A drive down the famous highway 61 starts my journey into the deep south of the United States and the discovery of the record stores of this region. Before I get into the record stores of New Orleans, Louisiana and both Mobile and Birmingham in Alabama, the drive down the highway takes me through the state of Mississippi, a place full of music history and birthplace to the blues.
Delta Blues Museum
The best place to stop and begin the discovery of some of this history is in Clarksdale, Son House was born on a plantation nearby and Robert Johnson called the town home. These days it houses the Delta Blues Museum, definitely worth a stop off to find out about America’s early blues pioneers and you can also stock up on classic blues vinyl in the gift shop. Also in the town is a quirky little record shop called Cat Head that stocks a small selection of vinyl amongst other oddities and souvenirs. I’ve spent more time in Clarksdale than anticipated due to the extensive museum and fascinating history of the town but it’s time to continue down 61. There are many other delta blues landmarks along the highway that you can stop off at, including the crossroads just outside of Clarksdale.
The road snakes along beside the Mississippi and the day I’m driving the rain is getting more and more intense the further south I progress. By the time I get towards Vicksburg the floodwaters are lapping beside the road and houses are half submerged with water. For some moments there I wonder if I’ll get much further before being stopped but as I take the road back east on my way to New Orleans to rain eases.
Euclid Records, New Orleans
Despite visiting the United States many times, I’ve never been to New Orleans and everyone says I must go to New Orleans so here I am. First stop is Euclid Records and it’s a fantastic record shop. An extensive second hand collection, nearly every new release or reissue you could want and they host in stores as well, it is in what seems to be an up and coming neighbourhood of the city where you can actually get great coffee which is very often a difficult task in this part of the world. I head over the the French Quarter, another great neighbourhood and into Louisiana Music Factory. Unfortunately just as I get there the whole street has lost power (not great for business on a busy Sunday morning!), the crew working at the shop invite everyone in to browse but let everyone know they can’t process sales and you’ll be looking without light, welcome to NOLA as one off the staff says with a wry smile. The shop is well stocked and looked like they had some great bargain bins but I couldn’t really dig in.
NOLA Mix Records, New Orleans
Over to the famous Bourbon Street and the the hole in the wall shop Skully'z Recordz is limited in stock but definitely a place you want to check out for your metal and punk supplies. As I drive around New Orleans I find a bunch of great little neighbourhoods, which are home to record shops, NOLA Mix is the strongest of the afternoon discoveries with a well stocked and priced second hand selection. The jazz festival is also happening while I’m here so the shops around that area such as Domino Sound are thriving to the extent it's hard to dig properly.
Maynard's Music, Ocean Springs
With my time in New Orleans over, I’m making my way back up north through Alabama, another part of the USA I’ve never visited but I plot a few record shops along the way, not really expecting too much at all. The first stop off is in Ocean Springs at the shop Maynard's Music, a fairly standard second hand affair but well priced and probably more extensive than I expected for this part of the country. Next up is I send maps to Mobile, Alabama where I noticed there was a record shop located not far off the route of my drive.
Mobile Records, Alabama
What I discover in Mobile is not what I expected at all, I’ve been to a lot of stores around the world, and this is one of the best I have found. Mobile Records is in a stand along building on a seemingly quite suburban street but when you walk in, the decent sized space is overflowing with records in a somewhat chaotic scene but as I start digging through I realise there is some order to the madness and there are records here that I rarely, if ever see elsewhere. When I find the ‘Australian’ section I feel it’s time to ask the guy behind the counter how this all came about and where all these records come from, that’s where the story unfolds. He informs me the owner of the shop is Australian expat Keith Glass, who back in Australia co-founded Melbourne institution Missing Link Records and was the manager of Nick Cave’s first band The Boys Next Door, he shows me tie hand painted by Nick Cave and gives me a tour of the back rooms of the space, where tens of thousands of ‘unsorted records’ still sit. I’d never even heard of Mobile, Alabama and certainly had no desire to go there but I’ll be making an effort to return for a much more thorough dig next time I’m in the US and you should to if you find yourself anywhere near there.
Charlemagne Records, Birmingham, Alabama
My journey continues through Alabama to the city of Birmingham which houses three record shops from what I can tell. In a nice little part of the city up a rickety set of stairs is Charlemagne Records which seems to be a mainly second hand affair, while just down the road is Renaissance Records which is closed when I’m there but looks good! If you do find yourself in Birmingham at any point and have limited time, drive a little bit out of the city and straight to Seasick Records. A record shop that has an inhouse barber, I’m there on Tuesday morning and it is thriving. The new records are extremely well curated and stocked, the second hand selection is great and well-priced, and the staff are enthusiastic and know their product.
Seasick Records, Birmingham, Alabama
I feel this section of my Record Stores of the World journey has been what discovering record stores isall about. Finding the unexpected, learning local history and of course coming across vinyl on your want list! I highly recommend doing the drive across this part of the United States for any vinyl enthusiast, but also any music fan in general. And definitely make sure you schedule a stop off at Mobile Records, Alabama!