Music lovers don’t have to buy vinyl records anymore.
Ever since iPods and MP3 players first came onto the scene almost 20 years ago, music has become easily accessible, portable and seemingly endless.
But there is something sacred about scouring through bins of vintage vinyl and fondly remembering when listening to music was a social experience.
Sitting down and sharing an album with your friends that actually needed to be flipped over and appreciating the occasional crackle sound of a record being played gently by a needle is something that many people still cherish.
Vinyl isn’t dead. In fact, it’s back with vengeance.
Just last year, vinyl album sales in the United States hit a record high, with more than 14 million albums being sold, according to Billboard magazine.
And vinyl album sales were driven by an array of artists with more than 75 different titles each selling more than 20,000 copies last year.
But rock music, by far, is still the most popular, accounting for 67 percent of all vinyl album sales in 2017.
For vinyl record fans, the “British Invasion” is apparently still sweeping this country.
According to Billboard, The Beatles had the top two selling vinyl LPs of the year with 72,000 copies of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” being sold and 66,000 copies of “Abbey Road.”
However, the soundtrack “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1” was the third most popular album in 2017, with 62,000 copies being sold.
The resurgence of records is going strong and, fortunately, for local music lovers, they don’t have to drive to Athens or Atlanta to explore the world of vinyl.
There are several locally owned record stores in Augusta that offer everything from original vinyl to new releases of all genres of music including rock, rhythm and blues, reggae, rap, funk, jazz, folk and blues.
Some of these independently owned record stores have been around for almost 50 years, while others have just recently opened their doors.
So, if you’re ready to put down your iPod and check out some vinyl, Augusta has a lot of options.
1036 Broad St.
The new kid on the block in downtown Augusta is Retro Records on Broad Street that just opened its doors about two months ago.
The store’s owners are a father-and-son team that first opened a record store across the river in South Carolina before deciding to head to downtown Augusta.
“We were just discussing it one night, and my dad had a huge collection of records and he said, ‘Man, it would be pretty cool to have an awesome record store around here.’ And, so we just decided to do it,” said Travis Hill, adding that his father, Calvin, grew up in Langley, S.C. “It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. We didn’t really think about it much, but we don’t regret it. From the very beginning, it has been awesome. We were in Carolina for about a year, and then we moved over here about seven weeks ago.”
Travis Hill said he can’t believe the energy and enthusiasm of the customers throughout the downtown area.
“Everybody in downtown Augusta has been super inviting and just really nice people,” Travis Hill said. “And there are people from all walks of life: young, old, both sides of the political spectrum, just everybody. It’s pretty cool.”
Calvin Hill, who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, said he has always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music, but he particularly likes Southern rock, including bands such as Foghat and Three Dog Night.
“For me, it’s thrilling to see some of the older guys come in here and buy the vintage records that they used to have as teenagers,” Calvin Hill said. “To hear them talk about how awesome it feels to find something from their past that they’ve been searching for and haven’t seen for years, it makes us feel really good. We just enjoy helping people find the music they love.”
And business has really picked up since moving across the river to Augusta, Travis Hill said.
“There was a time right before Christmas where there wasn’t anywhere to walk in here. Every bin had somebody going through it. That’s what we wanted,” he said. “Where we were at in Carolina, we had a steady business, but it wasn’t anything like this. It is really popping down here.”
On Friday nights, Retro Records has been packed with people checking out both old and new vinyl, CDs, cassettes and DVDs all while listening to music or playing arcade games upstairs in the store, Travis Hill said.
“On First Friday, we had four bands come in and put on a free live show in the store,” Travis Hill said. “We have two more shows coming up, free of charge. We just clear some stuff out of the way and let the bands set up and play. The goal is, we just want people to come together for the love of music.”
Two locations: 822 Broad St., and 1647 Gordon Highway
You can’t talk about vinyl in Augusta without honoring the legacy of Pyramid Music.
Since 1971, Pyramid Music has offered its customers everything from records to cassettes to CDs to posters and more.
Owner Robert “Flash” Gordon knows the music industry and the Augusta market probably better than anyone in town.
With his many entertainment connections, including close ties to the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, Gordon has dedicated his life to music.
Over the years, he has worked in broadcasting, promotions and even served as the general manager of James Brown Arena.
But Gordon also has achieved the seemingly impossible: He and his daughter, Noura Gordon, have kept Pyramid Music thriving for more than four decades.
While one store is located out on Gordon Highway, the other is in the heart of downtown Augusta, right across from the James Brown statue on Broad Street.
“My dad’s passion for music started it all, and we have now been in business almost 50 years,” Noura Gordon said. “And my dad passed his passion for music down to me. I love absolutely all music. I don’t discriminate. I love it all. Music is the universal language.”
Pyramid Music is known for offering everything from new releases to vintage vinyl, Noura Gordon said.
However, when people in Augusta are looking for James Brown’s albums, they know to head to at least one of the Pyramid Music stores, she said.
“First and foremost, people always look for James Brown here at the store because of my dad working with James Brown for all those years,” Noura Gordon said. “We are known for having a great catalogue of James Brown. And not just having one or two that you can pick from, but we have a variety that you can choose from.”
Through the years, Pyramid Music has also enjoyed a loyal and steady customer base, but the Gordons would love to see more foot traffic in the downtown area.
“With The Miller opening up and all the growth downtown, I would definitely hope it will bring some more youth downtown and get more young people thinking about opening up some new businesses and making downtown great,” Noura Gordon said. “But it has grown a lot over the years. There was a slow period downtown, but now, it is coming back around, and it is a beautiful thing.”
As she finished checking inventory at the Gordon Highway location with her dad, Noura Gordon was preparing to head to the Broad Street store to get ready for the First Friday crowd.
“Business is good,” she said. “We try to offer people what they want. And, let’s face it, we wouldn’t be here this long if we weren’t doing it right.”
859 1/2 Broad St.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Michael Weldon was exposed to all kinds of different music, and he quickly became what he proudly calls a “music fanatic.”
“I started buying records as soon as I was old enough to go to the store,” Weldon said, chuckling. “When I was a little kid, one of my first favorite bands was The Ventures. I loved The Ventures’ “Surfing” and “The Ventures in Space” albums. I liked all of the surf music that was happening at the time, like The Beach Boys and all of that. But then The Beatles hit like a ton of bricks, and the whole British Invasion came along and, from there, it just got better and better.”
By 1973, Weldon had his first job in the famous Cleveland record store, Record Rendezvous, which has been described as being the “cradle of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Former Record Rendezvous owner Leo Mintz is said to have given the music a name and plotted the first rock ‘n’ roll concert with Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed.
That record store is believed to be the basis for Cleveland getting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
“There is a lot about that store in Cleveland’s history and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Weldon said. “So that was my start. And I have worked on and off in record stores or with record distributors since 1973.”
More than five years ago, Weldon and his wife, Mia, moved to Augusta and decided to open up Psychotronic, a record store on Broad Street just up from the Augusta Common and across the street from the James Brown Plaza.
“Previous to being here, we had a store in Virginia, and way before that, we had one in Manhattan,” Michael Weldon said, adding that the original Psychotronic store was in the East Village, which has now become unrecognizable. “We had been in Virginia on the coast for about 12 years and, as nice as it was there, we wanted to move further South for better weather.”
His wife had a friend from Delaware who had moved to Augusta and after visiting a few times, the Weldons decided to head to Georgia.
“We ended up moving down here permanently and opened the store,” Michael Weldon said. “We specialize in original vinyl. If I have new vinyl in here, it’s a small amount. I do get original vinyl all the time, and I try to get first pressings when possible.”
Psychotronic offers all different genres of music, with entire sections devoted to country, funk, world music, rhythm and blues, soundtracks, classic rock and jazz, Weldon said.
“We pretty much have everything here,” Michael Weldon said, adding that the store also offers posters, comic books, jewelry, books and clothing. “While rock ‘n’ roll is the prime mover for vinyl, especially around the holidays, it was interesting to me that we were selling a lot of albums by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and more Frank Sinatra than usual. And, recently, the most exciting buy I made was a large collection of jazz. When you have good jazz, people will come far to buy it.”
While Michael Weldon said he has a lot of loyal, local customers, Psychotronic also attracts visitors from all over the region.
“We have people coming in from Atlanta, Athens and even further away,” he said. “In fact, we’ve had people coming in from the West Coast and New York, and they’ll say, ‘We can’t find this stuff where we are,’ or sometimes they’ll ask, ‘How do you manage to sell these things so low?’ Because, in some stores you are going to find prices similar to what you find online, but here at Psychotronic, I pretty much price them to sell.”
2126 Central Ave.
Augustans might have seen Evan Grantski, owner of Grantski Records on Central Avenue, sitting behind a drum set, playing his heart out at several downtown venues including Sky City and the former Sector 7G.
This native Augustan has played in a number of local bands including Dead End Sons, but in 2016, he decided it was time to open a local record store.
“I was born and raised in Augusta, and I live just around the corner from the store here on Central,” Grantski said. “I chose Central because it’s a nice area, it’s affordable and it was easy to open up.”
And it’s clear that Grantski has a deep appreciation of Augusta’s music history.
In his record store, he has memorabilia from other former record stores throughout the Augusta area.
“This was in the old Radioactive Records here in Augusta that used to be a few doors down. That was in their shop for a while,” Grantski said, pointing at a poster on the wall and then walking over to two bags hung on the other side of the store. “And this is an old Augusta Radio Company bag and a Home Folks (News & Record Shop) bag that I found and collected over the years. I have had a few people who’ve asked to buy these bags, but I just can’t part with them. They are pieces of Augusta’s history.”
Grantski said his main goal with the store is to always offer music lovers a relaxed, laid-back environment to browse classic vinyl, as well as search for new releases, CDs, cassettes, music memorabilia and turntables.
“I’ve always been interested in music. I’ve played in bands, and my parents were always music lovers and my older brother was a pretty good influence on me collecting music,” Grantski said. “I started collecting records maybe in late middle school and early high school. But I collected CDs way before then.”
One of his favorite albums over the years has been The Mars Volta’s “Frances the Mute,” but Grantski said he has recently started listening to more jazz than anything.
“Right now, I’ve been listening to jazz artists like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock,” Grantski said. “But I listen to everything. For example, I’ve always been a big Incubus fan.”
Grantski said the Central Avenue store has been a great location for his business.
“We get a lot of medical students that come in here, so Central Avenue has been really good to us,” he said. “There’s constantly a lot of new shops and restaurants popping up.”
Grantski Records gets a lot of support from customers of all ages, ranging from college students looking for regional recordings to jazz lovers looking for vintage vinyl.
“We are really a jazz and metal record store, but we get everything in between there, too,” Grantski said. “Anything local or regional we always pick up on, like Athens bands and bands from Augusta. And we are an authorized Daptone Records retailer. What that means is, we are able to get any of the expensive color vinyl that they put out, so we stock up on everything Daptone like Charles Bradley and, of course, Sharon Jones.”
For Grantski, he simply wants to help people find what they are looking for by providing the best customer service possible.
“We are here to help, and we buy, sell and trade,” Grantski said. “If there is something I want and there is something they want, I have no problem with an even swap. To me, it’s an easy trade and everybody is happy.”