The number of chain record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops as well as for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. (Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? E-mail us.)
Spending a day with Bob Reuter is an emotional experience. Synonymous with Bob's Scratchy Records, his KDHX 88.1 radio show that airs every Friday afternoon from 2 to 4, Reuter doesn't just have a passion for collecting vinyl -- he sees the pops and scratches between the grooves as being part of the meaning of life.
His gut-wrenching worldview exudes from his voice (he recently won Best Male Vocalist in the RFT Music Awards). Even more so, it's ultimately manifested itself in the upcoming documentary about his life, Broken and Wonderful, which is playing at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. Currently between homes, Reuter stores his records in the back of Tom Huck's art studio, where we met recently on a hot afternoon and discussed 45s, Bob Dylan and the Columbia Record Club.
Last Collector Standing: When did you start listening to music, and what was the first record you remember buying?
Bob Reuter: I started consciously listening to music when I was six or seven years old. My older sister had a collection of 45s. She's eight years older than me. When she got out of high school, she figured she was too old for rock 'n' roll, so she gave all her records to me. I was just thrilled.
Those were the first records that I got, and for a long time I just played them. The most thrilling record there was "Good Golly, Miss Molly" by Little Richard. At one point I left it sitting on a metal space heater and it warped. It was horrible. I felt like a relative had died.
I didn't buy a new copy of that for like 15 years. I just felt like, "Well, that's gone." Like I couldn't get another copy of "Good Golly, Miss Molly."
I'm kind of embarrassed by the actual ones I first bought. I wish it could be something really cool.
It was just a weird concept. There was a record store right by my school, and I had never bought a record. The concept of being able to go into a store and actually buy a record was real foreign to me. I didn't know how to do that (laughs). I wasn't sure how much they [would] cost. I think it was like 99 cents for a 45 ... I'm really dodging it here, but the first 45 record I actually bought was "Let's Limbo Some More" by Chubby Checker. It wasn't even "Let's Limbo," it was "Let's Limbo Some More," a bad follow-up. I don't have a copy of that now. It was kind of like (laughs) some guy losing his virginity to an ugly girl that he doesn't really like because he has to get his feet wet, or something wet.
Maybe I'll start lying and say it was something else.
LCS: What would be your ideal record to say was your first?
BR: "Good Golly, Miss Molly." When I first started buying records in earnest was when the whole British invasion hit ... the Beatles and any rock 'n' roll band from England. Then I had a backlash from that where I bought all American artists. That was real important. Who was as cool as these British groups? Well, Bobby Fuller was. At that time the Beach Boys were. The Sir Douglas Quintet was. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. The Young Rascals.
Also, my brother-in-law was in college, so it was compulsory to have a few folk albums. I stole a few of his albums; those were the first albums I ever had. He didn't even notice they were gone -- that's the part that really gets me.
It was Pete Seeger doing We Shall Overcome. It was a concert he did live at Carnegie Hall. It was the closest to rock 'n' roll that he ever did because they were rebellious songs, like "I Ain't Scared of Your Jail Because I Want My Freedom." Also, he had a Leadbelly album ... It was a much better recording than all the recordings I had heard prior to that. It kind of blew my mind, and still has an effect on me. People back in the day used to tell me I sounded like Leadbelly when I sang. That was the first bar none rock 'n' roll thing that sounded like rock 'n' roll to me.
Back when I didn't quite know how to buy records on my own, I lived in north city, and I wasn't big on riding the bus across the city. I was 11, and there was this big record store in midtown. That was when record stores were more like department stores. I think it was called Musicland. My mom was a clerk in the library, and I used to sit there and wait for her to get off work. I would read DownBeat magazine, and I had read all these articles about Bob Dylan. So I got on the bus and made this journey by myself to this record store. This record store clerk at the time -- and you should have seen the clerks -- it was this really nerdy guy with a short-sleeve white shirt and tie and horn-rimmed glasses. That sounds like it's cool now, but it very definitely wasn't cool then.
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