuck Roast concedes, "I can probably sell an Amy Winehouse record faster than I could the CD."

"You really haven't seen it much today," says Roast as he prepares to close up Vinal Edge for the day, "but most of our customers are freaks. Most normal folks don't go into music stores much anymore."

Vinal Edge's Chuck Roast: "Most of our customers are freaks."
Daniel Kramer
Vinal Edge's Chuck Roast: "Most of our customers are freaks."
Bad CDs can become coasters. On the other hand, bad albums, like these at Montrose boutique Wish, can become hip wallpaper.
Daniel Kramer
Bad CDs can become coasters. On the other hand, bad albums, like these at Montrose boutique Wish, can become hip wallpaper.

Well, most of the people who came into the store that Tuesday seemed normal enough. But Roast makes a convincing case. One of his best customers, he says, is a homeless man who supports his "habit" with government checks and as a pharmaceutical test subject.

"He spends the most money," swears Roast. "He keeps his records in this mini-warehouse or the pawnshop. He actually lives in that storage unit with his girlfriend right now."

Other Vinal Edge regulars include "Muscletooth," who's fond of Whitesnake, and "Sword Metal George," who likes the sort of records with cover art resembling a Conan comic book. "One guy buys boxfuls of shitty records just so he can fill up his shelves and make it look like he has an impressive record collection," continues Roast. "We've got a bunch of metal guys who like to call each other homos." He pauses for a moment.

"We thought about writing a book about this at one point."

Roast's clientele excepted, other Houston vinyl junkies seem normal. They have jobs, significant others, kids and outside interests. Naturally, they also have thousands and thousands of records — although, for some, not nearly as many as they once did.

"I have about 10,000 records, and I'm still collecting," says Carlos Garza, who does production for several of Houston's leading hip-hop names such as the Craft Beats. His life has changed a lot from the days his collection topped 50,000, he admits. "I'm married with kids, and you can only get so many records."

Houston's DJ Sun, who has built hundreds of live sets and a handful of original recordings from his vinyl archives, likewise has to balance his huge collection with his 12-year-old daughter, who visits often from Baton Rouge. "I wanted to give her her own room," he says. "She doesn't want to live among the records, but slowly I'm sneaking them back in."

And just as serious collectors are loath to reveal their preferred "digging" locations — though they agree resale shops, garage and estate sales, flea markets and even the classifieds are all good places to start — others hesitate to even call themselves collectors. Not yet, anyway.

"I'm the kind of person that collects things, and right now I've decided to start a vinyl collection," says Cley Miller, also guitarist and vocalist for popular post-high-school Houston indie rockers The Dimes. Born around the time vinyl's mass popularity began to wane, Miller has been combing the bins of Sound Exchange, Black Dog and Sig's Lagoon since earlier this summer for essentials like the Stooges, David Bowie, Ramones, Pixies and White Stripes. It was Television that sparked his interest in vinyl, followed soon enough by the Velvet Underground: "I thought they would sound better on vinyl, and they do."

Besides the fact that the CD is "dying," as he puts it, vinyl appeals to Miller for several reasons. "There's something about a vinyl record that's much more intimate," he says. "I love how it makes you listen to a record all the way through." Miller agrees with most that vinyl just plain sounds better than CDs or MP3s, and also likes the ritual of taking an album out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable and dropping the needle. "There's a little more work than just popping it in [a CD player]," he says (see "Round and Round: DJ Sun’s turntable buying advice").

Still, Miller is no purist; he downloads music and still buys CDs. If a new release is available on vinyl, he says he'll probably buy that, but not always. "If it's something new, I'll be honest: I'll download it first and see if I like it," Miller admits. "If I like it I'll go out and buy it."

Jeff Williams, 31, might not fit the traditional collector profile either. For one thing, he works at NASA. His duplex in Montrose is immaculate. Not only does he listen to CDs on his two-hour daily commute, he owns an iPod. "I don't even think it works, though," he says. "I think the last time it was used was two years ago, when my girlfriend went on a plane trip."

Williams's collection is a relatively modest 1,500 to 1,600 albums, he reckons, not counting the piles in his closet he's actively trying to ditch. "I'll only keep about one of every 20 records I buy these days," he says. "Not everything you want to listen to forever." His shelves are thus highly streamlined into stuff he does like: '60s psych and free jazz, Kraut­rock, 20th-century composers such as Terry Riley and John Cage, ethnic field recordings, '80s New Zealand artists like the Clean and Alastair Galbraith. Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation may be the most recent, and well-known, album he owns.

"Music takes about 15 years to sort out," he figures. "At that point, you can figure out if it has any merit. I've been listening to a record from 1970 by this band from Dallas, Virgin Insanity. It's kind of tuned-out, like good lo-fi indie-pop from 1995. I play it for people and they can't tell when it's from."

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