The Shovels & Rope-curated, two-day High Water Festival is back this year, hallelujah, bringing fans a second helpin’ of top-notch lineups while also crossing paths with the globally renowned Record Store Day (RSD), on Sat. April 21. RSD is now in its 11th year of celebrating the sacred record store experience with special releases and reissues galore and in-store shows at mom-and-pop record shops from London to New York to Charleston. To highlight the importance of the record store experience this High Water weekend, we asked the festival’s featured artists to recall a record, CD, or tape they discovered in person, not online or via an MP3, but a record that they held in their hands at a brick-and-mortar, an album that would have a lasting impact on them.
One young act suggested that the record store discovery era is basically gone, but we beg to differ. While we give credit to the incredible reach of online music, we still believe in record stores, and that there is nothing that compares to walking into a shop chock full of possibilities and emerging with something you may have never discovered otherwise. And it’s up to music fans to save this experience from going the way of much-missed local stores, like 52.5 Records (folded in 2010 after 13 years of business), Millennium Music (gone in 2008 after 15 years), Cat’s Music (shuttered in Summerville in 2016 after 18 years), and Loco Record Shop (closed in 2014 after 18 years).
These High Water artists agree. Hear them out and make a stop at a record store near you soon — be it outside of Charleston, downtown’s the Vinyl Countdown (724 King St.), or at Monster Music & Movies (946 Orleans Road), the only local store ushering in oodles of official RSD releases this weekend.
Shovels & Rope
Eels, Shootenanny! (2003, Dreamworks Records)
Michael Trent: I bought this record at 52.5, having no idea what it was, not long after I moved to Charleston. I liked that the cover was so plain. Just black with only the band name and the title. I think it was the exclamation point that sold me. It seemed very sure of itself. Maybe on some level I was seeking that type of attitude to help me through the anxiety of being in a new city. Anyway, I loved it instantly. It’s immediately tough, tender, and funny — but it was the B side that caught me off-guard and slaayyed me.
Cary Ann Hearst: It wasn’t a few weeks later that I was sitting in Mike’s room, wrapping up some rough demos on his at-the-time top-of-the-line Macintosh laptop (at this point he is the cutest boy I knew with a fancy laptop that you can record your voice with), and I see this record sitting on his turntable and I literally say, “I love the word ‘shootenanny’ — what is this record?” We made some spaghetti and cut the turntable loose and the rest is history.
Tank & The Bangas
Parliament, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976, Casablanca Records)
Norman Spence: There are so many — I have a bunch of records and have an experience behind each one, but I’ll tell you the one that took me the longest to find. We were on tour last year in Europe and the U.K., and I was trying to find Parliament, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. For whatever reason I couldn’t run across it and I finally found it, and it is definitely one of my favorites. I don’t even know why — I have so many other great records but I’m just stuck on this one. It feels so good all the way through, and there’s so much that we borrow from today that came from that record. It had been on my mind and we always try to find the closest record store to the hotel or the Airbnb we’re staying in — I’m always just trying to see what they’ve got, see if there’s anything I need to have, you know, and I usually come home with extra weight in my suitcase. But I was in Camden, England when I found The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein — Camden Market. And that place has so many little record shops with so many hidden gems, like reggae records that you never find anywhere else, jazz records you never find anywhere else. They had so much I was overwhelmed. [The band was] waitin’ on me in the market place when it was time to leave.
Gram Parsons, Another Side of this Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons (2000, Sundazed Records)
Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans (2004, Sounds Familyre)
Man, when I first started collecting records I was about 20 years old and just graduated art college. I would pick things I’d never heard of if I liked the album cover.
Two albums that stick out are the beautiful swan painting on Sufjan Steven’s Seven Swans record. The cover was unignorable and the music really surprised me. It was so personal and the arrangements were so full yet done in such a simple way. The title track made me cry my eyes out.
The other one was Gram Parsons’ Another Side of this Life. It was an album of four track demos. I felt like I found something very rare. In these cover songs Gram recorded I discovered many other artists that I’d go out and get their catalogues. So in a way you could say Gram Parsons turned me on to Fred Neil and Buffy Saint-Marie and the Charlatans via the old shop the Soundwave in Manasquan, New Jersey. I miss that place.
T Hardy Morris
Neil Young, On the Beach (1974, Reprise)
My dad used to always say, “Never let school get in the way of your education.” So, during my college years, I made the familiar browse around the perimeter of Schoolkids Records in downtown Athens more times than I can recall. It’s what I did before classes, between classes, after classes, during classes. That record store became a second school of sorts during my early years in Athens. I would ask what was playing in the store, ask to listen to certain things I was curious about, read the zines, hang around, pretend I knew a hell of a lot more than I did. I remember stumbling upon a CD of Neil Young’s On the Beach, at Schoolkids Records not long after it had been reissued on disc. The cover art and the 1974 year of original release was promising, so I nervously asked the aficionado at the counter (the late Ross Shapiro of the Glands) if it was “any good.” He simply smiled and said, “Yeah, buy that.” That album ended up changing my life, changed how I viewed songwriting and the approach to making records. Thanks, Neil. Thanks, Ross.
(Schoolkids Records is no more in Athens, although they do still have a location in Chapel Hill, N.C. and we still have the fantastic Wuxtry Records and Low YoYo in our downtown, so we are pretty lucky, considering.)
Various artists, Bermuda Calypso Festival (Bermuda Record Co.)
Justin Osborne: When 52.5 was closing I randomly bought this Bermuda Calypso record from — I think — the ’40s. I haven’t been able to locate another copy online and the recordings aren’t available anywhere digitally that I can find, but the record is so damn brilliant! We used to have dance parties at [my former home on] Line Street where we would just play it over and over and over again. I can still see Walker [Trull, Crab Claw] in my head doing his dance moves. My wife and I still play it at home from time to time. I have a voice memo of it that I recorded on my phone, just so I can listen to it when I’m on tour, too. It was a fantastic find and I’m forever grateful to the universe for giving it to me.
Johnny Cash, Ride This Train (1960, Country Classics)
I bought Ride This Train by Johnny Cash for something like $1 at a flea market in Washington, D.C. when I was about 16. I really didn’t know much about Johnny at the time — I bought it because I’d heard “Folsom Prison Blues” and instantly thought this guy sounded kind of scary and interesting. But the cover picture of Ride This Train is pretty goofy. He’s dressed up as a cartoonish kind of cowboy, standing on a brightly lit desert hill with a train going by in the background. It looks like a Hollywood set poster for some cheap cowboy movie. I don’t get the sense Johnny was kidding at all here — he’s a little bit of a cornball at heart, which is something I love most about him. Anyhow the record is a narration, “ride this train to Eugene Oregon …”, with a lot of train-chugging and whistling. Johnny sings and talks through regional American songs from characters all over the country. For a 16-year-old boy, the record wasn’t even in the same universe as Folsom Prison Blues, and so I shelved it for over a decade. Some time in my late 20s, I was touring around a lot with the band (actually getting to know places like Eugene, Ore., or Memphis, Tenn.), when someone put on that record in the van and we listened to it for a whole tour driving through the Pacific Northwest and California. I barely remembered that I’d ever bought it, but sure enough when I got home, I dusted it off and I still love it to this day. Reminds me of being happy on tour with my friends.
The Fugs, Virgin Fugs (1967, ESP-Disk)
Just recently found the Fugs record, Virgin Fugs (For Adult Minds Only), in a local record store. The Fugs, lead by the poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, are one of my favorite bands to come out of NYC. I had never seen this record before, which I believe is outtakes from their first couple of recording sessions. It’s a very wild collection of hallucinatory compositions. Unfortunately, my record player recently broke so I haven’t been able to play it much but I have it propped up on my piano so I can admire the cover, which features a William Blake drawing of the angel of the revelation with Ed Sanders’ head collaged over the angels.
Adam & The Ants, King of the Wild Frontier (1980, CBS Records International)
Rhett Miller: When I was a kid I lived in the original location of Half-Price Records and Tapes in Dallas. I would scour the bins of used vinyl, poring over the covers. Adam & the Ants’ Kings of the Wild Frontier featured such an evocative, otherworldly album cover that I felt I had to buy it. The music within was primitive and insane and it changed my life.
Neil Diamond, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973, CBS Records International)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull —soundtrack album — by Neil Diamond is a record I stumbled upon in an old record store. I bought it because I’d read the book and loved it. Jonathan’s passion for flight of all kinds led him to a “higher plane of existence,” where he was able to find his “true self.” Listening to the orchestral arrangements, you can just see Jonathan soaring! It’s a record for dreamers. I got this record out of the junk box at Java Cabana in Memphis. “Skybird” is my favorite song from the record.
Band of Horses
Sonic Youth, Goo (DGC Records, 1990)
Creighton Barrett: Sonic Youth’s Goo was my most inspirational, random buy at Wax Tree Records in Orlando, Fla. in 1993. Well, I actually bought two things at random that day; I also bought Butthole Surfers’ Hairway to Steven, because my stoned, sarcastic ass thought it was an amazing album title (still goddamn do), and the single, “I Saw an X-ray of a Girl Passing Gas,” was absolutely mind-melting and beyond hilarious. But, back to Goo. Yeah, I recognized that the cover was by (Raymond) Pettibon, so I figured if he did the art, then they kind of had to be rad? Right? The store had a giant promo poster of the cover on the wall that, oddly enough, ended up in the bedroom of the first girl I made out with. But I remember like it was yesterday, putting that CD in my bedroom stereo and hearing “Dirty Boots” for the first time. It was the prettiest and most savage guitar hook that was beautiful and somehow fatal at the same time; I still love it so much. And my favorite sleeper on that record, “Mote,” just crushes in such a weird, Northeast vibe of that time. I truly love that record and hope my family remembers to put it in my coffin before they set it on fire and send it down Viagra Falls.
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, The Bob Wills Anthology (1991, Columbia)
Discovering Bob Wills as a child really shaped me as a musician early on. Of course, this is before the vinyl resurgence, but I would lock myself in my room for hours with a Bob Wills anthology CD and just play along on my fiddle and learn the fiddle parts and try to sing like Tommy Duncan. Those records really expanded my horizons of what I could do on a fiddle, they introduced me to swing and jazz … it’s by far my most important memory attached to recorded music.
The Wild Reeds
Van Morrison, Moondance (1978, Warner Bros.)
Mackenzie Howe: I was living in Kathmandu, Nepal during my junior year of college, and the year following my graduation. Part of Nepal’s charm is the plethora of janky shops that line the crowded city streets, including “CD” stores which are chock-full of bootleg burned copies of all the classics. My best friend and I bought whatever we could find but I’ll never forget the way Van Morrison’s Moondance colored those months of my life. The cool thing about classic albums is when you finally give them the time you know they deserve past whatever hits you may have heard. We had electricity on and off for a total of about eight hours a day and we’d charge up our laptops so we could listen to it all night by candlelight once we lost power. To this day the opening line of “And It Stoned Me” still stops me in my tracks wherever I am.