Bledsoe began compiling records at an early age. “I had a collection of 200-300 albums before I opened the store. I liked vintage records and started buying them in the ’80s—that was part of the appeal. I take good care of all the vinyl that comes into the store. It’s all hand cleaned and graded before it hits the shelves. People find a wide range of music to browse that’s very affordable. If they want collectible stuff, I have that too.”
LPs at Leo
Cold rain pelted me as I walked on Chattanooga’s North Shore. Shivering, I entered into the artsy confines of Leo Handmade Gallery and Boutique on Frazier Avenue. I soon recovered. This festive little store has jewelry, clothing and a smaller yet surprisingly diverse array of records that are its centerpiece. Employee Bridget Miller was busy arranging products and simultaneously attentive to customers’ needs. “Our store carries items from local musicians and artists. It’s important to promote locals and remember their talents. Oh, and we have great, cheap records, too.”
While chatting with Bridget, I met local musician Arettie Ford, bassist for the cult-inspired band The Stacker 3. All of their music is instrumental and is recorded and sold on vinyl, and every album also comes with a burned CD as a bonus. Their latest disc, Healter Skelter, an album named for the Charles Manson killing spree, was on sale in the store. The artwork on this disc even has its own unique font—the Charles Manson Font, was created by local artist Emily Efflin after viewing Manson’s handwriting online and reproducing it for the record sleeve.
Ford excitedly talks about the band’s next project, Seven Seals, which is directly inspired by the story of the Branch Davidians. She says, “Every record is completely different from the last. I think everybody would be interested in our cult sounds. We’re not playing many live shows, but doing a lot of recording—and clipping a lot of coupons.”
“There’s nothing better than vinyl and the aesthetic beauty of albums. You can just disappear in the music and cover of a Rolling Stones’ album like Their Satanic Majesty’s Request,” says record collector Dan Frix. He has more than 1,000 albums and has been in love with the black discs since he was a toddler. “I remember being in a baby pool when I was 2 or 3 years old. My brother and sister were having a great time as “Please Please Me” by The Beatles spun on our little record player on the back porch. I was enamored. And hooked from that point. Later on I got into the Clash, Elvis Costello, and the Velvet Underground, but I love the Beatles.”
Frix collects albums simply for the love of music and the deep, rich quality of sound records produce. He’s never been one to collect vinyl just for the sake of collecting the records or for financial gain. He admonishes those that do: “They think it’s blue-chip stock that will always hold its value. They should listen to it and pay attention to the musicianship, engineering and production. Don’t miss out on the sonic beauty of records.”
So maybe vinyl will come back in a very big way. Chattanooga has laid the runway out for the potential return, and many people are lining up to see the touch down. Vinyl can take us away to a better place and time where the world wasn’t so complicated. Buy a record for your teenager or spouse this Christmas. Place it under the tree while visions of lava lamps and black lights dance in your head.
Chris Kelly is a failed musician and freelance writer who found himself living in Chattanooga one confused and hungover morning. He tried long, long ago to escape the clutches of his love for music and actually working a real job, but finally realized the he didn’t choose this road. It chose him, man. Email Chris at email@example.com.