Doug Gaddy sat perched behind the glass counter at Absolute Vinyl, his indie record shop situated in a row of businesses in an ancient brick building, among them a dive bar and cobbler, along Main Street in downtown Longmont. It was a Saturday afternoon in October, and business was brisk.
Gaddy was talking to me about the shop and life in 2020 America in general, but his eyes constantly scanned the clutches of customers pursuing the stacks of vinyl records. He’d chime in whenever a record was pulled from the stacks to say this musician played horns on that particular track or two versions of the same song appeared on that compilation. Some customers engaged with him. Others didn’t quite know what to make of it at first but then usually engaged anyway.
It usually went something like this:
“That’s a good comp,” he yells out to a millennial kid in a T-shirt and jeans who looks back somewhat befuddled, then looks down at the Jimi Hendrix album he was holding. Gaddy continues.
“It’s kind of a comp but there’s some hard to find stuff on there. There’s two versions of ‘Machine Gun’ that the Band of Gypsies did. But the second version is with Mitch Mitchell instead of Buddy Guy …”
The kid momentarily puts the record back, possibly feeling a bit of “information authority overload,” as Gaddy puts it.
“I see that happen,” Gaddy says. “I’ll hit people with too much stuff. It’s like authority. That’s how it comes across.”
But it worked. The kid snagged the record on his way toward the register along with $80 or so of other albums.
The kid, the two friends with him and Gaddy started another conversation about how Jimmy Buffett is a good artist in spite of the horde of “Parrot Heads,” the rabid, often annoying, fanbase that sprang up around the singer-songwriter. They also talked about Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton and the insane prices that an original copy of Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits record is currently commanding on eBay. He tells the kid to take his card, so he can ask about prices before he buys an expensive record elsewhere. (Vinyl has skyrocketed in price after hitting a low when compact discs emerged in the 1980s. CDs are now experiencing a similar crisis, and he’s practically giving away his limited stock of the coaster-like music format.)
“I hate to see people get burned,” Gaddy says. “That’s a hallmark of this area that a lot of young people are selling the best records and they think everything is worth a lot.”
This goes on for 10 minutes. The trio take their wares and exit through the front door. This happens several times throughout the day. Gaddy, endlessly eager to talk about music, even charms two women he initially reprimanded for taking too many of the free records he’s set up in bins at the front of the store.
Gaddy knows a lot about music, probably more than you, but he never comes across as the aloof, jerky used record store employee, the unappreciated scholar who sneers at anyone who knows less than he, which is everyone, to paraphrase “High Fidelity.” He’s more than happy to help, even if his face bears a perpetual expression of resigned bemusement. (For the record, Gaddy finds that movie kind of annoying but admits the characters ring true to a certain extent, even if you don’t see them working all that much. He’s a bigger fan of the original novel by Nick Hornsby.)
Colin Argys, of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, says he met Gaddy after he opened up on Main Street. He’s not yet pulled the trigger on buying a turntable and starting a vinyl collection, but he frequents the shop on occasion and enjoys Gaddy’s Instagram presence in which he flips through stacks of his latest stock.
“He’s a great guy, has an insightful perspective on people and the community, and always seems curious to learn more,” Argys says. “You can tell he really knows his stuff, and is happy to help anyone who comes through his door.”
Gaddy focuses on what he calls classic vinyl from roughly the 1950s to the 1980s. He sells a lot of rock’n’roll albums because it’s in the highest demand. But he carries jazz, gospel, hip hop, blues, country and many other genres. Jello Biafra, of Dead Kennedys fame, was once spotted in Gaddy’s Boulder location picking up what he described as a “demented children’s electronica record.” It’s mostly older stuff, because he doesn’t want to keep up with every new band that comes along. He leaves that to other record stores.
Gaddy prides himself on fair prices — he often listens to individual records to gauge the quality of the sound — and he gives away tons of others. It’s mostly people under 40 who take him up on the offer.
“Little high school kids to 30 somethings will snag a freakin’ Percy Faith record,” he says. “Who knows what they do with them, but I don’t ever put anything in the landfill.”
Customer Todd Hawkins has shopped at Absolute Vinyl for many years. He says he likes classic and progressive rock, but he’s picked up classical, folk, new age, soundtracks and spoken word records over the years. He considers Gaddy a friend and says he has taken the time to make friends in the music community. (Gaddy has collaborated with the University of Colorado’s Radio 1190 numerous times, employed people from the station, opened the store to local bands to perform and thrown his own anti-Record Store Day event a few years back, working with local record labels.)
“Doug is one of the friendliest store owners you’ll find,” he says. “I’ve always appreciated him. Doug is one of the most knowledgeable people about music that I’ve encountered, even in record stores in Denver and other large cities I’ve traveled to.”
Hawkins says he likes vinyl, in part, because of the nostalgia factor. It’s how he discovered music as a child, listening to his father’s record collection. He later bought his own records but moved on to CDs in the 1980s and traded in a lot of his vinyl.
“All these years later, I’ve bought back a lot of the vinyl I sold,” Hawkins says. “The experience is different, listening to a vinyl record, the joy of opening it up and placing it on the turntable, cleaning it, getting your needle set just right. There’s an experience there.”
Gaddy also sells record players and other stereo equipment, some of it new, some of it vintage. He hires outside help to work on the gear. Currently, that job falls to Mark McNally, a retired engineer who befriended Gaddy several years ago at a Boulder open mic. He’s been frequenting Absolute Vinyl as a customer for several years, and enjoys what he sees as Gaddy’s encyclopedic knowledge of music. He’s picked up a few choice slabs over the years.
McNally says he’s been snagging used turntables for decades from yard sales and taking them home.
“I enjoy the detective aspect of figuring out what is wrong with a turntable or receiver, and how best to fix it,” McNally says. “I continue to learn about electronics and vintage stereo gear with every project. I also perform cartridge setups for customers, to get the best sound out of their turntables.”
Throughout the years, Gaddy has run Absolute Vinyl in three Boulder County locations although he prefers to think of them as evolutions. Two were in Boulder, and the current location, in place for about two years, is meant to convey a sense of a bedroom. A vintage disco ball is suspended from the ceiling, and high shelves display the more rare, expensive fare he has to offer. Posters are everywhere. A large cutout of Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie stands guard over copies of Townes Van Zandt, Rolling Stones, Bob Seger and Wanda Jackson records. A large selection of Johnny Cash records line another wall. Shelves packed with vintage stereo equipment take up the rear of the building, and most pieces boast a three by five index card describing the equipment in some detail.
The couch, recently piled with vinyl, makes a strong argument for the shop coming across as a bedroom.
“It’s more humane,” he says. “It’s something I can manage, a little bit stress … The couch is a place people could sit before COVID … I would invite people to sit down, especially if they are buying stereo equipment. They can just relax and enjoy things.”
Gaddy grew up on the east coast and has loved records since he was a kid. He started going to yard sales and estate sales. Sometimes he’d buy records he didn’t personally want for fifty cents or a buck, because he knew he’d be able to get $1.50 credit at the record store. That’s how he learned the concept of leverage.
And it went from there. Gaddy started buying table space at record conventions. A friend suggested they take the show on the road to New York City, and Gaddy remembers coming home with several thousand dollars in his pocket. The money was good, but it was a lot of work. (He also used eBay the first year it emerged online.)
“I did that for like 20 years,” Gaddy recalls. “That was my slinging-on-the-weekends gig right there.”
Gaddy opened his first shop in North Boulder in 2008 after moving to Colorado with his wife, Annie, via Topeka, Kansas. Before becoming a record store owner, Gaddy taught middle school full-time, and he’s done stints as a freelance writer and editor.
“I had a smashing business plan,” he recalls. “Let’s open in a pit of a recession, thinking that if I can make it under those conditions, I’ll probably be good for however long I want to do this. And I was profitable after the first month.”
The past several months have been rough on everyone, and Gaddy is no exception. But he says one of the things he likes about having the record store is the opportunity to be around people. In spite of the pandemic and an overall queasiness many might feel about going out in the world, there was steady business at Absolute Vinyl on that Saturday.
Gaddy says it’s a matter of meeting people where they are. It’s surprising what they have to offer, what they will say about themselves and what they will reveal about themselves. It can be intimate, or it can just be a long conversation about the shared love of a particular artist. It’s always something different. That’s what keeps him coming back.
“I listen to my customers,” he says. “I learn from them every day. There are a lot of smart people walking around and if you just shut up and listen, you’ll learn stuff and you can be surprised.”
Absolute Vinyl, 319 Main Street, Longmont, is open 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday. Check out new stock on Instagram. Text 303-803-8349 to make an appointment.