CINCINNATI (AP) — In an ideal world, people’s passion would dovetail with their job.
Jim and Darren Blase, the brothers who own Shake It Records in Northside, are two of the lucky ones. They share not only a love for music, but are keenly interested in history, especially the rich recording legacy of Greater Cincinnati.
The planets recently aligned for the Blases when they acquired more than 20,000 records owned by Peter Sheinfeld of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a renowned collector who died last spring at 68.
“This was a beautifully well-maintained collection,” Darren says. “It was very focused: R&B and blues from the late 1920s to 1965. It wasn’t just 78s. There were file cabinets of 45s, there were 1,200 albums (LPs). He had an entire floor of just records, everything in (floor to ceiling shelves). This is what this guy did for 50 years.”
The brothers haven’t been at it for half a century, but they know their history and quickly realized the opportunity to bid on the collection was unique.
“This helps us move forward with the goal we have of always making the store more interesting,” Jim says. “This is the history of American music almost from the time records were invented. Certainly rock ‘n’ roll. All of these records have a story.”
Those stories might resonate with a generation of music lovers that has embraced vinyl LPs, but might not have a clue about 78s, which contained one song on each side of a disc that turned at 78 revolutions per minute on a turntable. Technology intervened in the late ’40s when 45s were introduced by record companies.
“That was the beginning of the demise of the 78,” Jim says. “Why have a big platter when you can have a small one?”
The big platters didn’t disappear overnight, however.
“As far as black artists go, 78s stayed around longer because of the economic reality that African-Americans didn’t have the money to switch to a new format,” Darren says. “There is a hard finish, somewhere around 1961 is the end of it. Most of the 78s (in the collection) are through ’57, then the 45s pick up where that leaves off.”
The sheer volume of the collection is unusual, but the fact that it was nurtured with such care is what struck not only the Blases but others as well. Barrence Whitfield, the singer who leads the Boston-based R&B band Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, speaks almost reverently of the time he spent at Sheinfeld’s home.
“Peter Sheinfeld was astute about blues, jazz, swing, R&B and soul,” says Whitfield, who admits he has pared his collection over the years. “He had everything in alphabetical order by label. There were labels I had never seen in my life or that I had only seen in books, rare labels. But having them in my hands, looking at them, was definitely a thrill. It was not only like being a child in a candy store, it was like looking at history.
“I was there one day for maybe 3½ to 4 hours. I went through some of the 45s, but it was just too overwhelming. I just looked at one particular section of Gordy (a subsidiary of Berry Gordy’s Motown label), and it was enough for me.”
Peter Greenberg, a Wyoming High School and University of Cincinnati grad who plays guitar in Whitfield’s band, told the Blases about the auction. Darren, who lived in Cambridge for about six years while his wife, Dean, was studying for her doctorate at Harvard and working in local schools, knew Sheinfeld as the host of the “Rockin’ at Night” radio show in Boston.
“(Sheinfeld’s) name also sounded familiar from when I was buying records through Goldmine (a record collector’s magazine) 25 years ago,” Darren says. “I asked Greenberg how to get hold of (Sheinfeld’s brother, who was organizing the auction). He said that Phil Lenker, the bass player for Whitfield, was his brother-in-law.”
Darren talked to Lenker, then flew to Boston in August and spent seven hours at Sheinfeld’s home.
“When I started looking through it and started hitting the Federal stuff, the Queen stuff, the DeLuxe stuff, the King stuff . I knew it should all come back to Cincinnati because that’s where it was made,” he says of the affiliated labels. “I called and I said, ‘Jim, this is the deal.’ I almost said use the sky miles to fly up here. I was sending him pictures.”
The brothers, who have owned the store since 1999 and shared their passions since they were boys growing up in Dent, trust each other.
“I know Darren well enough to know that he is frugal and careful. And he knows his stuff,” Jim says. “It didn’t take too much convincing. It was just coming up with a number.”
Ahhh, the number. Were they bidding against other independent record stores or deep-pocketed collectors? The bid had to be high enough to be competitive, but not bet-the-house-and-the-store high.
“Money was an issue, but we realize this is going to take 15 years (to sell all the records),” Darren says. “The thing about 78s, when they’re in this condition, you just buy it or you don’t. When we sell more expensive 78s for $50, there’s no, ‘Can you do it for $48?’ It’s not like it’s Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ where there will always be another copy coming in.”
The check is the biggest one the Blases have ever written for a collection, but they insist that’s only part of the equation.
“The number doesn’t scare me because it’s worth it, in the worst-case scenario,” Jim says. “But it’s not the only thing that’s important. It’s worth more than that (money).”
“We need to make money, but it was more like this is just an amazing collection that I want to have in my store and people are going to freak out about,” Darren says. “When I’m standing at the counter and (displaying) 45s or 78s, people are like, ‘That’s so cool.’
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s Muddy Waters’ first record on Aristocrat (label).’ And it is cool. It’s these little chunks of history.”
Whitfield knows the feeling. “The thing about being a musician and playing around the country, you meet people who know I’m interested in collecting. You see the collections in their homes and it shows the passion and love for music. It’s the best thing in the world.”
The Blases are slowly unpacking the boxes that filled a 16-foot U-Haul truck for the trip to Cincinnati and are discovering new treasures. Some one-of-a-kind 78s have price tags north of $1,000, but many of the 45s cost as little as $1.99. A younger music fan who might not know Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris or Lightnin’ Hopkins can buy a stack of records for less than $20, and it could change their life.
“What did these records go through to make it to my shop?” Darren says. “This is what I want to offer my customers.”
Then he offers an example.
“This 9-year-old kid came in the store in his football pads after practice. We were playing (legendary New Orleans musician and producer) Allen Toussaint, a song called ‘Dimples.’ The kid asks, ‘Who is this?’ And I’m thinking is he asking for his mom? Travis (Talbert, who works at the store), the world’s biggest Allen Toussaint fan, gets really excited and the kid asks if he can show his mom.
“He comes up later and asks if the same guy is still playing. His mom asks him if he wants to get it and he says, ‘I think so.’ They go to the rack and get it and while the family is cashing out, he sees that it’s three discs and costs $18, which is kind of expensive. So he tells his mom that’s OK, he can wait to get it. But Travis says, ‘You’re going home with that record now, I’m buying it for you.’ “
Passion can turn a kid into a lifelong learner.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com