Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Search for Rare Soul in Allentown, Pennsylvania: Day 1

I had only heard of the Allentown, Pennsylvania Record Fair once before. It’s dedicated exclusively to the sale of 45rpm records, with the odd 78 thrown in there. Although it’s one of the biggest of its kind on the continent, it doesn’t have any real website promoting it. Its reputation is due mainly to word of mouth. Held twice a year for the past 27 years, it’s the domain of the diehard collector and the seasoned DJ with some serious disposable income. This is why you see so many Brits and Japanese roaming around.

My partner in crime, DJ Papa Bill, a fellow collector/dealer named Nick and I decided to make the 7 hour journey into the heart of Pennsylvania to go see what the fuss was all about. Nothing had prepared us for what was going to be a very intense 48 hours.

We left very early on Friday morning so that we could stop along the way to do some record digging. Our only stop was in the little college town of New Paultz, New York. 

On the main street, there were 2 record shops that we wanted to investigate. First was Rhino Records. It had a decent collection of LPs but no 45 section that was worth our while. A lot of the albums were reissues so we quickly moved on.

Across the street was Jack's Rythms. Again, the 45 section was practically non-existent but Nick managed to buy 2 albums that were reasonably priced.

A small antique store/vintage clothing shop a few doors down had caught my attention. So instead of going through row of common albums, I tried my luck at the antique store. I ended up leaving New Paultz with a fantastic vintage green slim tie instead of some wax.

We arrived in Allentown around 3pm. After setting up in our cheap motel, we set out to find some dealers. We heard that some vendors arrive and set up in motel rooms a week before the convention starts to do some wheeling and dealing. After contacting the organizers, the rumor was confirmed. The motel in question was just a few blocks away. When we touched base, it was a sight to behold.

People were gathering in the parking lot, portable turntable in hand, around opened car trunks. Everyone had one purpose in mind, finding a gem that was overlooked by the others. What was encouraging was that the majority of the 45s being sold were sweet Soul. A YouTube celebrity was even in attendance! Ben recognized the one and only Osaka Twist and Shout and went to talk to him!


My first experience of trunk digging wasn't very fruitful. After almost an hour, all I managed to come up with were 2 measly records. This is my favorite of the two. I discovered Chet "Poison" Ivey a few months back on a great compilation and I was happy to add Shake A Poo Poo to my collection. The rest of the records that were for sale were, do I dare say it, poo poo.


It was time to move to the rooms. Well... I didn't get to visit many because the one I ended up in had everything I hoped for. This one dealer from Cincinnati had bought the entire content of a defunct record shop. He purchased an impressive 150 000 records and the ones in front of me, most of them Soul records, were all new old stock. The prices were very attractive but there was a catch. You had to buy multiple copies of every record. For the 45s listed under 5$, you had to buy 3 copies and the ones that were 6$ and up, you needed to buy 2. The seller wasn't open to any negotiations. Buying a single copy wasn't even up for discussion. I have nothing against dealers that are there to make money. No shame in that. Just don't start bragging that you got the collection for dirt cheap (I'll leave out the actual figure) and that you already tripled your initial investment, just as you are about to make a big purchase.

Buying multiple copies isn't very practical when you are not a record shop owner or an eBay seller. Luckily, I was travelling with my DJ friend that happens to share very similar taste in Soul music. This is when Ben and I sat down with my trusty Soundburger and spent a couple of hours going through every single wholesale box and listening to everything that looked remotely interesting. When do you get the chance of buying a stack of 60s Soul 45s that have never been played before? The opportunity was too good to let slip by. If we both started bobbing our heads to a track, it went in the "buy" pile.

I ended up with such great stuff, a few of them that were on my extended wish list Monkey See - Monkey Do by The Five Du Tones and You Got Soul by Bill Johnson were amongst them. I can't believe I got pristine copies too! The only downside to this whole ordeal is that Ben and I will have to fight over who gets to spin some of them when we DJ together. 

So instead of posting YouTube videos like I usually do, I decided it was time that Parka Avenue ventured in the podcasting universe. So here you have it Soul lovers, the first official Parka Avenue  Podcast on Mixcloud.

This selection is from most of the records that I bought on that first day. Enjoy. In  the meantime, feast your eyes on those great looking 60s record labels!

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