Vinyl-Picking: A Journey Through Music
This is a story by Jeremy Hunter. Jeremy is the "vinyl hound" at Funky Moose Records. If you'd like to contribute a story, please contact us.
My best record haul didn't consist of multiple records, but merely a single album. I arrived to the seller's farm late at night after attending a company golf tournament which consisted of drinking countless beers and sharing vulgar, vomit-inducing stories. The farmer was an older man, roughly sixty-five with a genuine nature behind his reassuring smile.
"So, you're ready to buy some records?" asked the farmer with an obvious French accent.
"Yeah, let's see what you got," I said.
He led me toward the back of his rusty farm truck where I noticed a water damaged box. My expectations immediately plummeted. I began rummaging through the records, finding a couple of Perry Como records, a beat up "Revolver" album by The Beatles and a few albums by French artists with unpronounceable names. Right away, I had a feeling the box was a bust until I came to a record that caused me to stop dead in my tracks.
"Is this a record by The Guess Who?" I asked the farmer. He took a look at the record, not seeming overly concerned.
"Yeah, could be," said the farmer. "So how much for the box?"
I reached my hand into my pocket and pulled out roughly three dollars in change and some pocket lint.
"All I got on me is about three bucks," I said. "That good enough?"
"Yeah, that's fine," said the farmer. "I'm sorry I couldn't find you more. I know I got a ton of records around here somewhere."
The farmer then gave me a tour of his farm and showed me all of his favorite collectibles including an outbuilding filled with over six hundred Singer sewing machines and a vintage, hand-cranked record player from the nineteen twenties. I drove home later that night and was still transfixed by the mysterious Guess Who record. It wasn't until the next day when I finally looked up the record that I realized how incredible of a find I actually made. The record was worth a whopping three hundred dollars. I almost chocked to death right there while eating an ice cream sandwich.
I started record picking purely by chance. My wife and I had moved in next door to our new landlords, Mark and Jenn Poppen in Bellevue, Saskatchewan. I had been let go from my job a couple of months earlier and was on unemployment. My drive for writing had gone down substantially after the birth of my daughter, and I needed something new to stimulate my mind. One night, Mark and Jenn invited me and my wife over so they could get to know their new tenants. Mark and Jenn seemed like a genuine, hard-working power couple, and it wasn't long before Mark told me about his career as a web designer. He also told me about a new business venture he had started, running an online record store. I had always loved music. I grew up listening to The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Doors, Tom Petty and Buddy Holly. Basically, the music my father had listened to throughout his high school days in the late seventies. As the days went by, I started thinking more about Mark's new business venture. I started to see a chance to earn some extra money for me and my small family other than what I was getting from E.I. After paying the first month's rent, I asked Mark if he'd be willing to go 50/50 if I brought him used vinyl records. He said he'd think about it, and luckily for me, we quickly came to an agreement.
The first records I brought him were albums that I had borrowed off my parents -- or stole. Since my parents are both hoarders, I didn't think they'd mind. So, one day I brought over this pile of records which included a Willie Nelson album, the movie soundtrack to The Graduate, and about ten other records. As I knocked on the door and Mark answered, I gave him a smile, feeling as though the dozen records that I brought him would be worth a few hundred bucks.
"There are a few popular albums in here," said Mark. "But they're all pretty scratched up. I'll add the ones that are worth five bucks and over, and I'll give you back the rest. Sound good?"
"Yeah, sounds good. There are some good ones in there though, right?"
"We'll see. I'll talk to you later."
I later found out that the most valuable record of the bunch was worth only twelve bucks, being Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. A few others were also added, but since I didn't feel like having both my parents at my throat in regards to selling off their beloved record collection, I took most of them back and planned on finding some of my own.
The first collection I actually went about purchasing was a bunch of obscure albums from the late seventies and early eighties that I found on Kijiji. I phoned up the guy and asked if he was still selling them. Luckily for me, he was. He directed me to 33rd Street in Saskatoon. Since I had grown up on the East Side of Saskatoon, I wasn't overly familiar with the West Side which is known by many to be the rough part of town. I drove around Saskatoon for nearly an hour looking for his place, and to no avail, I decided to stop at Mac's Convenience Store for directions. After exiting my truck and proceeding toward the convenience store, I spotted a grubby looking homeless man who resembled Garth off Wayne's World standing beside the front door.
"Got any money for me, man?" the homeless guy asked.
"No, I only carry around my debit card," I said which was a lie. I had five bucks in my pocket. The homeless man gave me a look like I was full of shit before I stepped within the convenience store. I then approached the East Indian clerk who was working the register.
"Hey, buddy, can you tell me how to get to this address from here?" I said while removing a scrap piece of paper from my pocket which I then handed over to the clerk. He looked the address over before quickly handing it back.
"No, sorry man," said the clerk.
"Would it be alright if I make a call on your phone?" I asked.
The clerk let out a sigh.
"Is the call local?" he asked.
"Yeah, it's local."
The clerk then picked up the phone before asking me for the number. I gave it to him before he dialed it into the phone. After a couple of rings, I was talking to the seller.
"Hey, this is Jeremy," I said. "I'm trying to find your place, but I'm having a bit of trouble."
"Where are you now?" asked the seller.
"At Mac's on 33rd."
From there, the seller gave me easy to follow directions which made me feel like an idiot as I then realized that I had driven past the guys house nearly half a dozen times. I stepped outside, and not a second after doing so, I saw an old mop head flying toward my face. It was coming from the hand of the homeless man. I gave the guy a concerned look as he then proceeded to wash the pavement of the sidewalk with the filthy mop head. I began to walk faster before hearing the guy spark something up. As I reached my truck, I turned around to find the doppelganger of Garth puffing away on a crack pipe. "This sure as hell isn't something you see every day," I said to myself.
I arrived at the sellers house a few minutes later and was then led into his garage. He then brought me to a small box which contained about eighty albums.
"How long did it take you to get here?" asked the seller.
"I'd say about an hour -- hour and a half," I said while flipping through the records.
"You said you were from Bellevue over the phone, right?"
"I was born in Saskatoon, but I live in Bellevue with my wife and daughter."
It appeared that many of the records had been purchased at Tramps, a store I had frequented often as a teenager for dirty magazines. There were only a couple of records that I had recognized, one being a Diana Ross album and the other being an album by George Benson. There were also some really bizarre albums in that box that I had never heard of. Some guy who went by the stage name of Terrance with his album, "An Eye For An Ear". Another guy named Steve Hillage (who has something of a cult following in Great Britain) with his third solo album, "Motivation Radio". And one particularly obscure album titled; "Inside The Triangle" by three guys who called themselves Thee Image. Since I had no idea what I was doing at the time, I figured that all records were worth money. There had to be a collector out there for everything, right?
"Nothing in here is really catching my eye," I said to the seller.
"Yeah, I don't really recognize most of them myself," said the seller. Since he appeared to be only a few years older than I was, I figured the record collection was passed down to him from his father or possibly an uncle.
"Would you take forty bucks for the box?" I asked.
"Wanna gamble on forty, huh? Well, I guess I can let it go for that."
I then removed two twenties from my pocket which I then handed to the seller. I then picked up the box while concealing a smirk, feeling as though I got the deal of the century. As I drove back to Bellevue, I glanced through the records, congratulating myself on the great buy. I got home roughly an hour later to find that my wife had put our daughter to sleep. My wife was on the couch watching television.
"I got them, baby, and I've got to tell you, there is some really good shit in here," I said while walking her way with the box in hand. She took the box, seeming more frustrated then she did excited, before she started glancing through the records.
"I don't recognize any of these, Jeremy," said Catie.
"Neither do I, but the weirder the album is, the more valuable it's gotta be, right?"
Catie let out a deep exhale, understandably annoyed.
"What took you so long getting back?" asked Catie.
"I've got a couple pizzas for us in the truck," I said. "And it took a while to find the guys place. Guess what I saw tonight? Some guy smoking meth outside Mac's."
"The convenience store, baby. I also got the records for forty dollars less than what he was asking. Pretty good, huh?"
"Not until you sell them. Let's go to bed. Isabel fought her sleep for over an hour again. I've had a long night."
"We'll have a couple pieces of pizza first, and then we'll go to bed."
"Go get the pizza then. I'm exhausted."
The next morning, I started looking the records up online. Since I didn't know where to start, I searched them up on eBay. Right off the bat, I started to feel good as I looked at what I assumed was the records actual value.
"Hey, babe," I said to my wife as she played with our daughter in the living room. "You'll never guess how much this record is worth."
"How much," she asked unenthusiastically.
"Over two hundred dollars!" I said in a state of disbelief. "That's what this one guy has it priced at."
"That's nice," she responded.
I searched up another record.
"Hey, babe. How much do you think this record right here is worth?"
"I don't know, Jeremy. Five hundred?"
"No, it's only worth eight, but that's still pretty good, right?"
"Why don't you just go drop them off at Mark's and get him to find out what they're actually worth?"
"Just wait. Let me look up one more first."
I looked up every record in the box which took another couple of hours before finally deciding to bring them over to Mark's place.
"What do you got in there?" said Mark while looking to the box in my hands after answering the back door of his house.
"You'll see," I said with a smile. "I think there's a lot of good one's in here."
"Come in. We'll go to my office."
Mark led me to a small room which contained his computer and his small record collection. I handed the box to Mark which he then placed on his desk before he began looking through the records. It didn't take long for me to realize from his expression that the records weren't anything worth drooling over.
"I don't recognize any of these," said Mark.
"Neither do I, but they could still hold some value, right?" I asked.
"Usually records from a known artist have a greater likelihood of selling. Now I'm not saying that these won't sell, but it will be a little tougher to find a buyer -- wait a second, this might sell."
Mark looked to me with a record by Starland Vocal Band in hand.
"Who the hell are they?" I asked.
"You've heard the song, "Afternoon Delight" before, haven't you?"
"Yeah. That was them?"
Mark nodded his head, "Yes".
"Me and Jenn were watching The Voice the other night and one of the contestants was the son of Bill Danoff, a member of Starland Vocal Band," said Mark. I glanced down at his small record collection which was held within a milk crate.
"So, what made you decide to start a record site?" I asked.
"A few months ago, I purchased a record collection in Wakaw and decided to look up the records online. I was surprised to find that some of these albums were worth between fifteen and thirty dollars each. I think I only paid sixty bucks for the box."
"You got a pretty good deal then?"
"Yeah. So, since I'm a web designer, I thought it would be a good idea to design a website, as both a side business, and as a way to advertise my ability as a web designer to potential customers."
"So, these records here, are these the ones you bought a few months ago?"
"Yup, they're the ones," said Mark.
"Mind if I look through them?" I asked.
"No, go ahead."
I glanced through Mark's record collection, immediately recognizing most, if not all of the artists. There were a couple albums by Aerosmith, including their "Greatest Hits", one by Frank Sinatra, and another by a band I didn't recognize.
"Hey, Mark," I said. "Who are these guys?"
"You never heard of The Hollies?" asked Mark, seeming surprised. "They were considered by many to be the American Beatles."
I could tell right away that in order to become good at finding records, I would first have to be educated in the music I was looking to buy.
The most valuable record in that box of obscure albums was one by Terry Crawford titled; "Good Girl Gone Bad" which sold for forty-five dollars to a customer in Australia. It didn't sell right away, and it took a while for me to make my money back on that box of records, but after a month, I finally saw profit on my investment. In all, that box of records was worth nearly a thousand dollars. To this day, there are still over half of those albums for sale on the Funky Moose Records website.
A week later, I noticed another Kijiji add for records, this one, for over three hundred. I was quick to tell this to Catie, who was just as quick to say no in her own kind of way.
"Jeremy, how much sense does it make for you to go and buy more records when you haven't even made any money on the one's you bought only a week ago?"
"I will make money on those records though," I said. "As Mark explained, those records will be a tougher sell. If I buy these new records, and there are more popular albums in that box, then we can use that money for things that we need."
"I just think that we have more important things to worry about then you spending unnecessary money on records," said Catie. "Can you just wait a while before you go and buy the next batch?"
"How about this, if I don't make any money back with these records after a week, then I give it up."
"You won't give it up."
"If I don't make any money back, I will."
"Okay, fine, go ahead and go get them. But this is the last time for a good, long while."
Me and Catie ultimately agreed that I could go to Saskatoon that Friday to pick up the next batch. After arriving in Saskatoon, I headed to Eighth Street which was where the old couple who were selling the record collection lived. When I finally arrived at their apartment, I was told over the apartment intercom by the old lady who put up the add that her and her husband would meet me in the underground parking lot, which seemed a little sketchy. As I prayed not to get a needle injected in my neck Dexter style after stepping foot within the underground parking lot, I began to breathe a little easier after spotting the older couple standing outside their Volvo. The older gentleman began to walk my way with his hand extended.
"Hey, Jeremy, I'm Glenn, and this is my wife Martha."
I shook hands with the older man, as well as his wife.
"I'm sorry we had to meet you down here like this," said Glenn. "But we're doing a bit of renovations in our apartment."
"It's no problem," I said. "I'm just happy the both of you aren't a couple of sick bastards who want to sell my organs on the black market."
It took them a few seconds to realize that I was only joking. Once they did, they both burst out in laughter.
"We'd never do anything like that," said Martha. "So, would you like to take a look at them?"
"Yeah," I said. "Where are they?"
Glenn popped open his trunk. I then glanced within and spotted six boxes full of records.
Since I was still under the impression that all records were worth money, all I saw were imaginary dollar signs. The first box I went through was filled with awesome albums which included; The Rolling Stones, INXS, Ian Thomas Band, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, and many more. Based on these records alone, I concluded that the records would be a good buy.
"Where did you get these all from?" I asked.
"Garage sales and a few auctions over the years," said Glenn. "About twenty years ago, we went up to Texas and picked up a few from there."
"You went all the way up to Texas just to pick up records?" I asked.
"No, we went there on a family trip. Even took a drive up to Memphis to visit Graceland."
"That's where that Elvis museum is, isn't it?" I asked him.
"Yeah," said Glenn. "That was the trip of a lifetime, wasn't it, sweetheart?"
"Sure was," said Martha before turning to me. "To be honest, you kind of look like Elvis, doesn't he, Glenn?"
"He does," said Glenn before turning back to face me. "Are you in the music industry yourself, Jeremy?"
"No, I'm not in the music industry," I said. "I love music though. I even wrote a couple country songs. I have done quite a bit of writing though and I went to film school a while back."
Glenn and Martha both smiled.
"Something tells me that you're gonna have a career in music in the future," said Glenn. "So, you like the records?"
I had been so distracted by this old couple that I didn't get a chance to look through the records carefully. This may have been their plan all along. I quickly started looking through a different box of records, when I heard Martha say:
"Sweetheart, we better get going," said Martha. "We have to meet Shelby and Daryl for supper at six."
I started to feel rushed and had trouble differentiating the good records from the trash.
"Would you sell the records individually?" I asked.
Martha turned to her husband with a concerned look.
"Actually, Jeremy," said Glenn. "We just want to sell the records in one quick shot. Since the collection as a whole is sentimental, if you go about taking only a few records now, we'll have difficulty selling any after that. It's one of those all or nothing kind of deals if you catch my drift."
"Could you lower the price?" I asked.
Martha shook her head in disappointment.
"We actually put a lot of money into our collection, so to give you the records for anything lower then what we're asking wouldn't be very smart on our part," said Martha.
I reached into my pocket while feeling my money in hesitance. I had one of those moments where the voice of reason was telling me to walk away, while the voice of risk was telling me to make a deal. I took the risk and made the deal.
"Here you go," I said to Martha while handing her one hundred and fifty dollars. Glenn looked my way with a smile.
"I'll tell you, Jeremy, if I were twenty years younger I'd help you carry these records to your car. But since I'm an old decrepit bastard, I'll open the overhead door for you instead so you can drive yourself down here."
"Sounds good," I said before walking for the door which led back outside. As I did, I felt as though I made the wrong choice, but an optimistic voice was telling me that everything would work out.
I was able to make my money back with thirty, high quality records by known artists, but it took me around six months. The most valuable record of the bunch was a "The Bee Gee's Greatest Hits" album which isn't saying much (it sold for only fifteen dollars). Out of desperation to turn a profit, I continuously asked Mark to put up the lower quality albums, which included albums by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Perry Como. Mark wasn't excited over the idea, making the valid point that some artists just don't sell, but I persisted. And to the disbelief of no one, I only made back about thirty dollars on the remaining records. After this, things slowed down drastically. Records weren't selling, and this had nothing to do with none being online. Instead, it had more to do with me becoming cheap when it came to the records I did buy. I started going to the Salvation Army downtown in Price Albert. The albums cost only ten cents each, so I figured the more I bought, the more I'd make. How wrong I was.
I arrived at Mark's with a box of about fifty cheap albums one day. He gave me an unsatisfied look.
"What are these?" asked Mark. "Where are all the good albums?"
"These are the good albums," I said. I then reached into the box and removed an awful album by The Carpenters (which was likely the best album in the box).
"This right here is probably worth five bucks," I said.
Mark took the box into his hands.
"I'll try to add the best albums from here online," said Mark. "But I do hope the record quality does get better. I'm not trying to be an asshole or anything, but the sales on used records are all dependent on the quality of your top twenty percent, if you know what I mean. If you have eighty percent shit records, and only twenty percent good, most people will be turned away. Eighty percent good will lead to more sales and more returning customers. It's quality, not quantity."
I understood what Mark was saying but was still under the belief that all records were worth money.
After three weeks, Mark still hadn't put any of the records online. As I prepared to message him, I was surprised to find that he messaged me first one day and brought up issues with record quality. He was in the right to do so, as I had become cheap with record purchasing and had reverted back to purchasing albums I had an intuitive feeling wouldn't sell. After this, I came to the realization that in order to make more money with records, that I would have to spend a little more. My next stop therefore would be the SSO sale in Saskatoon.
Every year, the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has a two or three-day music sale. I decided to take a day off work and make a quick trip to Saskatoon to purchase some new records. Once I got there, I found myself in a massive line up which had easily fifty people in front of me. I overheard a couple of people talking behind me.
"You've been collecting records for a while then?" asked a woman in his thirties.
"Actually, I owned two record stores for nearly thirty years," said a man in his late seventies. "One in Toronto and another in Calgary. I sold both locations about ten years ago, but lately, the vinyl itch has come back with a vengeance, so I started rebuilding my collection in hopes of selling again."
"What was the most valuable record you ever sold," asked the woman.
"I sold a copy of "Yesterday and Today" by The Beatles for five grand," said the old man. "It had "The Butcher" cover. There have been more records that I have sold for a thousand dollars and more, but that's the most valuable one to date."
The old man talked to the younger woman for a while longer, and as they chatted, I anticipated making a major vinyl find once the doors opened, and not even a minute later, the doors to the sale finally did. After stepping within the sale, I headed to the nearest shelf. Right off the bat, I spotted records that I knew would sell, including two Pink Floyd albums, including "Meddle" and "Atom Heart Mother", a Jimi Hendrix album, a Joni Mitchell album, and countless others. I had about fifty records in my arms when I decided to find a place to sit down before going through them. I took a seat with some hipsters who were all well versed in the language of vinyl. The man in his seventies who I overheard talking outside took a seat across from me as we all began flipping through our piles of records.
"Wow, that right there is a good one," said a scrawny guy wearing skinny jeans as he took notice of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album. I noticed an album by The Doors a few seconds later that I had been hoping to find for some time. Unfortunately, the guy wasn't about to give it up. I then stared to my front at the growing pile of the older man's records.
"What are the best record labels," I asked him.
"Oh," said the old man as he gave the question some thought. "Epic and Capital are pretty good. I can tell you which labels to ritualistically avoid. Pickwick and K-Tel. When you buy a record on Capital records music label, you're purchasing an overall higher quality record which translates to a crisper, cleaner sound then say, a record which has Pickwick as a label. That's what causes the same record on two different labels to be worth either more or less. It's all in the label."
I gave his advice some thought and knew that I could use it in the future. For the next hour, I talked records with the older man and the younger ones who sat by my side and ended up walking away with over a hundred dollars' worth of high quality vinyl records which included the two Pink Floyd albums that I mentioned, and many more. This time, when I brought the records to Mark, he was all smiles, and in less than a week, a majority of the records that I had bought at the sale were sold which translated to money in my pocket.
Going to that sale was the greatest learning curve I made in the art of Vinyl-Picking. After that, every batch of records I bought with the intention of bringing to Mark, I was quick to turn a profit on. The best batch I bought was a bunch of late sixties psychedelic albums from a garage sale in Rostern, which amounted to a nine-hundred-dollar profit for me. That batch only cost a hundred dollars. Over the past two years, I've made over four grand in total, which is well over double what I spent, meaning that I actually turned a profit. Vinyl-Picking, however, hasn't all been about turning a profit. It's also been about learning a slew of musical knowledge, meeting interesting people, some of which have become close friends, and increasing my sales experience as well as my people skills. My wife hates the amount of records that are currently in our basement along with the stacks of albums which overcrowd the kitchen counter as I add the records online. But since I have been making good money by doing something that I love, she isn't constantly complaining about the records... at least not all the time.
For anyone starting out in Vinyl-Picking, just have fun with it. Chances are you likely won't get rich doing it. But then again, maybe one day you'll stumble upon something great. Like a crate full of sealed "Yesterday and Today" albums with the elusive "Butcher" cover. Or maybe just one great album, like the one of a kind Guess Who album I found last summer. You may also stumble across a few storage containers filled with nothing but Perry Como albums. But vinyl gold, as they say, is all in the eyes -- or ears -- of the beholder.