Fuck wine tasting, do some vinyl tasting today! Very few hobbies soothe a soul more than a couple hours flipping through record bins. Add a beer or three and well, it’s paradise. Her’s a guide to some of the East Bay’s many great record stores.
This first group is clustered on and around Telegraph in Oakland.
1-2-3-4 GO! needs little introduction. They do need some money. What started as a tiny shop moved across the street, put a small stage in the back, and began hosting some of the best live shows around (early, cheap, all-ages and well-curated). They have outgrown their space and hope to expand ASAP. Check out Victor’s great post last week for more info, or go to IndieGOGO now and keep the dream alive. If nothing else, spend an hour fondling the goods both new and used. They have a superb selection of punk and local rockers. There is also a small stash of CDs, cassettes and local zines. It is especially lovely to peruse the vinyl between bands at a live show. March 5th check out Punch, Ritual Control and Quaaludes! This Friday, February 7th, there will be a “PERV” Comic Book art opening!
1-2-3-4 GO! is also a record label, putting out great stuff from Shannon & the Clams, Uzi Rash, Twin Steps and beyond!
420 40th (seriously!), just East of Telegraph. About halfway between the following two stores. Open 11-7 every day. Metered parking on 40th Street. Oakland meters are notoriously broken, and Oakland cops are notoriously lame. Don’t park at a broken meter! Some free parking on side streets.
Best options for a beer: Commonwealth (on Telegraph, open at 10am daily), Hog’s Apothecary (right across the street, open 5-12, closed Tuesdays). I no longer support Homeroom, the mac n’ cheese place next door, despite some decent taps (they denied a booth to the wrong 6 year old!).
Stranded wasted no time finding a nicely sized store and filling it with drool-inducing vinyl and excellent live music. They just celebrated their first birthday in August. There are a lot of high priced delicacies, but you can certainly find some deals. The selections are truly spectacular.
There is an associated record label called Superior Viaduct, releasing early Devo, Brigitte Fontaine and everything in between (if such a thing existed). Look for THREE upcoming releases from The Residents!!
They host live music on a regular basis both in the store (this Saturday, February 8th with William Winant) and across the street at the fabulous White Horse Inn (February 13th with Alvarius B. and Robert Millis, February 20th with Meg Baird, Chuck Johnson and Daniel Bachman, and March 28th with Circuit Des Yeux, RedRedRed, and Replicant DJs).
6436 Telegraph Av. Just north of Alcatraz. Open 12-7 every day. Metered parking on Telegraph. Some free parking on side streets.
Best options for a beer: White Horse Inn (why go anywhere else, especially if there’s a band playing?)
2.6 miles south of Stranded, Econo Jam is the new kid on the block, having opened on Halloween 2013. In the back, there is a hefty load of cheap, scratchy vinyl. Up front, there are lots of brand new releases from nearly every genre. You’ll find a small selection of cassettes, including most of the Cum Stain catalog, but sadly not a one from the mighty Burger Records. No CDs in sight, but there are a few record players for sale. Get one for a mere $150 and go back to the future. No live music.
2519 Telegraph Av. Open 1-8 every day. Metered parking on Telegraph with lots of broken meters. Free parking on sketchy side streets.
Best options for a beer: Stork Club (hands down), Telegraph (despite the fact that these bastards kicked out the awesome Mama Buzz Cafe, that outdoor beer garden looks sooOO niiice), new bars are opening every 60 seconds on this First Friday stretch of Telegraph. Don’t try to drive or park in this hood on First Friday!
For the more adventurous amongst you, this same area offers a few additional critical stops.
Groove Yard was born in Jack London square in 1987, moved to Telegraph in 1991 and has been at 5555 Claremont since 2002 (right near the Highway 24 on-ramp). Hours are Mon-Sat 11-6 and Sun 12-5. The specialty is jazz vinyl, but there are tons of jazz CDs, cassettes and almost everything else. Other genres are pretty well represented, particularly on vinyl. The “new arrival” slot in the rock section had a $2 Romantics record and a $50 copy of Love’s groundbreaking second record Da Capo (one of the first examples where side two is just one long song). The place can be a bit of a mess with boxes piled all around, but generally everything is well alphabetized and labelled. Jazz vinyl can get pricey here, but the selection is unmatched, and there are lots of bargains to be had. Parking is free n’ EZ right out front on the street. Beer flows at the Kingfish after 3pm M-F, and after noon Sat-Sun, “Where shuffleboard is King.”
House of Soul is a very interesting little shop right on the strip (2819 Telegraph). Although the vinyl has sadly disappeared over the last few years, there is an extensive selection of CDs, as well as a vast archive of $5 CD-Rs (I picked up a great sounding copy of The Mad Lads’ Greatest). The specialty, of course, is soul, but there’s lots of rap, R & B, jazz, blues and more. Don’t miss the large selection of videos including music docs and even some adult only titles. Body oils are for sale and the place smells pretty damn sexy. Commonwealth is just across the street.
Funky Soul Stop is hands down the funkiest. Somewhat isolated at 1811 Jefferson and open only Tue-Sat 2-6, the place is a time warp and then some. It has been up and running about 18 years. Records are piled so high that it’s hard to get around. They specialize in “hard to find.” There are CDs, cassettes, books, record players and lots more. The Yelp reviews are hysterical. Certainly this place is not for the faint of heart. Much of the merchandise is not labelled. The price is often created on the spot and is sometimes too much. Other times the PRICE IS RIGHT, and you always leave feeling Funky! Back on Telegraph, if Dogwood and Make Westing feel too high brow, the Cafe Van Kleef beckons with beer (or fresh grapefruit cocktails).
You are so close, why not cruise the Webster Tube to Alameda? We all deserve a little island time.
Record Gallery is the island’s only vinyl option. Sitting at 1451 Webster, it is more convenient that it seems. Open Tu-Sat 12-6. Free parking on side streets. The store is all about vintage. Vintage clothes, vintage Playboy Magazines, vintage record players…there are even a few 8-tracks. Check out the $2 VHS collection. There are two copies of Spinal Tap if you hurry. Right next door, the The Fireside has been pouring beers since 1942, plus they host live music weekly! Opens M-F at 4, Sa-Su at 2. On a warm day, grab some Red Stripe tall boys and walk to the beach at Crab Cove, put some reggae music on the headphones and pretend you’re in Jamaica.
Surfin’ San Pablo
Skip the highway and surf San Pablo. You will find all kindsa good food, drink and more in this 4 mile stretch!
Dave’s Record Shop opened about four years ago at 2634 San Pablo in Berkeley. They are closed Monday but open Tu-Sat 12-7 and Sun 1-5. This feels like the great record stores of days gone by–the neighborhood place you would go to find what you needed, a real rarity these days. Walking through the doors, John Fogerty is screaming “Midnight Special.” Dave’s is ALL vinyl and almost all of it is used (there is a small selection of new vinyl). There is even a decent selection of ’78s! Look for free parking on San Pablo across the street or on side streets. The place is fairly compact but well organized, including a “cheesecake section” with sexy ladies on a variety of LP’s from Jackie Gleason and beyond! For a beer, hit the hip n’ sleazy Missouri Lounge a few blocks north (daily 12-2).
Mod Lang lives! Although they had to leave University Avenue many years back, they found a cozy little space in El Cerrito, right off San Pablo at 6328 Fairmount Ave. Don’t think for a minute that they went all suburban! The shop is beautifully sloppy. They re-won my heart the second I walked in and Chris Bell was singing “I am the Cosmos.” They have a huge collection of used vinyl and CDs, and a small section of new vinyl as well. To quote their site, “we specialize in UK/Euro imports and indies, classic and rare re-issues, U.S. indies & modern rock.” Mod Lang is also a record label and has released titles from Devendra Banhart and Mover! Closed Thursday, otherwise 11-7 (Sunday 12-6). Elevation 66 is right around the corner on San Pablo and brews some very tasty malty beverages.
You’ve arrived at the exciting conclusion. I’ll make it worth your while as I’ve saved the best for last. Down Home Music is nothing short of Mecca. Indeed, record collectors make pilgrimages here from all over the world. Open since 1976, but sadly the shop never gets enough local support. When they tried to branch out with a sweet n’ swanky little version on Fourth Street, it didn’t fly. Even at the main space, the store hours dwindle with the years. If you take nothing else away from this blogathon, do yourself a favor and get to this store as often as you can. It will change your life. Enter the main room full of CDs, books, videos, and a dozen or so pre-loaded listening stations. The shop’s focus is roots music, but it casts a very wide net.
The associated Arhoolie Records label has released tons of Tex-Mex, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Zydeco, Folk and beyond. Ethnomusicologist Chris Strachwitz recorded his first Arhoolie LP in 1960. It’s like having our very own El Cerrito version of Moses Asch of Folkways Records. Fantastic introductory compilations are available by the register. Down Home also sells a huge catalog of goodies from the infamous YaZoo Records label. At the moment, these hard to find CDs are three for $30! I picked up The Music of Madagascar: Classic Traditional Recordings of the 1930s, Please Warm My Wiener: Old Time Hokum Blues, and Juke Joint Saturday Night: Piano Blues Rags and Stomps!!!!! A door on the right leads to a second room full of vinyl (including 78s!). All the staff are friendly encyclopedias of music.
10341 San Pablo in El Cerrito, Open Thu-Sun 11-7, free parking out front.
There are fairly regular free in-store performances. Sign up for email notifications or like ’em on the Facebook. This Saturday, February 8th, they will have some serious honky tonk with Ray Bierl, Mayne Smith, and Markie Sanders.
Saturday April 19th is Record Store Day! Start your training NOW!!
******* BONUS MATERIAL: SPECIALTY SHOPS ******
Fans of classical and gospel music keep reading!
The Musical Offering sits quietly at 2430 Bancroft Way in Berkeley, just a few blocks away from Amoeba and Rasputin. They are open M-Sat 10-8 and Sun 11:30-5:30. The shop is dedicated to classical music and opera on CD (almost exclusively NEW merchandise). There is NO VINYL. There are opera DVDs. There are more than twenty Bach sections. They have small sections dedicated to children’s music, local artists, used CDs and sale items. The front of the store is a sweet cafe with yummy aromas of coffee and sandwiches. Check it out — you might just trade in your Arcade Fire for some Rachmaninoff. Free House is a short way east, Jupiter is a short way west, and both have nice outdoor space for beer sippin’. Jupiter hosts live music at 8pm Thu-Sat, and in the summer there is live bluegrass on the patio every Sunday at 5:30.
I have driven within a block of Reid’s Records thousands of times and never knew it existed, and that’s a shame. Reid’s is “Where Gospel Music is King” and has been so since 1945. YEAH, 1945! David Reid is known as “The Minister of Music,” and it is a fitting title. He hosts a gospel radio show on KZCT 89.5 every Sunday from 6-10am. In one week, the store will proudly present the third annual Charles Reid Gospel Festival (February 15th in Richmond). The shop has a small selection of used gospel on vinyl and a much larger choice on CD and cassette. There are gospel songbooks, DVDs and VHS tapes. There are bibles, choir robes, tambourines and communion wafers! There is a large room full of books. Check it all out at 3101 Sacramento in Berkeley just south of Ashby. Open M-Sat 10-8. Appropriately, there are no bars in sight, but if you wanna be all blasphemous, head over to Nick’s Lounge. It’s only about four blocks east on Adeline. They open at 5. Nick’s used to have great weekly jazz sessions, but sadly it has all been replaced by Karaoke. Be sure to complain on your way out.
One thing stood out during this research: selling records is a really hard gig! The folks behind the scenes are truly dedicated to the craft. It is most inspiring to see new stores popping up at a time where it seems impossible. Please support these stores! Don’t even think about using Amazon or the iTunes store anymore! Viva vinyl!!