I wanted to seek out that rare gem. My search was going to revolve around sixties soul and garage bands, your typical all around Mod sound. But that can now be effortlessly done over the Internet. That's too easy. Part of the fun for me is the thrill of the hunt.
I was specifically looking for home bread Louisiana talent. Of course, finding some Louis Armstrong, a New Orleans local god, wasn't going to be much of a challenge. I wanted something a little less mainstream. I had heard of a soul singer by the name of Benny Spellman. He had a hit with a quirky song called The Fortune Teller. That song was later picked up by The Rolling Stones and The Who. That was it. I had to find that record.
I had dreamt of finding that back alley, dusty, poorly lit basement shop tucked away in the old French Quarter with a bunch of cardboard boxes hidden in the back of the store labeled "Very rare Louisiana Soul Records. 50 cents each". Of course that's a romanticized and idealized version of what actually happened but it was still exciting. I hope my search will be of some assistance.
The first rule of thumb, you have to talk to the local people. It's a great excuse to strike up a conversation and learn things about a city you won't get from a guidebook or a Google search. This is how I got to my first stop. Peaches Records is located at 408 Peters St. in the French Quarter. They have an impressive selection of CDs but only a few racks of vinyls and about two dozen 45-rpm. The most interesting thing they had was a few versions of Aretha Franklin records.
The friendly owner approached me and asked me if he could help. I told him I was looking for Benny Spellman on vinyl, preferably the 45-rpm version. I also asked if he had any good Northern Soul, Ska, Rocksteady or Garage. He said he had a large warehouse and he invited me to come back in a few days, before I left. He was going to go through his inventory and bring a good selection to choose from. Unfortunately, he never came through with his promise. Don't you hate it when you're a willing customer, with money burning a hole in your pocket and a business owner will let you hang out to dry? I just don't get it...
Luckily I had the exact opposite experience at the Louisiana Music Factory. If you can only visit one store in New Orleans, that's the place to go. They are located at 210 Decatur Street right across from The House of Blues. When you look in the storefront window, you see Soul, R and B and Jazz written in bright neon lighting. Now that's a good sign! (No pun intended)
When you walk inside, skip the first floor, go directly to the second floor and be prepared to be amazed. Now that's a selection! According to one staff member, they are not well organized. Trust me, they are! Behind the listening station, displayed on the walls, is the good stuff. You'll likely find rare Northern Soul in mint condition. Just expect to whip out your credit card. I'm simply not the type who will pay $150 for a 45.
But that didn't stop me from leaving with a stack of cool Louisiana Soul and you guessed it, the Benny Spellman LP! I have to say that the staff there is simply amazing. They are patient, friendly and they know their stuff. Brice, a young, vibrant local DJ was particularly welcoming and helpful. He took the time to search boxes and look through piles of 45s.
He narrowed my taste down quite quickly and just kept feeding me record after record while I sat at the listening station. Conclusion: 1 LP, 14 singles and 1 Louisiana punk/garage compilation on CD.
My last stop was going to be the Mushroom. It's situated Uptown, a few blocks from Loyola University at 1037 Broadway Street. It’s a long way from Downtown and probably not worth the trip. At least I got a pleasant tramway ride and got to visit the historic Garden District with their stunning mansions.
The store is your typical college campus / stoner / rock t-shirt / hippy necklace / rap CD / beer funnel depot for your average student party animal. Not exactly what I was looking for. At the back of the store, there are a few rows of wax. You might be lucky and stumble upon a decent LP or two.
Tucked under the rows of LPs are a few crates of 45s. There’s nothing worth mentioning unless you want a late reprint of Diana Ross or the Jackson 5.
So here you have it my friends, some hits and some misses. But overall, I had a blast and ended up with a few cool tracks!