By Al Beeber on October 2, 2021.
LETHBRIDGE HERALD[email protected]
John Brooks turned a passion he developed while teaching in Japan for 10 years into a business.
Brooks, from Lethbridge, opened a vintage records and clothing store in a small South Side mall that is a real candy store for serious vinyl lovers.
In Osaka, Japan, Brooks entered the vinyl scene in a way he might never have imagined when he collected records while growing up in Lethbridge.
Now he’s back with a store called Caravan Records & Vintage located next to a popular bakery and dog grooming business a few blocks south of the hospital.
Brooks and his company recently caught the attention of music promoter Ron Sakamoto who reached out to The Herald about the operation and spoke enthusiastically about its operator and the incredible variety of music filling the shelves and walls.
Brooks recreated an experience in Lethbridge that shoppers might have seen in Calgary’s Kensington neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s.
It has an atmosphere that takes a person back to the days of psychedelia and laid back vibes while keeping a firm footing in the present thanks to records by local musicians and artists such as Metallica.
Much of the vinyl in the store is new, other materials are used, and all have been rated for quality by Brooks, a record appraiser that follows an international grading standard.
Brooks has four in-house labels providing material from artists around the world in various genres. One band he can’t talk about enough is Kissa, a Finnish rock band whose albums Brooks can barely keep in stock.
Its music collection also includes CDs featuring a selection of local music prominently displayed on a wall near the front.
He is extremely supportive of local groups and gives them a place to showcase their work.
He’s thrilled to have recently secured a Sonic Youth collection on vinyl, a band he grew up listening to.
“We finally have Sonic Youth. I was really proud because they were my favorite band growing up and I was never able to buy Sonic Youth albums when I was a kid. You could never buy them on vinyl, so here you have four choices and we even have one live, ”Brooks said during a tour of his store recently.
The variety of music is almost breathtaking – Jon Anderson, Billy Idol, Van Morrison, INXS, The Headstones, The Babys, a set of MC5’s work, Sloan, Iggy Pop, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays are just a few – some of the names that people will see when they look in the store.
The reissue of the MC5 box set is coming out on red, white and blue vinyl, he said.
“What they did politically back then seemed crazy, but now they’re just a good rock band,” he said.
A group of Brooks sings the praises of Elefante, an independent Mexican 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 around the world sound like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin, great bands. They are screaming all over the world for this type of group. Sometimes you get really nice ones, ”he said.
It has special sections devoted to jazz and progressive music and a world / exotic section where audiophiles can purchase a record from a tenor saxophonist who plays heavy metal.
A band whose music Brooks acquired was created by Dead Moon, an Oregon punk band active from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. The band started out in singer Fred Cole’s basement, now deceased, on a tour that was used for the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”, he said.
“The record collecting scene in Osaka is just heaven. 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 always thought that every time I finished my teaching term I wanted to open a record store because my apartment started to look like it anyway,” he said.
He is also a musician, who mainly plays drums and guitar and writes songs.
He wants to get vinyls from local artists, but buying CDs is easier, he said. He is also very active on the local skate and punk rock scene.
“What I do is call the labels I love and talk to the staff and get involved with their bands. Lately we have this Svart label from Finland doing folk and metal, ”he said.
He saw KIssa on YouTube and was amazed, he said.
“Sometimes we buy new records from other people, sometimes we get them from labels, sometimes our friends are really generous if they get married, move or clear a room or whatever,” Brooks said.
“These are largely local collections; people bring us good things. And because we’re rated we’re picky, but then we can sell some cool stuff, we can pay more for it.
Brooks follows the gold mining grading standard used by record collecting magazines.
His favorite is EX for excellent but it’s now off, he said.
“When you get to the top you get closer to mint” which describes music from a record buyer who saved it after opening the record and carefully placing it on the turntable, playing it well and stored it vertically, he said.
“It keeps its value,” he said.
“An audiophile record collector is the guy with the best stereo you’ve ever seen, but the fun here is also for the teenager who can get a Boston record beat up and be like ‘Yeah, more than a feeling “” Brooks added.
Brooks has a good idea of rock history in Lethbridge and an album by a band called Moses sometimes goes out on orange vinyl.
“If I get one, it’s gone,” he said.
“I would really like to meet the guys from Moses,” he added.
“It’s really nice to just have local artists and call the people we love and get stuff, though.”
Brooks studied Japanese in high school and continued it through college.
In Japan, while on vacation, he met specialists in downtown Sapporo and they introduced him to recording collection guides that he sees as an incredible window to music from around the world.
He said that Japan’s high population density also means “you also get a high density of art which is really healthy for things like record collecting or comics.”
“I had a fantastic time in Japan and met a lot of really talented and enigmatic people looking for music and records there.”
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