*I just had a most interesting 3-way phone conversation with Val Shively, owner of the world’s greatest record store, and my good friend of nearly 40 years Rondalis Tandy, lead singer of the ‘60’s group The Van Dykes. Tandy wrote the groups’ biggest hit, “No Man Is An Island.” Providence brought us together as we discussed an article featuring Shively in the July/August 2021 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine.
Shively, the long-time owner of R&B Records in Havertown, PA near Philly, shared some amazing, sometimes harrowing stories of how he amassed such a vast inventory including over four million 45 rpm records, and how he has an affinity for 50’s and ‘60’s Black music. Author Richard Grant wrote: One day in 1960, Shively turned the dial of his transistor all the way over to the right-hand side and landed on a Black radio station for the first time.
“It blew my mind, hearing Etta James, Baby Washington, ‘Valerie” by Jackie & the Starlites, he said. “I like a lot of white music, I love old country, but for me, Black music has more force, more originality and more longevity. And once I got into the Black harmony groups, that was it. Nothing else ever sounded so good to me.”
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Grant says that as he listened to some of the music, he was “transported back to an era when cars had tail fins and young men in African American neighborhoods sang harmonies on street corners and formed groups such as the Quails, the Larks, the Feathers, the Opals, the Paragons, [and] the Spaniels. I was a newcomer to this music and at first it sounded too stylized, sentimental and formulaic for my taste. Then the form of the music started to fade away and my ears opened up to the amazing lead vocal performances, the precision of the accompanying ooh-wahs and wop-wops, and the yearning, aching emotions evoked by the songs.”
On the phone, Shively kept us laughing with some colorful anecdotes about his lifelong journey. He has a keen sense of purpose for doing what he does – providing rare recordings for collectors from all over the world.
This is a very interesting story for Black Music Month. For the full story please visit: A Peek Inside the World’s Greatest Record Store at SmithsonianMag.com.
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Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon); two insightful books that speak to our moral conscience in times like these. Email: [email protected]