Mon | Mar 30, 2020

Vinyl Records enjoying a resurgence in sales

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Japanese record shop owner Masaya Hayashi (left) looks at some Jamaican vintage albums with renowned music collector Dexter Campbell.
Dexter ‘The Ska Professor’ Campbell indicates a small section of his vast vinyl collection.

The 1982 introduction of the compact disc (CD), a digital music playback format that used a laser to record the disc, threatened to eclipse the use of the vinyl record format that was then in use. The demise of the vinyl record seemed real, as CD sales quickly escalated, while vinyl record sales fell, as record companies tried to phase out the vinyl record albums (LP).

Many welcomed the change because of the convenience it offered: Selecting a recording could now be done by simply pressing particular selection keys, instead of the manual 'putting on and taking off' of vinyl records from a turntable. Additionally, CDs presented a less cumbersome method of transportation for disco and sound system operators, as CDs are much lighter, and at the same time, contained more recordings.

These advantages, however, did not impress the ardent 'vinyl addicts' and record collectors, who thought that some of the originality of sound coming from the vinyl was lost, once the song was transferred to CD. This is of paramount importance to them. It may very well amount to the passion and sentimentalism that such individuals attach to their vinyl records, something that is virtually non-existent in any other form of music dissemination. Having been a vinyl enthusiast myself, I can attest to the thrill, satisfaction and egotistic boost one gets from laying a vinyl record on a turntable. The feel and vibe is totally different from that which one gets from playing a CD.

Record companies soon found out that vinyl lovers would not allow a total phasing out of that music format as they kept the demand for it on track. In fact, vinyl records are currently enjoying a resurgence in sales, demand and popularity never seen for years. Jamaican records are a prime target. The phenomenon, which has gathered momentum in recent times, has seen record collectors travelling thousands of miles from countries like Brazil, Mexico, Japan England and Germany in search of that one elusive Jamaican record to add to their collection or to play in dances.

High prices for originals

According to Dexter Campbell, a man dubbed as 'the ska professor', who has travelled to several of these countries to play vinyl 45RPM 7" records, and who has had record deals with them: "Some of them do the bootleg thing, but most of those I deal with buy them for their shops. They mostly want ska and Bob Marley songs like One Cup of Coffee and Judge Not, which they buy for as much as US$1,500 each."

Nothing short of an original copy could attract that price, and the expert collector knows the difference between an original and a re-pressed copy by the matrix number inscribed on the innermost part of the record closest to the label. Foreign records have been known to attract similar prices and Jamaicans have hunted them, either to add to their collection or to play at vintage contests here.

In 1998, (USA) Memorial Weekend May 24, the seed of a vinyl organisation was planted when Michael Neysmith decided to host a 'sit in' among vinyl collectors and close friends in Philadelphia. This initial event took on added meaning, when it was decided to brand it as a commemorative event.

Between 1998-2006, the Memorial Weekend blossomed into a three-day affair, rotated between USA, Canada and Jamaica, with funding being provided through personal donations, transforming the event into something like a family reunion. Following the 2006 Memorial Weekend, the decision was taken by the main organisers to formally register the organisation under the name Vinyl Record Collectors Association, with a formalised organisation that included Phillip 'Marco' Davis and Michael 'Louis' Owens from Canada and Jamaica respectively, along with Richard Elcock, Michael Neysmith and Junior Cyrus from the USA.

With a mission statement that says in part: 'To recognise and honour collectors who have significantly contributed to our fraternity: plan and execute events, which celebrate vinyl record collecting; make contributions primarily to institutions which promote music and education,' the organisation has made contributions to Alpha Boys' School, The Boy's Town Trade Training Centre and The Marcus Garvey Scholarship - Jamaica Canadian Society and Sister Cities organisation - Atlanta/Montego Bay.