By Peter Lindblad
Fred Ehmen (above) and his brother, Ray, are partners in running Rock & Roll Heaven. (Courtesy of Rock & Roll Heaven)
What do you specialize in?
Ray Ehman: All musical styles and formats. There are too many categories and formats to only specialize in a few idioms. We do have a larger than average garage/psychedelic and soul selection.
What was your first job?
RE: Delivering the Philadelphia Enquirer to homes in Ft. Dix, N.J.
What was the first record you ever bought?
RE: Besides children’s records? Johnny Jingo by Hayley Mills.
When did the idea of owning your own record store first occur to you?
RE: It was always an aspiration but never seemed within grasp.
What is the history of your store?
RE: Dave Bushy opened Rock & Roll Heaven as a used record store in late 1977 in a 400-square-foot shop across the street. Two years later he moved two doors north into a larger location. In 1984 he moved the store again into the plaza across the street, where we are now located. I took it over in May 1987 and made my brother, Fred, a partner in 1990. I began selling records on consignment, which later enabled us to reach a full inventory and larger staff. We expanded to all styles of music and began carrying much more new and sealed inventory.
Has the neighborhood where your store is located changed?
RE: Yes. It has attracted a much younger class of people which favors more specialty shops and bars.
How has the music retail market changed over the years?
RE: It’s ever-changing. While a certain faction has accepted MP3s and smaller files, others continue to prefer analog recordings, which continues to expand to a younger audience, due to its higher sound quality. Also, the rarest records seem to be more in-demand and therefore scarce. It’s amazing how many great records exist for purchase.
Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl sales?
RE: In our business, it’s always remained constant and consistent. In recent years, however, vinyl seems to have broadened its appeal to an even wider group of listeners.
What does your store offer that few, if any, others do? What changes has the store gone through over the years?
RE: We have one of the largest vinyl inventories in the U.S. We have very strict rules on grading (everyone makes mistakes on occasion) and a good sense of organization (thanks, Bill!).
At one time, there was a large market shift towards rap and hip-hop 12-inch singles. As this became more commercialized and mainstream, the market dropped and fell away almost completely. Samplings of existing music used for these recordings brought renewed interest from listeners seeking the originators of the sampled tracks. The quest for these origins expanded interest in rare jazz, prog and funk artists.
Who are some of your favorite customers from over the years and why?
RE: The “High Fidelity” book and film got it all wrong. The most intriguing part of this business is the eccentric customers. The stream of hysterical requests and behavior from some people never seems to abate. It’s a daily source of entertainment for everyone, including other customers observing the unpredictable behavior of others. Record collectors are in a league that is completely unique.
What’s the biggest day the store’s ever had?
RE: Hmm … hard to say. Often, when world-renowned DJs would travel to town with their entourage in tow, everyone would be buying boxes and boxes of rare vinyl. This was back in the ’90s.
Ever had anybody famous come in and shop at your store?
RE: Many times, perhaps because Orlando is a tourist destination, plus artists and bands traveling through the area for performances. From oldies acts like Johnny Tillotson, Ray Peterson and Chris Barber, to Mark Mothersbaugh, Jello Biafra, Cheap Trick, Fred Schneider, NRBQ and Boz Boorer. Michael Jackson was a semi-regular customer for years. Many, many people and bands. They’ve all signed our bathroom wall.
What is the future of stores like yours?
RE: It’s probably a mixture of many things. It requires trying to continue to do things at a high level of quality, while taking changing trends into consideration and rethinking some things that are no longer pertinent.
What’s the best part about being the owner of a record store and what’s the worst?
RE: You can be flexible with your ideas and opinions with some customers, discussing a vast array of musical styles. On the other hand, you don’t want to make someone feel alienated if you don’t happen to be a fan of their favorite artist.
It can be trying on the rare occasion when someone tries to outshine you with their knowledge. Everyone has information beyond your own for certain artists and styles. C’mon, this isn’t a competition; it’s all about the celebration of timeless music created by enormously talented people.
What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in your store?
RE: Many different styles and formats, from rare sealed soul and jazz to micro releases from garage/psych or punk bands. Many autographed items. We’ve had albums and singles which have sold for over $1,000 each.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?
RE: “Do you have the CD of the music played at the Caylee Anthony funeral?”
However, every week, someone asks about a fragment of a lyric. It’s challenging and very entertaining. A typical question might be: “I’m looking for a gospel record with Jesus in the title,” or “I’m looking for a song that came out when I was about 17. We were driving down the road, and the song was on the radio with the word ‘love’ in the lyrics.”
Do you collect anything else besides records?
RE: Books, toys and magazines.
What advice would you have for people who want to own a record store?
RE: First of all, love music. Love the hobby. Be prepared to devote a lot of time to this labor of love. Try to keep an open mind. Sell only the best-quality records. Learn how to be very strict in grading. Read about music constantly. Otherwise, do something that doesn’t require such a great deal of labor and specifics knowledge. Every record is unique in its description, sound and grade.