Dealers of the Old School
Our last day in Chicago involves Zodiac funk, and haggling over 'The Crazy World of Arthur Brown'.
It’s my last day in Chicago. I'm half tempted to just chill out and not do anything, even though there’s still a ton of record stores in the city I’ve heard about and not had the chance to check out first hand. Of course, the vinyl wins in the end, and I'm glad it does. My final trip is to another out-of-the-way store, Old School Records, which is in Forest Park, right at the southern end of the Blue line.
The day is a beauty – a lovely cool breeze blowing around to take the edge off what has generally been a ball-shrivelling heat. I ride the train out half an hour to the south western corner of the city, and discover what feels a lovely area for an amble. Old School seems to occupy the middle ground in terms of stores that I've experienced here: not as wild and dusty as Out of the Past or Beverly, and not as trendy as Logans or Reckless. But its relatively small stock is suitably varied and concentrated on decent stuff. A good spot if you don't have all day and a desire to develop lung disease.
I'm limited by my one record rule anyway. I find an Art Ensemble of Chicago record, which would be the ideal souvenir of the city, as it's classic old jazz and of Chicago, but it's $20 and the sound is too mental to justify the expense. Next to it, however, is the one Cannonball Adderley album I've been after that I haven't yet bought this trip: "Soul of the Zodiac". Basically it's some dude narrating star sign gubbins over jazz-funk. Why not? This is another LP I’d been listening to the night before in my YouTube wanderings, and the concept is too mental, the cover too lovely to ignore. It feels like a moment provided by the record gods. A no-brainer.
And that’s it. There seems no point in sticking around, as I can’t keep accumulating this shit. It’s really heavy.
Still, it wouldn't be right to leave Chicago without one more trip to Out Of The Past, to say bye to Ethan and to pick up a gospel record as a souvenir. I get chatting to the owner, and a guy at the counter offers to give me a lift. Despite being a local and a vinyl addict who's driven past Out Of The Past thousands of times, he's never been in. So we take a ride east. His name’s Marlowe, he’s an industrial designer, he loves his job and has a vinyl obsession. In the backseat is a crate of his old stuff he’s taking to trade at K Starke, to make room for some new blood.
When we get to the store his jaw drops. In my travels I'd started to wonder whether I'd exaggerated how good Out Of The Past is. But stepping back in, past the big telly and through the maze of historic vinyl, and the smell of historic vinyl, the vibe is immediate. Places with genuine heart and feeling are rare, but this place has it. You can love this store.
Marlowe and Ethan immediately start chatting records. Look: men chatting records.
Marlowe says he's into fuzzy psych rock stuff. Ethan hooks him up with a copy of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown from 1970. Ethan tries to sell it to him for $2, which Marlowe thinks is ridiculous. He haggles Ethan up to $3.
I manage to offload a handful of records to Ethan that I just can’t be arsed to carry back. I'd even been thinking of ditching "Hi God!", a record I bought for 49c in Milwaukee, because I thought it was funny. I give it a listen just in case. Turns out it's hilarious. That’s a keeper.
I send Ethan on a mission to dig out a gospel record for me to take home. I'm so glad I came back to this place one last time. It’s just beautifully chaotic, and the perfect way to round off my trip.
Imagine having the time, and a portable record deck, to go through all these...
Ethan comes back with a stack for me to try. Most generates a familiar feeling in me – my ear trying to force the music to be slightly different, funkier, dirtier, than it is. But "On The Case", on Chess records, has a couple of tracks that sit perfectly, so I plump for that.
Turns out this has been sampled and turned into epic dirty hip-hop by Ghostface Killa. Ethan offers it in exchange for the stack of stuff I couldn't be arsed to carry home.
The three of us stand in Ethan's eBay stock room chatting long about tunage. I mention my desire to find an Art Ensemble of Chicago record to take back as another souvenir. He says the original pressings don't pop up so often, but to keep my eye open for the LP they made in Paris with vocalist Fontella Bass. It's weird and worth having. He also gives me some tips for NYC – how I should go to The Thing, which he describes as 'four Walmarts full of records'. It's total chaos apparently, but something that has to be experienced. Then he cooks up the suggestion of the ultimate roadtrip: to start in Chicago and drive through all the ‘steel cities’, like Detroit, Pittsburgh and the others I forgot, all the way east to New York, digging as you go, in stores and garage sales, following a breadcrumb trail of amazing funk 45s.
‘That’s a true weird Americana’ says Ethan. I really hope I'm dumb enough to make that trip a reality. We shake hands. Feels like closing a chapter.
I ride with Marlowe to K Starke, where he unloads his crate full of old tat for the owner to pick through. What should I find in my idle flick through the jazz section but the very Art Ensemble of Chicago LP with Fontella Bass that Ethan had recommended just 20 minutes before? Surely that's another sign from the record gods.
I take it to up to K Starke's raised DJ bit, pop it onto one of their Technics, and blare it out through the store.
It's noisy and mental. I put it back. I have no need for that: I've got tons of these fucking things already.