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Still in the Groove : While most music lovers are turning to compact discs, record collectors will go to the ends of the world for certain vintage albums.

August 28, 1992|SAMUEL GREENGARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Samuel Greengard is a frequent contributor to Valley Life

When it comes to finding old record albums, Jeanne Jones knows no boundaries.

The Van Nuys woman has traveled to Belgium, Greece, Italy, France, Holland, Mexico and Israel--all the while searching for coveted film soundtracks. She's scoured garage sales and secondhand stores, and even combed through dusty attics.

"I have a sixth sense when it comes to finding collectible records," she explains. "I love the music, I love the album covers, I love everything about it."

At a time when most music lovers are stashing their LPs into the corner of their garage and buying compact discs with reckless abandon, Jones and others still groove to the sounds of vinyl platters. Whether it's a white-vinyl version of the Beatle's White Album, an original 10-inch pressing of the "Gone with the Wind" soundtrack or an obscure album by the English group Freur that became a cult hit a few years back, there's plenty about LPs, 45s and 78s that appeals to collectors.

"It's sort of like collecting baseball cards or stamps," said Robert Kevorkian, manager of a Record Surplus Store in Sherman Oaks that stocks more than 6,000 vinyl discs. "There's the rare and unusual, as well as the interests and idiosyncrasies of individual collectors."

He noted that there are many who seek out records from specific artists--in some cases they have to have everything ever put out by that performer, including mono, stereo, quadraphonic and bootleg versions. But there also are those whose collections are based on subjects or themes, as well as collectors who flip for the art on an album cover or the label on a specific record.

"The great thing about LPs is that they're not only collectible, they're something you can look at and listen to," Kevorkian said.

That's something that attracted Jeanne Jones to collecting in 1954, at age 14. Today, her 10,000-album collection includes Broadway musicals, classical, jazz, spoken art and film soundtracks--the latter focusing on composers Maurice Jarre ("Dr. Zhivago"), George de la Rue ("Platoon") and Miklos Rosza ("Ben Hur").

She spends several hours a month scouring record stores, swap meets, and talking to dealers to find specific LPs.

Steve Harris, a well-known Van Nuys collector, focuses on rhythm and blues from the 1950s and '60s, as well as the Beatles and female vocalists such as Annette Funicello and Shelley Fabares. He began collecting in the late 1960s.

Today, his collection has more than 10,000 records--some worth more than $2,000. "Records tell you what was happening at a certain time. You can gain a greater appreciation for the attitudes of the country by listening, looking at the art, and reading the liner notes."

Not surprisingly, demand for rare LPs has skyrocketed as record companies have phased out vinyl, as old albums in good condition become harder to find, and as collectibles in general have enjoyed greater appeal.

These days, many collectors are willing to shell out $50 to $200 for an original mono Elvis or Beatles recording, and even more for promotional releases, mistakes, recalled albums and rare LPs that have never been opened, Kevorkian said. Swap meets, conventions, garage sales, secondhand stores, estate sales and record outlets such as Record Surplus see a regular stream of collectors who pore over records--some coming from as far away as Japan and Europe.

"It's a regular subculture," said Kevorkian, who has his own collection of 6,000 LPs. "You see the same people everywhere you go. Everybody is trying to beat everyone else to the buried treasure."

Sometimes a record collector hits the jackpot. Mike Saito, a Burbank collector turned dealer with more than 10,000 LPs, has found albums selling for 50 cents that are worth upward of $750. "It's exciting to find an album that you've been looking for. Even if you find one you can't afford, it's great to actually see it and know that it really exists."

Like many collectors, Saito buys duplicates of valuable records, not only to sell but to trade with other collectors who have what he wants--mostly old rockabilly, rhythm and blues and British Invasion 45s and LPs. "I never intended to become a dealer," he admitted. "But you wind up with so many duplicates and records that you have to do something with them at a certain point."

Of course, keeping all the records organized and tucked away is no easy task. Some set aside their garages or rooms in their houses to store all the vinyl. A few who have extremely large collections--100,000 records or more--rent large warehouses and create climate-controlled environments. And when it finally comes time to play the records, many audiophiles spare no expense. A $10,000 to $15,000 stereo system is not unusual.

"A lot of these people are really fanatics," said Bob Say, vice president of Moby Disc, which operates used record stores in Sherman Oaks, Canoga Park and several other areas of Los Angeles. "They won't buy CDs. Many of them are convinced that an excellent record sounds better than a CD. They want pristine copies to play on their ultra-expensive systems."

In fact, no matter what technology comes around, vinyl lovers say they plan to keep putting the needle to the record.

Concluded Harris: "It's like looking for a buried treasure. Sometimes you find the record you're looking for and sometimes you find fool's gold--you wind up with a counterfeit or the wrong record inside . . . . With most collectibles, if you get a fake, you're stuck with it. At least with a record you can still listen to it."

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