By Amy McNeal
There’s something special about listening to music on records. The sound of the needle dropping into the groove, pouring over the liner notes, finding a great album that you’ve got to hear – it’s why people collect records. CBSBaltimore spoke with Jack Moore, owner of El Suprimo Records in Fells Point about what ignites his passion as both a record store owner and a record collector. In addition to running the shop, Jack hosts an ongoing series of DJ nights at Golden West on 36th Street and is a musician in the band, the Mopar Mountain Daredevils.
CBSBaltimore: What made you decide to get into the record business?
Jack Moore: I like music and when I listen to it, I want it to sound the best that it can. Growing up listening to records in the 70s allowed me to experience music on vinyl first hand. As the mid to late 80s approached I had acquired a large collection of records and upgraded my stereo system from an all-in-one record player, amp, tuner and 8-track unit to a higher quality separate component system with a tube amp.
My record collection had also grown from the run of the mill, top 40 type stuff you could buy at any record store to a collection of underground alternative rock that you could not hear on the radio, records that you could only buy from bands on tour or in specialized shops. I was also hitting the used record stores, getting into the roots of rock, blues, jazz and all kinds of stuff. There seemed to be no end to the great music out there that would never get played on the radio. I had an overwhelming sense of wanting to know more and more and more about music.
So here I am in the late 80s and behold the mighty compact disc. Alright, I’ll get a CD player and check this stuff out. Well at first the titles available to me on CD were pretty basic in my book. Now you can get just about anything on CD but back then it was slim pickings. I bought some classic rock titles and was not impressed with the sound quality. They sounded too sterile and one-dimensional. So I continued buying records to this day.
By the time 2003 rolled around, my collection was really big. I had multiple copies of many records, sometimes 10 or more. There were a couple mono copies, a few stereo copies, the imports from Japan, Germany and the U.K. We are talking about wall-to-wall records. I started to sell some of my extras at a little antique market on Broadway in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. People started coming out of the woodwork to buy records from me. Many of those first customers still come to my current El Suprimo Records shop.
CBSBaltimore: Do you still collect records, and what are you into collecting?
JM: I do enjoy collecting records. There still seems to be no end in sight. I still learn something new everyday. At this point, I have already collected all the core albums of each genre and am currently looking for yet more great music by bands that never became household names here in the states. Also all the great bands from countries other than the U.S and U.K. I like the sound quality of U.K., German and Japanese imports. There are so many albums of interest to me that I still want. It seems that every time I turn around there is a 45 or LP of some rock steady reggae, hard bop jazz, kraut rock, gospel funk, Korean psych, Baltimore prog, Brazilian tropicalia, Mississippi blues, Peruvian cumbia, Afrobeat, British punk, Cambodian garage, NWOFHM, Detroit soul, Egyptian surf, Hungarian power pop or Transylvanian electro beat sitting in front of me that I want to take home. My latest interest is in the somewhat obscure quadrophonic format from the 70s. These LPs were mixed in four separate channels as opposed to stereo, which only has two separate channels. This gives the listener a new take on many great LPs. I have a quad system in my bedroom and have recently acquired a box set of vintage quad headphones which have two separate channels per ear. Very nice!
CBSBaltimore: What genres of records are available in your shop?
JM: I try to keep a healthy dose of all forms of pop, rock, psych, progressive, surf, rockabilly, R&B, soul, funk, blues, jazz, hard bop, fusion, free jazz, gospel, folk, world, country, spoken word, rap, hip-hop, electronic, dance, reggae, dub, soundtracks, lounge exotica, Latin, opera, avant and classical to name a few.
CBSBaltimore: What’s your average customer like?
JM: All walks of life come through. The young and the old. The rich and the poor. The hip and the shut-ins. They are all here, all the time. They come from in town, around the country and from overseas. They are curious to see what came in new since their last visit. They are demanding in their quest for clean copies of their favorite records. They enjoy the mystery and the history of record collecting. They don’t want to compromise the quality of their listening experience and they always want to know more.
CBSBaltimore: What’s your favorite record in the shop, and why is it the coolest?
JM: Well, that changes day to day. One of the beautiful things about music is that it can fit your mood from day to day. It can complement a meal, the weather, current events, a gathering of friends or what have you. The coolest record in the shop on any given day is the record you chose that fits that moment best and then makes it even better. One day it may be John Coltrane, on another it may be Muddy Waters, Toots and the Maytals, Motorhead or Curtis Mayfield. It always changes. Sometimes the coolest record in the shop is the one you take home.
CBSBaltimore: What is it about records that attracts people to collecting them?
JM: Sound quality is the biggest factor. Finding the best sounding copy of their favorite record is the holy grail. This involves looking for the first press in mint condition from the country of origin. Reissues, whether on vinyl or CD, never sound as good. Many people enjoy the format size. The artwork is much more impressive on a record jacket than in a little CD plastic case. There are the beat diggers, who look for open break beats to sample for their own music. For some, it is just the hunt, never knowing what they may find and being so amazed at what they come across. And then, of course, is the party factor. The right record can set a party off like nobody’s business.
CBSBaltimore: What was the inspiration behind your shop?
JM: I wanted a store that people could discover great records that they never knew existed, in great condition for a reasonable price. This is a vintage record store although I do carry music from the current millennium. I focus on music from the 50s,60s and 70s with some 80s as well. The golden age of rock, R&B and jazz.
CBSBaltimore: What is it about being in the record business that makes you smile?
JM: Finding great music that I never knew existed. Hearing music that you would never hear on the radio is even better. Watching the looks on peoples faces when they first walk in can also make me smile or seeing a customer’s beaming face as they bring a huge stack of LPs to the counter. Sometimes, if not all the time, my store is like a party. I allow the customers to drink in the shop as they browse. Before you know it, everyone is smiling.
CBSBaltimore: What do you see as the future of record collecting?
JM: That depends on the economy. If people have money to burn, more will get into buying high quality tube amps and record players. They will take time to dig through record stores to find the best sounding LPs and discover all the great albums out there. If we the people do not pass the proper laws to save our economy, record collecting will remain a very specialized interest to a small group of enthusiastic music lovers. Records have been around in one form or another for about 100 years now. Their collectability has been well established and will stay much the same in the foreseeable future here on Earth.
CBSBaltimore: What’s the best way to enjoy a record?
JM: If you are serious about your listening experience, do yourself a favor and acquire a nice vintage record player with a proper counter balance on the tonearm, a high quality needle and cartridge. Then get yourself a nice tube amplifier and some speakers that have at least a 15″ woofer, place them in the largest room in your home and play a clean copy of your favorite record.
Amy McNeal is a writer and journalist living in Bowie. A Baltimore native, she’s constantly intrigued by her city’s vibrant and unique culture.