'50s, '60s AND '70s

BLASTS FROM THE PAST -

April 17, 1995|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

They come to Roadhouse Oldies to find the artists they grew up with, the Dells, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Soul Survivors, and it has to be on vinyl, thank you.

The shop's owner, Alan Lee, doesn't have much use for sounds before 1955 or after 1968. In the late 1960s as the influence of drugs and electronics became more widespread in popular music, Mr. Lee decided he had to make a choice, and he did.

For this 45-year-old former electrical engineer, rock-and-roll is here to stay. "People tend to revere the music they grew up with no matter what generation they are from," said Mr. Lee, a tall, wiry, balding man. "Young kids now will look back on rap and call it oldies."

His shop behind a brick storefront in Brooklyn Park is three cramped rooms filled with 45 rpm singles and albums. He figures he has about 20,000 45s, plus 1,000 albums, cassettes, compact discs, all of them oldies. He keeps his inventory cataloged in his head, always has.

He has his own private collection of vinyl at home in Howard County -- 1950s doo-wop is a favorite. He quit his engineering job with the federal government last year to pursue full-time "a hobby that got out of hand."

He opened Roadhouse Oldies at 12th Avenue and Ritchie Highway on Memorial Day weekend in 1975.

Mr. Lee's love affair with rock began during his senior year at Drexel University, where he was a disc jockey for his college radio station, WKDU. His hometown, Philadelphia, always had a strong tradition of rock-and-roll, he said.

"It was a happening town back then as far as the rock-and-roll of the '50s and '60s," he said, noting that a Philadelphia group, Soul Survivors, had a hit in 1967 with "Expressway To Your Heart."

After graduating from Drexel, Mr. Lee moved to Maryland in 1972. He has been a disc jockey at college and commercial radio stations around Washington and Baltimore. He has spent the past 10 years on WQSR 105.7 FM. Every Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight he works the mike and spins "the forgotten 45s," songs such as "Hearts Afire" by the Avalons.

"This is one of the five greatest records made in the history of mankind," Mr. Lee said as he pulled the record out of its jacket to play on a record player.

A reissue of "Hearts Afire" goes for $2.75. The original, which he has, goes for $85. The song was not a hit when it came out in said Mr. Lee, who also has a shop in Silver Spring.

He opened the shops after noticing early on in his career as a disc jockey that others shared his taste for obscure tunes. People wanted to know where they could buy them.

He sells, buys and trades music from the '50s, '60s and '70s. In addition to the standard fare of 45s, albums, cassettes and compact discs, he also carries a few 78s.

He loves to talk about doo-wop, rhythm and blues and soul, though. He named his business in honor of the old roadside juke joints people used to go to in the South in the 1930s and 1940s.

"It kind of evokes memories of where people heard old music," said Mr. Lee, surrounded by old black and white photographs of Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley.

His customers come to buy the songs they remember.

Jesse Boyd, 48, a customer from East Baltimore, was in the shop looking through Mr. Lee's collection of albums by the Marvelettes, the Chi-Lites, Maxine Brown and Ike and Tina Turner.

4 He says the sound of today's music is all right.

"But you just get a taste for that old stuff that brings out special memories," said Mr. Boyd, a customer for about eight years.

He is trying to reassemble a collection of songs that either were lost or lent and never returned.

Frank Magruder, 58, of Pasadena, also longs for the songs he grew up with. One recent day he stopped by the shop and bought three albums: The Nutmegs' "Greatest Hits," "Bull Moose Jackson Sings His Greatest Hits" (including "I Love You, Yes I Do" and "I Want A Bowlegged Woman") and an album by Little Willie John.

Playing songs such as "Story Untold" and "My Story" by The Nutmegs "takes me back to 1955, that's 40 years ago," said Mr. Magruder, a student then at Robert Moton High School in Westminster. "This is all we did. We stood on the corner and sang. Each one of us bought a pint of Hershey's ice cream. It was nice," said Mr. Magruder. He has been coming to the shop since it opened.

Mr. Lee said he doesn't mind going to record warehouses, or making trades, to find what his customers want.

"You get them wherever you can. It's like looking for buried treasure," he said.

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