May 21, 2018
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Maine music lovers, sellers ready to celebrate Record Store Day

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Curt Stephens found exactly what he was looking for — which was an accomplishment, considering he didn’t know what he was seeking when he walked into Vinylhaven, a record store on Maine Street.

He discovered an original pressing of Jimi Hendrix’s album “Axis: Bold as Love,” “Grand Funk Railroad Live,” April Wine’s “On Record” and four or five other albums, all etched in vinyl and packaged in their glorious foot-square cardboard sleeves. This is the old stuff, LPs, from the days before CDs and mp3s.

“I always find something here that’s worth buying,” said Stephens, a record fanatic from Nova Scotia who frequently ties family visits in the area to a trip to Vinylhaven. “It’s one of my favorite spots.”

“Do you want me to do the numbers on those?”said Dave Hunt, Vinylhaven’s owner, who was tinkering on a 1980s-era brushed aluminum Sony amplifier, dipping an electrode from place to place to determine where amid the switches and transistors the music stopped. He thumbed open a dog-eared book that told him the best-case-scenario values of the records, especially for the first-pressings, and came up with a total of $67. That’s about half what the book said, minus $20 for some records Stephens brought from his home in Nova Scotia to trade.

“Fair enough,” said Stephens, who has been collecting records since he was a kid.

“Fair enough,” said Hunt, who has been selling them for a couple of decades. Another happy customer out the door.

On Saturday, Vinylhaven and music retailers all over the country and around the world will celebrate Record Store Day, a celebration of the notion that even though technology makes it possible to pluck music from cyberspace, there will always be a calling for stores that sell you something from your favorite band that you can hold in your hands.

“One of the reasons why the store is so important is because it’s where a CD lives,” said Chris Brown, who works for Maine-based Bull Moose Music and who conceived the idea of Record Store Day in 2007 as chairman of a trade group called Music Monitor Network. “There’s a big difference between listening a digital track isolated from everything else and listening to a whole album. If you like a band enough to want to hear their whole thing, you’ll probably buy the album at a record store.”

Record Store Day has grown from about 500 participating stores in 2008 to more than 1,700 this Saturday, said Brown, who said stores like Vinylhaven jumping into the event is what has led to such rapid growth.

“It’s going to be one of [Bull Moose’s] busiest sales days of the year,” he said.

That also likely will be true at Vinylhaven, said Hunt, who has been selling CDs and LPs in Brunswick since the late 1990s and has been fixing electrical equipment in the area for some 35 years.

His interest in music and music equipment started as a child marveling over the contraptions his grandfather, who worked for Central Maine Power, brought home to his basement workbench. Over the years he’s fixed all manner of audio equipment and spent his fair share of time on stages singing and chopping away at a guitar. One of his recent projects, a mold-stained Fender Tweed guitar amplifier, came from the Topsham dump. Hunt replaced a couple of minor components and put it for sale in the front of his store with a sign that says “sounds great.”

“It’s a crime what people throw away,” he said. “That amp today would cost you $1,400. More than 50 percent of the time the only problem is dirty switches and controls.”

That ended up being the only problem with that aluminum Sony amp, by the way. Another happy customer out the door.

Record stores come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from gleaming music sections in department stores to Hunt’s packed-in record stacks in a small downtown storefront. While for some the word “record” recalls the past and those black vinyl discs, for others it’s a term that will live on forever as a shortened version of recording. At Vinylhaven, there’s a palpable love for the former, especially if it’s rare — a category almost all vinyl records will fall into sooner or later.

As part of Saturday’s festivities, Hunt is raffling off a few original-print Sun Records 45s from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, plus an obscure and eccentric Czechoslovakian LP called “Meditace: The Blue Effect” that Hunt describes as Gregorian chant/psychedelic fusion.

The point of records, Hunt said as he rested a stylus on a spinning Jerry Lee Lewis single, is hearing something different.

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