When a local institution has been around as long as Zia Records has – 40 years, to be exact – there are countless stories about the place that have built up over the decades.
Phoenix New Times heard a lot of these tales while putting together our recent cover story on the history of the iconic local independent record store chain.
Local musicians, longtime patrons, and current and former employees spun vivid yarns about Zia’s impact and influence since its debut in 1980. Many of these stories centered on the late Brad Singer, the chain’s larger-than-life founder, who was well-known for his generous nature, love of music, and sense of humor.
So plentiful were these stories that we couldn’t fit them all into a single article. Hence the following supplementary piece, which includes many anecdotes and memories about Zia and Singer that were (regretfully) left on the cutting room floor.
It’s akin a compilation of B-sides, outtakes, and rarities that’s not unlike Dead Kennedy’s Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, and filled with a wealth of memorable material.
The Early Days at Zia’s First Locations
Bobby Lerma, early Zia customer/drummer, The Father Figures: We used to take the bus over to the [original store on 19th Avenue and Indian School Road], me and my fellow punk-rock rugrat friends from Sunnyslope. We were addicted to getting new music and would go to Zia. I was probably 13 and had enough to buy one record every week. Walking in there, for a kid music junkie, it was just magic. They had a big focus on punk rock. They'd be playing cool stuff. They'd have people that looked like you. Back in the early '80s, if you were a punk, New Wave, or whatever, it was huge. I remember looking at the clerks like they were gods.
Michael Pawlicki, early Zia employee/current owner of Ghost of Eastside Records: Brad spotted unusual people and brought them in to work for him. It was a fun place to work. Brad saw something in me that was right, and made me a manager in a few years, which I appreciated. I could also be trouble and did some loony things. One time, I worked all day with coat hangers covering my head because I thought it would get better reception from the psychic temple because it was right around when [Psychic TV’s first album Force the Hand of Chance] came out. I didn't like them, but I was fucking with another guy working at Zia who was obsessed with them. I thought it was funny.
Dapper Gatsby, early Zia customer: I knew about [the first Zia] since I went to St. Gregory Catholic Church down the street. I wasn’t a track star but could run like a son of a bitch back then, and my friend and I would be paid in cassettes for running down shoplifters. We never [were security], just helping Brad out, and, of course, [getting] free cassettes.
John Dixon, Arizona music historian: Brad started selling tickets at Zia [in the early '80s], which was a big deal. There weren't many concerts at first, just stuff at [now-defunct Tempe music venue Dooley's] and whatever [local concert promoter Danny Zelisko] was doing at the time. It wasn’t necessarily to make money; it was really more about getting people through the door than some profit-making thing. It was just another service Brad could offer his customers. He then got on the radio ads for those local concerts where they’d say, “Tickets available at all Zia Record locations.”
Kimber Lanning, former Zia employee/current owner of Stinkweeds Records: When I worked at Zia [in the mid-’80s], Brad appreciated when I took care of his stores. We had these waterfall racks in the windows at the 19th Avenue store. And from the street you could see the backs of these crappy wooden racks, you could see all the dead flies. I was like, “Why?” I ran out and bought bright-colored butcher paper and lined the windows at the bottom and put a bunch of posters above that. Afterward, Brad comes barreling into the store and was like, “Who did all that?” Everybody froze. And I said, “I did.” He goes, “That is awesome!” He was fired up by it.
Kip Dean, former Zia employee: I worked at the warehouse for [Singer’s one-stop distributor] Impact Music but would also fill in at the stores. One time, Brad walked in with Henry Rollins and I was sitting in the store. [Brad] looked over at me and goes “This is Kip, he's our warehouse guy.” And Hank turns to me and says, "Hi warehouse guy!" So I became warehouse guy.
Pawlicki: When I was managing the Zia on [Thunderbird Road in the mid-’80s] store and living off Indian School Road, I’d catch the bus near the [first Zia store]. I’d stop by while waiting for the bus and say hello to whoever was working. One time, a guy walked up and stuck a .44 pistol in my chest. Said he'd been watching the place, robbed the register, and took the ticket money and a bunch of other shit.
Lanning: I remember Brad's car almost getting stolen from behind the first store. We were working one day and, all of sudden, we hear between songs [on the stereo] that someone was talking outside. We opened up the door, and two dudes were push-starting Brad’s car down the alley. We all took off after them and managed to save the car, but the ignition was jacked up.
Zia’s Infamous 'Screaming Dog' Sales
Sandra Singer, Brad Singer’s ex-wife: Once a year [starting in the early ‘80s], Brad would go through every piece of stock, pull things out, and sell records for like 50 cents. We'd call them “Screaming Dogs.” We had the stickers made – white at first and later orange, that would have a dog on it – and we'd have huge sales. That's how we got more room to bring more stuff in.
Dixon: Brad would literally rent a tent and all the stuff he couldn't sell or ship back since the [record] companies only gave you a limited amount of returns, he’d put it out for cheap. Whatever he could get, even if it was a couple of bucks. Brad was getting so many records that he’d have to clean the bins out to make room for the new releases and have these wonderful two- or three-day sales. You couldn't be bogged down with stuff that couldn't sell. It was fantastic. I was always into Arizona music, so I'd get boxes of some obscure band from Mesa. Pulling all this local music, a lot of independent stuff they couldn't get people to buy.
Steve Mandel, former Zia employee: Zia kept having the “Screaming Dog” sales into the ‘90s and beyond. Stuff just got thrown into a giant pile and [the sales] would go for 72 hours straight. You could just come in and there's tens of thousands of CDs for a buck or two apiece. It was great.
Brad Singer and Zia Helping Out Local Bands
Joe “Soulman” Valiente, frontman, Phunk Junkeez: Brad Singer [is a] legend. [He] took risks and made shit happen. I’m guessing [Phunk Junkeez] sold 50,000 units through Zia on the independent level. Without those scans, no one would have even looked at us. No Zia, no record on the shelf for [Phunk Junkeez], period.
Roger Clyne, vocalist/guitarist, The Refreshments/The Peacemakers: Brad was always checking out the local music scene. You could find Brad at Long Wong's or [The] Sun Club. I got to know him little by little by bumping into him and having a beer here and there.
Maria Vassett, former general manager, Epiphany Records: My earliest connection with Brad was when I was managing [local band] Yoko Love. I worked at Buffalo Exchange and used to send Brad these faxes every day, sometimes two or three times a day, that said, “Yoko Love. Catch the buzz. Long Wong's. Wednesday night." He got pissed and called me at work, saying, “Stop fucking faxing me!” Right after we hung up, I faxed him again and said, “Now you and a plus one are on the guest list." He came out and really liked them. A little while past that, he wanted to put Yoko Love on Epiphany.
Michael Pistrui, vocalist, Beats the Hell Out of Me/Fat Gray Cat: Brad was a great friend to a band I was in called Beats the Hell Out of Me. Our first cassette was sold at the counter [at Zia Records with a] Ziploc baggie, cassette tape, J-card, [and] oregano (to make it look like weed). We played the opening parties for [Zia stores] in Tucson at Club Congress, played on the stage at the Chandler store, and our LP Rolling Thunder would have never happened without him.
Patrick Sedillo, guitarist/frontman, The Piersons: Brad loved music so much and was encyclopedic about it. He just knew what he liked. I remember when we signed our record deal with [his indie label Epiphany Records], it was at Long Wong's, which was his favorite bar. Brad told us he believed he “had the cream of Arizona [music]." It made us feel pretty good. It was the time of our lives.
Stephen Ashbrook, singer/songwriter: I first met Brad in the '90s in Tempe. I was in a band called Satellite at the time, but also played a lot of solo acoustic gigs. Brad obviously had Zia Records and he used to come out to a lot of our shows. My first record, called Navigator, I did on Brad's label, Epiphany Records.
The Joys of Hanging Out at Zia Records
Lloyd Hummel, former major-label buyer, Impact Music: Zia was that local record store that you wanted to go hang out in. They had all the cool music. You weren't going to get judged. Well, maybe they'd look at you funny a little.
Sam Means, guitarist/songwriter, The Format: Growing up, I bought all my records at Zia. For my friends [and I], that was our thing to do on Friday and Saturday nights: going to Taco Bell for some food and then going to Zia to hang out. It was great to have it as a resource for music. You could just go talk to somebody and take a box of your CDs or whatever.
Jason Woodbury, Zia’s marketing director: One year for Christmas, my uncle got me a Zia gift certificate when I was in seventh grade [in the mid-’90s]. Even the certificate itself looked badass and made me want to go to Zia. I remember going in and they had Rob Zombie playing and people at the counter looking like they were in Korn, and I was sort of like, "Woah!," like I felt out of my element. But I was so into it.
The Many In-Stores at Zia Records
Pawlicki: We had in-store events back [in the early ‘80s] with Gun Club, Agent Orange, Circle Jerks, GBH; all these now-famous bands before they were very well-known. Sun City Girls did an in-store for their first LP over at the 19th Avenue store.
Dean: The Hüsker Dü [in-store] was fun. Seeing Bob Mould try to finish a shrimp plate while being about a foot away from it was incredible and funny.
Clyne: Because we were loyal and thankful to Brad, Zia, and Epiphany [Records], we got into a fight with Mercury Records right after we signed with them [in the mid-’90s]. Mercury wanted us to do an in-store at the Tower Records in Tempe, but we said, “No, we're gonna do it with Brad and Zia because they helped us get your attention.” It was this big kerfuffle because Tower was a nationwide chain and Mercury wanted us there. But we dug in our heels and it was a good decision. It was the right thing to do and Zia [in Tempe] was packed out. It was really hot and crowded inside but we had a ball. It took like four hours, but it was a really really good hootenanny.
Mandel: When Korn started getting big they came to the [32nd Street and Shea] store and it was fun and weird. All these Korn kids in this huge line but they were well-behaved. People realized they’d forgotten to bring something to get signed so they went to the grocery store next door and started buying cans of corn.
Jason DeVore, frontman, Authority Zero: The first-ever in-store [Authority Zero] was at the Zia in Tempe in like 2000. It was fun and it was weird because the store got packed full of people. Whoever was playing would play in one corner of the store, and people were just filling up the spaces between [CD] racks hanging out and it was like a little punk rock show in a record store. We had a little room to move around but all around it was pretty intimate. It was a really neat experience.
Zak Frankel, Zia’s security and events manager: You're going to laugh at this, but [Insane Clown Posse and other acts on Psychopathic Records] were really nice when they came in [for in-store events]. They were always accommodating and stayed around afterward for their fans. We had a weapons check at one of an event with Twiztid, because everybody brought hatchets and axes and stuff.
Working For Zia and Brad Singer
Clyne: There was a line around the block to get a spot working under one of Brad's roofs. You weren't gonna make a lot of money, but you got to hang out in a where musical ideas were being exchanged and that was the lifeblood for me [in the early ‘90s.] It would’ve been the perfect job for my age at the time, but I couldn't get hired. I applied several times and did this thing they had where you could put in an eight-hour [shift] stocking or doing whatever to move your application closer to the top, but it didn’t get me the job. So I have a line in [The Refreshments’] song “Sucker Punch” on the album Wheelie that goes, “Baby, I was never cool enough to get a job at a record store.” And, ironically, that’s the album that Zia ended up carrying when we signed to [Epiphany Records].
Vassett: It was just really cool working for Brad. There was this fun, crazy atmosphere and he had the best people working for him. Jodi and Mike Maas were doing these incredible ads and graphics for all the stores at [Zia’s in-house design studio CHUD Graphics] and he let them get really creative.
Jodi Maas, former CHUD Graphics artist: The print ads we’d create [for Zia] were pretty offensive most of the time. We constantly got calls complaining, "You've gone too far this time." And I'd go, "Well, everybody's got a line that they cross." I had women mad at me because we did one ad that said, "Rode hard and put away wet." And then when they found out that the art director was a female, then they kind of were like, "Oh, okay. Then we're cool.” There were some ads that were too much.
Mike Maas, former CHUD Graphics artist: I did one ad for Father's Day and I drew a caricature of my own dad. It said, "Prices lower than your old man's opinion of you." I loved it, but Brad [rejected it]. He had his limits.
Jodi Maas: We had one [print] ad making fun of the fans, like, “Hey, people who like to appear cool to your friends, the new Radiohead record is out,” or whatever.
Mike Maas: Most of the fun came out of the ads in the Zia Zine. We made fake ads for [fictious albums] to get people to call the stores asking for them. We did one for something called Korn on the Cob where the band Korn was doing all country covers. People would call the stores asking for it and they'd go, No, that's our stupid art department. We also did Devo Las Vegas with Devo doing Sinatra songs and made an album cover so it would look real. We were doing a lot of crazy stuff.
Mandel: I do remember there was a complaint by one of the customers that she thought that there were illegal activities going on at one of the Zias. As it turned out, she’d smelled pot, so she called the police. [Steve Wiley, Zia’s general manager at the time] actually had to write a memo telling everybody to wait until they got home to smoke pot. A lot of people freaked out over that. “You can't encourage our employees to smoke pot!” But Steve was like, “I can encourage them to do whatever they want outside of working hours.”
Frankel: [Zia] had a store on 43rd Avenue and Union Hills called the "Zia (Whips It) Outlet" back in [the day]. Can you imagine having something like that now? We’d never get away with it.
Mandel: I believe I am the only person in the history of Zia to be sent home for violation of dress code, I'm very proud of that. I worked Christmas Eve with a shirt that said ' Christianity is Stupid' and [Brad] came in a said, “Yeah, you should cover that up.” I'm still proud of that to this day.
Frankel: My first day working for Zia, we had to move out of the [36th Street] and Bell store because [State Route 51] was being constructed. And Brad showed up with a shopping cart full of 40s and booze. I thought, “How are we getting anything done when everybody's ripped?"
Ashbrook: Brad and I were already friends and one day he went, "Hey, why don't you come work at Impact?" since I needed a job at the time. I went in and only worked there for a day or two and was like, "Brad, I'm not cut out for this.” I was just looking at the spines of CDs and categorizing them day in, day out. It wasn’t a thing for me.
Memorable Brad Singer Stories
Lanning: When I turned 21, Brad showed up at Stinkweeds with a [cardboard standee of] Jon Bon Jovi. The door to the store just opened and all of a sudden, there was Jon Bon Jovi standing in the doorway. I still have it at Stinkweeds to this day. People have offered me tons of money for it, but because I got it from Brad, I won't part with it, no matter how much they want to give me. It's just hilarious. People are always wondering why Bon Jovi is at Stinkweeds.
Jodi Maas: We used to get him a Christmas gift collectively each year. One time, Mike sculpted the baby the album cover [of Nirvana's Nevermind] and he carved Brad's head onto the floating 3-D sculpture of the baby. Brad loved it.
Mike Maas: We could lampoon Brad all we wanted. We made this paddleball game they wanted to give to employees for Christmas one year. We put Brad's face on it and just told him to make this wincing [look] when we took his picture for it because you could hit his face with the ball.
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Vassett: Brad used to give out this secret name, Buck O'Toole, to people if they were someone he didn’t like or didn’t want to deal with. So when somebody called asking for Buck O'Toole, you knew that you would never [forward that call] to Brad. There were days where we’d tell him, "Oh, somebody called for Buck O'Toole today." It was always funny. Brad was a total prankster.
Larry Mac, former radio deejay, KUKQ: Brad and I were at [now-defunct Tempe bar] Long Wong’s one night. He decided he wanted to steal an ashtray from there. I tried to talk him out of it. He insisted and snuck it under his jacket. Two weeks later, I got a box mailed to me at KUKQ. Inside it [was] a note and that ashtray. The note said, “Please take me home to Long Wongs – Brad.” Hilarious.
Sedillo: Our first album [on Epiphany Records], Humbucker, cost $5,000 to make and the follow-up, Appleberry Wine, got into the $7,000 range. Brad said he’d put up the money, but we had to paint his house, which was kind of ridiculous. That was the summer of 1997. It was hot, but he had outdoor speakers and played music for us while we worked. I was pissed, but I had to do it to get our record out. It's water under the bridge and I can laugh about it now.
Clyne: Brad was hugely influential because of his support of local music and because of his power of retail and his label. And he wielded it really gracefully, especially for a person who was battling health issues. It was really tough for him to run that empire but he did so in a very community-oriented sort of way. I haven't seen his mark since.