Visited! Haight Street Record Stores

Amoeba-v2After a day of working in San Francisco recently, I took some time to peruse record stores on Haight Street in the City. Yes, the same Haight Street made famous (infamous?) during the late 1960s for drugs, free love and protests. THE Haight-Ashbury district. Haight street is record alley. There are a number of record stores on it or nearby. In one respect, the Haight hasn’t changed. Some of the stores still take on the appearance of that time, with peace symbols and tye-dyed t-shirts in the window. But that’s just for show. They’re in business to make money, not love. Two of the record stores I tried to check out weren’t going to make any money on me, however, as they both closed on a Friday afternoon! Jack’s Record Cellar on 254 Scott Street (just a block north of Haight) and Groove Merchant at 687 Haight Street were both locked tight as a drum, although Groove might have been out to a very late lunch at 3pm. The lights were on and it said it was open, but the door was locked with no one inside. Rusted records2Their hours are 12pm to 7pm.

Jack’s had stuff inside, as I could barely see through windows that hadn’t seen window cleaner in some time. I really liked the rusted out sign above the door (see photo at right), however. It looked like it could have been a great place for the musty dregs of vinyl. Ah well, I’ll try another time.

So it was on to the West End of Haight (download a map PDF of the Haight area stores), to Amoeba Music. Damn, this is a big, supermarket sized store. Lot’s of sort of dimly lit space. I mean, I could see well enough, but there was something about the lighting that said ‘cold and less than inviting.’ The floor was some sort of concrete, I think, that was stained in a few spots. The place could sure use some color, some life. Steel gray seemed to be the tonal value of choice throughout. Nonetheless, I was happy to see aisles of vinyl. Lots of CDs, too, of course. And plenty of posters on the wall, included several $100 Fillmore West originals from the late 60s. There’s a location in Berkeley, too.

LP sidebarI didn’t have a lot of time, unfortunately, so I quickly looked through the vinyl aisle for jazz and then over to the jazz CD section, too. I ended up buying both formats. I’d been looking for vinyl by King Curtis and found “Trouble in Mind,” for $7.99. I used to see this LP advertised on record sleeves decades ago, and therefore it caught my eye. This one is a 1987 reissue, however, remastered by Phil De Lancie at Fantasy Records, Berkeley, so I felt pretty good about it. After listening, it was a good buy. Very clean vinyl, and a pretty nice remaster, too. Good clarity and Curtis’ tenor sax takes a bit of a back seat to the overall song production. Nice guitar work and some really cool backing vocals made me think this was an old, soulful Ray Charles record. Worth the bucks.

I took a chance on a Johnny Griffin LP for $4.99, called “Call It Whachawana,” a 1983 release on Galaxy…which happens to again be a part of the Fantasy Records stable. What’s the risk? I love Griffin’s 60’s work, but I don’t know a thing about his sound 20 years later. After a quick listen, there’s no doubt this is Griffin as a more mature artist. His sound is mostly still there, but I don’t think this is his best. He could always play fast, now he sounds like he’s clipping the notes off just a bit, rather than finishing them off. That’s why the tunes just don’t stick with me. He sounds oddly rushed.

The recording sounds like it was from the 80s. It’s a bit compressed and flat, without the clarity of sonics that the best of the 50s and 60s LPs had. The bassist, Curtis Lundy, sounds like he’s playing an electric bass, even if he isn’t. His bass sounds thin and reedy, as some bass recordings do from this time period. Kenny Washington’s drums are better, they seem fairly well recorded. Griffin is out front as he should be, but I wonder what kind of mic was used. It seems to be missing something. Overall, the recording isn’t as dynamic as I would have hoped (although the waveform looks dynamic). Interestingly, the stereo mix is a throwback to the 60s, with drums mostly panned right and piano left, rather than everything in the center. Throwback can be good.amoebe icon-2

Even the cover photo is a bit indifferent. If you want to hear amazing Griffin, search out his European work from the 70s or Blue Notes from the 60s. That stuff had pizzaz!

I had little patience to look through the clearance bins today, perhaps because there were so many records there. It seemed a bit daunting. Amoeba actually separates them by alphabet, so I only looked through the A, M, N, R and S bins. I picked up a George Shearing LP, “Black Satin,” an Azteca record, “Pyramid of the Moon,” and a compilation, “Singin’ The Blues,” each for two bucks or less each. I didn’t know it, but if you buy three, the fourth is free (from the clearance bins), but I didn’t have time to find my free fourth. I picked up a few CDs, too, but I won’t bother to tell you about those.

The Shearing LP turned out to be schmaltz piano and strings, barely cocktail music. So I didn’t include any these tunes in the medley below. Nice cover, though!

The Azteca LP ($1.99) intrigued me, I had never seen this record before, and the first LP by the band is considered somewhat rare. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m into the Fillmore era bands out of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Azteca was an offshoot that formed just after that time.

Azteca’s sound was a combination of the Santana influenced Mexican-American bands and soft jazz (Santana eventually went this direction, too). They had a big horn section that featured Mel Martin on tenor sax and Wendy Hass on vocals and I liked just two of the songs on this record. The cover was beat to hell (photo upper left) and so was the vinyl, but software can cure many an ill. Give it a listen below and you’ll hear what I mean. Was it overall a keeper? No, it wasn’t. Most of the songs seemed ordinary.

The jewel of the three LPs (for a buck) was the “Singin’ The Blues” comp. Some earthy and early (late 1930s to 1950) blues. Unfortunately, the vinyl was pretty trashed but once again, some software magic mostly saved the day. It’s still a little distorted sounding, probably from a crummy stylus years ago. But the songs are good enough to come through the hash. That’s saying something.

Bunn, Teddy-smaller2“Why Don’t You Do Right” by Lil Green is more than just another blues tune. Lil’s voice has a longing quality to it that’s a little hard to describe, and it makes for a memorable performance. “Just Another Woman,” is sung by trumpeter Hot Lips Page, but it’s the cool guitar by noted plucker Teddy Bunn that attracted me to it. Nice to hear his guitar come through so clearly as I’ve heard other songs by Bunn where his instrument is buried. I’m keeping this LP in my collection.

I spent about an hour at Amoeba, but I could have been there much longer. The parking meter outside was running out. A quarter gets you eight minutes of parking in San Francisco. It was raining and by the time I left, it was 5pm and the Friday commute traffic was pretty nasty getting home. I should have hit the road earlier, but that’s how it goes when you have the vinyl sickness.

Got 3 minutes and 24 seconds ? Check out a photo slide show of the three stores I (tried) visited and some of the tunes from the records I bought!

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2 thoughts on “Visited! Haight Street Record Stores

  1. Love it, Brother! Yeah, Jack’s is an oddity. Every time I try going there he’s never there. I heard he’s got some gems, pricing is whatever the hell he feels like charging. I’ve heard it’s best to put a pile of stuff together. Hey, you should do a similar run up to Oakland/Berkeley. Record shops are still around, and there are some good ones. Grooveyard is alive and well, there’s the Berkeley Amoeba…and a bunch of new/small shops all over the place. Plus parking is cheaper. Yeah man, $0.25 for 8 minutes sucks. That’s why I rarely venture out that way. The best day to go is during the week…park a few blocks away for free…NEVER use the McDonalds lot…they tow. I found some cool jazz and classical LP’s at, of all places, an antique shop in Oakland. We were on our way to a family dinner and we got there early so my nephew, Kenny, and Wendy ducked into this estate sale shop/antique store. Man…found some cool stuff. M.

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