Hercules Records is quickly becoming the hub for Berkeley's vinyl and DIY music scene. Located in South Berkeley, the store sells vinyl records with the mentality that a good record is forever. Owner Christopher Ford makes it his mission to sell only the highest quality records at fair prices, while also providing a unique space for local musicians and artists to share their work. Events and shows at the store showcase musical genres ranging from lo-fi beats to uptempo house and disco, and has seen attendance from musical starlets such as Chaz Bundick. You can catch Massflow playing at Hercules Records every Wednesday from 5-7 pm. Check out our interview below to learn more!
Interview and photography by Brennan Ko-Madden
BKM: How did the store get its name?
C. Ford: My grandfather drove a dynamite truck in the 50’s and as you may know, Hercules, CA was created around the dynamite factory that was there at the time. I found an old picture of his truck and it said Hercules Dynamite on it, so that’s where the name comes from.
BKM: Was music a big part of your life growing up or did you find it later on?
C. Ford: I grew up in Woodstock, New York. I remember my dad used to take me to a place called "The Espresso", which was a bar in Woodstock. He would leave me in the car and I would sneak in to where I could see the stage, but the bartenders couldn't see me. I saw [Bob] Dylan, Michael Bloomfield, Bonnie Raitt, pretty much anybody who was anybody played at that club. So that's probably where I got started loving music back as a kid.
BKM: In my experience, certain record stores tend to be known for a specific selection or genre of music that they carry. What is the specialty at Hercules Records?
C. Ford: Well we don’t really have a genre here. Whatever people want to sell is what I buy and put out. When I buy re-issue records I tend to buy funk and soul or rock’n roll, but there is no specific genre that I stick to.
BKM: In your opinion what makes a record valuable?
C. Ford: There are two factors: rarity and condition. What I’ve learned over time is that if you know what someone wants to buy you can place a higher value on it, but primarily its on rarity and condition.
BKM: Can you explain the differences between original and re-issue pressings?
C. Ford: The records are pressed with a master disc that degrades after a certain number of pressings. So that’s why earlier pressings tend to sound better. Beyond that, it is more of a collector mentality where it is based on rarity, not on sound. Some people want the earlier pressings regardless of how they sound.
BKM: Why did you decide to open a record store?
C. Ford: This is my second business and like my first business I could see the trend that vinyl was becoming more and more popular. I’m a musician and I love music, but ultimately it was the rising popularity of vinyl records that gave me the idea to open a store.
BKM: I knew you must love music because talking to you I get the impression that you know a lot about the subject.
C. Ford: No, to tell you the truth I really don’t. I’m learning just like my staff and customers are learning. I know a lot about country western music, soul music, and I’m learning about jazz, but really I’m a novice. There’s so much to learn you know? Eventually I want to start learning about classical music because that’s like the PhD of music, right?
BKM: Ha ha yeah I guess so. So why do you think vinyl records are making a comeback?
C. Ford: Tactile! Records are a tactile experience. That and the fact that they are a visual medium as well is important. You can enjoy the artwork and the liner notes are always enjoyable. Lastly, records were put together as a story. Artists had to think in terms of the whole records presentation. Often they were themed. In my opinion much of todays music is put out as singles or “Hits”. Sometimes you could tell that the band ran out of viable material and threw a couple of tracks on that were not fully vetted. However, in their un-kowning sometimes these tracks were the best on the record. It also has a lot to do with a revisiting of past culture and there’s something to be said about holding the record in your hand, the aesthetic of it. Plus, they sound better, at least I think so anyway.
BKM: Why should people buy vinyl? What would you tell someone who is on the fence?
C. Ford: Well it’s not for everybody and I would probably warn them against it because once you get into it, its pretty addictive. You get into one genre and then you are off and running. Apart from that I would say vinyl sounds better, you can hold your music in your hand, and the artwork is great. It’s also a revisiting of our past culture and I think people should be interested. There’s also a lot of compressed music that sounds bad and is bad quality, but people wouldn’t know it if they didn’t have an alternative.
BKM: What sets Hercules Records apart from other record stores in the Bay Area?
C. Ford: I wouldn’t say that there is something special that sets us apart. Some places maybe specialize in certain genres of music, but I think the thing we share is a love for records. I certainly would say that about myself. I have a passion for records and I love being in the store meeting and talking to people who want to buy records. I don’t think one store would be better than another, its just preference.
BKM: How big is your record collection?
C. Ford: Not very big. I don’t do that much collecting for myself. I have a lot of country western records and soul 45’s because I do a soul radio show in San Francisco [Monday's from 1-3 pm on KPOO 89.5 FM].
BKM: So no 1000 record collection?
C. Ford: No, but maybe if I keep at it.
BKM: So how did your radio show come about?
C. Ford: I used to do a country western show on pirate radio. I did that for about three years, but I always wanted to get on a regular radio station so I began asking KPOO in San Francisco for a spot and they finally gave in.
BKM: What is your most valuable/favorite vinyl record that you own?
C. Ford: My favorite artist on vinyl right now is Shuggie Otis, who wrote the song "Strawberry Letter 23". He's the son of Johnny Otis, who of course is a music legend.
BKM: Compared to digital downloads, vinyl is not cheap. Any recommendations to people thinking about buying vinyl?
C. Ford: I would say find a genre you like and start there. Look for those records and ask people like independent stores for suggestions. If you like Sly and the Family Stone I can probably show you other records you may like. Getting back to one of your previous questions, that's why smaller independent shops are cool. We want to show you stuff and expose you to stuff we think you would like.
Thanks so much for talking with us Chris! Massflow recommends Hercules Records to diggers looking for soul and disco 45's, country western records, jazz records and forgotten gems. Their staff is equally knowledgeable about electronic music and other genres as well. You can listen to Chris's soul shows at jackchampion.com and find out more about the store at herculesrecords.com.
Make sure to catch us there on Wednesday's 5-7 pm! ~Stay curious~