It's with great sadness that we report that Dennis Chiesa, owner of Tracks in Wax Records, passed away May 1 of complications involving his battle against cancer. Chiesa was 67.
The Irish Cultural Center ran this obituary, expressing sincere sadness and extending condolences to his wife, Julie O'Mahar Chiesa, who is the managing editor of the Desert Shamrock Irish paper and treasurer of the Phoenix St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee.
I stopped into Tracks, located at 4741 North Central Avenue, to speak with O'Mahar Chiesa, who discussed with me the upcoming benefit scheduled in Chiesa's memory, and the future of Tracks in Wax. I was also able to reach Sam Hill, a loyal customer and friend of the Chiesas', who discussed his memories of Dennis and his love of the store.
The store opened in 1982, a joint venture between Dennis and his brother Don. "Dennis knew the '50s and '60s, Don knew the '70s and '80s, and I counted the money," Julie jokes, stating that she raised the couple's two children.
Chiesa was walking and talking only three days before his passing, she says, explaining that complications from chemotherapy lowered his blood cell count, and that a mutual decision was reached by Dennis, his family, and doctor to stop treatment and allow him to go peacefully.
"Collectors from all over would stop in," O'Mahar Chiesa says, noting that out-of-town collectors often stopped by to raid the bins for blues, R&B, and jazz platters.
"I've been going there since '83, two or three times a week," Hill says. "What I remember most about Dennis was his kindness to customers. On multiple occasions, people would bring in records that were less than desirable, and Dennis wouldn't turn them away. He'd give them some money -- when he could tell they really needed it -- then turn around and throw the records away."
Chiesa was an avid collector himself. "Dennis was into Dylan, and R&B doo-wop. He had a fantastic collection of EPs, and was really into Vogue Picture Records. He wanted to complete the whole run, but I don't think he ever did," Hill says.
The store was has been for sale in recent years, but O'Mahar Chiesa has taken it off the market, noting she may attempt to sell it again in a few years. In the meantime, she'll be running the store, and a cast of regulars will be assisting her in the pricing of rare items.
"There are a lot of nice records here, and we want people to be able to come in and buy them," O'Mahar Chiesa says.
The next few months promise to be interesting ones for the store. In June, local film company Running Wild Films are set to film The Big Something on location in the store. A murder mystery with the tagline "Vinyl may be a subculture, but murder is everyone's business," is about a record store employee who begins investigating the death of the record store owner.
"The film shares a sense of preservation and love of the store," director Travis Mills said over the phone. "I'm grateful that I'm being allowed to make my movie there."
According to Hill, it won't be the first time the location was used in a film. He states that scenes of 1995's Waiting to Exhale were shot there, though he isn't certain if they made the final cut of the movie (we aren't, either).
Tracks in Wax and the Chiesa family have an understated quality. The family "doesn't believe in funerals," and in keeping, the news of Chiesa's passing has been muted. A memorial concert is being planned for August 6, at O'Connor's Pub, with Bill Tarsha of the Rocket 88's curating musical guests.
"The store is a landmark," O'Mahar Chiesa says. "This is history here."