I GET MY RECORDS FROM THE ROCK ON STORE!!!!
When I first arrived in Camden in the mid 80s’ there weren’t any Starbucks or Goth clothes stores. In fact the Worlds End was still called the Mother Red Cap and closed down at the time. No, the key places of interest to a young rocker were the Electric Ballroom, the Devonshire Arms pub and the Rock On Store on Kentish Town Rd, right next to Camden tube station. It was a brilliant emporium of rock n roll, punk, new wave and simply great records, posters and paraphernalia. Of course it’s long since gone, and now is an all-night convenience store but Ace Records (who evolved from the store have released a wonderful compilation album packed with great singles that Rock On used to sell like Vince Taylors’ ‘Brand New Cadillac’ and Rocky Ericksons’ bananas like ‘Two Headed Dog’. Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott sang about the store in ‘The Rocker’- " I get my records from the Rock On Store" and Joe Strummer, the Pogues and many more were regular customers. Below is just a small excerpt from the massive booklet that accompanies the album. Get your hands on it to get the whole story on this legendary record shop – part of Camden history and now from a bygone era.
Eugene Big Cheese
‘WHAT’S THAT RECORD?’
ROCK ON RECORDS was unique as it was probably the first collectors shop in England and possibly the World to stock almost every style of popular retro-music. From day one we stocked, not only the usual mix of rock’n’roll / rockabilly / doo wop / R&B and blues, but also 60s beat, soul, country, ska / reggae, jazz and 50s and 60s pop.
This CD provides a pretty fair sampling of the kind of records we stocked and enjoyed selling over the years. The first stall opened in August 1971 in the back of a flea market just off the Portobello Road. The market was always crowded on a Saturday and I soon discovered that playing great records at high volume was the best way to attract customers. This marketing initiative reached its zenith when I opened up a second stall in Soho Market in August 1974. Roger Armstrong ran it for many years and as the market became a favoured short cut from Trafalgar Square through into Soho, there was a continual stream of passers-by, many of whom became regular customers, having been first attracted by the records being played, again at the highest possible volume. Same thing when we opened the shop in Camden Town, the door was always open except in the coldest weather so that the nourishing diet of rock ‘n’ roll music could reverberate into the street seven days a week. When you’re selling records, nothing beats playing them for the punters to get a sale.
Initially our stock was mostly seven inch 45s, with a smattering of 78s and a few albums. This was mainly for reasons of space as the first Rock On was tiny. The initial unit was about 8 feet by 8 feet with a small counter with boxes of 45s, a record player and some shelves for more 45s.
John and Molly Dove of Wonder Workshop sold their range of unique screen printed T-shirts from an even smaller unit directly opposite the Rock On stall and we enjoyed the shared benefit of the Elvis Presley wallpaper that John had designed, printed and put up on the wall adjoining our two stalls. John and Molly left a few months later (the T-shirts were too avant-garde for the market and they moved on to sell their wares at the legendary Paradise Garage in the trendier environs of Kings Road, before Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood took over). When John and Molly moved out I expanded into their space and the Elvis wallpaper was now officially part of Rock On.
Rock On Records was inspired by a great oldies shop that I came across on my first trip to the USA in November 1970. I was working as tour manager with the Irish power trio Skid Row on their first US tour, which took us to Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other cities, finishing in Boston where we shared the bill with an even heavier band, Mountain, featuring Leslie West & Felix Pappalardi.
We arrived in Boston a week before the gig and I soon discovered Big John’s Oldies But Goodies Land at 687 Washington Street in downtown Boston. Big John’s was a tiny wonderland of retro vinyl, with just a few album racks and walls covered with old doo wop and R&B classic 45s, most of them on reissue labels. This was the first shop that I’d ever encountered that dealt exclusively in old records. Most of the 45s in the shop were a dollar each and Big John had a special deal which enticed you to buy 10 records at a time and get another for free.
And was I was enticed? You bet! Every day I’d drop Gary Moore and the boys off at the Boston Tea Party where they were rehearsing and hotfoot it down to Big John’s. Carefully cross-referencing titles that I’d just read about in Charlie Gillett’s freshly published "Sound Of The City" with classics such as Little Joey Weaver & the Don Juans’ ‘Baby I Love You So’ on Fortune which I’d heard on a local oldies radio show, I’d choose 11 unique slabs of musical history. By the end of the week, I’d decided that I was going to quit showbiz and try to replicate Big John’s shop in London. I’d already commenced mail order, selling old 45s gleaned from various junk shops, and I resolved to combine this new batch of US oldies with my existing stock and go into the retail trade at the earliest opportunity.
When Rock On opened in 1971, although I had been avidly absorbing all I could read and learn about rock ‘n’ roll music for almost 20 years, I was still a relative novice. Charlie Gillett’s deeply informative book, "Sound
Of The City" was my road map to the discovery of many wonderful artists of whose existence I had been previously unaware.
On opening Rock On, my education in music began formally. Thousands of records were passing through my hands every month and I listened greedily to all or at least most of them, country, hillbilly, rockabilly, doo wop, gospel, soul, surf, jazz, British beat, rock’n’roll, skiffle, 60s punk, novelty, comedy, boogie woogie, blues, reggae, ska, psychedelic, weird shit, whatever.
Much of my knowledge came courtesy of some of the customers, who were always keen to share their wisdom. The list is endless, but includes Rob Finnis, Malcolm Baumgart, Jon Savage, Ray Topping, Andrew Lauder, Rocking Rex, Ady Croasdell, "Telephone Terry" Marshall, Roy Carr, Joe Strummer, Lemmy Kilmister, Bleeker Bob, Twink, John Cann, Phil Tricker, Ian Saddler, Paul from Moondogs, Jesse Hector, Larry DuBay and Marc Zermati from Paris, Lennart Persson, John Curd, Bob Sollie, Nigel Grainge, Chris O’Donnell,
Graham Stapleton and many, many others.
One Friday morning, just a few weeks after opening for business, a young man with slicked-back hair, tight jeans, original black suede brothel creepers and a large shopping bag appeared at the counter asking if I had any records by Wee Willie Harris, Screaming Lord Sutch or Vince Taylor. This was Rex Inge or "Rocking Rex", the name he was better known by. In the course of the ensuing conversation, after I had told him that I had nothing by any of these artists he admitted that "Yes, they’re very ‘ard. Used to be able to pick some up a few years ago, but now they’re well ‘ard." Rex was a freelance record dealer operating at record hops in some of the pubs and clubs in the suburbs of North West London, where there was a steady demand for any obscure-but-rocking 45s.
A couple of weeks later, after a couple more fruitless visits, I suggested that perhaps Rex could let me have a list of some of the discs that he was searching for, so that I could look out for them. The following week he arrived at the stall and pulled some examples from his shopping bag that we proceeded to play. This was my introduction to ‘Long Stringy Baby’ by Jimmy Crawford, ‘This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin” by Janice Peters, ‘Hey Miss Fannie’ by Dean Webb and ‘They Call Him Cliff’ by Don Lang & his Frantic Five and many others, including ‘Brand New Cadillac’ by Vince Taylor, which I already had in my own collection, although I’d never heard ‘Right Behind
You Baby’, Vince’s first release on the Parlophone label.
Apart from Rex’s requests, I was becoming frustrated at being continually asked for records that I rarely could supply, ‘Baby Sittin’ by Bobby Angelo & The Tuxedo’s, ‘Sea Cruise’ by Frankie Ford, ‘Rockin’ At The 2 I’s’ by Wee Willie Harris and many others. These 45s turned up time and again on people’s Wants Lists. And so it was around this time, that the idea of starting a small record label first came to mind. I already knew from dealing with the people at Decca and CBS that the major labels were focused only on new releases by current artists and had no interest in reissuing records from the past. I figured that it might be possible to license some of these old recordings for release on 45 by paying an advance and agreeing to press the discs at the record company’s own pressing plant. Shortage of funds and other more pressing matters meant that this idea was to be put on ice for almost four years.
Another regular from the earliest days at Golborne Road was Andrew Lauder. At the time Andrew was head of A&R at UA Records and came in almost every Saturday with Alan Warner, also from UA. Andrew was an avid collector, covering most musical genres, but with a special focus on UK & US groups of the 60s. Andrew was buying, not only for himself, but also for his friend
Greg Shaw, editor of the highly influential Bomp fanzine. In addition to buying considerable quantities of records, Andrew was also bringing in lots of interesting records to trade, including many unusual US 60s punk 45s. Apart from back copies of Bomp, Andrew also brought me copies of Creem, Mojo Navigator, Back Door Man, and other essential US fanzines, all of which I
devoured from cover to cover.
I could go on: about Ray Topping’s first visit to the stall when he discovered an obscure £50 rockabilly record from my bargain box for 40p – after that he wouldn’t stay away! Or Lenny Kaye’s visit in 1973 when he found a London copy of the Link Cromwell single for 40p in the punk box. ‘Why do you have this in here?’ he enquired and when I told him that I thought the rather Dylanesque record sounded ‘kinda punky’. He grinned and admitted that this was actually his first record and that he’d been looking for a copy for several years! Co-incidentally a reissue of this obscure classic appeared on the market less than a year later.
Graham Stapleton and Paul Sanford’s regular visits to trade original Sun 45s for London’s, Joe Strummer’s weekly Friday morning visit to enquire politely whether I’d managed to locate a recording of ‘Junco Partner’ yet. The myriad Northern Soul fans, asking for Helen Shapiro records in the hope of finding the then sought-after ‘She Needs Company’ for its ‘Northern’ B-side. The hordes of teenage rockabillies who lurked, but rarely bought anything and who could only be encouraged to leave by a high volume recital of ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ by up and coming NY punksters Television.
Every bit of this was valuable experience that helped provide a kind of instinctive touchstone for what might or might not be likely to sell, when we went on to start the record label a few years later.
I’D HEARD ALL about the Rock On record shop/stall from ‘The Rocker’ by Thin Lizzy so when I actually made it there in 1980 and scored a 12" pic sleeve version of ‘Chinese Rocks’ / ‘Born To Lose’ By the Heartbreakers (I already had the 7" from 1977) it was already legendary in my mind. I hung around the shop a lot in the early 90s while staying at my friend Tim Tooher’s flat in Camden St. We went there nearly every day and hung out, lost in the vast array of classic blues, soul, psychedelia, rockabilly, cajun, funk, punk and country records. We became friendly with Paul the shop manager, who would play us stuff we would ask to hear and stuff he thought we should hear. I remember we used to marvel at the beautiful record sleeves that lined the walls and how we loved looking through the boxes of 7" singles, all originals, all classics. I remember buying "Honky Blues" by Sir Douglas Quintet for £30, an album you’d find nowhere else in Britain and taking it home and loving it. I remember going down to the basement toilet, where Phil Lynott had hung out to do some hanging out myself. I remember Tim buying original Bobby "Blue" Bland albums and us going back to his flat, staying up all night listening to them, loving them, looking at the sleeves, talking non-stop about the music and the people who made it. Imagining ourselves in the deep south of the USA hanging out with the Dixie Flyers, Eddie Hinton, Jim Dickinson, Dan Penn, Alex Chilton and Doug Sahm. Getting to hear Furry Lewis and Charlie Feathers sing up close & real. Getting to meet Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of the Cramps. Some of these dreams came true. I don’t know Ted Carroll but Rock On was his shop and I’d like to thank him for that. A shop ran by fanatics for fanatics. Ace Records carries on the tradition. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll.
TRACK NOTES by ROGER ARMSTRONG (with some useful Tediting)
1. CHICKEN SHACK BOOGIE – AMOS MILBURN – Aladdin 3330
(Amos Milburn, Ann Cullum) EMI Music Pub Ltd/EMI United Partnership Ltd
2. RED HOT – BILLY LEE RILEY – Sun 277
(Billy Emerson) Knox Music Ltd (1957)
3. SHAKE YOUR HIPS – SLIM HARPO – Excello 2278
(James Moore) Campbell Connelly & Co Ltd (1966)
4. BOTTLE TO THE BABY – CHARLIE FEATHERS – King 4997
(Charlie Feathers, Jody Chastain, Jerry Huffman) Lark Music Ltd (1956)
5. BRAND NEW CADILLAC – VINCE TAYLOR – Parlophone 4539
(Vince Taylor) Carlin Music Corp (1959)
6. LINDA LU – RAY SHARPE – Jamie 1128
(Ray Sharpe) Burlington Music Co Ltd (1959)
7. TWO HEADED DOG – ROKY ERICKSON – Sponge 101
(Roky Erickson) IQ Music Ltd (1977)
8. BABY, I LOVE YOU SO – JOE WEAVER & THE DON JUANS – Fortune 825
(Joe Weaver) Trianon Pub (1956)
9. ARE YOU SURE HANK DONE IT THIS WAY – WAYLON JENNINGS – RCA 10379
(Waylon Jennings) Universal Music Pub Ltd (1975)
10. CAMEL WALK – THE IKETTES – Modern 1003
(Ike Turner) Warner Chappell Music Ltd (1964)
11. BACK IN THE NIGHT – DR FEELGOOD – United Artists UP 35857
(Wilko Johnson) EMI United Partnership Ltd (1975)
Before Punk rock there was Dr Feelgood, looking more threatening than all the spiky haired dudes put together and playing razor sharp R&B. This one features singer Lee Brilleaux on slide guitar and guitarist Wilko Johnson on vocals. Big Figure and John B Sparks holding it down solid at the back. They were a sort of Rock On house band in a way, often doing covers of records that we were selling in the shop, like ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Don’t You Just Know It’, both coincidentally featured on this CD.
12. SO SHARP – DYKE & THE BLAZERS – Original Sound 69
(Arlester Christian) Bug Music Ltd (GB) (1967)
13. SLOW DEATH – FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – United Artists UP 35392
(Cyril Jordan, Roy Loney) Bug Music Ltd (GB) (1972)
14. IT’S BETTER TO HAVE (AND DON’T NEED) – DON COVAY – Mercury 73469
(Donald Covay, Erskin Watts) EMI Blackwood Music Inc (1974)
15. HONEST PAPAS LOVE THEIR MAMAS BETTER – FATS DOMINO – Reprise 0696
(Pat Zompa, Bernard De Cesare Jr) P And P Songs Ltd (1968)
16. LIGHTS OUT – JERRY BYRNE – Specialty 635
(Malcolm Rebennack, Seth David) Sony/ATV Music Pub (UK) (1958)
17. YOU LITTLE BABY FACED THING – JOE TEX – Ace 550
(Joseph Arrington Jr) EMI Music Pub Ltd (1958)
18. FLUMES D’ENFER – AUSTIN PITRE & THE EVANGELINE PLAYBOYS – Swallow 106
(Trad Arr Floyd Soileau) Flyright Music (1959)
19. GLORIA’S DREAM – THE BELFAST GYPSIES – Island WI 3007
(Jackie McCauley, Patrick McCauley, Ken McCloud, Mike Scott, Kim Fowley)
Ardmore And Beechwood Ltd (1966)
20. BIG BLACK TRUCK – PETER HOLSAPPLE – Car Records 5
(Peter Holsapple) Complete Music Ltd (1978)
21. DON’T YOU JUST KNOW IT – HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & THE CLOWNS – Ace 545
(Huey Smith) EMI Music Pub Ltd (1957)
22. GIVE HIM A GREAT BIG KISS – THE SHANGRI-LAS – Red Bird 10018
(George Morton) Windswept Trio Music Co/EMI United Partnership Ltd (1964)
23. SLIPPING AND SLIDING SOMETIMES – LINK DAVIS – Starday 293
(Link Davis) Glad Music Ltd (1957)
24. CAST IRON ARM – PEANUTS WILSON – Brunswick 55039
(Jim Scott, Roy Orbison, Norman Petty) Peermusic (UK) Ltd (1957)
25. MY BABE – RON HOLDEN – Donna 1315
(Ron Holden) Palace Music Co Ltd (1959)
26. WHAT CAME FIRST – THE EGG OR THE HEN? – KOKO TAYLOR – Checker 1166
(Willie Dixon) Bug Music Ltd (GB) (1967)
27. MARKED DECK – MERCY BABY (DEE) – Ace 528
(Billy Wright) Screen Gems-EMI Music Ltd (1957)
28. I’M SO GLAD, I’M SO PROUD – LINK WRAY – Virgin VS 103
(Link Wray, Yvonne Verroca) Copyright Control/Kobalt Music Pub Ltd (1973)
Top 5 from Rock On
Red Hot – Billy Lee Riley & His Little Green Men
Bottle To The Baby – Charlie Feathers
Brand New Cadillac – Vince Taylor
Give Him A Great Big Kiss – The Shangri-Las
Lights Out – Jerry Byrne
‘Rock On’ is out now on Ace Records. Many thanks to Neil Scaplehorn, Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll.