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They're turning to needles, looking for purity

"Who you are goes into your record collection," he continues. "I have a lot of different interests, none of which are very mainstream." Still, if others want to collect less obscure records, that's fine with Williams. "It's not just about super-rare, ultra-collectible records," he says. "Some of the best records are common. I'm sure that's how Beatles fans feel."

"You know these are a write-off on my tax return, right?"

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.

DJ Sun has just left Half Price Books in Montrose, six LPs richer and around $30 poorer. He thinks the Rice Village store has a better selection, but he's not complaining. Sun is booked to spin somewhere six out of seven nights this week, and the most he paid here was eight bucks, for an LP he somehow didn't have: On Top, by Al Green's former producer and labelmate on Stax successor Hi Records, talented Memphis native Willie Mitchell. "This is going to be good," he smiles, studying it. Others didn't draw quite as enthusiastic a reaction, but Sun still bought them — they were from Ghana, and he's DJing an ­African-themed party at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston later in the week. "What I like about this trip today is I was here about a month ago and there's already a lot of new stuff," he muses.

It doesn't take an experienced hand like Sun long to separate the proverbial pearls from the pebbles. "If you've been in record stores long enough, you start to recognize covers subliminally," he explains while rifling through what passes for Half Price's jazz section. "They don't have much of one here right now," he sighs.

He makes do, though. The first record Sun pulls is by Fatback, because it happens to fit what he's looking for at the moment. "'80s-style boogie, happy stuff, lots of synth — see, this song 'The Girl Is Fine'..." he begins, before trailing off and sliding the LP under his arm. He quickly adds two more to the yes pile: one by the Jazz Crusaders, a collection of former Texas Southern University students once known as the Nighthawks — "I don't have this, so I'm definitely getting it," he enthuses — and a backup copy of boogie-oogie-oogie compilation Disco Nights. "The record I have is warped," he explains. "It's hard to bring into the mix. I'll play this record several times a month."

The Willie Mitchell, a keeper, captures his attention next, then Whitesnake. "This is in the wrong place, obviously," he laughs. Johnny Carson's old bandleader, Doc Severinsen, appears and gets a fair hearing. "I've been reading about him... late '60s...I'm going to go home and do more research," he decides. Sun does this a lot; later, records by early electro group Mantronix and Pearl Jam (that's right) merit mental notes for further study. After he decides he's carrying more than he cares to spend, so does that Fatback album. Tragically, at the 11th hour (more like the 37th minute) the Jazz Crusaders LP joins them, but he slips that one back in the stacks like someone who might come back later with second thoughts.

Sun's next stop is Sound Exchange, the two-story house on Richmond that serves as a beacon for legions of Houston-area vinyl devotees, whatever their area of interest. It's Sun's spot of choice for vintage vinyl, but his unexpected good fortune at Half Price has already sandbagged today's budget. So after barely 15 minutes in the store's chapel-like downstairs, he's ready to go. "They don't have much new stuff in," he shrugs. "I saw Superbad and knew I had that Bar-Kays song they used at the beginning, but I wanted it again, so I just went straight to the B's."

Maybe next time.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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