Sunday, April 20, 2008

James McMurtry on NPR on Record Store Day

All Things Considered, April 19, 2008 - On Saturday, April 19, nearly 500 independently owned record stores across the country are celebrating Record Store Day. Hundreds of artists are giving in-store performances, and many stores will commemorate the event with giveaways to thank loyal shoppers.

Here, singer-songwriter James McMurtry shares a few memories of hanging out — and awkwardly self-promoting — in record stores.

I'm sure there must have been record stores in Houston in the late '60s, but I don't remember ever being in one. I was a small child then, and my father bought our records at the drug store on Bissonnet, where we also ate cheeseburgers and drank malts. The drug store carried what records we thought we needed — Johnny Cash at San Quentin, Batman, The Beatles' Revolver.

I still have a couple of old mono LPs purchased at the Bissonnet Drug Store, including Bob Dylan's self-titled first album, on the back cover of which are the italicized words, "This Columbia High Fidelity recording is scientifically designed to play with the highest quality of reproduction on the phonograph of your choice, new or old. If you are the owner of a new stereophonic system, this record will play with even more brilliant true to life fidelity. In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of its becoming obsolete."

I remember my father installing a stereo needle in our mono record player so that the new stereo records wouldn't skip. Of course, we couldn't hear them in stereo, but he didn't care; he just wanted the damn things to play.

The day my second record, Candyland, was released, I was playing at The Bottom Line in New York City. It was 1992; CDs were marketed in the environmentally unfriendly but highly visible long box, and they had just become the top-selling format, having finally overtaken the cassette.

I walked a block down the street to a huge Tower Records and tried to find my record. It wasn't in the rock section where I thought it should have been. I searched every nook and cranny of the store and finally found the country section, a space smaller than the kitchen of a typical Chelsea walk-up.

In one of the bins, there was a card that read "James McMurty [sic]," but no records. I walked to a pay phone, called my manager at his Upper West Side office, and asked him if he could prevail upon someone at Columbia Records to please get some CDs down to Tower before my show. I checked back three hours later and found a half-dozen or so copies of Candyland behind the same misspelled card, but now in the rock section, right between Don McLean and MC 900 Ft. Jesus. It pays to know the right people.

The rest of the story, plus other stories and links, at

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