Dropping the needle on record collecting

Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 8:57 p.m.

In the 1990s, when it was assumed that the CD would quickly kill both vinyl and cassette tape as the preferred method of transmission for recorded music, Troy Bennett was still collecting records.

“I remember when I was younger, I inherited a ton of records. That was my intro to vinyl. I definitely was drawn to it very early on,” said Bennett. “Something grabbed me about that sound. It’s got that warmth that nothing else can really replace.”

Now, one-half of the Portland-based Celtic-Maritime folk duo the Squid Jiggers — with bassist and co-vocalist Dave Rowe — Bennett maintains a library of thousands of records. Those first records he got, including albums by the Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem and Maine’s own folk duo Schooner Fare — one half of which was Tom Rowe, father of Bennett’s future bandmate — were hugely influential on him as a musician.

“Before Google and eBay, I was driving all over Maine to find records,” said Bennett, who grew up in Buxton. “I would save my money and come to Portland and thumb through all the stuff at the old Amadeus Music store. That was way before collecting vinyl was ever cool.”

His passion for vinyl has continued unabated, so much so that Bennett and Rowe just released their second album as the Squid Jiggers, “33⅓.” The album is a tribute to the format, and was recorded with vintage equipment to capture as much of the warmth, pop and crackle of actual vinyl as possible. The album itself is a delightfully entertaining collection of Scottish, Irish and Maritime sea shanties, about half of which are originals. The band wanted to release “33⅓” on vinyl, of course, but the cost is prohibitive — hence their going to great lengths to give the CD at least the right sound.

Bennett’s not alone in his love for records. According to Nielsen SoundScan, sales of vinyl doubled between 2007 and 2008, grew another 33 percent in 2009 and another 14.2 percent in 2010. Sure, that’s only 2.8 million sales out of 443 million records sold in all other formats but it’s a sign of growth for the music industry, which typically has only seen sales go down in the past decade. And that’s not including the hard-to-track sales of used vinyl, which can be purchased at any number of record stores and antique shops nationwide.

“There’s no question there’s a renewed interest in vinyl, as the CD has waned in popularity,” said Bob Richards, who has operated used vinyl store Record Connection in Waterville since 1981. “I see a lot more young people coming in, and they’re looking for heavy metal and punk and ’60s stuff, and even old country and soul. I think people across the board are just looking for good music. I think vinyl attracts people who just love music.”

Today, it’s common to see bands release albums on both CD and vinyl as well as digital download. As of the week of Oct. 17-23, the top-five-selling vinyl records on Amazon.com were “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” from French electronic musician M83, pre-ordered new releases and reissues from Tom Waits, Coldplay and the Beach Boys, and “Abbey Road” from the Beatles; in 2010, the highest-selling new vinyl release was the Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” Many bands now reissue catalog albums loaded with lavish extras, like B-sides, expanded liner notes, posters and more. These can frequently cost well over $50 a piece, however. For those simply interested in collecting records to listen to at home, used vinyl is the way to go. It’s easy to pick up four or five classic albums for under $20.

Bob Wirtz, who has owned and operated Enterprise Records on Congress Street in Portland for 25 years, had a tough time in the year or so after the economic slowdown, but has seen business rebound in the years since.

“It was really rough for about a year, with improvement fairly steady since. Where we’re at now is almost where we were before all that mess, and with that, we have about the same amount of business with, yes, a decidedly younger clientele,” said Wirtz. “I definitely get a sense that records are in higher demand … given the fact that a younger crowd now wants them and that crowd seems to be growing all the time.”

Besides retail stores that cater almost exclusively to records, there are plenty of other places to buy used vinyl, especially the countless antique shops scattered throughout the state. Yard sales are also a common place to find records, though the quality may often be questionable.

“There are so many homeless records that deserve good homes,” said Bennett. “For mere pennies a day, you can give a home to an unfortunate record. They just want to be loved. And they will love you back.”

Richards, from Record Connection, has a theory as to why the format has such renewed popularity. He says vinyl gives listeners a more intimate connection to the music they love — and that’s an experience that’s hard to replicate with an iPod.

“You have 18 to 20 minutes of music, and then you’ve got to stop and turn it over, and deal with the silence,” he said. “You’ve got to clean it and keep it in good shape. You get more physical communication with a record than with a CD, and certainly than with an MP3. You focus on what you’re listening to. It slows you down. You hear things you wouldn’t normally hear. I think it gives a fuller experience, and I think that’s what people are realizing, even as technology runs in the other direction.”

The Squid Jiggers will perform at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant in Lisbon; at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Bull Feeney’s in Portland; and at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at the Black Bear Cafe in Naples. The new album can be purchased at all three shows and is also available on iTunes. For information, visit squidjiggers.com.

Where to get vinyl

• Record Connection, 252 Main St., Waterville, 873-1798

• Dr. Records, 20 Main St. Orono, 866-7874

• Antique Marketplace, 65 Main St, Bangor, antiquemarketplacecafe.com

• The Big Chicken Barn, 1768 Bucksport Rd., Ellsworth, www.bigchickenbarn.com

• Vinylhaven Records, 147 Maine St., Brunswick, 729-6513

• Music Plus, 140 Main St., Biddeford, 283-2927

• Enterprise Records, 650 Congress St. Portland, 773-7672

• Sounds Absurd, 55 Oak St., Portland, tikisong@gmail.com

• Strange Maine, 578 Congress St., Portland, www.kraag.org/strange

• Bill’s Stuff, 405 College St., Lewiston, www.billstuff.com

• Bill O’Neil’s House of Rock n’ Roll, 840 Route 1, Saco, billrecords.gemm.com

• Bull Moose Music, locations statewide, including Bangor, Brunswick, Lewiston, North Windham, Portland, Sanford, Scarborough and Waterville; bullmoose.com.

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