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A Thing of the Past? The Quest to Find Vintage Vinyl in the Valley

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Rim Arrives record from Time Machine Records. Photo by Jessie Ostreicher

Wine, clothing, and records can all be “vintage.” But what does that mean? In reference to vinyl, it can be a euphemism for “old,” interchanged with the term “rare” or a trigger for strong opinions among record shop owners. The Rogue Valley Messenger went on a quest to seek out vintage vinyl in the valley: Where to find it? Who’s buying it? And whether it sounds better than other formats?

Conclusion: vinyl is still spinning as it always has and vintage, rare and limited don’t mean the same things.

Here’s the scoop.

Whether you had 45s of Elvis or albums containing multiple records with two songs on each side, or LPs (long plays) or EPs (extended plays), or even compact discs, they are all “records” in variable formats. While major label record production intentionally slowed down at the end of the 80s and early 90s, vinyl from indy and private labels was actively sought out by young and old alike. Now, the major labels are back at it producing new records and remastering old ones. There are serious collectors who won’t play the treasures they find, iGens eager to hold something real, and seasoned record fans still adding to their stash in the area.

The Messenger interviewed the owner of the most vintage record store in the valley, Ashland’s Music Coop to start the quest. John Brenes has been operating the store with his wife Trina for 43 ½ years. He personally owns between 7,000 and 8,000 records and knew he wanted to open a record store at 14. By 16, he began working at Record City in Compton, California and found his niche. He experienced a record-store hiatus while in Vietnam, “Getting shot at was a bitch, but having no record stores in Vietnam was even worse,” he explains. Then, he opened the Music Coop in 1975 at age 31.

How does the man who’s been well-acquainted with vinyl, a friend to Linda Ronstadt, and quite possibly vintage himself define it?

“Vintage vinyl means an original pressing in pristine condition. Pristine means black, shiny and no visible wear. The grooves are not gray and there are no scratches or jelly donut drippings.” Less than 5 percent of Music Coop’s inventory is vintage though. People do leave records for Brenes but most cannot be used or sold. Once going to landfills, but now there are artists recycling them into a melted bowl or a painted outdoor scene or even one a tribute to the movie Casablanca carved with silhouettes of Bogart and Bacall.”

Messenger: Do records sound better than digital formats?

Brenes: “In the beginning of CDs, LPs positively sounded better. CDs sounded flat and one-dimensional. However, by the mid-nineties those issues had been resolved with better technology and engineers making better use of the technology. The argument goes on, I hear it every day, with opinions equally divided. The truth is the format that sounds best to you is what matters.  I will say that both LPs and CDs sound better than MP3 downloaded music.”  

Messenger: Are records making a comeback?

Brenes: “There has been a resurgence of new records in the last 10-12 years as major labels have gotten back into it. But records are not coming back. They are back.”

Messenger: Why do people buy records?

Brenes: “They are retro, cool, nostalgic, very social. The young people want something real to hold. They like the fact that they have to get up and turn the record over.”

Messenger: What is your advice to record collectors?

Brenes: “Have two separate record player styluses. One for new and vintage LPs and one for worn and LPs that may be scratched. That way you will not ruin the vintage records but can enjoy playing anything you want. He explains that the styluses on players can get chipped or beat up and “once a record is shot, it’s shot.” You can clean a record but not save a damaged one.

The Messenger wanted to know if other record store owners defined vintage vinyl as Brenes did.

Jessie Ostreicher, Owner and Operator of Time Machine Records in Grants Pass (opened in 2017), specializes in finding rare records. He opened his store on a whim after he had to move and could no longer house records in his basement and sell them online. His vintage vinyl definition is: “Any vinyl that was pressed before and up until the rise of CDs, in the 90s, which was the end of records, as kind of the main music format before that. On the other hand, a record is rare based upon how many were made, the popularity of the band, whether it is first press (original) or a re-release, or if an obscure band gets noticed by a DJ or online.”

Messenger: Do records sound better than digital formats?

“The sound quality of a record is way better! Digital files are compressed and sound flat. In fact, people are often surprised when they hear a song on a record that they have heard before in digital format. It is like hearing a whole new song sometimes.”

Messenger: Are records making a comeback?

“It has been cool to see who is buying all the way from teenagers to seniors. We have die-hard collectors and then those that are new to it.”

Messenger: Why do people buy records?

“Part of the fun of collecting is the treasure hunt; finding something you never heard before. To hold an album in your hands and listen to it is a whole different interaction with the music.” And, “People seem to be reconnecting with music and are blown away when they hear the album for the first time vs. online.”

Messenger: What is your advice to record collectors?

“Really take care of your records! Keep them in nice inner sleeves, and stored in their jackets, try not to touch the playing surface. And always store them upright not stacked on top of each other!” 

To complete the quest, the Messenger spoke to Forest, co-manager, of Listen Here also in Grants Pass. Although, Listen Here carries only newer records, he thinks vintage is about “older stuff.” He explains, “A vintage record is anything before the vinyl crash in the 80s.” On the other hand, “limited” means 5,000 copies or less.

Messenger: Do records sound better than digital formats?

“Oh definitely. It has been scientifically proven that a FLAC (Full Lossless Audio Codac) is the only type of technology that holds the same quality. Records are better than anything digital. Something to do with sound waves turned into right angles or straight lines rather than sine waves.”

With the term “vintage” vinyl still in debate, the Messenger’s quest ends but yours does not have to cease. Check out the rare finds pictured here provided by Time Machine Records. If you want to conduct your own vintage vinyl valley scavenger hunt, see if you can locate either: “Chuck Berry vintage box set – 1st press” or “The Perfect Circle” – a 1977 obscure funk album. From the lyrics of Dead or Alive – “You spin me right ’round, baby right ’round like a record, baby right ’round, ’round, ’round …”

Music Coop
10 am – 6 pm, Monday – Thursday
10 am – 8 pm, Friday
10 am – 6 pm, Saturday
10 am – 5 pm, Sunday
268 E. Main Street, Ashland

Time Machine Records
12 – 6 pm, Tuesday – Saturday
208 NW 6th Street, Grants Pass

Listen Here
10 am – 6 pm, Monday – Saturday
234 SW 6th Street, Grants Pass

Biscuits & Vinyl  
Noon – 6 pm, Tuesday – Saturday
103 Talent Ave, Talent

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