Record Collecting in 1987

“Who Dat ?" It’s André Gibeault, The Canadian Record Man !
 

by Craig Morrison

This article was written in 1987 for a local fanzine which rejected it. I did soon start my own which lasted two or three issues, called 7 Nights To Rock, which I printed up to tie in with a radio show I had of that name on CKUT-FM, Radio McGill. The style here called punk ’60s is now more commonly called garage. The record store mentioned no longer exists, and the discography is long out of print. I think you will find it interesting to see what record collecting was like before the internet.

André Gibeault is the author of Canadian Records : A Discography & Price Guide of Canadian 45’s and LP’s From 1955 To 1975. It includes a wide variety of rock and popular music, from Paul Anka to BTO to a host of underground obscurities. This March [1987], he published it himself in his native Montreal in an edition of 500 copies. By Fall, with very little promotion, about 120 had been sold via specialist record stores, by mail through record collector magazines like Goldmine, or through certain distributors of rare records. A previous version of the book, a catalogue without prices, came out in 1985, also in an edition of 500. It took two years to make, and almost that long to sell, but this time around, not only is André better known, but he has a better product. In his book, André lists a price for each record based on his experiences of 20 years of collecting and seven years of dealing, in his record stores and through mail order auctions. The prices are an average, taking into account rarity, demand, and previous selling prices.

For many, the book will stir the memory and the imagination, not just by the listings, which include the titles of both sides of a single, the label (and number), and the date, but also by the period graphics and biographies. For me it was songs like "Please Forget Her" by the Jury and "Brainwashed" by David Clayton-Thomas that I hadn’t thought of in years. Others may want to trace the roots of a famous band, like Steppenwolf, Chilliwack, or the Guess Who. Collectors will be well served, especially collectors of ’60s punk/ psychedelic/ underground records, since there are special sections for them (including a list of favourites, complete with ratings). Dealers, of course, will buy the book to tell them what’s valuable.

In the early ’60s, André was into reading novels. He bought his first record in 1965. It was no indication of the future, not destined to be a collectors item, nothing rockabilly or punk, just a piece of pop fluff : "A Taste of Honey" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But right around the corner, a newer, tougher brand of rock ’n’ roll was being heard on the radio, groups that were grittier, nastier, and that drew some influence from American blues and R&B, and more influence from interpreters like the Rolling Stones and the Animals. From England there was the Yardbirds and Van Morrison’s Them. In America there were groups like the Shadows of Knight, Count Five, Syndicate of Sound, the Seeds, and the Music Machine. This was something else again ! André found he liked it much more than the crooners and pop rock n roll. So in 1966, at age 20, he started to collect records. Now you and I probably remember buying records at age 11 or 9 or 14. But if 20 seems late to start buying records, André made up for it in serious intensity. He bought EVERY 45 that came out, except straight country music. He made an arrangement with a local record store owner who saved him one copy of every new 45 (as well as promotional material), and André spent at least half his pay of about $40 a week on those little 79c records and a few LPs. (On the other hand, he rarely saw groups live, not having spare cash, and living out in the boondocks. He still rarely goes to see live shows.) This continued for four years until the rise of hard rock and the beginnings of heavy metal lessened his interest and he became selective in his purchases. But during these four years, he lived and breathed music. When he found good songs the radio wasn’t playing, he made his own hit lists.

At that time, André found a song like "Who Dat," the flip side of the Jury’s "Please Forget Her," which was a minor Canadian pop hit from 1966, to be too rough ; he didn’t like it. It has been common at least since the ’50s to put the pop stuff on the top side of a single, and the real or raw stuff on the bottom. That is where you’ll find many of the ’50s rockabilly songs that were released. Rockabilly shares the same lean, aggressive feeling as ’60s punk and in fact, is its forerunner. In the mid ’70s, when he began to replay both sides of his entire collection of 45s, he discovered he now liked the rougher punk sides even more than the pop A-side. It was a revelation. With hindsight, we can see that the music that is the most popular and sells the most in its day is often bland pop, but the music that survives, the music that legions of collectors and fans now like from the ’60s or ’50s, and earlier, is that which shows a greater expression and exhibits less overt commercialism. The music that turned André on in 1966 was the more pop side of ’60s punk, and the music that turned him on in the ’70s was the less pop side of ’60s punk, the garage band approach, even more primitive and rough. Groups that played just what they wanted for themselves and their teenage peers, and played with an abandon and a general rebellious disregard for possible airplay ; many made only one or two 45s. (The word "punk" in this context does not refer to that nihilistic music the English whipped up in the late ’70s. The use of the word "punk" for ’60s music is credited to Lenny Kaye in the notes to the original groundbreaking double-LP anthology of ’60s classics and obscurities called Nuggets that appeared in 1972 on the Elektra label.)

Both ’60s punk and ’50s rockabilly are supremely important to André (and are two vast markets for collector records), but since very little rockabilly was produced in Canada, though significant amounts of ’60s punk was, it’s the latter that he lavishes his attention on in his new book. One of the helpful additions in the book is a style guide in 16 categories. One finds, as expected, such categories as folk, rock, pop, instrumental, pop/ rock, rockabilly, and one can readily accept merseybeat, psychedelic, or acid rock. But can you dig punk/ screamer, punk/ fuzz/ psychedelic, psychedelic/ fuzz, punk/ rock, merseybeat/ punk, or even folk/ punk ?! Perhaps the distinctions are even more fine than necessary, and it’s possible even for him to trip over them at times, but André Gibeault wants to be as accurate as possible for advertising. Without a description, some collectors of specific genres—Europeans especially—won’t buy via mail order. And yes, some want only screamers (that is, the singer screams his lyrics), some specialize in fuzz (fuzz guitar or bass), and won’t touch a record if it’s only psychedelic (non-dance oriented or spacey).

André Gibeault, in his store Route 1966, in 1987. Photo by Craig Morrison.

Europeans do buy obscure Canadian 45s from 20 years ago. They are absolutely crazy about punk rock, whether in English or in French, and they have been collecting these records since the mid-’70s, when numbers of Europeans, especially Germans, first came to North America in search of them. French Canadian groups have a section in André’s book although they’re not his specialty, despite the fact that he is a French Canadian himself. In general, he dislikes bands that copy and he finds the Francophone bands of the ’60s tended to copy more than the Anglophone bands. He likes the ones that were more original, but in the ’60s he was not deeply into French rock, except for some of the hits. But there is a strong market in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and to a much lesser extent, France, for certain records by Canadian Francophones like Les Sinners, Michel Pagliaro, Les Hou-Lops, Les Different, and Les Miserables. Some collectors willingly pay $100 or $150 for a choice LP. And so do the Japanese. They want the sound of teenage garage band energy, and they don’t care where the garage was or what language the song uses, it could be Zulu for all that. Americans as well are keen on Canadian records, but the Canadian market, however, is very small and only now starting to pick up. People here re-buy discs they had when they were younger that got scratched, or ones they heard via friends and now want to own, but are less interested in things they have never heard, or heard of, or things they find too expensive. On the other hand, overseas customers didn’t know this music when it was current, and they expect to pay a high price for it.

There is not much of a market in Montreal for 45s period and for those at more than $20, there’s barely a handful of collectors interested. The local market is interested in albums, which made up 90% of André’s store business, while in his mail order business, specializing in Canadian records, the figures are 90% in 45s, and 10% in rare albums.

So what are the chances that the beginning or amateur collector can find some of the rarer records here and there, at garage sales, the local used record store, in friend’s basements, etc.? The fact is : almost nil. In recent years it has become very hard to find Canadian records from the ’60s in Montreal and other big cities. There’s more people searching, and the more people that buy the book, the more they know what it is they have. A novice needs to find a dealer. They’re the ones that have stories of finding 30,000 45s, all mint, at a radio station, the ones that find access to large collections that are breaking up, the ones that comb the record conventions in the U.S.A. and find records for $1 or $5 U.S. that can be resold at $20 or $25 dollars or more. Canadian dealers often go to American cities, not so much to the big ones like New York or Boston, rather, cities like Buffalo, Rochester, or Albany, but it takes a specialist to know which obscure item that’s being sold at one dollar can bring bids of $100 or even $250 on an auction list. An amateur can find something at a local store for $2, sell it to another dealer for $6, who then sells it for $10 (Montreal is the worst town for this according to André). Then the record store owners feel ripped off, the dealer’s prices go up, and customers hate to see a record they saw before at $2 now selling for $10, but they can’t go back to get the cheap copy because there was only one around to begin with ! And they won’t likely find it again.

But by now, virtually all the radio stations have been visited, the store owners are smarter and prices are higher, and, in the last four or five years, there has been a marked decline of choice items being found. Record conventions, André feels, are the best bet now, but the Montreal conventions are not as good as they were, and are more given over to Heavy Metal and novelty items. Toronto conventions are still good, as they draw more dealers from a wider area, but the prices are rising as the demand increases and the supply decreases.

However, a lot of rare music can be purchased at a reasonable price in the form of re-releases on anthologies. In the last five years, anthologies, some issued in series with names like Back From the Grave, Pebbles, Nuggets, and Boulders, have pulled together 12 to 20 rare 45s, each which would sell for $20 and up if you could find them. Some anthologies are bootlegs : no publishing royalties are paid. They are made by or with the help of collectors who have mint or near-mint copies which are then transferred to the LPs, by-passing legalities.

A Canadian compilation called Nightmares From the Underworld appeared in two volumes in limited editions, each with 20 tracks of the best Canadian material ; even these are rare now ! Three volumes [now four] of tracks by Vancouver-based groups have recently become available as well. Besides anthologies, practically all groups that are now collectible (some of them with only one or two hits or none at all to their credit), get whole albums issued in "best of" type collections, bands such as the Haunted, the Leaves, Love, the Turtles, the Merry Go Round, and the Remains. These generally are legal issues, with the source versions being the original master tapes when available.

When these reissues appear, one would think that demand and price would go down for the original 45s, but it doesn’t. Collectors have different motivations. Some want only to have the sound ; if the source is a tape or a reissue, that’s sufficient. But certain true blue collectors want the actual artifact, preferably mint. They will prefer a first pressing on the original label to a reprint even if it was reissued in the ’60s. They want the original, but they buy the reissue too and play that. Some collectors, like André, genuinely love the music, but for some it’s only an act of possession. Some collect a rare label and don’t even listen to it, though the collectors of punk/ psychedelic records as a breed really go for the music. Generally professionals like dentists and lawyers are the only ones who will buy the more expensive items, like a first pressing of Ronnie Hawkins "Bo Diddley." André has only ever had this 45 once, and he sold it for $150 U.S. four years ago through an ad in Goldmine.

Why the second edition of Canadian Records is a price guide and the first edition was part catalogue, part encyclopedia, (which even contained a list of Canadian groups which had not recorded), is that the author changed from being primarily a collector to primarily a dealer. And, André finds, there is a vast psychological difference between the two. For the past seven years, André has operated a number of record stores, currently Route 1966 on St. Denis Street in Montreal, building his reputation on the quality of his selection, the overall good condition of the records, and fair buying and selling prices. Until three years ago, his store’s inventory and his personal collection were completely separate—he never once sold a record from his private stash. It was his collector sensibility that made him against attaching a price to the records in his first book.

When he started collecting in 1966, his interests were in having a sense of discovery, getting everything, and getting it before anyone else, even the radio, and to have some things nobody else had. After many years, after having owned, seen and heard almost every record that came out in Canada and the States from 1966 to 1969 and a good deal more besides, there was no more sense of discovery and he lost the passion. He had heard it all, and three quarters of it, he says, is not good.

There was a year and a half between stores, before he opened his most recent one. That time was filled with taping and he made more than 200 cassettes, many off of rare albums that contained only one or two good songs. He opened Route 1966 with many records from his own collection, a collection never seen before in a store. Even then it was rough, having a personal attachment to the inventory, and he was afraid people would be careless when pulling a record out of its sleeve to check the condition. Sometimes he would put a record on an auction list—and for a handful of 45s that he had collected in the ’60s, he can definitely say they are rare, as he has never seen another copy, period—and get bids and then decide he couldn’t part with it after all.

André is still interested in collecting, and though he has sold most of the records that don’t excite him musically, and all the most expensive records, the LPs worth $100 or $200. He still has a decent collection, including about 1,000 rare punk 45s. His recent vacation in Thailand got him away from all of this ; there they don’t have many records at all, let alone rare ones.

A holiday is nice, but those fingers start to get itchy to flip through record bins. Now his sense of discovery comes from finding stuff that he knows everybody has passed over, or finding something he has never ever seen for $3, or something he didn’t see for 10 years. He enjoys filling want lists for others, and continues to deal via the mail. So it’s back to business for the Canadian Record Man. He’s been off to Rochester and New York and elsewhere finding those obscure records to bring back for collectors.

Step inside the store, it’s immaculate, not the usual junky used-record store confusion or bargain-basement orderliness, why it’s like buying a record in an antique store. Oh, wow ! there’s a John Kay and the Sparrow album in mint condition, a 45 by the 49th Parallel, and there on the wall under a psychedelic poster from San Francisco is an ultra-rare Reign Ghost album...


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I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.

you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, © 2006