When James May unlocks the doors to Music Town each day at noon, his little shop on Stuebner Airline across from Klein High School is mainly filled with CDs, new and used vinyl and an enormous amount of cassettes. When he first opened the shop in 1979, the sign actually said "Music Town Records and Tapes," but he also sold 8-tracks -- which, at that time, were more trouble than they were worth. People back then were still buying everything by Elvis, especially that Moody Blue album he'd made right before he died. Soon after that they'd begin lining up to buy everything John Lennon ever made, both the Beatles and the solo stuff. The Beatles stuff still sells, of course; on vinyl it's one of his biggest sellers.
That and Zeppelin, the Doors, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and anything metal. Kids seem to still love metal. Kids in concert shirts from bands I didn't recognize came in every couple of minutes mainly picking up or making special orders. Some browsed but most knew what they came for.
"I don't have a job right now, so my aunt is buying this for me so I'll baby-sit," said the young man picking up a special edition of Slipknot's first album.
Another, quieter kid in another black concert shirt picked up two discs by Memphis Mayfire. And a third young man bought the new Coheed and Cambria along with the newest by Papa Roach -- which, James reminds me, is a rap-rock kind of thing, but not like LInkin Park exactly. The front window and the face of the counter he stands at are now decorated by the Warner Bros. rep. She posts art for new releases outside, but inside is mainly for upcoming show posters. A lot of those have Fitzgerald's written on them in Sharpie along with a date.
There used to be more reps of course, from Sony, Capitol, Columbia, RCA and Universal. All would come by frequently for a long time, but now they just email or send packages in the mail. Business is down, after all, from its peak 10 or 12 years ago but not by that much. Business was really down three or four years ago at the start of the recession.
You couldn't tell it now, though. The kid who came in to pick up a rare double-live Grateful Dead CD along with a Grateful Dead poster that James keeps in stock at the back of the store almost bought another rare reissue. It was a $49 import of Blink-182 tracks.
"Believe it or not, this album meant a lot to me at one point in my life." the erstwhile young Deadhead told James. "I've changed a lot since then." And that's part of James' job. It's a lot like being an amateur psychologist, and it's a job he accepts with grace and humor. After all, he was just a kid himself when he opened the shop almost 34 years ago. He's changed a lot himself since he came to Houston from Long Island, N.Y. (he's a Mets fan), during the Texas oil boom when his dad worked for the old Kellogg oil company. James attended Klein High School back then, which is still visible from his shop window. That's when she came in.
"I'm looking for something," she said. "I don't know who sings it or what it's called but it goes hmm hmm dadadada hmm."
James wasn't certain which song she meant and neither was I but she kept humming and doodle-bopping for a few minutes while James listened. She remembered that the lyrics included the names Romeo and Juliet. She thought they were repeated throughout the song but couldn't be sure.
She hummed a bit more before revealing that this song had been lampooned during a sketch on SNL in the past. The one where they say "More cowbell!" James told her the song is by Blue Oyster Cult, and he he had it on CD. They had other good songs, he told her.
She'd try the greatest hits, but really just wanted to hear that song she kept humming until James played "Don't Fear the Reaper" on his impeccable, unseen stereo. She danced while it played. She told us that her grandparents were Basque royalty who were killed by the fascists in a cave in Spain, but that her father was hidden beneath his mother's skirts, thus surviving to become a war hero unlike any I've ever heard or read about.
It seems the man may have single-handedly saved Spain, France and Italy from the same fascists who killed his entire royal family before going on to Africa to fight the same war there. Then, she told us, he'd earned a trip to the United States where he'd finally live in peace.
But the Americans found out what a fierce warrior her father was and insisted they needed him in Germany to finish off this World War business once and for all. We were still listening to the Blue Oyster Cult while she told us about her father then being called to duty again in Vietnam and possibly other wars.
I didn't get her name, but she did tell me that her husband, who bought a copy of Snoop Dogg's Malice in Wonderland, was a professor and a city planner at the equivalent of an Ivy League university in Mexico City,but that in Texas they wouldn't even make him an engineer until he was 60 years old. This is only slightly unusual at a record store. James switched his computer/stereo back to www.RadioParadise.com and talked about his interest in local guys like Shake Russell and deadhorse. He sells a lot of guitar and bass strings, and keeps a stock of turntable needles because Radio Shack doesn't sell them anymore.
Another kid in a concert shirt came in, asking about a band called Cold 187. He'd special order it today and pick it up the day after tomorrow. A man brought in his recently purchased Townes Van Zandt boxed set saying he wanted to order anything he could get of Townes' music. He couldn't get enough of it, he'd said. James and I agreed. He ordered everything that wasn't out of print, I think. James expects to get just about every special release the record companies are shipping on Record Store Day, this November 23. I got to order the Bob Dylan reissue, the Nirvana reissue, and even a Mad Season release that only listed "TBD" as its title. He expects the reissues of the Beatles' entire catalog on vinyl to be the big seller this year. It was after closing time, which is usually 8 p.m, when a guy parked his car by the front door and announced that he was the guy who'd preordered the new Gary Clark Jr. CD. James handed it to him from a stack and the three of us headed out the door.
That Gary Clark Jr. album is gonna be huge, we all agreed.
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Music Town is located at 17034 Stuebner Airline Rd in Spring, 281-251-2924.