After getting his first record in 1964 — The Beatles, natch — Gene Aguilera was hooked on music. This record collector (and Goldmine reader since the 1980s) is passionate about the music history of East L.A. and boxing. He loves the fact that Bob Dylan and Neil Young remain committed to putting everything they do out on vinyl. He's also honored to be — at least, according to Ry Cooder — the only cat in Montebello, Calif., with Jim Dickinson's "Dixie Fried" album in his collection.
What do you do for a living?
GA: Banker by day, record collector by night.
What are your passions in addition to collecting records?
GA: You know what gets the heart beating on a Saturday night? Watching a title fight on the tube. Also, I have a yearly trek to New York for the International Boxing Hall of Fame festivities with my pal and favorite fighter of all time: Ruben Olivares.
How and when did you get into music collecting?
GA: My aunt Maggie bought me my first record when I was 11 years old (1964) at the Kress store in downtown L.A., and I was hooked for life. You know, this was right after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, so excitement was high. I literally wanted to buy every record that I heard on the radio (KRLA, KHJ). Right around that time, my cousin David from Lamont, Calif., came to visit us and brought down a bunch of cool Motown 45s to spin. I thought, this is what I like to do!
What’s the first record you ever bought?
GA: “Meet The Beatles!” It was the high fidelity version and I spun it on my little record player like a madman. I still know every snap, crackle and pop on it and even put my signature on the back cover in blue ink.
What’s the focus of your collection?
GA: I guess you could call me an East L.A. music historian. I specialize in vinyl records from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. I remember the first time I heard “Whittier Blvd.” on my small transistor radio. Here were these guys, Thee Midniters, Chicanos from the Eastside. They were just like me and it made me so proud to hear them on the radio. It gave us hope for the future.
What’s your collecting philosophy?
GA: If you find a record that you want, buy it now, ’cause you may never see it again. I am paying $30 for records right now that I used to pass on for $3 back in the day. Today I look for the “weird and the wonderful” and recent purchases have been “Pachanga If You Please” by Rudy Macias and His Charanga Orchestra (Crown) and “The Big Sounds of the Drags, Vol. 2” (Capitol). Author Domenic Priore turned me on to the theme of collecting records with Los Angeles landmarks or Hollywood clubs in the background. Some examples of this in my collection are “Rockin’ At the Drive-In” by Joe Houston (Scrivner’s Drive-In), “Hootenanny At The Troubadour,” and “The Frankie Ortega Trio at Dino’s.”
What is your favorite musical act of all time, and why?
GA: How can I chose one?
Ry Cooder — The brilliant slide guitarist who played alongside everyone from Captain Beefheart to the Stones, from Flaco Jimenez to the Buena Vista Social Club. Cooder’s “Chavez Ravine” CD is an expose on social injustices and reveals a dark chapter that Los Angeles would like you to forget.
Jackson Browne — The “For Everyman” album is like a religious experience. The lyrics, the melodies take you to your own secret heaven. As I drove my new-born daughter, Emily, home from the hospital … this was the CD that was playing in the car.
Thee Midniters — Their four albums became the soundtrack of my life, then and now. And never forget their soulful lead vocalist, Little Willie G., the Chicano Frank Sinatra.
What’s the No. 1 item on your want list right now, and why?
GA: The No. 1 item on my want list is “Pachuko Hop” by Chuck Higgins on Combo Records (LP-300). The original cover featured a naked woman on the cover with a scarf strategically placed over her. Supposedly the woman was Bila Hugg (wife of the legendary, late Los Angeles R&B deejay Huggy Boy). After this LP came out in 1960, the owner of Combo Records was forced to withdraw it from the shelves because of “the authorities.” I have been looking for it since the mid-’80s. I did find it once, but passed because it was sooo expensive.
I also have been beefing up my surf record collection. I am currently looking for “The Challengers At The Teenage Fair” (GNP Crescendo Records). Being born and raised in Southern California, surf music is a natural love for me. The beach, the waves, the bikinis and the innocence of the early ’60s era bring back fond memories.
What items in your collection do you prize the most (dollar value and/or sentimental value)?
GA: The album that is most sentimental to me is “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes” on Philles Records. The cover of the three girls with their bee-hive hairdos, their exotic look, and Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett just giving you the eye. I actually thought they were Latinas at first. Then there’s the music, the Phil Spector production and Ronnie’s voice. As the Wall of Sound pounds away in the background, you hear Ronnie’s voice quivering with teenage-girl angst and pain. You realize that it’s the yin and yang of this and the musical tension that makes the record work so well.
If money and availability were of no concern, what one item (either a record or memorabilia) would you choose to add to your collection, and why?
I would love to own Ritchie Valens' first professional guitar, a Harmony Stratotone from Sears. Just to sit there and strum the chords to “Donna” would send shivers down my spine. It would take me back to when Ritchie was just 17 years old. So much talent, taken away from us too soon.
What is your method of collecting? Where do you usually find the best bargains?
GA: I keep my record “want-list” on several handwritten legal pages. But it is a neverending list, because as soon as I scratch some off, I add a few more on that I am looking for. Usually, if I get into an artist’s work, I try to hunt down every record that they put out. I usually find the best bargains at the Greater Orange County Monthly Record Shows put on by Steve Brunner.
Who’s your favorite record store operator/record dealer, and why?
GA: Again, how can I just choose one?
Allen Larman at Atomic Records (Burbank, Calif.) for giving me the hot tips on what I must have.
Dennis Hartman at American Pie Records (Ventura, Calif.) for helping me find those rare albums.
Eddie Estrada of Fast Eddie 45’s (West Covina, Calif.) who is the best in finding East L.A./Chicano 45s.