Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Search For Soul & RnB records in New York

When you only have 3 days to spend in New York, it's impossible to visit every record shop. And between radio shows, a DJ gig and visiting friends, that makes it a challenge. When you can combine hanging with mates and record digging, you're coming close to my definition of nirvana.

So with a tight schedule, I didn't even enter a shop in Manhattan and concentrated my digging efforts in Jersey City and Brooklyn. I arrived on Friday, in Jersey City, just early enough to visit two shops before heading over to the WFMU studios for my appearance on Sheila B's show Sophisticated Boom Boom. You can read all about my experience here.

The first stop was Stan's Square Records, 737 Bergen Ave. The place was empty and according to the only employee, I was the first one to come through the doors that day.

The owner Stan has recently died and apparently the shop is on the verge of closing. You can tell that the stock hasn't been renewed in a while but with enough time and patience, a few gems can be unearthed.

I managed to buy a few Mod Jazz singles but the condition is far from pristine. A copy of the Northern Soul classic Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson for  $1? Sure, I'll take that. My favorite find has to be the Ramsey Lewis Trio doing an instrumental rendition of the In Crowd on Argo.

When I asked if I could go through the row of 45s sitting on a dusty shelf behind the counter, I was told that the family wanted to keep those. I don't get that. What is the point of having records in a store if you're not going to sell them.

Anyway, on to the next one. Iris Record (114 Brunswick St) is, on the other hand, a lot less gloomy. For one, it resides in a century old pharmacy. How cool is that? Drugs and Rock and Roll under the same roof? Sort of makes sense to me.

There are plenty of 45s to go through and for you, LP collectors out there, you won't make the trip for nothing. Just like at Stan's, I didn't find anything mind blowing but the prices are more than reasonable. All the records are sleeveless, a bit worst for wear and in need of a good cleaning but there's potential to find a few good tracks.

The guy behind the counter was really nice and when I was ready to pay, I saw a copy of The Horse by Cliff Nobles just lying there. When I said that I really liked that track, he just added it to the pile as a gift. There's no way that in my own town I would ever come across a Cliff Nobles 45, as common as it may be in New York, on a regular basis.

The next day, I met up with my man Kurtis Powers, from The Face Radio, at his brownstone in Brooklyn for a second round of record hunting.

Just a couple of blocks from Kurtis' place is a memorial to an old Mafia boss.
Now to go hunt for records on a Vespa Sprint was certainly an added bonus. I had packed my helmet for the occasion and I was sure glad I did. How else should a couple of Mods in New York spend the last days of summer anyway?

Can't start a packed day of intense record diggin' without a hearty breakfast.
My guide made sure to take plenty of detours to cover as many Brooklyn neighborhoods as we could. What a pleasant surprise it was when Kurtis decided to take the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. The memory of following him on his stunning white Vespa VBB on this historic bridge on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon will be forever etched in my mind.
For those of you that think that New York has the best bagels in the world, you obviously have never tried a Montreal bagel. Don't believe me? Google it!

Our first stop was Co-Op 87. According to my friend, this is one of the best kept secrets in Brooklyn. He was hesitant reveling it to me knowing that it would make the pages of this blog. I reminded him that a quick Google search of record shops would reveal its identity.

I did understand why this is a favorite digging spot of his. Everything is so neat and organized. Some of the 45s are even classified by label. You're missing a certain Motown single? Boom! Pull out the Motown box.

The most surprising part is when it comes time to pay. The owner simply scans the tiny bar code on the sleeve and gives you the total. Now that's impressive! I didn't leave with a ton of records but I was happy to leave with this very funky song. Actually, I think the title says it all.

Our second and final stop of the day was Superior Elevation Records, 100 White St, #B. The shop is situated in the industrial neighborhood of Bushwick and just exploring the surrounding streets near the record shop was fascinating to me.

The selection at this place is impressive. The lack of time held me from digging deep. I only got to scratch the surface. This doesn't mean I left empty handed. Au contraire my friends!

The service is top notch! And I'm not just saying that because they offered us free beer.

Just before heading back to Montreal on Sunday morning I had time for one last halt. After a hearthy brunch with my budy Scott, aka DJ Bjornlate, in the beautiful neighborhood of Park Slope, I was headed to Northern Lights Records.

Breakfast of champions with my mate Scott.
And what would be a day of driving in Brooklyn without witnessing an accident? I was a minute away from the record shop sitting at a red light when a car behind me, too impatient to wait in traffic, decided to speed up in the upcoming lane only to slip in behind a truck at the edge of the intersection. The only thing he hadn't foreseen, in his infinite wisdom, was the bicycle behind the truck. All I heard was a large thump. Fortunaly, the cyclist wasn't injured. I saw him emerged walking beside his bike with no apparent damage. The only one who seemed to have sustained any damage was the expensive car's paint and the driver's ego.

Northern Lights has a large collection of inexpensive 45s. If you have time on your hands, you'll manage to sniff out a few records to add to your collection. The condition of the 45s aren't the best but they have a VPI machine that will take out most of the dirt.

Their Jamaican and Caribbean section is enviable but like any Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae collector will tell you, the condition is always rough.
The staff was friendly and helpful. This place should definitely be part of your itinerary.

What awaited me after a rather intense 3 days was a 9 hour drive home (with all the stops). I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

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