Recorded Bliss

By: Jyl Benson

One of the Quarter’s specialty music stores, the Louisiana Music Factory

The lack of formality that pervades New Orleans’ live music scene also distinguishes the city’s most rewarding retail music shops, most of which are located within blocks of one another in the French Quarter, and all of which are small spaces crammed with specialty offerings that make deep inroads into one musical genre or another. These little independent proprietorships exist in the shadows of Big Retailers and owe their continuation to devoted music fans and collectors who favor the kind of chatty, knowledgeable, enthusiastic customer service only those rumpled, fervent music buffs staffing these places can provide.

There’s little doubt: The characters working these shops aren’t in it for the money. They are passion-driven on a mission to locate whatever piece of music minutiae you may seek.

Lost in the Local Vibe at LMF

Nowhere is this more evident than the Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur Street 586 1094). Just step inside to find local musicians and fans hanging out at the counter, gabbing about club gigs and gossiping with members of the staff, all of whom are fixtures on the local music scene (read ‘club rats’). The place has a timeless quality and the general vibe is sort of bump-y and jive-y, like you might close your eyes only to open them and suddenly find the place has simply morphed into a juke joint. It’s New Orleans boiled down into a microcosm and embodied in The Record Shop.

The claustrophobic space is literally packed with stock encompassing the entire history of recorded music from New Orleans and related to New Orleans – extensive jazz and blues selections and bins of Cajun, zydeco, R&B and gospel abound. The second floor attic is a regular stop for collectors of vinyl who come to peruse the vast, diverse and often rare assortments of quality second-hand albums, which tend heavily toward obsolete jazz.

You can test anything before you buy and the staff is eager to pop the wrapper and plug you into a listening station for either CDs or vinyl. The result is lots of happy-looking people standing around wearing headsets with their eyes closed and their feet shuffling beneath them.

Promoting Local Musicians

This pleasant vibe erupts past the front door every Saturday when musicians play free concerts, which often serve as record release parties, and Abita beer kicks in with free brew. Performers range from local folk, jazz and blues acts to seemingly impromptu new combos and well-known national recording artists.

The Louisiana Music Factory is a tremendous resource for many local artists who produce and sell their own CDs, which are only available for sale directly through them at their respective gigs or at LMF. On Saturday afternoons CDs from the performing musicians are offered for a sale price.

Beckham’s for Classical

Down the block at Beckham’s Book Shop (228 Decatur St. 522-9875), the vibe is tranquil by comparison though no less satisfying to the aficionados of rare classical music who bolster their collections with visits to the first and third floors. There, Carey Beckham warehouses a wide array of second-hand classical records, CDs, albums and classical and semi-historic sheet music.

Rock & Roll Collectibles’ Monster Inventory

Since 1986, old school rock and roll has ruled the lower end of Decatur Street at Rock & Roll Collectibles (1214 Decatur St. 561-5683), where the vinyl inventory is estimated at 250,000 LPs and about 500,000 smaller 45s. Owners Richard Turnbull and Michael Aaron, both of whom began collecting in the early 1980s, amassed the monster inventory. “Obviously, we are particularly strong in vintage rock and roll,” Aaron said. “But we really have more than a bit of just about everything.”

Among their more unusual offerings are 500 still-sealed Hanna Barbera cartoon story albums. This is the place to find the ever desirable “Huckleberry Hound Tells Stories of Uncle Remus” you’ve been searching for so desperately.

Ride the Magic Bus

Off at the other end of the spectrum is Magic Bus (631 Toulouse St.522-0530). Three cool English guys started the business in 1994 in an old – you guessed it – school bus that was parked in the back of the French Market parking lot. Today the determined beatniks have over 50,000 used records and CD’s that cover a wide selection of musical styles that span the last 85 years with a particular emphasis on rock and pop. Due largely in part, no doubt, to their very Englishness, the selection here tends heavily toward rare recordings from obscure Brit performers. The physical space is long, narrow, rather dimly lit and, of course, crammed with stuff. It’s rather like the interior of a bus or, as one might imagine, a yellow submarine.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.