For 'shellac junkies,' old records are the cat's meow

November 12, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Long before the doors to their meeting place opened, the "shellac junkies" were in a feeding frenzy outside, feverishly seeking something old that is new.

Pawing through the boxes of old records they flipped the discs, checking labels, songs and artists for something to add to their collections.

The energetic buying, selling and swapping are hallmarks of the monthly meeting of the Vintage Record Club of Baltimore.

"Everyone is always looking for something new. It's addictive," said club president and co-founder Frank Wiedefeld, 58, of Hamilton.

Founded in January 1980, the organization is dedicated to the perpetuation and preservation of recorded music from the turn of the century to the 1950s. "We're shellac junkies," Mr. Wiedefeld said, referring to the material used to make records before plastics took over in the 1950s.

Jazz, swing and dance music records from the late 1920s and the 1930s are the most popular with the nearly 80 members, mainly men from 40 to 70.

"That's prime time," declared Janis Phelps, 40, the only active woman member.

Mrs. Phelps, a secretary, and her husband, Neil, a librarian in Arlington, Va., were among the founders when the club was formed in January 1980. They married a few years later.

"We got married because he had some records I wanted and I had some he wanted, so we merged our collections," she said.

Stacks and boxes of records filled a dozen tables recently in a meeting room of the First Christian Church, at Roland Avenue and Bellemore Road. Most of the thousands of discs were 78 rpms, but because members have catholic tastes, vinyl 45 rpms, long-play albums and even a few compact discs also were on hand.

Mrs. Phelps and other members scrounge flea markets, yard sales, auctions and any other possiblesource for records.

"It gets to be a way of life," she said. The couple brought more than 600 records to the meeting to sell: "two bits apiece."

While many records sell for between 25 cents and $5, rare discs can fetch from $10 to $100, or more.

The club's champion eclecticist is Wally Lamb, 68, who said he has been collecting records since 1941 and has amassed between 500,000 and 700,000 of them. "And I get more at every meeting," he said.

A visit to Mr. Lamb's North Baltimore house supports his claim. Records are stacked in cartons and on furniture in 17 of the 20 rooms and the basement. "We live in three rooms," he said.

He has 10 to 15 old phonographs, including several Thomas A. Edison Co. models from the early 1900s that play cylinder records.

"The fascination for me is what's in their grooves," Mr. Lamb said. "I just love music."

Most club members record their old discs on tape to prevent wear to the originals and to avoid having to change records every three minutes.

Records by black jazz bands of the 1920s are among the most sought-after, Mr. Wiedefeld said. Among the rarities is the music of Jabbo Smith and the Rhythm Aces. A trumpet contemporary of Louis Armstrong, Smith in the collector's view is a real jazz pioneer. His records go for $25 to $60.

Dealer Ray Warner, 52, from Hamilton, showed several thick catalogs listing virtually ever record ever pressed, with the last price it fetched at auction. With that as a guide, dealers and collectors can negotiate their own deals, he said.

Perry Pickering, 73, and his wife, Lucy, of Catonsville, specialize in Nelson Eddy records. Mr. Pickering said they have scores of the baritone's records, including recordings never released publicly.

But even though they say they have everything Mr. Eddy recorded, they still left the meeting with a stack of his singles and albums. "I just like to have duplicates, just in case," Mr. Pickering said.

Disc jockey Rick Colon, of Columbia, picked over all the piles of records looking for music to broadcast on his Sunday radio show on station WITH 1230-AM.

Mr. Colon, 41, a school psychologist in Washington, said he personally prefers recordings by dance orchestras and singers between 1925 and 1952, but will buy anything interesting for his show.

"I play my own records that I buy," he said. "I have 45,000 titles, at least 8,000 78s, 3,000 LPs and God knows how many tapes and CDs."

Leon Kagarise, 54, of Towson, has about 150,000 records.

An electronics engineer who said he has only missed two meetings of the club since he helped to found it, Mr. Kagarise uses his hobby as an excuse to get out and meet people.

"I get to about 20 yard sales and

flea markets on a Saturday buying records," he said, adding that he had just "bought a carload" of records for about $50.

After digging through a day's catch for keepers for his own collection, Mr. Kagarise spread the rest out for sale to fellow members at 25 cents to $10.

Mark Kotishion, 30, of Woodlawn, is one of the club's youngest members, but he focuses on the same period as his seniors -- the 1920s and 1930s. He favors European dance and cabaret music.

"This is a good time to buy records," said Mr. Kotishion, a projectionist at the Senator Theater, "The recession is bringing things outthat haven't seen the light for a long time as older collectors are selling off things."

Meeting time

The Baltimore Vintage Record Club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the First Christian Church, Lake and Roland avenues.

For information, call Frank Wiedefeld 426-2754, Neil and Janis Phelps 247-2497 or Dr. Geoffrey Berman 486-0744.

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