QCA Records

Spring Grove Avenue is one of those great old Cincinnati streets with so much history that even if you don’t know the story behind the buildings, as you’re driving along you know that every warehouse and factory stores countless tales tracing back to the days when they were packed with workers and the wide, four-lane street where you now have plenty of elbow room was a lot more crowded. Some places have closed up shop—but not all of them, and you still see semis doing what they did decades ago.

It makes perfect sense that in the middle of all that sits the building belonging to QCA, a company that started making vinyl records in 1950. After all, making records is a mechanical process where you get your hands dirty in the same way that you do in a huge factory. The process involves nickel and silver and cutters and PVC pellets and electro-plating and machines that do everything from making the stamper to ensuring the spindle hole is dead center. The technology of music reproduction has changed a lot since 1950. Some of it has gone away—and some of it has returned. The fact that it in this case the inevitable race to obsolescence wasn’t so inevitable surprised everyone, but that’s what happened after a resurgence of popularity for vinyl. Along with equipment that was used for scrap metal or converted for use in other industries, entire pressing plants have disappeared since vinyl records seemed to have gone the route of dinosaurs.

QCA (Queen City Album) is still here, however. Since 1950, the company has been making records, first as vinyl albums, then cassettes and CDs. Once, like King Records, a soup-to-nuts facility that offered everything from a recording studio to album covers, QCA switched its focus when demand for vinyl plummeted. As vinyl returned, QCA jumped back in, and it’s now involved in several steps in the process of putting together a record. It creates labels for both LPs and 45s, make record sleeves for 45s and is involved in the design of album covers, and I should add that because UltraSuede Studios is in the building, you can once again record on the same premises where your vinyl record might be pressed. And QCA once again masters and creates stampers for vinyl records. Those stampers get sent to Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records, which means that when it comes to creating a vinyl disc, you can get it all done in the same state.

During vinyl’s initial golden age, Cincinnati was blessed to have QCA, King, Shaw, and Rite cranking out LPs and 45s, a situation that’s extremely rare for a medium-sized city. As a decades-long record collector, I’ve treasured many of the albums and 45s that were recorded and/or pressed at these facilities. Of those businesses, QCA is the only one still going. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, but I never had an excuse to go there—not until yesterday, when a friend who’s releasing an album on vinyl invited me to tag along as he talked business with Jim Bosken, the president of QCA. Even with the vinyl revival, newly-recorded classical music seldom comes out on wax. As the music editor of The Absolute Sound, I will write about the making of this record partly because of the unique New Classical + Vinyl combination, but also because Mark Lehman has long been involved with the magazine and I want to spread the word about my friend’s album. I snapped some photos during my visit yesterday, and while I’ll swing back around and say more later about this experience, this is already a lot of words – and besides, the pictures have their own story to tell.

OTR Record Fair This Saturday

otr record fair 1

A first-ever record fair will take place this Saturday, September 26, from 12pm to 6pm at Rhinegeist Brewery, located at 1910 Elm Street in Over the Rhine. The event, which is free, promises “Vinyl, Beer, and great door prizes from Crosley Radio, Ubahn, Plaid Room Records, and more.” Agar, Rhinegeist, Northside Record Fair, Savantry and Ubahn Festival teamed up for this event. It’s great to see more record fairs coming to Cincinnati. The Northside show has been a hit from the beginning, and the vinyl boom in general has helped a music industry that took a quick, hard dive begin to crawl back and make things interesting again. Although there are lots of other good things you can say about vinyl, I focus on the craftsmanship involved in physically creating a vinyl record; to make one, you have to get your hands dirty, applying old-school (and largely forgotten) technology that they don’t teach you in school. The person spearheading this record fair is Rob Mason, who works for the OTR marketing firm Agar and has met Jerry Springer. And he’s a real music + record lover, as this Q+ A attests:

What inspired you to host a record fair in Cincinnati? I decided to put this event together because I was looking throw a fun, community facing event that coincided with the music community that will be taking over OTR during the music festival.

How long have you been into records/vinyl, and what do you collect? I’ve been amassing records for the past 20 years. I’m a music fanatic and I’m always on the lookout for cool new bands…I’d say I’m probably 70/30 in favor of new music over classic LPs. My wife would say that I have more than enough LPs and 45s but we all know that’s never the case.

Sounds like you’re from around these parts, then left, then came back. What took you away/where did you go…and why did you come back?  Nice Jerry Springer photo by the way. I went to school at Miami Univ…got my start in the music biz at WMSR and then at WOXY… I lived in NYC for the past 10 years working for various record labels and a music distribution company. We recently relocated to Cincinnati (my wife is from here) as we just had our 2nd kid and it was time to be closer to family. I was very excited to meet Jerry at Whispering Beard Fest. He couldn’t have been nicer!

Tell us about your label. I’ve been running Old Flame in various capacities for the past 7 years. It’s definitely been a labor of love but I’ve had the honor of working with some amazing bands including putting out an early 45 for Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings, the debut LP from Northampton, MA’s Potty Mouth, and way more great bands. I’m really excited to be back in SW Ohio and bring more shows and music-centric events to the area!

otr record fair 2

Plaid Room Records is an A+ Record Store

Plaid Room Records

Plaid Room Records is a record store that opened a few months ago in Loveland. Right out of the gates there’s something really unique about the shop: its location (120 Karl Brown Way in Loveland). There’s no shortage of record stores in the city of Cincinnati, but if you’re hunting for vinyl in the burbs, well, it’s mostly been about the Half-Price Books locations, where their limited record selection seems almost like an afterthought.

Not at Plaid Room Records. This place lives and breathes records and music, and as someone who does the same—and who is hyper-sensitized to the faults of record stores—I know that these guys got it right. Their emphasis is primarily on both new and used vinyl, although I did see and buy some modestly-priced used CDs of modern jazz classics. Here are some of the things I liked:

The Vibe. With record stores, we’ve almost come to expect the employees to be grumpy and condescendingAlong with being knowledgeable and passionate about music, the two brothers who run Plaid Room Records are nice guys. I was probably in the store for about an hour, and I saw them interact with lots of different kinds of customers. Both brothers built a quick rapport with all their customers and made them feel welcome.

The Vibe (part 2). What I also liked about the store was the customer base. Since vinyl began to rebound, we tend to see record store customers as the province of male hipsters. That’s diversified somewhat as of late, but Plaid Room Records was much more mixed than what I normally see. There were as many female customers as there were male, and the crowd seemed, well, mainstream and suburban. Many adults walked in with young children, who, when they held the records in front of their faces, were fascinated by what they saw, as well they should be. As someone who would love to see vinyl continue to grow, and especially new vinyl, it was great to see its fan base expanding. Plaid Room is VERY popular already, and if that can happen, then maybe the vinyl thing can keep growing. That would be a great thing for both musicians and the record labels that support musicians.

Plaid Room Records 3

They’re A Family-Owned Small Business. The owners of the store, Terry Cole and Bobby Cole, are brothers. They run a family-owned small business, and you can tell that they love music. In fact, they have their own label, the ultrahip soul-and-funk-infused Colemine Records label. They have live concerts in the store and lots of other activities, and really I’m only scratching the surface here with things going on at the store. You can find out more about them on their Facebook page.

A Great Selection of Vinyl. The store has a combination of both new and used vinyl, with both LPs and 45s. They keep getting in used vinyl, so the stock doesn’t stagnate. They’re up on all the interesting new stuff, and they make it easy to pre-order upcoming releases.

(One Other Thing.) As someone who lives within the city limits of Cincinnati, one reservation I supposed I could have about Plaid Room is that, in theory, they could take away some of the business for, say, Shake-It, Everybody’s, Mole’s, or (in Northern Kentucky) Torn Light. I’ll make a prediction, though: they’ll help increase business at those stores. There were lots of teenagers and young adults walking through the store when I was there, and many of them will end up attending the University of Cincinnati or finding some other reason to move into the city. Plaid Records will instill in them the healthiest addiction I know. My rating for Plaid Records: A+

Northside Record Fair on April 25

Northside Record Fair picture for 2015

On April 25 the Northside Record Fair will host another record show in Northside. The address is 4222 Hamilton Avenue (the Northside Presbyterian Church). Admission is five dollars from 11am to 4pm while the early birds (10am) pay ten bucks.

Before the Northside Record Fair started hosting record shows, it always seemed like the other big cities in Ohio had thriving record shows while Cincinnati’s was an embarrassment. The Northside Record Fair has been such a success that they quickly decided to start hosting it twice a year. As someone who loved records long before I ever attended any shows, I can say why, if they’re done right, they’re a great way to shop for vinyl. The reasons include (but are not limited to):

  • A Healthy Selection of the Classics. Record stores can’t stock enough Beatles, Stones, Floyd, Talking Heads, REM, Zeppelin, and they tend to keep running out of those essentials. But with each vendor a mini-record store, you see a lot more of the major artists at the shows.
  • Obscure Records. Personally, my favorite thing about record shows is the plethora of obscure records that I’ve never heard of before and have never seen in person.
  • 45s. Because of space limitations, record stores tend to stock the records that are most likely to fly off the shelves the fastest and don’t bother stocking 45s. There are always lots of 45s at the Northside Record Fair.
  • You Can Cut A Deal. Record stores don’t cut you any bargains, but it’s common practice at record shows for dealers to shave off a few dollars when you buy more than one record.
  • Rubbing Shoulders. I love record stores, but the camaraderie that exists on at shows, where the crowd is thicker and the buzz is on, is that much stronger. I always find it a crash course in music and records, and my teachers are people who’ve delved much more deeply into musicians and genres than I have. It kind of deflates my ego when the savants are so much younger than I am, but I still attend class and take note diligently.

Northside Record Fair on November 22

record fair 2014The Northside Record Fair is back! On November 22 you’ll be able to paw through thousands and thousands of albums and 45s; they’ll have classic rock, punk, soul, country, classical, electronic, and every other genre that has been put on wax. From common titles to the rarest of records, the record fair always delivers. Along with vinyl, there will be t-shirts, posters, memorabilia, and all sorts of fun items! Also there will be DJs spinning all day. Here’s the facts:

Saturday, November 22nd
@ Northside Presbyterian Church
4222 Hamilton Ave

11am – 4pm = $5 admission
10am early bird entry = $10 admission

DJ’s For the Evening:

Yoni Wolf ( of Why?)
Alex Cobb (of the fantastic Students of Decay label)
Carl Truman (seen behind the counters of Everybody’s Records)
John Rich ( ex-Art Damage DJ)

Here’s a report on, and some photos of, the first ever Northside Record Fair:


And here’s the Facebook page for this event:


From Deep Inside the Forest

Another Part of the ForestIn early 2011 a business called Classical Glass moved from Main Street in Over-the Rhine to a new location. Shortly thereafter Mike Markiewicz showed me the space they’d left. Classical Glass was a studio as opposed to a storefront, and the room looked dirty, dark and dingy. I had a hard time imagining it being transformed into a record store.

Mike Markiewicz didn’t, however. After all, he’d overseen Kaldi’s, Sibylline Books and Iris Book Cafe as they went from nothing to something. Each helped to make Over-The-Rhine a better place. But could he do the same with a record store? He believed he could.

Progress at the store moved at what like a glacial pace, to the point where I wondered if it was ever going to open, whereas Mike knew it would. Mike and I talked a lot back then, and he was pumped about the store. “This will be my masterpiece,” he said.

Even then, though, he was thinking beyond that. He kept talking about moving out into the woods and living a bare-bones existence after a few years of the record store. There would be music, but not the massive collections he had accumulated (and then disposed of) repeatedly. “Two hundred albums,” he said. “That’s it. Only the essentials.”

another part forest again

What Mike would take to the woods was revealed in bits and pieces to me over time. After Another Part of the Forest was in full swing, with records filling both floors, I continued to drop in on him. He always had a record he wanted to play me that he had to search to find, and sometimes it eluded him. In fact, it often eluded him. But when he did find the record I needed to hear, my musical universe expanded. Often during those visits our discussion would return to the records that he would take to the woods. The three artists he made it clear would definitely accompany him to the woods were the twentieth-century classical composers Martinu and Messiaen and the jazz musician John Surman.

Heavyweight stuff, in other words: the kind of music that, even though you listened to it while busses zoomed past and sirens howled in the distance, you left OTR and entered a different world, a place that was often dark and turbulent and was full of the “ugly beauty” that inspired a Thelonious Monk song title.

Mike passed away a week and a half ago. His death come suddenly, although the extreme exhaustion that was evident when I visited him during his last several months made the fact that he was extremely ill less of a surprise. When the store was getting up and running he predicted that he would head to the woods after three or four years. Ever since he passed I’ve been thinking about that trip he wanted to make but didn’t. On the other hand…

another part forest again again

On the other hand, when a person names a record store Another Part of the Forest you have to wonder how far away the woods really were in the first place. Maybe he entered the woods when he opened the store, or maybe he’s there now. He always seemed oblivious to the noise and the commotion surrounding him. Quiet and introspective, he was tuned into something else. As many times as we talked, and as often as those conversations focused on big fat metaphysical issues, I must say that part of him remained elusive. “The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth said, but for Mike it wasn’t. He kept it at bay. He did his thing. He lived the way he wanted to live, a nonconformist who in spite of crazy odds did all sorts of good things for the best neighborhood in a city that people are finally starting to appreciate. I miss the guy more every time I return to his masterpiece. I wish that just one more time he could drop the needle on a record. This time, though, it’s my turn to drop the needle. Listen close, my friend. You’ll recognize the tune:



Northside Record Fair Returns

Northside Record FairThe hugely successful Northside Record Fair returns on Saturday, May 10. The event takes place at the Northside Presbyterian Church at 4222 Hamilton Avenue. Hours are 11am to 4pm, and it costs $5 to get in the door. Those people who’d like to get first pick can pay $10 and start shopping at 10am.  According to the Northside Record Fair’s Facebook page, this event promises “1,000’s and 1,000’s of amazing LP’s, 45’s, 7“‘s, 10“‘s, flexi’s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s, DVD’s, zines, magazines, posters, and all sorts of fun music memorabilia.”  The Record Fair also encourages people who want to sell records to contact them as well. Tables are $25 and half tables are $15. A good way to downsize…and make some quick, easy cash.

Only a couple years old, the Record Fair was an immediate hit, and it’s already morphed into a bi-annual instead of an annual event. Every time I’ve gone I’ve seen different vendors and a different mix of records. Definitely a buzz was in the air for the first Record Fair, as I stated in this blog entry with lots of photos of the event.

I live in Clifton, one neighborhood over from Northside. On that same day I’m going to set up records in my front yard. They’ll be cheap – 25 cents to a buck – and there will be a ginormous quantity of them. I’ll have 33s, 45s, and 78s, with really high numbers of 45s. I’ll also have lots of twelve-inch singles from the 70s and 80s, and other stuff related to music (speakers, etc.). The address is 315 Terrace Ave.; it’ll start at 10 (don’t come early; it’ll take me until 10 to lug them all out) and I reckon I’ll go until 3. So feel free to stop by after the Record Fair.


Rare King Records Gem Reissued on Vinyl

Lula ReedLula Reed is a rhythm and blues singer who recorded for King Records during the same period when James Brown, Little Willie John and Hank Ballard were active. She never became as well-known as these artists, nor was she as prolific. In fact, along with some singles on King and Federal (and, later, a couple other labels), she only recorded one album, Blue and Moody. This 1958 gem consisted of singles that were recorded for King between 1951 and 1956. It wasn’t a best-selling record, and I suspect there are many people who like the King Records sound who’ve never heard the album. Therefore I was pleased to learn that Blue and Moody was just released on vinyl by Sundazed, a label with a long history of putting high-quality reissues of both well-known and obscure old gems. Mastered from the original analog session tapes and pressed at RTI, the LP is on 180-gram vinyl. With some of the more soulful vocals you’ll ever hear and great songwriting by King mainstays Sonny Thompson, Henry Glover and others, Blue and Moody more than deserves such red-carpet treatment.  It’s worth adding that original copies of this album are insanely rare, and they do not come cheap, making the release of a good-sounding reissue on vinyl all the sweeter. Here’s a recording of Lula Reed singing “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears,” a song that was later a big hit for Ray Charles:

New Coen Brothers Film at the Esquire

Inside Llewyn DavisThe new Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis is showing now at The Esquire Theatre. The film takes us into the world of the 1960s folk music revival during the period where the corporations are starting to infiltrate a scene that originally stood out for its idealism. In the film Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, an authentic folk musician who has opportunities to sell out but chooses not to. He also makes some career and life blunders along the way, and the movies runs the risk of presenting a character who’s just one more ne’er do well in a long line of losers. It sidesteps that trap, however, and it also avoids the hoaky, two-dimensional portrayal of the folk coffeehouse scene that would have been so easy to stumble into.

I was too young to experience that scene, but as a record collector I caught a whiff of it. It seems like it was always in Clifton that I would find remarkable collections from folkies who were there when it happened. The ten- and twelve-inch EPs and LPs on Folkways, Elektra, Arhoolie, and other labels were more than just black plastic discs that happened to contain music. They were mementos of a movement whose musical depth was matched by a deep social and political consciousness. That was new stuff back then, and it helped lay the groundwork for whatever progress has been made. I suspect that Inside Llewyn Davis will help turn some ears toward folksingers who made invaluable contributions during the revival but have been under-recognized since. Phil Ochs was one of them, and when I started dropping the needle on folk records, this was one the songs that stuck out:


Northside Record Fair on Saturday

100_4802The second annual Northside Record Fair takes place this Saturday, November 23rd. The first record fair was a huge success, with a full house from beginning to end. (I know; I was there.)

This record fair will take place at the Northside Presbyterian Church, 4222 Hamilton Ave from 11am to 4pm. Admission is $5, but if you want to be an early bird, $10 will get you in at 10am.

The last I heard there were still two tables left for vendors; full tables cost $25 while half-tables cost $15.

I wrote a blog entry about last year’s record fair and included some photos. Here’s a link to that blog entry.

Because I write about vinyl so often, I also want to sneak in that I recently created a “category” on the right side of this page called “vinyl.” Entries have to do with record stores, record shows, local record labels that are vinyl only, and so on – so if you have a second, check it out.

Also, my friends King Reeves and Charlie Wilson and their sextet will be performing John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in its entirety (and other Coltrane compositions) at the Blue Wisp on Friday, December 6th from 7pm to 10pm. Included in the sextet will be saxophonist Eddie Bayard, a very powerful tenor player who is very well-respected by the jazz community on a national level. Also, the band will include not one but two drummers, which is something that Coltrane used to do. Here’s some footage I shot one night when Bayard was soloing and the band only had one drummer. Imagine what kind of damage they could do with two: