Every weekend an army of music warriors set out to accomplish a simple objective: Find vinyl records. The rarer, the better. They rise early, swarming garage and estate sales, rain or shine, seeking obscure albums. If they’re lucky, they might find the Holy Grail of pressed vinyl recordings (of which there are many).
Known as “record hounds,” their hope springs eternal.
Until the late ’80s, music aficionados pulled vinyl albums from artsy, sometimes cheesy, cardboard sleeves, often perusing juicily elaborate liner notes. They carefully placed them on a spinning platter, applied a slivered diamond needle, and took in the sonic delights. Vastly cheaper cassettes put a serious bite in record sales in the ’70s, but CDs delivered the death blow when they outsold albums in 1988.
The once ubiquitous vinyl record, which commercially debuted in 1948, never recovered.
Kevin Longendyke, the owner and energy behind DIG! Records & Vintage in Leesburg, is one of these hounds. His shop offers used rock ‘n’ roll, soul, R&B, punk and psychedelic vinyl records (45s, EPs and LPs), as well as memorabilia, posters and vintage clothing. In addition to poring over dusty bins and musty carboard boxes on weekends, he also buys, sells and trades with customers.
Since he was 14, Longendyke’s been obsessed with vinyl. He’d scramble for the EPs of bands that caught his radar, devouring liner notes for musical influences. By 2007, he’d built up a collection worthy of the most enthusiastic hobbyist. But he lost it all—thousands of records—after a flash flood in Falls Church. Devastated, he stopped collecting for a spell. After a brief period in San Francisco, a town not surprisingly inundated with used record shops, his passion bloomed anew.
Longendyke, now 35, gives off a hip, intense-but-friendly vibe of a post-punk rocker (which he happens to be). His store proves that vinyl is indeed back and booming: He just celebrated more than two years peddling records to avid customers. Last February, he outgrew the attic space at 212 Loudoun St., moving into a street-level storefront in the same building that formerly housed an art gallery and rehearsal space.
“It’s been great to be on the street level. A lot more people are popping in out of curiosity. We used to be in the back of the building that was entered from a stairway, which sometimes had people waiting on it to get in,” he said. “The extra space also allowed me to add a wing of vintage clothing, too.”
Longendyke said music lovers like having something to tangibly hold onto and look at. He said people also appreciate the medium’s imperfections—those distinct hisses and pops that come from a needle plying pressed vinyl. Even younger generations flock to the store, often seeking albums that are, in some cases, three or four decades old—the music of their parents and grandparents.
Connor Liam, 18, is one such youthful customer. He walked into the store on a whim after eating at the nearby Senor Ramon Taqueria. He says he and his friends spent an hour in the shop, ultimately walking out with albums by Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, the Talking Heads and the more contemporary Mac DeMarco. Liam says he’s returned multiple times, purchasing an estimated 30 or so albums.
“I love it because it’s well organized. The owner is also very knowledgeable and friendly. He’s given me several great recommendations for music I’ve not heard before,” he said. “Also, there’s always new stuff coming in to keep you interested and the prices are reasonable compared to other stores. It’s pretty rare for me to walk out of here without something in my hand.”
In addition to owning the record store, Longendyke is also an accomplished bassist, playing with several post-hardcore bands. In addition to his work with the DC-based Shirks, his time playing for the Richmond-founded City of Caterpillar, which broke up in 2003, has enjoyed a recent Renaissance leading to reunion gigs and tours of the East Coast and Europe, with trips planned for the West Coast and Japan. (He also plays with the Ar-Kaics.)
Longendyke said the tours allow him to also visit record stores to stock up on an inventory for DIG! During his tour of Europe, for example, he had to throw out clothes to make room in his suitcase for the 250 records he’d purchased for his return flight home.
Longendyke’s Holy Grail?
One rainy morning at a garage sale a couple of years ago he spotted a badly damaged promotional 45 by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. He knew it was an important find, but the record was so damaged he thought it likely worthless. Driving away, however, his instincts took over. He sped back, panicked the record would be gone, and purchased it for $1.
History shows a record company in England in the early ’60s was all in on Sheridan. But they wanted him to have a solid backing band with talented vocalists for his “inevitable” stardom. The song bombed and the company had to recall the record, thus making it extremely hard to find. Sheridan faded, but the Beat Brothers? Well, they were also known as the “Beatles,” who went on to sell more than 250 million records.
The 45-record sold to the planet’s leading Beatles’ memorabilia collector for $1,700 and now hangs on a wall in his home.
“It was the worst copy ever found of that record,” laughs Longendyke. “But it totally consumed my life for a week.”
Such is the life of a persistently hopeful record hound.