There was no better job, anywhere in the world, than working in Record City. It was New York City, 1979, and I was 17. I’d come from Texas, a place I disliked, and suddenly there I was, on a different planet; the world was big, unimaginably big, a tormenting sprawl, and I was skinny.
Record City was a huge mess of a shop. And like all good record stores, it was only peripherally about selling records. It’s primary function was as a safe haven for outsiders and loners, a place where taste was discussed and formed. A place to listen to Ornette Coleman and Morton Feldman and Burning Spear. To Betty Carter and Conway Twitty and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. A place where people tried to be different.
As a teenager I spent as much time in record stores as I did in school. Record stores let me be who I wanted to be; this qualified me, I reckoned, to work in one. I was basically unemployable, I had no special skills; I knew a lot about a lot of stuff that was of no interest to most people.
Working in records shops told me who I was. Told me who I wanted to be. I never made any money but I amassed a lot of records. Which I sold. Then amassed again. Then bought again. And on it goes. I can’t walk past a record shop without going in and have a peek. They’re my natural habitat, my college, my neighbourhood. They’re familiar, threatened, peripheral, nearly extinct, full of arcane and necessary stuff. Just like me.
At Record City each employee had a section below the counter where we hid our own stash. Records came in and were immediately claimed. My section, in the beginning, contained mostly country, reggae and jazz. I remember a sealed copy of Friends And Neighbours by Ornette Coleman. Also the last Lefty Frizzell album. There Stands The Glass by Conway Twitty. Also Leon Thomas and The Abbysinians and Dan Penn. I had a hellava collection. A little bit of everything. It was while working there that I fell in love, unexpectedly, with disco. I spent my nights at down town clubs, summoned by those minor keyed strings. Losing myself. Eyes closed, arms high, feet swivelling. The way you can in the dark, amongst strangers, in a new city.
From New York I went to London; I lived there for twenty years until I escaped to a remote plot in mid-Wales. I now live in a mostly unpeopled place, a place of wildness, of mistakes, of grass and rocks, of attempts, of almost. I’m secret here among the crags and hills and wind knocked trees.
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