There is something soulless about downloading music from the internet; just a click and you have an album or a song paid for and ready to play on the device of your choice. You can get CDs in shops; the Louisiana Museum Factory on Frenchman Street always has a good regional selection.
But, back in the day, there was something called a record store. Round vinyl records, singles and albums, might be stored in bins, you could thumb through them. Sometimes you could actually play the music before you bought. (Today, nostalgia for this is honored in an interactive exhibit with bins of albums in a recreated record store in the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.)
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, getting the latest radio hits was a prime goal of every local teenager. Kids spent a lot of their time and what spending money they had on music.
Most hits could be heard on radio – but some songs weren’t cleared for radio play because of suggestive lyrics. That didn’t keep the records from selling. Sally Reeves remembers going to a record shop on Dryades (most likely Schwab Music House at 1627-29 Dryades St.) to get a copy of “Annie Had a Baby” by Detroit group Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.
Dr. Robert Perry got his hot records at the One Stop Record Shop, 348 S. Rampart St., near a friend’s father’s barber shop. “I remember buying 45rpm records – ‘Earth Angel,’ ‘Blue Velvet.’” It wasn’t radio censorship that limited his listening: “My father didn’t like us playing Ray Charles in the house.”
The One Stop was owned by Joe Assunto, who also had a record label. In a 1993 OffBeat interview, New Orleans singer Johnny Adams (whose first big hit was “I Won’t Cry”) said he worked at the One Stop for several years in the ’60s. Adams remembered a “light weight piano” in the back of the shop, which another One Stop employee, Professor Longhair (Henry Roeland Byrd) would play.
Justin Winston, whose taste in recordings ranges from classical (“Smith’s on St. Charles Avenue near Jackson always had a good selection”) to rhythm and blues (“There was a Dew Drop Record Shop that had local 45rpm records, sometimes people I had never heard of.”) to popular (“Martha Jane’s Melody Lane moved twice on Carrollton Avenue.”) to traditional jazz (“Bill Russell had a record shop around St. Peter Street and clarinetist Raymond Burke had a little shop between two buildings near the Clover Grill on Bourbon.”). He is still buying records. “Last week I bought a Gene Autry version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ on Okeh,”
Pherabe Kolb, who was in high school in the late 1980s, recalled her first purchased LP: the soundtrack of Grease. The two music shops she and her friends frequented were Leisure Landing at 5800 Magazine St. and the Mushroom, on Broadway Avenue near Zimple Street. But the medium changed: “It was really cassette tapes, and making your own mix tapes.”
Using their own jam boxes or their parents’ audio systems with two cassette players, “you would collect all the songs you wanted to put in the mix, and then you would put them on the other cassette in the order you wanted.”
“Then you would decorate the label of the cassette, list all the songs and give it a title,” she explains. “You could give it as a gift, or it just marked a moment in time.”
The search for the perfect songs to include was wide. “Fat Harry’s on St. Charles Avenue had a jukebox full of 45s from the 1970s, and we couldn’t find all of them to buy. So, we asked if we could borrow some to put on a mix tape – and they opened the jukebox and let us take them home to copy.”
Anybody in New Orleans knows how important it is to have the right music on your personal soundtrack.