by Samuel Segrist | photos by Dawn Thorfinnson
The band names may have changed, but then again, maybe they haven't when it comes to classic rock. Vinyl spins on as one of the everyday links to my parents' generation.
It's not every day, though, that you frequent a record store only to find out its owner and your dad were college buddies. That's the case for me as Les Greer, owner and chief proprietor of Lefty's Records, lived in the same residence hall as my pops back at UNL in the '70s. You can find Greer a little east of 27th on South Street, 2776 South Street to be exact, from noon until 6 p.m. every Tuesday through Sunday.
Lefty's is Lincoln's newest local and independent record shop, a venue to chat about music and unearth some rare treasures. I spoke with Greer recently to hear the details about Lefty's Records, record shops in Lincoln past and present and what it's like to have the son of your old chum walk into your shop.
Hear Nebraska: First off, what made you choose the name Lefty's Records? Are you actually a lefty? Is it a nickname for you?
Les Greer: I'm not left-handed and have never been called Lefty although a few people call me that now. My right shoulder was bothering me so I was using my left hand a lot and it popped in my head that people could call me Lefty and then that would make a catchy, short name that people would remember easily. It just sounded right.
HN: How long has Lefty's Records been open?
LG: We opened last August 20th.
HN: What made you want to open Lefty's?
LG: It was a good time to do it. Vinyl's coming back. I needed to do something with my life and it was the right time.
HN: Vinyl sales have been going up every year for the last four or five years. What was the first record you ever bought?
LG: Probably 45s when I was a kid. Pretty much cheesy pop stuff. You used to be able to go to Treasure City and get three singles for $1 or 79 cents.
HN: What was Treasure City?
LG: It was kinda like a Target, just not as nice. More jockier, like K-mart. They would have cut-out 45s, three of them in a package, but you couldn't see the one in the middle. You'd try to guess, but it was always a guess.
HN: So it was a grab-bag, but you knew what at least two-thirds were.
LG: The packages were clear plastic, so you knew at least what two of the titles were. I didn't really buy albums, but I remember when my brother got me Abbey Road when it came out and All Things Must Pass. The first record I bought when I really started collecting in college was Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain. That really started me collecting albums.
HN: I knew you and my dad were both really into record collecting at Dirt Cheap and Pickles. What were the record stores like back then?
LG: Dirt Cheap was really the only one when we were buying back in the '70s, but Pickles came later. Later on, Backtrack Records opened up on north 48th, but he's on north Cotner now. That was pretty much it until Twisters bought Dirt Cheap and Homer's bought them both. Recycled Sounds started about 20 years ago, but back in the '70s and '80s, that was about it.
HN: I was curious about the local bands. How do you see the relationship with the music-making people who are also the customers who frequent your store?
LG: It depends. Some of the musicians are serious collectors, too. We have a pretty good music scene here in Lincoln. Some of them have been a great help at bringing customers. Dan Jenkins from Ideal Cleaners has been a great help. Besides bringing his product in, he buys stuff all the time.
HN: Since you've been open since August, what does a general week look like as far as operating the store. Are there particular days when more of your regulars come in?
LG: Usually I get new orders on Tuesday. Tuesday is new release day. I have some people who want new stuff. I usually do an order on Thursday for the following week. Business varies considerably. I can have a great Sunday and then the next Sunday'll be dead. New stuff every Tuesday or Wednesday.
HN: I'm a person who particuarly loves the sound of vinyl so I'm excited that so many artists are releasing music on vinyl.
LG: A few are actually releasing them on cassettes, which is a little weird to me.
HN: There are kids who are a decade younger than me who fetishize cassettes the way I did when vinyl. There aren't many things I like about cassettes.
LG: They're cheap for bands to do.
HN: And they are attractive because many college kids and high schoolers can only afford cars which have tape decks.
LG: That's right! (laughs)
HN: Now, you don't only sell music. I know that the first time I was here, I bought some books, some old Dashiell Hammett detective novels.
LG: I was an English major, so I have tons of books.
HN: Your prices are great. Besides affordable prices, what do you do promotionally to get customers to check out?
LG: Record Store Day was huge for me. We had a great turnout. I also do a Black Friday sale, which isn't on the same scale as Record Store Day, but limited edition releases are available on both days.
HN: Do you have bands play live in the store?
LG: Battleship Gray played here. We live streamed Bol'd Crow on my website. What was great about that was that one of the girls in the band was from Tennessee and her parents had never seen her play before, but they watched it online. That was really special.
HN: I have a suspicion that after this interview, more local bands will be hitting you up about playing online. I know my band wants to play here and eventually release music on vinyl. Who in today's music world is making things happen vinyl-wise?
LG: Jack White is someone who has really pushed vinyl as a medium with Third Man Records. I've sold more of his stuff than any other new artist. I've sold a dozen of his new records and more than a dozen of his singles. I also sell a decent number of the Black Keys records.
HN: As this 21st century marches on, how do you see the role of tangible forms of media evolving?
LG: There will always be a market for it, but it will be a niche. It will never be huge again. For most people, music will be available on electronic devices. On a certain scale, there will always be some demand for records. I mean, the gatefold design is a work art you can hold in your hands. Can you really see all the faces on Sgt. Pepper's on album view of an iPod?
HN: Or adjust the spinning wheel on Led Zeppelin III or unzip the zipper on Sticky Fingers?
LG: Store-play in record stores is kind of a lost art. I try to often play something that someone will want to ask, "Hey, that's pretty good. What's that?" Dirt Cheap you used to do that all the time. I want to keep that kind of thing going at Lefty's.
HN: What was playing when I walked in today?
LG: Lydia Loveless. I've sold five of her records just from store-play.
HN: What's the weirdest thing that's happened in the store since you've opened, besides finding out that the son of an old college chum is one of your customers?
LG: I really can't think of anything really strange happening, probably the coolest thing was when Battleship Gray played in the store and we had about 30 people in the store. We streamed it on my website and friends of the band in Chicago and L.A. watched it live. And yes, having your dad come in was probably the biggest surprise I've had.
Samuel Segrist is a Hear Nebraska contributor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lefty's Records is open from noon until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, check out www.leftysrecords.com.