· By Steffen Smith
So, Why Start an Online Record Store in the Middle of a Pandemic?
Well, why not? Turns out all this enforced seclusion is rocket fuel for dreamers and schemers. With a little time on my hands, a passion for all things vinyl quickly went from an eBay side hustle to something much bigger. Out of the COVID chaos, Deaf Man Vinyl was born on this day, May 25, 2020. No bricks, no mortar — just a fiercely independent online record store. No junk. Just a lovingly curated list of really great records. Important albums. Classics. Music that should be heard.
And yes, there is significance to a May 25th launch. A deep significance. My much-beloved father was born on May 25. Popee was always a believer. A cheerleader and encourager of all my entrepreneurial ventures. And I know he’d be grinning at this one.
Welcome to My 8-track Nightmare
My dad looms large in my musical upbringing, although I tell people that I grew up in a musical ghetto. Yes, there was always music in the house. My folks had the classic 1970s speakers-as-furniture thing going on, and Pops graciously let me run my 45s through them. But the soundtrack of my early life was decidedly uncool. Family road trips were an unending 8-track serenade from the Carpenters and Ferrante & Teicher (I think they came with the Buick).
Things were not much better at home, where the stack on the Gerard “record changer” was heavy on John Denver and Helen Reddy. The only bright spot was family night in the den, when Pops broke out the George Carlin albums. Before HBO stand-up specials, this was about the only way to get your comedy. I remember literally peeing my pjs at Al Sleet, the “Hippy Dippy Weatherman” — and sneaking in an after-hours listen to that most forbidden of all fruit, the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Thankfully, my free-thinking dad knew that dirty words didn’t have the power to “curve your spine, grow hair on your hands and maybe, even bring — God help us — peace without honor, and a bourbon.”
One of These Nights …
I still remember the day my dad brought home The Eagles’ One of These Nights from the record store in the Wonderland Mall (this was way before online record stores). Whaaat!? Then a four-LP box set from Chicago, Live at Carnegie Hall. Holy sh*t! Of course, being Texas in the mid ’70s, some choice Willie Nelson made its way home (I still get Lone-Star nostalgic when I hear Red Headed Stranger or Shotgun Willie).
Slowly but surely, I began cobbling together some relief. A garage-sale 8-track here and there. Grand Funk’s American Band on 45 rpm. Then, my first-ever LP album — purchased with yard-mowing money earned the hard way in that blazing hot Texas sun. Aaaaah … Elton John’s 1973 2-disc masterpiece! Goodbye Yellow Brick Road spurred some serious 11-year-old pondering. What is it about Saturday night that makes it alright for fighting? And why, exactly, do all the young girls love Alice?
You Don’t Send Me Flowers
Still, I couldn’t fully escape the familial curse. My first concert was Neil Diamond with the folks. (In fairness, I’ve grown to love Neil Diamond and am still in awe to this day of his hitmaking ability). Yet, this was the same dad who schlepped his 14-year-old son and his two thugs-in-the-making buddies to the Municipal Auditorium to see Alice Cooper. The Welcome to My Nightmare tour was the stuff of parental nightmares — all guillotines and gore, pyrotechnics and pythons. All my dad knew is that it made me happy, and so away we went.
This the same dad who sweated it out in the parking lot on a muggy South Florida night to pick up me and another thug-in-the-making from Aerosmith’s stop on the Draw the Lines Tour. The same dad who made a midnight run to the Detention Center after a fight at a Ted Nugent concert landed me in juvie. Sigh …
Der Funkengruvin No. 7So that’s my Pops. Wish I could say his musical taste got better. But the most daring he got with live music was proudly taking my sister and me to a Sha Na Na show.
He never rocked hard. Instead, he developed a deep and abiding love of classical music. There weren’t any online record stores back then, so I remember panicked Father’s Day trips to a brick-and-mortar store, frantically pawing through the inscrutable Deutsche Grammophon releases, trying to figure out the difference between Concerto No. 5 and Symphony No. 7. For birthdays, I worked off some of my crushing debt to the Columbia House Record and Tape Club with a tasty “selection of the month” or two for dad (those Art Garfunkel and Leon Redbone albums had to go somewhere).
And dad always returned the favor. I begged him to get me the California Jam II album after I heard Frank Marino crushing it with Johnny B. Goode. And there it was under the Christmas tree, igniting my enduring love of the Blues.
That was my dad. The beloved man who filled the house with music. I wish with all of my heart he was here now. I’d be busting his chops once again over his questionable taste in music — and that truly horrific comb-over. But I know he would be as proud and as excited as I am to see our online record store Deaf Man Vinyl come to life.
I hope you, too, have someone who’s always in your corner. Someone who believes in you. Someone who fills your life with music.