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TJ Mayes - "When Love Comes Down"

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Broncho - "Class Historian"

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07/23/2014 | Comments 0

Manmade Objects - Monuments

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07/15/2014 | Comments 0

Admirals - Amidst the Blue

Sometimes it helps to not be very good.

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07/09/2014 | Comments 0
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Over the Rainbow


Remember Rainbow Records, once a local vinyl mecca? Take a spin through music history.

Ryan LaCroix April 10th, 2013

Today’s world is a virtual playground for music lovers. There’s no shortage of avenues to learn about breaking bands, download new songs or unearth a rare track. And there is little to no effort needed to find what you want or stumble upon the unexpected.

Scott Booker, circa 1988
Photo: Scott Booker
Today’s world is a virtual playground for music lovers. There’s no shortage of avenues to learn about breaking bands, download new songs or unearth a rare track. And there is little to no effort needed to find what you want or stumble upon the unexpected. All you need is a device with Internet access.

In the pre-web era, however, discovering new music was an adventure. A listener had to make a concerted effort to find it and, perhaps most importantly, take a chance.

“Back then, your sources were zines, friends or the record store guys. That’s all you had,” said Will Muir, Guestroom Records manager. “It would be a big deal if some artist you liked got a 100-word blurb in Rolling Stone.”

Independent record stores were crucial for exploring. And one of the most popular such stores in Oklahoma City was Rainbow Records.

Founded in 1975, it began as a small shop next to the Milk Bottle Grocery building on N. Classen Boulevard. Within the year, owner Taylor Truesdell and manager Lavon Pagan had moved Rainbow to its primary location at the northwest corner of N.W. 23rd and Classen.

The store would expand to several locations over the next decade, including shops at 7617 N. May and 2116 S.W. 74th. Employees like Michael Surber, Ross Shoemaker, Larry Hollis and Scott Booker became well-known to Rainbow customers.

“We were a rare and collectible record store,” Pagan said. “You needed to know virtually everything about prerecorded music on vinyl: all the different editions of records; what artists were on which labels; which ones mattered, which ones didn’t; first, second, third pressings ... there was a lot to know.”

The knowledgeable staff and relaxed atmosphere made Rainbow a local standout, Muir said.

“Sound Warehouse was like a grocery store: Go down the aisles and get what you want,” he said. “Rainbow was more laid-back: Come in, hang out and maybe flipping through the racks, you’ll find something you didn’t know existed.”

In addition to music, Rainbow sold big, European subway posters and was a ticket outlet for local concerts. Jerry Church, who managed the N. May location in the early ’90s, said the stores were critical for local musicians.

“We always offered our windows and doors for posters and show flyers,” he said. “Our cash register counters were purposely built long and wide so we could feature flyers and show bills.”

Rainbow strove to be indispensable.

“Part of our job was to keep people abreast of what was going on,” Pagan said. “We would be selling them the records, and then the acts would be coming through.”

Some of those acts would stop by Rainbow before their OKC gigs, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and The White Stripes’ Jack White. Local artists such as Garth Brooks and The Flaming Lips would frequent the place. In fact, Rainbow was where employee Booker got more acquainted with the Lips members and eventually became their longtime manager.

For frequent customers, Rainbow Records made a significant impact; the memories they hold are vivid.

“I remember buying a New Order Peel session, and I looked at the Love and Rockets’ “Kundalini Express” 12-inch for at least a month — maybe two months — and I bought it finally,” Muir said. “I can still feel that record in my hand. It was silver and had that funky import wrapper, like crappy, cheap, plastic shrink-wrap that was really loose.”

Flipping sides

Pagan left in 1989 to start a record store in Dallas. A year later, Truesdell sold the Rainbow stores to Digital Connection Inc., which immediately sold the southside location. The corporation’s majority owner, Kim Shoemake, emphasized new items and beefing up the store’s stock.

Booker said the remaining two locations each took on a more particular focus largely based on employees’ expertise. The Classen store began emphasizing blues and jazz, while the May shop specialized more in indie rock, classic rock and imports.

“We knew our regulars and what they would like,” Booker said. “There were guys and gals that we would save records for that they didn’t even know they wanted. We would keep it under the counter and tell them, ‘You’ve got to get this Fugazi record or this Feelies record.’”

Sometimes, the staff would discourage customers from buying certain records, according to Church.

“We were friendly, but we could be arrogant and obnoxious, too,” said Church, who became a music columnist for Oklahoma Gazette after his Rainbow run. “We had regulars that we treated like family — in fact, if we wanted to tell them they were buying a shit record, well, we had that relationship with them. It was very much like Championship Vinyl in High Fidelity.”

As a teenager without a driver’s license, T.J. Clark relied on his uncle to drive him from south OKC to the Classen location. He recognized the experience as being different from other record stores.

“Walking into Rainbow was like walking into a culture: the posters on the wall, flyers for local shows, the people that went there,” Clark said. “I knew it had a different vibe.”

In 2010, Clark was featured on National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered, in a segment titled “Tunes That Got You Through Your Teens.” He talked about how discovering and listening to the Lips’ 1992 album, Hit to Death in the Future Head, made him realize it was OK to be different, even in Oklahoma. He encountered and bought the album at Rainbow.


Jerry Church, circa 1980s
Photo: Scott Booker
Downfall

While some will proclaim the rise of the web and, specifically, file-trading sites like Napster as the beginning of the end for record stores — and the record industry as a whole — former Rainbow employees see things slightly differently.

For Booker, the downfall of independent record stores came with the arrival of big-box chains.

“Best Buy underpriced us and had deep catalogs,” he said. “They would have 40 Miles Davis titles, every Led Zeppelin record, every Beatles record, every Eagles album. And they were selling it for our cost or less. They just destroyed mom-and-pop record stores because we could not do that.”

By the mid ’90s, Pagan said, indie stores began feeling that pinch.

“As soon as the record labels got completely in bed with the big-box stores, that was the death knell,” he said. “Then it turned on the record labels because the big boxes suddenly had them in their grasp. Walmart was suddenly in a position to dictate to the labels what they would pay for their product.”

The digital age also co-opted another feature of indie record stores: customer recommendations. Websites such as Amazon began using algorithms to track purchases to suggest to buyers what to get next.

Now, customers didn’t even have to enter a record store to discover new music.

In 2004, Digital Connection Inc. sold Rainbow to Michael Stone, a Norman resident who moved the Classen store to 3709 N. Western, next to Cock O’ the Walk.

That final Rainbow incarnation ended in 2007, during a decade that saw the demise of thousands of such stores nationwide.

Vinyl comeback

But the story of the independent record store isn’t over just yet. While still only accounting for a sliver of total album sales, vinyl purchases surged last year from 2.7 million units to 3.2 million units, an increase of 16 percent.

Music lovers repeatedly correlate their affection for record stores with the tactile experience of holding albums, checking out cover art and poring over liner notes — a ritual that cannot be duplicated by file names in an iTunes window.

“There’s so much music on the Internet that it’s almost overwhelming,” Clark said. “I have a 180-GB iPod. I can play any song at any moment, yet sometimes I don’t know what to listen to.”

Currently, metro indies like Guestroom, Size Records, Charlie’s Jazz-Rhythm & Blues Records and Trolley Stop Record Shop thrive because those who crave these physical and auditory experiences still exist.

For present-day stores like Guestroom, the relaxed atmosphere and musical discovery spirit of Rainbow Records is alive and well.

“We have places to sit and hang out. You have a flyer? Hang it up in the window,” Muir said. “We try to be a part of that music community and encourage the local scene as much as we can.”


 
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04.10.2013 at 03:09 Reply

For the record (pardon) Rainbow was founded by owner(s) Brett Hill (who isn't mentioned in this article) and Taylor Truesdell (who was mostly a silent partner as ran his own mail order business, Seattle Film Works). Brett ran Rainbow in the early years. Taylor didn't become active in the stores until later. The was also a location in Norman and (albeit briefly) in Stillwater. The Norman store was sold in 1984 and became Shadowplay Records which existed until 2001.

 

04.12.2013 at 03:23 Reply

It's extremely great that the gazette is showing a little love to audiophiles and local music in general. This story illustrates not only a time, but a culture that really shaped a lot of people.

From what I've gathered, however, the Rainbow Records on 23rd is now a final resting place for vacuum cleaners. That's like Anthony Bourdain teaming up with Rachel Ray ten years from now making specialty holiday cookies over a weekly daytime show. Probably the worst metaphor for how transient great things can be.

I really wish this piece would've complained a little more about what has become of it. It's as if it celebrated something fantastic and skimmed over its downfall without really giving any attention to what we've let it become. That historic buiding has massive window space and is on constant display in front of one of the busiest intersections in the city. Talk about salt on the wound.

There must be some entrepreneurial visionaries who could think of a way to reuse the building in a more deserving way than it's current purpose. And, I realize simply writing about being upset doesn't do much to catalyze any progress, but sometimes it's relieving to find someone getting passionate about an issue and going Howard Beale on the pages.

What we're left with is a well written piece that's ended abruptly, and without any real closure.

 

04.13.2013 at 04:20

What we're left with is a well written piece that's ended abruptly, and without any real closure.

Ironically (or not so), that's kind of how I felt about the demise of Rainbow Records. I only ever shopped at the milk bottle location and then the 23rd & Classen location that is now the vacuum cleaner graveyard; when it closed (which was right around the time I left Oklahoma), I felt like part of my adolescence had been somehow amputated. I still don't have any "real closure" about that... I can still see myself standing in front of their display case and drooling over the Beatles Butcher Block cover that they had -- for sale for the princely sum of $275, I think it was... and thinking that it was so far out of reach as to be an impossibility that I'd ever own one. Now they go for $3000 or so. :weeps bitter tears:

 

 
 
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