When compact discs arrived on the scene in the early 1980s, most audiophiles started preaching the advantages of digital technology with all the zeal of true believers. CDs ran vinyl records out of town in no time flat.
These days, hardly anyone listens to the small coterie of vinyl lovers who insist on the superiority of analog recordings. It's almost impossible to find records in record stores, unless you visit one of a handful of used places, including 2nd Hand Tunes and the Jazz Record Mart in the city and Vintage Vinyl in Evanston. The best, though, is Raffe's Record Riot, located on the far northwest side in Addison Park.
"I always had a dream of owning a record store and being a disk jockey," says Raffe Simonian, the laid-back proprietor whose store turns seven years old this month. He's recently realized his other dream and now hosts "the Collector's Corner," a radio program heard Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 on WJJG (1530 AM). The show features rare recordings furnished by various collectors as well as stuff from Simonian's store.
A former coach and English teacher at Taft High School, Simonian first gave serious thought to opening his own business when he started trading jazz records with other collectors, mostly in Europe, after placing an ad in Down Beat magazine. "One year I even bought a Eurailpass and visited all the people I had traded with," he says. Though he acknowledges the merits of CDs, he says, "I'm more of a vinyl junkie. I love the covers and liner notes."
When I first found Raffe's Record Riot about a year ago, I was desperately trying to track down some rare recordings by local alto sax player Sonny Cox on the Argo label. Although Raffe didn't have anything to sell, he had some of Cox's recordings in his personal collection and offered to make me a cassette tape, a regular service he provides for customers. He'll even go to the liquor store across the street to photocopy liner notes, lyric sheets, and jacket art. If he doesn't have it in stock, Simonian says he'll either tape it or find it for you.
His shop is well worth a trip for the serious vinyl collector. "We try to keep something of everything for all the different types of fans," Simonian explains. The store stocks a variety of sound tracks and folk, rock, and classical recordings. But its centerpiece is the jazz section, with many great out-of-print LPs that haven't been reissued on CD. Simonian also sells used 45s, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, collectors' zines, and other memorabilia.
Raffe's Record Riot is at 6714 N. Northwest Highway, about a mile west of Harlem and Devon. It's open 11:30 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays. If you're trying to track down a hard-to-find title, call Simonian's 24-hour hot line at 763-5075.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.