Finding the perfect record
● By J. Chambless
Jack Supplee with an album featuring Ola Belle Reed, a frequent performer at the former Sunset Park in Jennersville.
By John Chambless
The jazz that Jack Supplee loved as a young man has been a constant in his life. For the past 30 years, he has been helping other people find music that they love, too.
During an interview at his Oxford home, Supplee recalled that he first heard bluegrass on a radio station he could pick up in his car when he parked in the middle of Oxford at night. “Then, when I was in the service in 1950s, a friend of mine liked jazz and he had a little record player on the ship,” Supplee said. “I got to like modern jazz. That's what I collected for years -- jazz and big bands.”
As a record collector, “I was a late bloomer,” he said. “A lot of people started out collecting as kids. They'd get their allowance and they'd go to the five and dime and buy 45s. I didn't buy my first record player until I was almost 30 years old.”
At the peak of his collecting days, Supplee estimated, he had about 1,000 albums stashed in every room of his small home. That's not much compared to the record hoarding instincts of many collectors, but today, at 85, Supplee is still hauling heavy crates of records to sell at the monthly Pennsylvania Music Expo hosted by the Keystone Record Collectors in Lancaster. His fellow club members and customers “are like family,” he said. “I love to meet people and talk music. The customers can teach you a lot, and they want to talk. Sometimes you have to cut them off and take care of business,” he said, smiling.
Supplee's early days of collecting his favorite artists – Stan Getz, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and others – led him to auctions, where he could buy records in bulk at low prices. “There used to be an auction out at Kirkwood, and I got three or four boxes of records that I bid on and got real cheap,” he recalled. “I thought, 'This is great.' That kind of set me going to auctions and flea markets. Back then you could find a flea market almost every day of the week.”
Supplee has been careful to stick to his self-imposed budget – “I won't pay more than $1 for a record, usually 50 cents,” he said – and that has carried over to his dealer table. “I buy cheap and sell cheap,” he said. Most of the albums in Supplee's stock are priced at a couple of dollars.
“Back when I was buying a lot, I'd take the extras and duplicates to the Keystone record show in Columbia, Pa.,” he said. “The first show I did was in 1987. But the club has been around since 1979. I did OK, and any money I made, I used to support my habit. I bought more records.”
Early on, Supplee could carry only what wouldn't break the springs on his Plymouth Horizon. These days, he has a large van that can carry dozens of crates full of records. “I have thousands more in storage units,” he said. “Sometimes I worry about what I'm going to do with all of them.”
Most collectors pursue records with zeal, but Supplee said he bought only what he wanted to listen to, and eventually sold his private collection to concentrate on buying and selling at the Keystone shows. “If I buy something I want to listen to in the car or whatever, I have a friend who makes a CD of it for me,” he said.
Supplee's one big score was in a lot of records he picked up at an estate sale. Among them was a Beatles album with a pasted-on cover that concealed a photo of the Fab Four holding dolls and meat that was considered far too shocking for 1960s tastes. Only a few were ever printed, and the record company hastily pasted an alternate cover over the offending jackets. Supplee's “Butcher Cover” album brought him $300. “I didn't know what it was until I looked it up,” he said. “If I'd known it was worth that much, I would have paid more for it.”
Things like that coup “make up for lots of stuff that I just can't sell,” he said. “Anyway, it's more fun buying than selling.”
He still buys records based on what he knows his customers want, but he sticks to his frugal ways.
While the dealers and attendance at the monthly Keystone shows has been fairly constant over the decades, the rise of CDs took a bite out of vinyl sales that is only recently bouncing back.
“A lot of dealers switched to selling only CDs,” Supplee said. “Old-fashioned guys like me stuck to the old vinyl.”
Supplee acknowledged that the fight over which sounds better – CDs or vinyl – may never be settled among audiophiles. And digital downloading, while convenient for buyers, mystifies collectors. They maintain that owning digital code is not as satisfying as owning a real record.
The global market for vinyl records – once all but dead – slowly become a hipster niche that has blossomed over the past five years. Today, bookstores and the few remaining record stores proudly offer brand-new vinyl pressings of classic albums. The common albums that might have sunk to 25 cents apiece at thrift stores a decade ago are now priced at around $20 in their new pressings.
For Supplee, it's all part of a cycle that has never stopped. The 78-rpm record was once king, and now is nearly worthless, with the exception of a very few early blues or jazz titles. “I have a box of them that I price at three for $1, but I don't sell many,” he said.
The 45-rpm single is still collected by people who own jukeboxes, but cassettes are dead weight, as reviled as the lowly 8-track, and the VHS tapes of the 1980s and 1990s.
Supplee said the people who come to the Keystone shows are mostly older, looking for the music they loved when they were young. But there are teens and twentysomethings who are pursuing original vinyl pressings of rock albums or other genres, as well as CDs. Each show has about 100 tables full of records and other music memorabilia, he said. “When I started selling, there were a lot of people looking for big-band music, but as the years go by, they pass away,” Supplee said.
Since 1987, Supplee has been sidetracked from the monthly record shows only twice. “One time I had to get a pacemaker,” he said. “I didn't miss the show, but I took a much lighter load. And once I broke two ribs, so I just got a helper. Sometimes I think, 'Why am I still doing this?'” he said, laughing. “But I've been blessed with good health, and the best thing is that it's educational. I learn a lot from talking to people who come to the table. And we still get newcomers, people who come in and say, “I never heard of this show before.'
“It makes me happy when a customer finds one record that they've been looking for,” he said. “it makes it seem like all my work was worthwhile.”
The next Pennsylvania Music Expo will be held March 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Continental Inn (2285 Lincoln Highway, Lancaster, next to Dutch Wonderland). It is free. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 610-932-7852, visit www.recordcollectors.org, or find the Keystone Record Collectors on Facebook.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.