New Business in Happy Holler – and an Old Friend all-in-one: Raven Records

Raven Records, Central Street, Knoxville, June 2012

I’m partial to that sensuous experience I first had around age twelve. Sure, I’d messed around a bit before that, but sometime around age twelve I experienced the First Time. I was nervous. I didn’t know where this new experience would lead, but I felt like I was ready. If I’d known then that a life of pure, complete ecstasy awaited, I would have started even earlier given the opportunity.

It wasn’t just the silky smoothness of the surface or the soft, fresh smells. It wasn’t simply that I was being initiated into an experience many before me had enjoyed. No, it was more. It was primal. I’d felt that rhythm before. Maybe in another lifetime. I knew my world would never again be the same. I’m sure there must be some analogous experience for a twelve-year-old today, but I can’t imagine it could be comparable in pure sensuous scope and gravity.

Jay Nations at Raven Records, Central Street, Knoxville, June 2012

My first was Creedence Clearwater Revival. I popped open that soft plastic cover and gently slid my finger down that twelve inch slit to open the world. Carefully removing the black vinyl disk from within, thumb on edge, forefinger on the center. The scent of carbon-filled goodness and the mystery of diamond-laden friction on a spinning orb almost overwhelmed my senses. After a slight pop and hiss of promise, “Ramble Tamble” introduced me to a lifetime of love for “Cosmos’ Factory.” All for $4.88.

Raven Records, Central Street, Knoxville, June 2012

Just over a decade later I was married and living in Knoxville when I discovered used records. I bought thousands (seriously) at garage sales and carefully cleaned and listened to them in my basement, sometimes awash in precious memory and other times discovering new friends. My daughter discovered real music in that same basement as she grew into the woman with impeccable musical taste that she is today. Music blaring in the basement we studied lyric sheets and read the names of producers, musicians, graphic artists and sometimes simply artist ramblings on the carefully prepared liner notes.

Movie Posters at Raven Records, Central Street, Knoxville, June 2012

A large part of the vinyl record experience was the record store. The more used and rare the records, the more funky and obscure the store, the better. Box stores offered pretty teen-aged sales persons who had no concept of music beyond the top forty. A real record store featured employees whose lives and very souls revolved around the music. They knew the groups, the members of the groups, the bands the members were in before they were in that particular group and at least seven other bands you’d like if you liked that particular artist.

Entering a store like Raven Records on the strip in the 1980s was like going to rock and roll church. The cool “woosh” of the albums as they fell softly into one another in the bins, the concert posters on the wall, the hope that you might find that that rare bootleg just behind the next album was almost too much to bear. That electrical buzz slipping back into the house with fresh purchases, hoping not encounter the wife while the the evidence of a small surrepticious expenditure was still on my person is a feeling I can still conjure when I pick up my nearly thirty-year-old copy of the I Threes or Dylan’s “Electric Lunch.”

Pop Culture Collectibles at Raven Records, June 2012

These memories were not obliterated by CDs that took the music industry by storm. MP3s couldn’t stop the vinyl. It’s back and so is Raven Records with original proprietor and the premier name in Knoxville’s LP World, Mr. Jay Nations. His newest incarnation of Raven Records is located in Knoxville’s new center of funky: Happy Holler. Located on the same block as Relix Theater, across the street from the Time Warp Tea Room and just around the corner from Toots simply feels like the right spot for the 2012 incarnation of this Knoxville icon. A mention of the fact that he is still at it after all these years elicits not much more than a shrug and a smile. “It’s something I do well,” he says. And he does.

White Stripes Nesting Dolls at Raven Records, Knoxville, June 2012

In addition to racks of cool vinyl, which Jay both buys and sells, you’ll find dozens of other collectible items, some related to music, such as concert posters and a cool set of nested Matryoshka dolls commissioned by the White Stripes for $150. Movies and television shows from the current to the far past can easily be found on the shelves from the cool and cheap to the striking and expensive. Like “Zacharia,” which was billed as the “first electric western and featured Country Joe and the Fish? They’ve got your poster. And on it goes. They also have CDs if you must.

It’s cool, it’s funky. Jay can figure out which band or song you can’t quite remember. Be warned, once you enter a real record store you may lose all sense of time and place. You may plunge decades into the past or enter a time warp to the future. You may leave with music that changed your life when you were younger or will change it when you slip into a darkened room to explore a beautiful new relationship. Don’t say I didn’t serve notice.

Searching for a pristine copy of the “Soundtrack to Shaft,” Raven Records, Central Street, Knoxville, June 2012

While the store is already open, a Grand Opening Celebration of sorts will happen this weekend at Relix Theater in Happy Holler starting at 5:30 on Saturday. At 5:30 a film feature film shot on UT Campus and around Knoxville in the 1970s will be shown in its original director’s cut. Entitled “Incoming Freshmen,” it is featured on the cover of this week’s Metropulse. Around 7:00 Cass Walker footage will be shown, followed at 8:00 by musical performances from Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet, the French and others. Between set entertainment will be left to Rus Harper, which is scary enough and the evening will end with a horror classic related to a current major release movie. Almost too much to fathom!

If you can’t make the big event, at least come out and check out the new store just down the block. And there is more for your weekend entertainment in the city. Tonight at Pilot Light Wayne Bledsoe (News Sentinel Music Critic) and Steve Wildsmith face-off at the Magic Hu$tle Experience starting at 10:00 PM and promise the “rap battle to end all feuds.”

If these events don’t sound like your cup of mead, Cutthroat Shamrock will play Preservation Pub Friday night at 10:00, while Ian Thomas plays Boyd’s Jig and Reel at 9:00 Saturday night. King Super and the Excellents play Preservation Pub Saturday night at 10:00 while Jonathan Richman plays the Pilot Light Saturday night at 10:00, so there’s plenty to chose from on the musical front. In any case, I best weekend to you all and we’ll catch up on the other side.