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In the Groove With Records of Past

October 02, 1986|DENISE ABBOTT | Abbott is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

Dan Alvino can't forget that Bob and Earl did the original "Harlem Shuffle" in the early '50s. Or that Ginny Arnell, a singer who never had a hit record, recorded an album for MGM in 1964.

"I can't tell you why I remember these things," he said. "Either you have it or you don't."

Alvino apparently does. And that has earned him the gratitude of Valley record collectors and people whose business is coming up with vintage music.

When Harry Asher, music coordinator for Universal Studios, needed several original Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor songs for the film "Brighton Beach Memoirs," he called Alvino.

And, when "Entertainment Tonight" requested a song called "Knee Deep" by the Weavers, Alvino searched his mental files and set the caller straight. "I finally deduced that they wanted 'Knee Deep in Big Money' by Pete Seeger, who used to sing with The Weavers.

"That happens a lot. People give me the wrong information, or they'll give me a lyric and say it's the title, and I have to ascertain what they really mean."

Music & Memories Shop

After a career as vice president of sales for United Artists Records, Alvino's impressive memory, along with his fervent love of rare recordings, eventually found expression in a Sherman Oaks shop called Music & Memories, which Alvino opened eight years ago. It is the only store of its kind in the Valley.

Today, old records are his life. That makes Alvino a happy man.

"In a world where nothing is sincere and nothing lasts--we've got disposable razors, plates and everything else--a record is something you can smell, touch, look at, and then you get to listen to it," the 50-year-old Alvino says, and means it.

As a 25-year-old clerk in a Brooklyn record store, Alvino's dream was to own every Frank Sinatra record ever made. "I was always searching for something unusual--a promotional copy, a demo, a 10-inch, an import, or maybe an alternate take. Even a reissue became of interest because it has a different number than the original, and maybe even a different cover."

His own passion helped him understand the idiosyncrasies of his customers.

"Most collectors tape the record so they won't wear it down. They put a protective sleeve over the cover. It's their own little treasure, their own little Kruggerand."

Collector Ken Bovasso of Omaha, Neb., says he makes Alvino's shop his first stop when he visits Los Angeles.

"This place has the best assortment of Sinatra records I've ever seen," said Bovasso, leafing through a bin filled with 400 Sinatra albums.

The store is stocked with 25,000 records, mostly popular music from the 1940s, '50s and '60s, and sound tracks. About 15,000 are on display. Besides current releases, Alvino carries imports and out-of-prints, as well as obscure items such as rare picture discs and radio interviews.

Whereas a mainstream record store may carry 10 or 15 Glenn Miller albums, Alvino has at least 80.

Alvino processes orders from collectors in Belgium and Japan. He once sold $2,600 worth of originals to two Frenchmen who were opening a collector's store on the Champs Elysee.

"When a collector knows where you are, he'll slosh through snow and forge rivers to get to you," said Alvino. "And he doesn't mind paying the price. When he finds something he wants, he'll buy it immediately because he knows he may never see it again."

A steady stream of celebrities, from Ray Anthony to Adrian Zhmed, frequent the store. Singers such as Tony Martin, John Davidson and Debbie Reynolds occasionally come in searching for their own out-of-print records.

'Never Have Their Own'

"Recording artists never have their own records," says Alvino. "They probably had them in the beginning, but then their niece wanted one, their dentist, etc."

While traveling around the country for United Artists Records, he began frequenting collector's stores.

"I was shocked by how dirty and disorganized they were," he said. "There would be a huge pile in the corner covered with dust and cobwebs, and the owner would say, 'I think it's in that pile.' Most of the records were way overpriced and in bad condition. A collector knows his apples. You can't fool him by putting a $40 tag on something that's worth $10."

That is when Alvino began dreaming about opening a store that would be organized, clean and reasonably priced. When Capitol Records bought out United Artists eight years ago, it was the catalyst for Alvino's leaving the company and realizing his dream.

"I'm very selective about what I buy," he says. "I'm inundated by people wanting to sell me records, but I reject 90% of them. I won't accept a record unless it's in mint condition."

And," he continued, peering over the top of his glasses, "the record must be valuable.

Age Not Enough

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