Son keeps alive Reid’s Records, founded in ’45 #vinyl #music #business #news

“David, it’s not until June,” Betty Reid Soskin pointed out to her son and business partner.

“My response was,” David recalls while standing next to her behind the counter of the Sacramento Street store they co-own, ” ‘When Disneyland has a celebration, it ain’t one month, it’s all year. This is just the start of my celebration.’ “

Reid’s Records may not be the oldest still-active record store in the United States – George’s Song Shop in Johnstown, Pa., launched in 1932, claims that distinction – but it’s certainly the oldest in the Bay Area and probably in all of California. Mel and Betty Reid opened their store on June 1, 1945, in the basement of the duplex they’d been renting since they married three years earlier. Their landlord, Aldo Musso, was in the jukebox business and gave Mel a part-time job stocking them with 78-rpm records at local restaurants and bars.

“We found that there was a new market for what was then called ‘race records,’ ” Betty, 88, recalls. “Mel decided that one of the things we might do to become independent was to open a record shop where we could sell that music. There was a huge market because the black population had gone up.” Indeed, the Bay Area’s African American population more than tripled from 1940 to 1945, from fewer than 20,000 to more than 60,000.

Betty minded the store during the early years, while Mel worked as a playground director during the day and at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond in the evening. He did find time to order records and get them played on Berkeley radio station KRE, except during the season he was away playing halfback for the Honolulu Warriors.

Much of what Reid was then selling was down-home blues that appealed to African Americans recently arrived from the South. “We didn’t know anything about that stuff,” Betty says. “We’d been listening to Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Louis Jordan and Billie Holiday.”

The conversation is briefly interrupted by a customer looking for a headless tambourine on a stick to play in church. David tells her he doesn’t carry them but could probably order one. He does, however, stock plenty of other church supplies and religious material, including standard tambourines, choir robes, Communion ware, Bibles, songbooks, Sunday school curricula, Christian greeting cards and, of course, gospel CDs.

“It’s everything for the black church experience,” David, 57, says of his inventory, which now includes little secular music, other than several dozen soul and funk cassette tapes left over from the ’70s.

The store’s close association with gospel music began in the early ’50s when Mel’s uncle Paul Reid became a religious disc jockey at KRE. Mel would often suggest records for Paul to play, or Paul would give Mel advance notice of what was going to be on his playlist. Either way, Reid’s Records would have the hot new gospel releases ahead of the competition. Mel and Paul then teamed up as concert promoters and throughout the ’50s and ’60s presented such gospel stars as James Cleveland, the Rev. C.L. Franklin and his then-teenage daughter Aretha, the Caravans, Davis Sisters, the Staple Singers and the Ward Singers, usually at the Oakland Auditorium Arena.

Reid’s Records thrived during that period, moving into a larger building at 3101 Sacramento St., next door to the original location. Betty dropped out of the day-to-day business in the early ’50s, when she began staying home at a house she and Mel had built in Walnut Creek to raise their four children. She remained gone for more than a half century.

By the mid-’70s, Reid’s Records was in serious decline and sometimes was not even open when Mel was hiding from people to whom he owed heavy gambling debts. David stepped in to try to save the business but quickly realized that many of the old customers were going to larger stores a couple of miles away, like Tower and Leopold’s, that were able to buy in bulk and thus could sell records at slightly lower prices.

“They weren’t buying James Brown or Marvin Gaye here anymore,” says David, who returned to his old construction job after discovering he was unable to make enough money at the store to support his family.

Betty, who had divorced Mel and married UC Berkeley research psychologist William F. Soskin, returned to the store in 1978, shortly before Mel’s legs were amputated because of complications from diabetes. There was a foreclosure notice on the door. Her intention was to shut it down, but she soon changed her mind.

“The whole street had become ground zero for the drug trade,” she recalls. “The Santa Fe tracks were being torn out, and there was mud all the way to the door. There weren’t even sidewalks.

“While I was in here boxing up the stock that I could return to the distributor, people were climbing over the sawhorses and walking through the mud and knocking on the door to buy things. It was the last of a legacy for my kids. If this building went, it would have been all those years gone.”

Betty made the local news in 1986 when a reporter noticed a sign she’d put in the window announcing that she was refusing to carry rapper LL Cool J’s hugely popular album “Bigger and Deffer.” “It was talking about his Uzi and blowing somebody away,” she explains.

“I had discovered that kids 10 and 12 years old would buy rap cassettes, put them in their Walkmen and grin,” Betty adds. “I knew what was on those. I also knew that their parents didn’t know. I was in the position of putting that stuff directly into the ears of children. I saw the association between what was happening on the streets in front of my store and what was happening with the children coming in to buy that stuff.”

Betty again dropped out of active involvement in the store 20 years ago and turned it over to David, who now lives upstairs with his son and three daughters. Last year, he teamed up with KPFA disc jockey Emmit Powell to promote gospel concerts, much as Mel and Paul had years earlier. Their Reid’s Records’ 65th Anniversary Tour, headlined by Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s and also featuring Emmit Powell and the Gospel Elites and organist Moses Tyson Jr., began this month with dates in Fresno and San Francisco and continues this week with performances in Sacramento, Stockton and, at 8 p.m. Saturday, at Star Bethel Baptist Church at 5800 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland.

“I think it’s great,” Betty, who seldom visits the store these days, says of her son getting into the concert business. “He may lose his shirt, but I think it’s a part of the Reid legacy that David needs to live out.” {sbox}

E-mail Lee Hildebrand at pinkletters@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page Q – 14 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Posted via web from The LP Revival Blog

Advertisements

~ by lprevival on February 8, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: