Bay Area Vinyl Hop: Down Home Music Store (Part 1, 2)

Mika Anami

Bay Area Vinyl Hop: Down Home Music Store (Part 2)
Holding Onto The Past Through Roots Music

< Continuing from Part 1>

――Let’s move into the Vinyl Room. So this entire room is vinyl.
Yes. We also have more at the front counter, the more collectable stuff is up there. In here we have every variety; pretty much everything represented here, other than gangster rap. On 78s, 45s, we have turntables for people to listen to things. We do classical music as well now. I often think of classical music being an earlier form of string band music… That's a joke. [ Laughter.]

――Oh, I was starting to believe you… that was confusing! Anyway. Any specialties of genres in this room?
We are all pretty knowledgeable of a lot of genres of music; we have sort of picked things up over the years. We all have eclectic taste. We probably carry more Spanish language music than most places, because we had a fairly good clientele pursuing that. There is more appreciation for that genre now, amongst non-Spanish speakers. You see, one of the things that Chris did is called the Frontera Collection and it’s both 78s and 45s in Tex-Mex and Mexican music. It is now being transferred digitally to be preserved. At one point, there were a series of LPs that came out primarily in the '80s, which were all reissues of old Mexican 78s on LP. He did record some as well.  Let me show you an example.

Primarily these were reissues of music that were going to be lost. All divided into genres and regions with liner notes by Chris and other people who had done research in the area. There were quite a few different ones all in the Tex-Mex music and border music genre. It was a label called Folk Lyric, it was an Arhoolie subsidiary, which also did Czech Bohemian music, Austrian music, Irish American music, and Polish American music; a lot of different ethnic communities in the US, who came here and made records in the ‘20s and ‘30s. And so he was reissuing that.

――How do you get records for this vinyl room?
We only have 2 and ½ staff here, so on occasions we do home visits if somebody has a lot of records. For the most part everybody brings things in; they bring it to us, and that's how we make purchases. Of course, there is new vinyl as well. More and more things are issued on vinyl, so we continue to put new items out as well as used.

――Can you show us some examples of Arhoolie roots music?
Sure. Let’s go over here.

Arhoolie Roots Record Picks!

Black Ace / Black Ace

This is a Texas blues artist and this is one of the early ones: our third issue 1003. So, it was probably 1961. This is a reissue in this case, so I don't have any originals from this. Wayne Pope, who did most of the record graphics for Arhoolie, did the cover. The photo is from a guy named Paul Olliver who was a British blues specialist and a friend of Chris's who also took a lot of really great pictures. This one definitely classifies as roots music. This is a guy sitting on his back porch basically. One of the things I would often say; “How can you determined a Arhoolie record? It would be the dogs and pigs in the background.” [ Chuckles. ]

An Evening With Rev. Louis Overstreet

Reverend Overstreet was a street musician and preacher in Arizona. There is some footage of many of the people that Chris was involved with.

Good Morning Mr. Walker by Joseph Spencer

From the Caribbean. Joseph Spence, a very unusual player and a very unusual form of music. It's like no other. If you heard it you wouldn't know where it came from. You might assume it came from some alien place. This was from a concert in 1971.

■  Black Snake Blues by Clifton Chenier

Chris was very instrumental in opening up the rest of the world to what was a regional form of music that a lot of people didn't know about, that being zydeco and Cajun music. Clifton Chenier was one of his first very big stars. His music caught on and it became quite popular and he booked him in a lot of festivals and brought him out here quite a bit. There is a large Louisiana community here in Richmond and Oakland, there was a huge migration during World War II because there were jobs here. A lot of people from Texas and Louisiana all came here; whereas so many other people, say from Mississippi, they all went to Chicago, but there are so many Texas Louisiana people here.

Just to sort of make the connection, one of Chris's favorites was a Texas blues singer called Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins, who happened to be the cousin of Clifton Chenier. And Chris met Lightnin’ and Lightnin’ said: “You really should go see my cousin Clifton.” That is how it happend.

Again all of these very much followed the roots idea. There are other examples: I didn't include Klezmer, country music, there are really a lot of different genres. Even some early folk music, some traditional jazz music... obviously I can't show you everything. But what I showed you pretty well represents some of what you are asking about in relation to roots.

――How did you start at Down Home, JC?
Well, I had been a customer and I shopped here all the time and I started out here part time. I was a painting contractor. I would work one or two days a week here and I switched over to full time when a position opened. I gave up the painting business. I have been here for 16 years now and I pretty much do everything at the store. I moved to the Bay in 1975 from New York in the midst of the punk rock take over: “The summer of loath.” I still do art, and I have also done some covers for Arhoolie albums.

――Please show us your artwork on the album covers!

Papa Lemon or Lemon Nash, a New Orleans ukulele player. This is from 2013. This one and Smokey Babe, the next one I will show you are not reissues, these were never on LP before. This Papa Lemon album was based on a recording done in the office of Harry Oster, a folklorist. It’s a combination of interviews and performances by Papa Lemon who was a ukulele player in New Orleans primarily in the ‘20s and ‘30s. This says: 1959, ‘60 , ‘61, so it's a series of interviews with Papa Lemon. By the way, Lemon Nash is his real name.

――You drew that figure with the ukelele on there?
Yes that’s my artwork.

Smokey Babe, of course, is not Smokey Babe. I don’t remember his name, but you could call him Mr. Babe, if you want.  [ Laughter. ] That's his mother, who was a very good guitarist, but unfortunately was suffering from arthritis by this time, so she wasn't able to perform. This one was printed in 2014.

This one is definitely a reissue because it was originally in 78s (now on CD). They were from Georgia. Scottdale was a milltown dominated by cotton mills. These guys all worked at the cotton mill, and on lunch breaks or what have you, they would go out and play for the other workers, especially on Fridays, when the money was in the pocket and they could make some extra Monday. Old Folks Gotta Go To Bed was one of their hits, if you could call it that. [ Laughs. ]

――I just noticed nothing is playing in the store right now...
Oh, we have it off because of this interview, but I have a feeling some Aretha Franklin will be on the turntable today...

   ★ ★ ★

JC puts away the albums back onto the shelves and smiles. He is an emissary and protector of good ole music; these cords that keep us connected to our roots.

On the day Aretha Franklin died, when the past felt as faint as distant humming, we found ourselves at Down Home Music Store, a refuge for roots music. Those who recorded, and the folks that work to preserve these recordings, link us to them: the communities, the musicians, and their music. They are right there waiting to be heard — over and over again.


Watch the documentary about Chris and Arhoolie:
This Ain’t No Mouse Music!

Down Home Music Store

Down Home Music Store
10341 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530
Hours: Tue-Sun: 11am-7pm
Closed on Mondays
Tel: (510) 525-2129

Interview and article by Mika Anami
Photographs by Rieko Fujii

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