Mark O’Shaughnessy recalls mid-winter sprees in the States, where Black Gold, chance encounters and potential trouble were never far away…
The bitingly cold late-January weather in the UK at the time of writing simply serves to remind me of warmer times gone by (during the early-to-mid 1990s, to be exact) when I used to spend the whole of the month of January on road trips digging up the Black Gold in The Sunshine State of Florida over in the US of A. Often, my companion on those January trips was long-time black-music wax peddler Mark Wimmers, and we used to jet into Miami airport, pick up our ride at the rental depot and set o on a three-week tour of that vast State, often driving overnight in-between cities in order to be there when stores, thrifts and fleas were opening.
On one such winter trip, we ended up in a complete and total pickle from which we were lucky to escape in one piece. One evening, mid-dig, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the Miami Beach district, where we’d already spent a long day in and around the record stores and fleas in the area.
Being high summer over there, it was still light at around 10pm as we pulled into a chicken shack just off the main drag to fill up on carbs, protein and cheap beers. As we stood in line to fill our plates at the self-service counter, a guy behind us in the line in his mid-to-late 30s struck up a conversation with us, after hearing our accents. He seemed interested in our record bags (which we always carried slung over our shoulders, containing our valuables, which we could never leave in sleazy roadhouse motels). We told him we were record dealers and gave a brief outline of what we did.
He then proceeded to invite us back to his house, because he wanted to sell his “rekkids” and said he lived just a few blocks away. So we followed our new friend into the car park, where he jumped into a beat up Olds and sped off.
At this point, we should’ve just jumped into our hire car and driven away. But we didn’t. The lure of the Black Gold was too strong, so we dutifully tailed our new friend for the eight minutes or so it took us to reach his ground-floor apartment in a distinctly unsalubrious street in an already sleazy neighbourhood. It was now almost midnight, yet still we saw no potential problems.
Take A Chance
Chance meetings like these were in no way uncommon for us on US road trips. In fact, these were often the kind of encounters where we’d land our most lucrative finds – so we actually welcomed this kind of invite.
So, there we were in this guy’s lounge, leafing through these wooden boxes of records, happy as can be. Lots of local-label soul/funk 45s on FL labels like TK, Dade, Glades, Alston, etc, and some very clean Latin/salsa LPs, local hip-hop… nothing incredible, but mostly easily saleable gear.
He’d specifically asked us to take our shoes off upon entry (a very common practice in the States) and also to keep the noise down, as his wife and daughter were apparently asleep upstairs in bed. Anyway, the boxes kept coming and I couldn’t help but notice that the front door kept going (it was almost 1am by now), and he’d regularly disappear out of the room for a couple of minutes at a time – no longer – before coming back into the room where we were sat. Alarm bells suddenly started ringing in my brain. I discreetly elbowed Mark W in the ribs, then whispered in his ear during Jose’s next ‘front door foray’: “This guy is a fucking drug dealer. He’s selling out of his parents’ crib while they’re up in bed; these records probably belong to his mom and pops, too.” There was no wife and daughter, it seemed. What to do? Make our excuses and leave sharpish, or…
Now, as I’ve hinted at in previous columns, fear was not on the agenda and the adrenaline was surging through my veins. So we did what any other fearless, madcap international record excavators would do. We hastily struck up a deal for the wax, extricated our cash roll, paid the man, and walked calmly out of the much-frequented front door with four boxes of high-quality USA vinyl under our arms. Well, to have done anything different would have been unthinkable, right?
Mark O’Shaughnessy is the owner of Bath record shop Resolution Records and has been a professional record dealer since 1993.