Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So Long, Sam

I can't help but think that Sam Sniderman influenced my taste in music.

I've already shared with you how I came about to buying my first vinyl record. I was eight, my father took me into a record store, he allowed me to buy myself any record that I wanted, and I chose the one with no writing on the cover, but with images of little girls climbing over strangely shaped stones.

The album, of course, was Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy.

Photo: Wikipedia
At the time, I did say that I bought that record at Sam the Record Man, but perhaps I didn't do justice to that record store. For decades afterwards, Sam's would be the main source for my music. I would save my allowance and go to that shop as soon as I could afford a new record. When I had a part-time job, I earned enough money that I would buy at least one record a week. For new releases and for sales, I would wait in line before the doors opened.

I even had a job in the shopping mall, working next door to my record shop, and I would spend my breaks flipping through records, just to see what was there, to listen to the music that was on their turntable, and at times, to flirt with the girls behind the counter.

A friend of mine in high school, one of the smartest people I knew, once came with me and we looked at the imported record section. When I found a Japanese import of Bruce Springsteen, my smart friend asked in all seriousness, "Does Bruce Springsteen sing in Japanese?"

Book smart: street stupid.

By the time I reached my mid twenties, I had more than 400 vinyl disks in my possession. The milk cartons—the old, imperial-measurement cartons—were perfect for holding albums. I had four of them, and they were packed tight. Sometimes, I wore out an album by playing it to death, and then I would go to Sam's and replace it.

I had a shit-load of vinyl. My local record store made a lot of money off of me.

One of the great things about Sam the Record Man was that at the front of the store, they had a tall and wide display of new releases. All of the colourful album covers would strike you when you first entered the store. And Sam's would proudly display lots of Canadian talent.

Sam Sniderman didn't just like Canadian music: he promoted it. Not just in his stores, but in front of the CRTC, calling for more Canadian content on the air waves. Because of Sam, I developed a big appreciation of Canadian music.

The first Canadian album I bought was also at Sam's, and I bought it because the album cover met my eyes as I scanned the new releases. That was in 1974, when I was nine. The album: Not Fragile, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Yes, in my introduction to Canadian music, I hadn't seen nothin' yet, baby.

These days, the majority of music on my iPhone is Canadian: Sam Roberts, Sarah Slean, Matt Good, Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Feist, Great Big Sea, Metric, Hawksley Workman, 54-40, The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies... the list goes on.

The Sam the Record Man in my local shopping mall left decades ago; the last Sam's left Ottawa more than 10 years ago. These days, I rarely buy a physical CD, and when I do, I order it online. Mostly, however, I download my music from iTunes.

Gone are the days of great album covers and inserts. Gone are the golden days of vinyl. Gone are the local record shops. Gone is Same the Record Man.

And gone, this past Sunday, is Sam Sniderman. Rest in peace, music man. Thank you for introducing me to great music, from both home and abroad.

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