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Memories of Gloucester Music

 I remember it as if it were magic. That special place before the west end and after the bank.  Next to a shoe store across from Center Street.  A funky hand-painted sign spread above the entrance and once you were inside the counter was on the right and the discount 45s on the left, new 45s on the wall behind the register.  Straight ahead were the rows of albums, sheet music, and posters large and small, hanging high and low, featuring mostly the rockers of the sixties and seventies.  It was the original Gloucester Music Store of 1977.  The place where I bought my first Albums and 45s with the money I earned from paper routes and allowance chores, and thanks to Mom and Dad for the rest. 

  After 37 years the doors are closing at this Gloucester institution.  Only the memories will soon remain. After one long last browse, with hellos to Susan and Judy,  so many memories surfaced that I felt impelled to get a few down in writing and see what I could remember on this autumn day in 2014 as I walked down to the Blvd from Stage Fort.

   My first memory of purchase on my own, not bought by my Mom or Dad, was a 45 of “She’s So Cold” by the Rolling Stones. I must have been 10 years old looking at the release date.   I’d caught the video on Solid Gold hosted by Dionne Warwick and just had to have that track, even though they looked so much older to me even then!  The track stands up today in my opinion as a tasty example of the Keith Richards and Ron Wood Guitar weave, where the line of lead and rhythm guitarist is blurred with ear tingling results.  

  An early LP or Long Play that I recall purchasing as a kid was Eagles Greatest Hits. My Dad had the 8track cassette featuring my then favorite “Already Gone”.  Today I still love “Take It To The Limit” and Randy Meisner’s transcendent vocal.  Other first purchases were The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be with “I Am The Walrus” and “Across the Universe” respectively.  I’d asked and gotten Sgt. Pepper as a Christmas present and was obsessed with the Fab Four.  I’d started my Beatles craze with Mom’s original Vee-Jay fold out copies of All Our Best and A Hard Days Night. One Beatle record that I sadly loaned out and lost was a special collection released for Valentine’s called Love Songs, cased in a leather looking foldout with a lyric book that I read on many a rainy day while listening to “I’ll Follow the Sun”.  I can still picture that Double LP on display as you entered the store.  It was a couple years later when John Lennon’s assassination late in 1980 made this 10 year old eerily aware of the importance of this music by the reaction of the world to his death. My music obsession began to reach new heights. 

   My first Stones LP from Gloucester Music was High Tide and Green Grass with it’s fold out picture book featuring Britain’s original bad boys in the studio and live in concert.  I can still remember being outside my Aunt Nancy’s on Willow Street, whose family we would visit and spend many a Friday walking downtown as neither she nor my mom drove. I was holding that record album tight and dreaming about meeting those Rolling Stones someday.  Gloucester Music and my aunts row house were in my thoughts when I was hanging in Keith Richards dressing room with Keith, Ron Wood,  and assorted guests,  backstage at Fenway Park in 2005 where they kicked off the Bigger Bang Tour, having a private laugh with that little kid inside of me.  

   Back in the late 70s and early 80s  fingering through the records at Gloucester Music was as natural a pastime as walking down the street, whether I was buying or not.  A trip through the record store was a part of my routine, a hang out, with my curiosity touched by every new release on display in large Album covers.  I can picture Elvis Costello’s checkered Buddy Holly profile on his debut, Cream’s Disraeli Gears psychedelic colored bubbles,  Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Egyptian temples, Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon simple pencil and watercolor minimalism, and the angst/Elvis resurrection of The Clash’s London Calling cover.   Filing through records was like filing through an art gallery of prints, with my imagination trying to figure out what each cover might sound like once opened.  Mystery sounds swam in my head while Susan and Judy minded the shop forever patient as I read and studied this vast recorded history. 

    My next obsession was Jimi Hendrix.   I was a shy kid way back when with odd tastes and not necessarily into the current popular fads.  Ralph Bakshi released American Pop in 1981, a masterpiece of animation about four generations of american musicians from their immigration to the present 1980s.   There was a bit about a band that resembled the Jefferson Airplane not wanting to follow this Jimi Hendrix act and I was intrigued.   I made it down to Gloucester Music and picked up Are You Experienced?.  I distinctly remember keeping  the purchase hidden in my bag and on the way out being asked “what’s in the bag little king” by some of my older brothers sports buddies.  I said “nothing” as I breezed by.  Behind my back I could hear them snicker “must be disco Ha Ha”.  Not quite. 

   The early 80s brought along the Boom Box and the Walkman and soon my purchases switched to mostly cassettes for the convenience.   My Lucido’s Barbershop Basketball hoodie always hid earphones in the hallways all through O’Maley Middle School.   The bands changed too and my tastes became a bit more current, U2 Under A Blood Red Sky Live, Chrissie Hynes and The Pretenders, The Police Regatta De Blanc, Talking Heads Stop Making Sense, R.E.M. Murmur,  offset with the darker tones of Black Sabbath Paranoid and Never Say Die, and AC/DC anything and everything, all from the Gloucester Music case under the glass. 

    My first and only black light poster was an incredible AC/DC Highway to Hell promo featuring a laughing devil on the horizon whose flaming arms encircled a dark winding lonesome road,  bought from the store next to a Shoes sign.  There were countless Jimi Hendrix pictures and posters that soon took over all the wall space available in my attic room on Eastern Avenue, just before the traffic lights and a short walk to downtown.  I’m sure my parents were thrilled.   I distinctly remember hearing Stevie Ray Vaughn “Cold Shot” on WBCN one sunny day up in my attic room and marching with purpose immediately down to Susan’s store to grab the cassette of Couldn’t Stand the Weather.  Same thing happened when I heard Jeff Beck’s Wired on rock radio, though a few years after it was released, and was blown away.  I’d caught the Guitar bug listening to Hendrix and my Dad’s Chet Atkins records and now had the whole disease, taking lessons and trying to figure out each phrase by ear off the stereo.  

    There was a fire in 1984 and the whole block end that housed Kelleher’s, Joe’s Dugout, a Chinese Restaurant,  and the former Gloucester Music left forever.  It’s been a parking lot and a small park on the Main St. side ever since.  Ironically that spot on Main St. has become a music stage during Block Parties as well as housing the random busker which always makes me smile in remembrance.  

   Gloucester Music moved to a larger space closer to the east end of Main St. next to Cameron’s and I was delighted.  Now I didn’t have to walk as far to find my latest escapes and after leaving my early morning Seven Seas Cafe job setting up Clambakes and culling Lobsters I could stop by Gloucester Music and spend my new found wealth.  The hits in the summer of 1984 may have been Huey Lewis and Ghostbusters but for me and my developing guitarist ear Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti kept me walking with purpose and maybe even a head nodding strut. 

   Times changed, I outgrew the neighborhood a bit, and my record store browsing was broadened with trips to Harvard, Davis, and Central Square on the Train,  but I never stopped popping into my original hang-out Gloucester Music.  I went back to vinyl for a while after discovering jazz,  via Fusion/Jazz Rock,  and soon Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Wes Montgomery Smokin’ at the Half Note,  and a bunch of Mile Davis, including a rare Directions double album, Nefertiti, and current releases Decoy and Tutu, now filled my Gloucester Music paper bags.  The new upstairs section where I found all of these records was a beautiful loft filled with Classical, New Age, and Modern Jazz with posters of the same.  A world apart from my rock and roll beginnings. Climbing up those stairs I remember the NRBQ poster on the wall that I’d pass every time, not having a clue as to who they were and whom I got to see live playing at Pearl St. in Northampton, Ma while working as a door man side stage in the early 90s.  What a pleasant surprise.  The poster I remembered now seemed perfectly placed in between the floors just as NRBQ’s music seemed to lie as they bridged early rock and roll with modern jazz improvisation. 

   As the years rolled on I went back to Rock and Roll and kept the Jazz leanings as well, and completed many collections down at Gloucester Music.  I bought strings and cords, picks, slides, harmonicas, and sometimes even the records that were playing in the Store.  In High School I distinctly remember purchasing the first Robert Cray record after hearing it emanating from an above speaker and taking it to my basketball game storing it carefully in my gym locker.  Another memory was hearing what sounded like a piano based RadioHead record Susan was playing that I immediately purchased and played incessantly.  It turned out to be Rufus Wainwright’s debut in 1998,  produced by Jon Brion.   I’d catch all of them live, Rufus at the Paradise in Boston with a piano laced with Heineken’s a la Freddie Mercury, Jon Brion at Largo in West Hollywood recreating with loops every instrument and vocal of Roxy Music’s “More Than This”, and Radiohead in several different arenas. 

   A couple favorites,  amongst so many  purchases still in my collections, that really seem to mark the times for me are Lou Reed’s New York and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in early 1989.  The 80s were closing and,  being born in 1970,  so were my teens.  I couldn’t ask for a deeper more meaningful soundtrack for my rock and roll heart as I left home for adulthood.  Since then I’ve hit the record stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin and beyond with so many in between I couldn’t begin to count.   Thank you Susan, Judy, and all the family and friends who made Gloucester Music such an important part of my life’s journey as I’m sure you have for so many others on our beautiful dirty old Cape.  Goodbye old friend and thanks for the memories.

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