Record Store Day (recordstoreday.com) is six weeks away, but a good Houstonian should never need an excuse to visit one of our city's many record stores.
These fine brick-and-mortar shops have been doling out music for years and even decades in some instances. Run by some of the finest music lovers in Houston, these shops hold a wealth of knowledge in their staffs and a bounty of aural treasures in their stock.
Ranking them is no small feat, however, and in several cases determining which shop to rank above the next is quite difficult. Being blessed with such fine record stores is something we should consider a nice problem to have, though.
HONORABLE MENTION: SOUND REVOLUTION This head shop is way out in the hinterlands, located on 1960 just west of I-45. Open since 1976, it's more than just another place to buy papers and a cheap poster of Bob Marley. Sound Revolution has a nice selection of well-inspected used vinyl stock and a hearty selection of new releases and reissues.
There are some dusty gems hiding away in the dollar bins, and some racks filled with back issues of Rolling Stone. Alicia and her fellow owners will track down any new releases for customers, and orders a healthy dose of the annual Record Store Day releases.
1312 Cypress Creek Pkwy., 281-444-5454, Facebook page
10. JOEL'S CLASSICAL SHOP This small shop sits on Shepherd just north of Richmond. Beloved by classical musicians and fans for years, Joel opened up his own shop in 2002 after spending 18 years at other stores. His shop does cater to a niche market, offering up primarily classical recordings as well as a selection of jazz, world music, film scores and musicals.
Don't let the narrow selection deter you from dropping by, though. Joel and his staff have a broad knowledge of composers and pieces -- down to the variations in their different historical recordings, and are quick to make a recommendation based on a customer's musical interests.
3514 S. Shepherd #B, 713-526-7010, joelsclassicalshop.squarespace.com/
9. ALLRECORDS It seems that every shop in town moves at some point. After 31 years in its West Gray location, Allrecords took up residence in a small set of suites on Edloe in early 2011. Owner Fred Allred (Allred/Allrecords -- see it now?) fills customer orders daily, having everything shipped overnight so it can get in their hands as soon as possible.
The new location has swaths of CDs and records, offers a calm bit of respite and feels like a nice change compared to the old surroundings of the River Oaks shops.
3211 Edloe, 713-524-4900, no Web site
8. BOB RICHERSON'S WAREHOUSE Okay, so this is technically in Stafford and it's also technically not a record shop. But Bob's warehouse is a manifestation of a digger's dream. A former record-convention organizer -- and a longtime attendee as a dealer before that -- Richerson retired after being diagnosed with throat cancer. He opens up his 3,000-square-foot warehouse on the first Saturday of the month, making his literally hundreds of thousands of pieces available to customers.
There's no Web site, but a quick Craigslist search for "Stafford records" will turn up his ad fairly fast. A longtime associate of Huey Meaux, Bob was given the opportunity to buy up the Crazy Cajun catalog when Meaux was arrested. His collectible Beatles and Elvis sections also run quite deep, and there's some other memorabilia scattered among the rooms that are stacked to the ceiling with records.
Oh, and Bob's always got free coffee, Cokes, water and doughnuts on hand for his loyal customers. Be sure to bring cash, though.
335 Staffordshire 4-A, Stafford
7. SCREWED UP RECORDS & TAPES Houston's renowned Screwed Up Records & Tapes is no longer in its original spot, having made the move to its new West Fuqua location. The shop is still a celebration of the life of the late DJ Screw, however, and carries only one type of item: the legendary screw tapes.
With the catalog currently beyond tape number 250, there are certainly plenty from which to choose. For those new customers feeling overwhelmed, the folks behind the counter are happy to offer up some direction, pointing out the essentials and some staff favorites. The downside here is trying to figure out just when the shop will actually open, as the hours aren't very specific.
3538 W. Fuqua, 713-434-2888, screweduprecords.com
6. BLACK DOG RECORDS This shop has moved, trading its Shepherd digs for a Bissonnet location. Fritz, the shop's namesake, passed in 2007, but customers can expect to see owner Cliff Dotterer accompanied by Frankie Lee and his two Labrador retrievers who have taken up the position.
Black Dog's used stock is carefully inspected to ensure it's up to par, with Dotterer poring over each piece before it hits the floor. There's a hefty selection of newer pressings and reissues as well, but the true treasure here might just be listening to Dotterer's stories. The self-described "old flower child" has more than a few, including one that involves sitting onstage while Led Zeppelin performed their entire first album.
4900 Bissonnet #102, Bellaire, 713-522-6001, blackdogrecordstx.com
5. HEIGHTS VINYL Houston's newest record store opened in late 2011 and has quickly climbed the ranks, winning "Best Vinyl Shop" in our 2012 Best of Houston® awards and establishing itself as a serious pickers' destination.
Owner Craig Brown is meticulous in caring for his stock, ensuring that every used record is cleaned, re-sleeved and bagged before hitting the shelves. The High Noon Stage hosts in-store appearances and acoustic performances, which are often accompanied by free adult beverages. The pricing model is a bit unorthodox -- records are categorized into price ranges (named for the characters in Reservoir Dogs) -- which can result in a bit of confusion. For those with an armload of finds, it can be a chance to strike a deal.
Heights Vinyl also has a surplus of vintage turntable and sound equipment and a huge back stock of cartridges, and Craig will go to great lengths to track down whatever parts are needed to repair your turntable or simply tune it up to make sure it's in proper working order.
3122 White Oak, 281-974-1234, www.heightsvinyl.com
4. SOUND EXCHANGE Down on Richmond Avenue in a small two-story Montrose house sits Sound Exchange, a bastion for the local musician. In business since 1977 -- although it has changed locations several times through the years -- this fiercely independent record store does it all, except carry major labels.
They'll fix your turntable, host your band for an in-store, help you track down records and even sell your music, no matter how ridiculous the packaging. There are bins of dollar records in the back for digging through, rare releases stretching along the walls, a large selection of local music that spans decades at this point, and the bins of sorted vinyl stock, all worth a picker's time.
1846 Richmond, 713-666-5555, soundexchangehouston.com
3. SIG'S LAGOON Run by the lovable Tomas Escalante, this eclectic record store benefits from being surrounded by cool bars and music venues. Dealing in a swath of vintage vinyl, toys, tiki mugs and more, Sig's is a small joint that's packed to the rafters. Seriously, prints are crawling up the walls, and a trek up the stairs leads to another landing jam-packed with more records.
Escalante also brings in new stock and re-pressings, including pretty much everything from the Norton Records catalog. Sig's is a bit too tiny to host in-store appearances, but there's always great music-related art crowding the walls, and the depth of the stock is surprising. You could even snag a gem and a tiki mug and take it next door to Double Trouble, play the record and score a drink. Sig's also garners bonus points for being open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
3622-E Main, 713-533-9525, sigslagoon.com
2. VINAL EDGE Once an Outer-Loop destination, Vinal Edge finally made the jump into the Heights in the summer of 2012. Owned by Chuck Roast -- one of Houston's most knowledgeable music lovers and certainly one of the most interesting with whom to converse -- the store now resides on 19th Street.
The larger space gives Roast the opportunity to hold more in-store appearances, and has provided some more breathing room for those navigating its ample supply of records. The selection is one of the most diverse clusters you'll find, and more stock is constantly arriving. Subscribers to the shop's e-mail list will also know that Roast occasionally releases some of his personal collection for sale, and alerts customers when newly acquired collections hit the floor for the first time.
239 W. 19th, 281-537-2575, vinaledge.com
1. CACTUS MUSIC & VIDEO The standout favorite among Houston's fine music dealers is Cactus Music, which has something for everyone. There's a litany of in-store performances gracing the calendar, with free-flowing Saint Arnold's brews accompanying each one. The Record Ranch performs double-duty operations as both vinyl digging grounds and an art gallery.
Cactus's staff is chock full of friendly folks with an abundance of musical knowledge, from owner Quinn Bishop down to the many local musicians who work behind the counter. Stock is plentiful, there are giveaways and you can even buy tickets for local concerts. It's hard to imagine someone walking out empty-handed, because there's such an astounding variety and depth to the stock. Cactus has been a frequent Best of Houston® winner and certainly for good reason, so stop by already.
2110 Portsmouth, 713-526-9272, cactusmusictx.com