The seduction starts just inside the front door where an Edison "Gold Moulded" recording cylinder sits atop a vintage Rock-Ola jukebox surrounded by stack after fascinating stack of 78-rpm records.
But the hundreds of records and photographs in Murray "Music Man Murray" Gershenz's office are just a prelude to the sensory overload behind another door leading to his collection.
There, in a cinder-block building on Exposition Boulevard in Southwest Los Angeles, Gershenz has 200,000 or so records--classical, jazz, Yugoslavian, Bohemian, West African, mariachi, operas, Broadway shows, rock, pop, salsa, marching bands. He has an estimated 200,000 more sitting in warehouses in the Mid-Wilshire district.
And they are all for sale at prices ranging from $3 to $2,000.
Beethoven and Chopin sit a few aisles over from Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich. Every Beatles album ever released--with at least 20 copies of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"--line a shelf.
Discoveries triggering memories or astonishment are at every turn: "The History of Wes Montgomery," "A History of Rock 'n' Roll Radio," albums by Jane Powell, Bing Crosby, Carmen Cavallaro.
Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland practically take up an entire wall. Other shelves hold Lowell Fulsom, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Frankie Avalon, the Mamas and the
Papas, Bobby Blue Bland, Herb Alpert, Paul Robeson. While the vast bulk of his inventory is on vinyl, compact discs have also gained a toehold.
"I'm not exactly sure how many records I have," he says. "We're going to do an inventory soon."
Gershenz, a former opera singer and cantor, has so many records that he uses a conveyor belt to move them between the two floors.
The sign outside his building says "Music Man Murray," and his motto is "You Name It . . . We Find It." But comedian Milton Berle recently had his doubts.
"Milton Berle told a friend of his: 'Oh, yeah. This guy has a million records. I betcha he doesn't have this one,' " Gershenz said this week, a satisfied smile spreading across his face as he delicately removed a pristine copy of a 78-rpm record from his briefcase.
The novelty record is called "Cohen on the Telephone" by comedian Joe Hayman, and Gershenz was headed to a lunch with Berle to deliver it.
"If I can't find it, forget about it," Gershenz says.
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Mae West, among other entertainers, would call Gershenz to buy copies of their own records. His customers now include such stars as Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" and Gene Wilder.
North Hollywood screenwriter Scotty Dugan says his first trip to Music Man Murray's place was like finding an oasis.
"You feel like dropping to your knees," Dugan says. "You go, 'Yes!' The inventory he has just blows you away. I think he's an American treasure--not because he has an inventory of records, but because he has an inventory of knowledge about those records."
Some people think any old record is valuable, Gershenz says, "but 92% of what's out there, throw it away. It's junk. Don't kid yourself. The average record is worth zilch."
He says someone would be lucky to have 10 records in 100 that are worth even $5. When he started his business, he scoured flea markets, estate sales, garage sales and any other place where he thought he might find records to buy.
"These days mostly I get phone calls from people who say they have a bunch of records," he says.
A big part of his business, he says, "is knowing who collects what, so I can put a person in touch with somebody who might have the record."
For as long as he can remember, Gershenz has been interested in music--collecting records, sheet music and books about music. He sang with the St. Louis Opera and was later a cantor at area synagogues.
After he retired as a cantor, he decided to go into the used record business in 1962 with help from his wife, Bobette, who died in March.
"People could not understand," he says. " 'Oh, used records,' they'd say. 'That'll never go.' Today it's a worldwide phenomenon."
Gershenz set up shop with his own collection of about 3,000 records, a trove that had practically taken over his house.
"I stocked my store with classical music because that's what I had," he says. "Then a guy comes in and asks for jazz. I realize I don't have enough jazz so I better start buying jazz records. Someone else walks in and asks for rock 'n' roll. That's the way it works. You have to buy according to what the customers want, and you have to subordinate your own interests. Forget about what you like."
With his business tucked away on a block of industrial buildings, Gershenz doesn't get many walk-in customers.
"But I'm not really looking for that," he says. "I'm looking for serious people who are looking for me."
Gershenz advertises in the Yellow Pages and in record collector magazines, and mail orders account for a big chunk of his business. He says he has two primary markets--collectors and the average person "who just loves old music."