For any kid who was into music, a trip to the record store was just as entertaining, if not more, than any other family venture my sister and I would have to endure with the family in our Datsun B210 wagon. Coming from a family where our father was always encompassed by his music collection, it is no surprise that both of us acorns didn't fall far from his tree. My father took pride in his record collection so much that my sister and I weren't allowed near it. He would take on the role of the " living room DJ" playing his favorite songs for friends and family while always cranking the volume on the Lone Ranger interlude on his "Hooked on Classics" LP. From his custom built entertainment center he constructed, to his mix "Reel to Reel" tapes, our household was always surrounded by music from morning 'til night.
To ease the blow for our yearly road trips to California in our beloved Datsun Wagon, my father would take my sister and I to Tower Records where he would let us buy records and cassettes to make mix tapes to listen to on the drive. For my sister and I this was better than the vacation itself. This was our Disneyland. Once the front doors to the record store opened, the possibilities were endless of what you could unearth. (...and who ever knew that Ratt had a previous EP before "Out of the Cellar"?) Mesmerizing, this was, for a young kid to experience musical sensory overload for the first time while channeling interior design as one could also buy posters of their favorite band to hang up in the bedroom. Tower records provided my sister and I all the goods we needed to endure the long drives to California. (The one redeeming value of these trips was witnessing my first concert at the San Diego Zoo, Mr. Roy Orbison)
Looking back on it I would venture to guess that my fathers lifelong dream would've been to be a radio Disc Jockey. Back then, a DJ was pretty much his own boss of what he wanted to play on the radio and had somewhat creative control. It was a time when listeners could call into a station and request a favorite song to be played. One of his proudest moments (and one of my most influential moment as a young record collector) was when he called our local Olympia radio station, KGY, and corrected the DJ that the Oak Ridge Boys weren't the writers of the hit song "Elvira" that was on heavy rotation on the radio at that time. To prove his point, my father packed up my sister and I along with his Dallas Frazier album and brought it down to the radio station for them to play. I still remember it like yesterday, DJ Carl Cook put my dad on the air to talk about how he found the album and also let me sister and I on the air. At this point, I had never seen a music collection larger than my fathers. I thought it was the coolest thing to be in a room surrounded by not only the sounds that these albums/tapes brought, but the visual created by the physical copies of the vinyl themselves. It was artistic in every way both audible and visual.
Over time, the gap between my childhood record collecting has since seen the industry pretty much come full circle. The evolution of CD's, Digital Music, and File Sharing inevitably brought down a large vast of musical outlet stores. The days of the music shopping experience that I rendered as a kid had become scarce to say the least. Selections were picked over and consisted of pretty much "All Fillers and No Killers". More often than not, one can assess this about a step and a half in the front door before the exit pivot does an about face. To endure and thrive during this massive transformation of the music retail business, one would have to inevitably think to themselves "Somebody did something right to survive this massive collapse." How can somebody continue to build and accell in an industry where the massive retail giants have failed? .......This is where Brian Kenney, owner of Hi - Voltage Records comes into the picture.
Growing up in Arizona Brain Kenney's house was pretty much devoid from music at a young age. Being introduced to it was merely the fact that his babysitters left a stack of 45's at the house which consisted of early CCR singles and "Windy" by the Association. From there, it was the top 40 AM radio hits that he became glued to and would gravitate towards by purchasing his own 45's to the genres of sappy songs such as "Desperado" by the Eagles and "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks. In 1982 as part of the early AZ punk movement, Brian started the band The Zany Guys. After joining the original lineup of The Best Kisser in the World, and moving to Seattle (a version of this lineup which quickly imploded), Lazy Susan was formed with bandmates Kim Virant and Tim Dijulio. (who had the honor to open for Page/Plant at the majestic Gorge Amphitheater). During this time the wheels of Hi - Voltage Records had already been set in motion. Here is my conversations with Brian Kenney and Hi - Voltage Records
I have noted your introduction to music and also musicianship of playing guitar in bands. How did this open up the paramaters to what your musical platform derived?
I came of age as Punk was was breaking and that had a big influence on me. I started playing my sophomore year of high school. There was a classical guitar class in school and everyone had an assigned guitar and was encouraged to mess around before the class started. My friend had taken the class the year before and was now taking private lessons. He taught me a barre chord and Iron Man by Black Sabbath and I was off and running. Once I realized I was now using the same chord that Black Sabbath used I started bashing out my own crude tunes and disregarded what was being taught. I Totally failed the class but I could “Play Beat On The Brat” all the way through. The Ramones opened the door for me in terms of playing music. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd seemed so out of reach musically, (not to mention really boring to my 17 year old brain), but the Ramones and Punk Rock said you don’t have to be a virtuoso to be in a band. That influence had me seeking out underground or non current mainstream music. I just wanted to hear something new and different all the time. Still do.
Seeking out that “non” mainstream music was a little different process back then considering the resources weren’t at the tip of our fingers. There seems to have been an embraced labor of love that embellished you from these efforts of finding those sounds that hooked you which transcends with you today. Being from a household who didn’t necessarily assist you in your endeavors, how did you go about unearthing the music you were after?
I was fortunate to have a neighborhood record store. It was probably mostly top 40/popular titles like most were at the time. There was one guy there who ordered a lot of "imports" of new wave punk and early NWOBHM type stuff. I spent a lot of time there going through every record from A-Z. He would always be playing something cool and went out of his way to turn me on to records i might not be getting exposed to. I wish i knew his name. He had a big impact on me. Turned me on to the New York Dolls, Mott The Hoople/Ian Hunter,The Cramps. It's exciting to see young people discovering some of the same artists that he turned me on too all those years ago. That is a satisfying part of the job. As i type this we were playing a Junior Wells record and 2 different people bought Junior Wells records. That's a role we all take seriously. Always playing something different both new and old.
The origins of Hi - Voltage Records. At what point did you say to yourself "I am going to start a record store". Building up a sustainable inventory that intrigues customers would seem to be the continual progression to success. What was your blueprint on starting up Hi Voltage.
The origin of HV really started in 1995 when i got sober. I spent the 80's and 1/2 the 90's playing in bands and getting drunk. Eventually, mostly getting drunk. When i got sober i rediscovered the passion for music that i had when i was a kid. Started scouring for music with all my free time and extra money that wasn't being wasted on booze. Soon i was spending 1/2 my paychecks on records and CDs. I decided to work on opening a store so i could get help offset what i was already spending on music. A better avenue to support my habit. Haha!
From its inception up to its current day, Hi Voltage has seen the music platform come full circle in a sense of transitioning from CD’s to Digital music and now back to Vinyl. (which currently is outselling digital music). How do you feel you have excelled during this period while others didn’t have so much success in surviving this era.
I opened when many stores were closing. I was not unaware of this. Most of those stores were stores from the CD era. Right from the beginning i decided to only gonna sell used cds and focus on new and used records. Used cds offered a better margin for us and a much cheaper CD for the customer. It was pretty clear to me that vinyl was not only gonna outlive the latest trend, the format itself was gonna outlive ALL of us. If properly taken care of anyway. Who knows with CDs and digital formats. Are those gonna be around 50 years from now? I still love CDs and have many thousands of them but they always felt somewhat disposable. I mean, they are encased in plastic so it's no surprise. So, vinyl was always the focus.
I used to spend a lot of time in Tower Records and i always used that as a model for Hi - Voltage. Even when we were 800 sq feet of all used cds and records.I tried to treat the inventory like a deep catalog store like Tower. If we had holes in the inventory we went out and found those titles. Still do!
Let's do a little 20 questions now shall we?
1. What has been the most intriguing vinyl that you acquired for the minimalist fee Arica- "Audition" early 70's private press hippy collective meditation/ambient/modal jazz, kind of thing. Way cool record and happy accident stumble upon.
2. What album are you still waiting to come into the shop to add to your own personal collection?
. I’ll know it when I see it ;-) I don’t keep a list or anything.
3. Who are a few prominent musicians that have shopped Hi - Voltage?
Some members of ELO were just in the shop A few days ago before their Tacoma Dome show. Mike McCready has been in before.
4. Which catalog of artists do you sell the most of out of your shop?
The classics will always be the classics. It’s no surprise that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is the biggest seller. There are classics in all genres and decades that prove to sell over and over again. Nice to see contemporary records routinely added to that list.
5. What is your favorite fun fact about an album not many people would know about?
The plural of Vinyl is Vinyl.
6. What is the most cringeworthy question/questions you have to answer for a customer?
One is when an “older” person comes up to the counter and says “you’re probably too young to know this, have you ever heard (insert band name) ? My staff get that’s more than I do these days. Lol! Even more cringe worthy, and opposite of the coin, is the “collector” type who walks in and asks right away if we have a copy of ( very specific pressing of a very specific, super obscure, record that only 5 people in the world even know exists) lol! In the boxing world they call this leading with the chin.
7. A kid walks into your store and tells you that they want to start a punk rock collection. What are the 5 albums you would put in his bag?
Ramones -Rocket to Russia
Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers- LAMF
X - Los Angeles Adolescents- S/T first album
Replacements - Let It Be
8. You mentioned you were a sucker for the sappy stuff earlier..What is your favorite “All Killer / No Filler” Sappy album?
I wouldn't call it sappy but Carole King's Tapestry is a mellow masterpiece.
9. Which artists catalogs are your favorite artistic covers to look at?
The coolest covers IMO are Blue Note jazz records from the 50's and 60's.
10. What should be the vinyl listeners slogan?
Vinyl is forever
11. I come up to the register with 3 albums and ask you to pick me out a 4th album.,Here are mine(1. Thin Lizzy - Renegade 2. Brandi Carlile - Firewatchers Daughter 3. The Cramps - Psychadelic Jungle )…which album to you pick out for me?
Patti Smith "Horses"
12. Same as question 11 but this time I bring up these 3 albums 1. The Sonics - Boom 2. The Flamin Groovies - Greatest Hits 3. Alice Cooper - Killers
The Modern Lovers S/T
13. You can only possess one album from each of these artists catalogs. Which ones to you select from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Descendents, Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty
Never been a big Zeppelin fan so I'd take "In Through the Outdoor" since it was always being played at the pinball arcade when I was 17.
Pink Floyd- Meddle
Descendents- Milo, of course.
Black Sabbath- 1st album
Rolling Stones-Some Girls
Jackson Browne- Late for The Sky
Tom Petty- Echo
14. What is the best album that most of us probably don’t have in our own collection?
Sammy Walker- S/T from 1976
15. Jackson Brownes Running on Empty?
I prefer Late for The Sky
16. Roy Buchanan albums?
S/T and Live Stock
17. Beach Boys - Pet Sounds?
Never been a fan
18. Which 5 albums best represent The Northwest music?
Wailers- Out of OurTree
Mudhoney- Superfuzz Big Muff
Mother Love Bone -Apple
Alice In Chains- Dirt
19. When a customer walks into Hi Voltage Records they will……
always hear great music being played on the turntable, and possibly something you've never been exposed to that inspires you with new discoveries.
20. When a customer leaves Hi Voltage records they will….
come back. LOL! Hopefully feel it was a warm and inviting place.
Special Thanks to Brian Kenney and the fabulous staff of Hi - Voltage Records (Adam, Bru, Matt and Jess) for taking the time to accommodate this little blog of mine. Sure, I'm no pro, but it was a fun go of it. I would suggest putting aside a couple hours for the Hi - Voltage experience as there are plenty of unique tastes to choose from within a short radius. I am always amazed at the hard to find stock that arrives in Hi - Voltage. (in one visit I walked out with Drive Like Jehu, RFTC- Scream Dracula Scream, Murphy's Law - Back with a Bong, Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers UK Press with the real Zipper. More often than not you will not have to search for the needle in the haystack to have a successful experience here. I highly recommend Hi - Voltage to anybody in the music listening lifestyle. There is something for everybody. For more information, Hi - Voltage regularly updates their website with new releases and arrivals new and used.
Sunday - Thursday : 10am - 7pm
Friday - Saturday: 10am - 8pm
2714 6th Ave, Tacoma WA 98405