In the mid-'70s, St. Louis wasn't the center of the music world, nor was it a backwoods swamp where nothing was happening. Fueled by the early rumblings of punk rock, bands such as the Dizeazoes, the Moldy Dogs, the Back Alley Boys and the Welders began to create a small St. Louis scene under the nose of the more established classic-rock and folk-influenced bands. This wasn't always easy: As progressive bands such as Pavlov's Dog scored record contracts and radio play, an act like the Moldy Dogs — which was influenced by the Kinks, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground — was laughed at for wearing straight-legged pants and thrown out of clubs for using electric instruments.

As a result, the scene developed in smaller, hidden places, such as the record library at the KWUR (now 90.3 FM) studios on the campus of Washington University. Young St. Louisans would gather there to listen to Dave "The Rave" Thomas host his Rock It! radio show, the first St. Louis on-air programming dedicated to punk rock and its influences.

Of course, the favorite pastime of these emerging hipsters was buying records — and in the mid-'70s, St. Louis offered plenty of great stores that are fondly remembered by the record-collecting intelligentsia of the time.

Akashic Records in its heyday.
Courtesy Denis Toler
Akashic Records in its heyday.

"In the early punk days Streetside, Discount and Peaches on Hampton were the stores that actually carried the punk stuff," says Thomas, who would become the first music director at KWUR. The best spot, however, was a place called Music Village. "You could browse for hours," Thomas recalls. "They were always playing great stuff, and I learned a lot just going through their bins and hanging out at the magazine rack."

There was also a shady character selling cheap records out of an office on Brentwood Boulevard.

"He had some weird connection either with distributors or a one-stop, and for some 'membership fee' he could get a U.S. release at cost," Thomas says. "Maybe it was all hot, I don't know, but I bought stacks of stuff from him."

And then there was Akashic Records, a tiny store in Webster Groves. Forgotten by all but the earliest St. Louis hipsters, the Akashic was a hub for early punk rockers, and today it's remembered as one of the important spots in the mythology of the local-music underground. While originally owned by Russell Mills, who had moved here from Texas specifically to open a record store, a trio of regular patrons purchased Akashic in 1972 after Mills lost interest. That group included Denis and Carl Toler — brothers from St. Louis who were just out of high school — and their long-time friend, Gene Scott.

By that time, the store had moved from its original location on Euclid Avenue into an unlikely spot best described as "not the least bit punk" by Wolf Roxon, a regular patron and leader of the Moldy Dogs.

In Webster Groves, Akashic was actually in the back room of a "hippie head shop" called the Spectrum, says Thomas, which "specialized in tie-dye, posters, concert tickets, incense and waterbeds." (Today, the Spectrum's location is actually two storefronts on Big Bend Boulevard: Cravings Gourmet Desserts and Krueger Pottery Supply.) Even though the location wasn't perfect, Akashic offered plenty for the young music fan.

As a rock & roll-focused store, it stocked all of the day's best-selling albums for its casual patrons. But even when Mills owned the business, it was always known as a spot for those interested in underground music: Akashic "specialized in ordering little-known albums and imports" for regulars, says Screamin' Mee-Mees drummer Jon Ashline. As a result the store always had stacks of records by Roxy Music, David Bowie, the MC5 and other forward-thinking bands. Many of these LPs were reserved for the musicians, radio DJs, record-label representatives and owners of other record shops. According to Denis Toler, these were the "experts" who made up the core of Akashic's clientele and would buy "a ton of stuff" on a regular basis.

Besides being ahead of the curve by selling English imports, it was also the first store in St. Louis to sell used records. Both of these innovations helped establish Akashic as one of the premier rock & roll shops in the city between the years 1972 and 1975.

"Our shop was really hot for the first three or four years," Denis Toler says today. "We were doing a lot for the size that we were. When the used thing caught on, people would just bring in stacks of used records, and we'd constantly have them coming in and going back out because we only sold them for $2 each."

Paul Wheeler, who founded the Dizeazoes — which was perhaps the first punk band in St. Louis — remembers Akashic's vibe as being ultra-hip. "I was kind of intimidated by most of the people that worked there," he says. "Most of the people that worked there felt they were cooler than thou — and they were pretty cool, so I kind of believed them."

For those who hung around enough and asked the right questions, however, Akashic offered something extra.

"The one thing Denis and Carl cared about more than anything else was betting on the horses and football," says Love Experts/Finn's Motel bassist Steve Scariano. "They were hardcore into it. Long story short, a few of my buddies from school and I wound up bonding with Denis and Carl over betting on football and the horses. They would make book on our bets. And, yeah, we still bought records from them, too, but most of our action with them at their counter centered around gambling."

Laughs Denis Toler today, "I don't know about that; I guess we were kidding around. We did go to the racetrack a lot so we usually had a racing form. But I used to see Steve at the racetrack too!"

But, really, the shop was all about the music — and one band in particular stood out among the stacks of used records that crowded Akashic's small space: the Stooges. Denis Toler describes the Iggy Pop-fronted Michigan band as "number one for me and my friends," while Paul Wheeler recalls that the store was decorated primarily with pictures of Iggy and the band in action. A fascination with the band also seemed to permeate the patronage.

But the store had a connection to the Stooges beyond mere fandom. Mike Shelton, the Dizeazoes' vocalist and a close friend of Denis Toler, had befriended the Stooges during its early appearances in St. Louis. Through Shelton, Denis Toler and some patrons of the store met the band after its show at the American Theater in 1973; at the hotel, Paul Wheeler recalls receiving a quaalude from Pop.

"It's interesting that most of my memories about Akashic involve the Stooges, and it says a lot about Akashic records," Wheeler says. "In those days Stooges freaks were few and far between, and the fact that I and at least some of the people involved with Akashic were Stooges freaks made us part of a very small brotherhood, even though we never got to know each other that well."

Akashic Records didn't last very long, and by 1978 the store had closed. But its influence on the early punk bands of St. Louis is undeniable. Not only did it supply the city's youth with the music that would influence them to start their own punk revolution, but it also unified the community's characters. In June 1977, Denis Toler hosted a party that featured performances from many of the earliest local punk bands, including the Moldy Dogs and Screamin' Mee-Mees guitarist Bruce Cole. The party is remembered as one of the first organized happenings in the history of St. Louis punk.

"That was at the end of the tenure of our record store," Toler says. "I was living in this apartment, and we had this major party. About 600 people showed up and a lot of crazy stuff broke out, you know — but that was kind of the end of it all." 

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20 comments
tim osburn
tim osburn

I often worked in the Akashic Record store for Russell Mill. I remember driving out to Webster Groves after the store moved there. And I remember two blonde boys who we always called "the stooges freaks" who were always kicking each other and and putting the Stooges albums on the wall of new records. As I understand it they bought the place from Russell when he sold out and moved back to Texas. I liked those guys and I am not surprised they had a lot to do with the scene in St. Louis. I moved to Springfield Illinois in 1972, but have so many fond memories of Akashic on Euclid and then in Webster Groves. Russell Mill was a great guy and I later spent a lot of time in Illinois writing rock review with much information that I gleaned hanging with Russell and the Stooges freaks in those days.

Toni_sews
Toni_sews

Wonder what ever happened to my painting on the back wall - How are you Dennis?

Cat
Cat

I remember Akashic Records as a place where you could get a good deal, and not be ripped off. New records at Akashic were only $4.00. They would buy almost any used record, as long as the condition was good, for about $1.00 each. They in turn would sell the used records for $2.00 apiece. These days, if you want to bring your LPs in to sell, you're usually offered about 25¢ each & you can find these same records in the bins for $4 to $7 dollars. You can bring in your $13.00 CD, which will get you about $2.00, & will then be for sale for about $6 or $8 dollars. When did the record business become so capitalistic? It wasn't supposed to be that way. I really miss the early days when the music was more important than the money!

Mike Dodd
Mike Dodd

And whatever happened to youuu gene, their partner, did they fleece him and send him on his way? But on a serious note, Denis was like the professor when it came to music knowledge, and Carl and you-gene, well, they were like the Skipper and Gilligan.

You Gene
You Gene

What ever happened to the Toler boys. I heard a rumor years ago that they moved to Las Vegas and were running one of the sportsbooks at a large casino. Then I heard that they were living large in the Bahamas running some online betting site that they had started.

Mike Dodd
Mike Dodd

They were looking beat because some guy named Manny had roughed them up in an all night poker game. Those guys really weren't into any drug partying scene, they got their high at the track watching some broken down nag come from dead last to first in the final stretch. Let's take a walk boys!

Lightnin' Marcus
Lightnin' Marcus

Thanks to Jack Partain for his fascinating and historically accurate article about Akashic Records. Having grown up down the street from the Old Orchard area of Webster Groves, I remember Akashic and the Toler brothers well.

At least once a week for several years, I would walk by myself or with my various childhood buddies through the Spectrum head shop and into Akashic Records to pick up a free copy of the the latest issue of Phonograph Record Magazine and check out what was "new" in their used record bins.

Although Akashic Records musical inventory was heavily tilted towards the popular FM rock of the day, the Toler brothers taste in and conversations about music were definitely more wide-ranging and less commercially oriented. I certainly remember their fanaticism when it came to Iggy and the Stooges. To borrow an old worn-out musical cliche, Raw Power was their Sgt. Pepper.

As Paul Wheeler stated in the article, the Tolers definitely gave off a smug, cooler-than-thou vibe. But that was OK, As an insecure and self-conscious junior high school kid, I instinctively knew that they were indeed way cooler than me. But they were friendly enough and, more importantly, I could get like-new used records for half of what they cost to buy new. To this day, I have numerous albums in my collection with $1.97 stickers from Akoshic Records still attached.

When the Tolers bought record collections, along with desirable LPs for resale, they would many times get albums that they considered unhip and not particularly marketable. These would often go in the 97 cent bin. I picked up lots of great 1950's and early '60's rock and roll LPs in that bin by people like Fats Domino, Dion, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. In fact, I have several original Elvis albums that I got for 97 cents because the Tolers started saving them for me. If you weren't around back then, it would be hard to explain how uncool Elvis was in the early/mid 1970's. I took a fair amount of crap from my "cool" friends for being an openly enthusiastic Elvis fan.

Although I'm determined not to become one of those old farts that spends the last years of life endlessly reminiscing about the earlier years of my life, it is fun to look back occasionally. Especially when it's somewhere that I enjoyed being as much as Akashic Records.

That old blurry picture really brought some memories back also: Mr. Toler standing in the shop I remember so well - alongside Iron Butterfly, the New York Dolls and Leslie West's Mountain...

Ellen
Ellen

Excellent article by Jack Partain. I really enjoyed reliving the 70's.

Jon A.
Jon A.

This was life as we knew it. thanks Jon A. The Screamin' Mee Mee's

Wolf Roxon
Wolf Roxon

Actually, the Toler punk party was in June 1976.

Wolf Roxon
Wolf Roxon

When remembering Akashic, the one memory etched in my mind is walking into the store and spotting Dennis and the boys behind the counter, looking awfully beat, probably from a night of too much music and partying. But they would perk up soon as you started a conversation about the Stooges or other left-field bands. They gave me a great picture of James Williamson taken at the St. Louis show (1973?). Of course, playing live at their party was one of the best times of my life

Euclid Joe
Euclid Joe

As a kid I used to frequent the old Akoshic in the West End. They had a little hallway in the back with blacklight posters. You'd go through a beaded door at the end of that hallway and there was a huge light show that covered one wall, with mirrors on the other walls. They would play music and had 4 headphones attached to one of the mirrors. Russell would play us some pretty "heady" stuff for 4th graders. Years later I had my first record store in that very spot. I ran into Russell once in Texas and told him that. I'm not sure he believed me!

Steve Scariano
Steve Scariano

The Akashic was the real deal. They were the REAL High Fidelity.

Mike
Mike

I want to go back in time and buy records here.

D.T.
D.T.

Hi Toni: I'm fine, I hope you are too. That really was a great mural that you painted for the Akashic. I appreciate it more now that I did at the time. When Spectrum redesigned their store, the wall with the mural was taken down. I was able to get the mural in 4 heavy pieces. I kept it in my apartment storage area for 2 years, until I moved & was unable to take it with me. I'm glad I have some photos of it. Denis with one "n".

webster dead head
webster dead head

Those guys always did know what was happening with some of the dark seedy bands. It's like they were privy to that info. They always talked about someday sitting down and talking to Iggy.

Toni_sews
Toni_sews

Sorry, forgot about the one N, (along with many other things from those days). I do get flashbacks sometimes, though, especially when I read through articles like this one. It was certainly an interesting time in all of our lives. I'm glad you kept the wall for a while, at least. Do you still have any of the black light Iggy posters I did? Wish I had a lot of that stuff back now. It might be worth more than the $3.95 we sold them for. I do still have some of the pictures I took at the concerts, particularly of Bowie, T-Rex, the Stooges and a great picture of Mick Ronson in their suite at Cheshire Inn. If you ever want copies of them, let me know. Do you still go by World News?

Toni_sews
Toni_sews

I am leaving town next week, but I will dig up the box of old photos when I get back and then contact you for a way to get copies to you.

Ellen
Ellen

Denis still has one of the Iggy posters if you want it. He'd be interested in any Stooges photos you have. You can reach him at 503-3521.

 
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