By Al Beeber on October 2, 2021.
John Brooks has turned a passion he developed while teaching in Japan for 10 years into a business.
Lethbridge native Brooks has opened a record and vintage clothing store in a small southside strip mall that is a veritable candy store for serious vinyl lovers.
In Osaka, Japan, Brooks got into the vinyl scene in a way he may never imagined when he collected records as a kid growing up in Lethbridge.
Now he’s back with a store called Caravan Records & Vintage located adjacent to a popular bakery and a dog grooming business a few blocks south of the hospital.
Brooks and his business recently caught the eye of music promoter Ron Sakamoto who contacted The Herald about the operation and spoke glowingly of its operator and the unbelievable variety of music filling shelves and walls.
Brooks has recreated in Lethbridge an experience shoppers might have seen in Calgary’s Kensington district in the 1960s and ’70s.
It’s got an atmosphere that takes a person back to the days of psychedelia and laid-back vibes while also keeping one foot firmly in the present thanks to records by local musicians and artists such as Metallica.
Much of the vinyl in the store is new, other material is used and all have been priced according to quality by Brooks, a record grader who follows an international grading standard.
Brooks has four in-house labels supplying material from artists around the globe in various genres. One band he can’t speak highly enough about is Kissa, a Finnish rock band whose albums Brooks can barely keep in stock.
His music collection also has CDs including a selection of local music prominently displayed on a wall near the front.
He’s extremely supportive of local bands and giving them a place to showcase their works.
He’s thrilled that he recently got a Sonic Youth collection on vinyl, that being a band he grew up listening to.
“We finally got Sonic Youth. I was really proud because it was my favourite band growing up and I could never buy Sonic Youth albums as a kid. You could never buy them on vinyl so here you have four choices and we even have a live one,” Brooks said on a tour of his store recently.
The variety of music is almost mind-blowing – Jon Anderson, Billy Idol, Van Morrison, INXS, The Headstones, The Babys, a box set of MC5’s work, Sloan, Iggy Pop, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays being just a few of the names people will see when they look through the store.
The MC5 box set reissue comes out on red, white and blue vinyl, he said.
“What they did politically at the time seemed crazy but now they’re just a good rock band,” he said.
One band Brooks sings the praises of is Elefante, a Mexican Indie rock band whose records he also sells.
An Italian label regularly sends Brooks albums of what he calls ’70s fuzz rock.”
“All the bands they sign from around the world sound like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin, very good bands. They scream around the whole world for that type of band. Sometimes you get really neat ones,” he said.
He has special sections devoted to jazz and progressive music and a world/exotic section where audiophiles can purchase a record by a tenor sax player who performs heavy metal.
One band whose music Brooks acquired was created by Dead Moon, which was an Oregon punk band that was active from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s. The band made its masters in the basement of now deceased frontman Fred Cole on a lathe that was used for the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” he said.
“The record collecting scene in Osaka is just a paradise. You can learn the world of records very quickly there if you actually live there,” said Brooks who just returned to Canada in January.
“I was always thinking whenever I finished my term as a teacher I wanted to start a record shop because my apartment was starting to look like one anyway,” he said.
He is also a musician, who plays mostly drums and guitar and writes songs.
He wants to get vinyl from local artists but acquiring CDs is easier, he said. He’s also big into the local skateboard and punk rock scene.
“What I’m doing is calling labels I like and talking to the staff and I get involved with their bands. Lately we’ve got this label Svart from Finland that does folk and metal,” Kissa being among their artists, he said.
He saw KIssa on YouTube and was amazed, he said.
“Sometimes we buy new albums from other people, sometimes we get them from labels, sometimes our friends are really generous if they’re getting married or moving or clearing house or whatever,” Brooks said.
“A big part of it is local collections; people bring us great stuff. And because we’re graded, we’re picky but then we can sell cool stuff, we can pay more for it.”
Brooks follows the goldmine grading standard used by record collecting magazines.
His favourite is EX for excellent but that is now extinct, he said.
“As you get to the top, you get near mint” which describes musicÂ from a record buyer who saved it after opening the record and carefully put it on the turntable, played it nicely and stored it vertically, he said.
“It keeps its value,” he said.
“An audiophile record collector is the guy who has the best stereo you’ve ever seen but also the fun here is for the teenager who can get a battered Boston record and be like ‘yeah, More Than a Feeling,'” Brooks added.
Brooks has a good feel for the rock history in Lethbridge and an album by a band called Moses sells out on orange vinyl occasionally.
“If I get one it’s gone,” he said.
“I’d really like to meet the guys from Moses,” he added.
“It’s really nice to just have local artists and call the people we like and get things, however.”
Brooks studied Japanese in high school and pursued it further in university.
In Japan, while on a holiday he met some specialists downtown in Sapporo and they introduced him to record collecting guides which he calls an amazing window into music from around the world.
He said Japan’s high density population also means “you also get a high density of art which is really healthy for things like record collecting or comic books.”
“I had a fantastic time in Japan and met a lot of really talented, enigmatic people chasing music and records over there.”
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