A man holds up a 45 RPM record and calls out to his friend, who’s shopping on the other side of John Dixon’s garage.
“Hey, it’s ‘Purple People Eater!’” he shouts, placing the single on a stack of other records he’s found today. “I know it’s a novelty record,” he mutters to himself, “but what the heck.”
Nearby, a teenager squints at the cover of an LP. “Who’s Janis Ian?” she asks her father, who’s reading the liner notes on a Jan and Dean album. “Folk singer,” he grunts without looking up. “Late '60s.”
Next to him, a skinny guy with a gray ponytail flips quickly through a box of albums marked “Minty!”, record-collector slang for old vinyl in especially good shape.
My friend John sits quietly in the corner, watching all this. “I had a customer this morning who bought a record player for his kid for Christmas,” he tells me with a chuckle. “And he was trying to get the kid to buy old Journey albums Dad had owned in high school.”
Johnny D, his DJ sobriquet, has seen this sort of thing a lot lately, as vinyl records have gone hip again with teenagers and young adults. “It won’t last,” he reminds me. “They don’t want to have deal with storing records, cleaning them, all that. Streaming music is what young people want.”
Those of us who’ve dropped in at John’s latest vinyl garage sale want something else. We want old music that’s new to us, or an upgrade on our beat-to-shit copy of Ike and Tina in Person, or an obscure R&B single by some local band we’ve probably never heard of. Mostly, though, we want the opportunity to shoot the breeze with other people who understand the importance of a white label promo with no spindle marks.
“Record shows and sales are mostly about socializing,” John says as he totes up a stack of 78 RPM discs for a guy named Sam. “You see people you know, and everybody has a story to tell.”
After he makes a handy Venmo payment, Sam and I compare notes on the best Victrola needles to buy. Like a couple of proud moms showing off photos of their kids, we swap pictures of our gramophones.
“Record collecting is in your DNA, your blood,” John says after Sam and his friend, who scored a super-clean copy of the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, have gone.
John’s own vast collection of rare R&B records is housed in a separate building, and these days he also collects the publishing and reproduction rights for forgotten recordings by Arizona musicians, licensing them to television and paying royalties to the artists and their families. His vinyl groove dates back to the '50s, when he DJed grade school lunch periods and later at Tempe High record hops. He played in bands like the Sonics and the Trendsetters, and later worked as a promotions guy for Capitol Records in London. Back in Phoenix in the early '80s, he launched K15 radio, a trendsetting New Wave station.
We’re talking about the Beatles’ White Album — I want John to tell me which of my copies I should keep, the Capitol press with all seven typos in the song list, or the cleaner reissue with the lower serial number — when Danny Zelisko saunters into the garage and pulls up a folding chair. He’s wearing a facemask printed with the cover art from a King Crimson album; John insists that all shoppers wear COVID masks, even legendary rock promoters like Danny.
While the guys compare aches and pains (John’s back is sore; Danny is recovering from knee replacement surgery), I go back to eavesdropping on shoppers. On the back patio, where John keeps the CDs and framed movie posters, a guy inspects a lobby card from God’s Little Acre. “Tina Louise in her slip,” he tells me, turning the poster in my direction. A woman standing next to him is flipping through a Goldmine Record Price Guide. “Ken, it says here my copy of The Supremes A-Go-Go is worth $80.”
“Nah,” Ken replies. “You’ve got a reissue.”
After Danny Zelisko heads home, I hand over my finds of the day: a flawless copy of Bobby Darin for Teenagers Only and the still-sealed Janis Ian album the teenager had asked her dad about. While John is ringing me up, Arizona Republic political editor Dan Nowicki arrives, heading straight for a box of old 45s.
“You’ll find something in there,” John calls out to Dan as he hands me a color photo badge of Eddie and Ernie, one of John’s favorite soul duos. “There’s a record show at the Italian American Club on May 1, my friend,” he says to me. “See you there.”
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