Setting A Record

Setting A Record
(Sam Holden)

A lot of people say that they love music, but they don't. Not really. Not like Jack Moore.

It's 4 p.m. and Moore is sipping a beer behind the counter at his store, El Suprimo* Records. Tucked below a boutique clothing shop on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point, the small basement storefront is packed with thousands of used records, the result of decades of obsessive record collecting; a lifetime of digging through used record bins, venturing into damp basements, and scouring flea markets—as far away as Egypt and Cambodia—hunting for hidden gems.


Stacks of vinyl and a small pile of DVDs cover the counter. Slouching a little on a small stool, Moore sits his beer on a copy of "Caddyshack" (he has multiples). He seems younger than his 48 years, even though his long hair is receding and his beard is streaked with gray.

"I've always enjoyed second-hand record stores a little more than stores that just deal in new retail, because there's more of a history to the records, and there's kind of a mystery to what you're going to see," Moore says. "And I think the original pressings can often sound better than the reissues."

After working in used record stores throughout the '80s and '90s, Moore's personal record collection got so big that "it felt like a record store in my room," he says. He started selling his doubles—extra copies of the same record—on the weekends, at a small kiosk in a flea-market antique store. It was successful enough to allow him to open his own store 11 years ago, a couple doors down from its current spot, where he's been the last six years.

Moore has installed a record player under the dashboard of his red 1960 Plymouth Savoy. It's a linear tracking turntable, so it doesn't have a floating tone arm that would slide across the record at every turn, he explains, and it's mounted on a foam replica of a human skull to absorb some of the shock. He says it works well as long as he isn't driving over a ton of potholes.

But he usually takes his forest-green 1972 Buick Riviera when he makes house calls, driving all over town several times a week to buy record collections that people are selling for one reason or another—maybe they fell on hard times, or maybe they inherited the records from a relative.  Sometimes they inherited a whole house, Moore says, and "it can be kind of eye-popping to see what a true music lover did with their house until the day they died. You could walk into somebody's house and it could look like the set of 'Superfly,' or it could look like something out of a Hannibal Lecter film."

The record runs are "a lot like going to a used record store—you never know what you're going to find," he says.  And he's not just looking for records. He's also on the lookout for stereo equipment, old amplifiers, guitar pedals, comic book collections, music instruments, and any memorabilia he finds interesting.

Sometimes the houses are a little weird, he admits, and he finds himself in a lot of dark and moldy basements. "I bring a respirator with me, so it really is like hardcore cultural archeology to a certain degree, trying to preserve hopefully some gems from like the '50s or '60s from being thrown in the dump."

Preserving music is part of what led him to Cambodia in 2001, where he managed to track down a bunch of ultra-rare '60s psych music, mostly on tapes. When he got home, he and a couple friends—Rob Girardi and Bump Stadelman, who were also with him on the trip—spent months sifting through the music. They picked out the best tracks, cleaned up some of the noise (they were careful not to be too intrusive, Moore says) and put out a record called Cambodian Psych-Out. All the profits from the release go to a United Nations Association's Adopt-A-Minefield relief fund.

"Somebody online actually accused us of overdubbing the guitars because nobody had ever heard anything like that extreme out of Cambodia," Moore says. "I still haven't heard anything quite that heavy."

He hopes he can do something similar with the 150 or so hand-screened 45s he brought back from Egypt a few years ago. He's already gone over the music and figured out the sequencing—he just needs to "squirrel away enough money to put it out properly."

Moore also makes his own music. He played analog synths in a band called Elegent Mess (at least that's how he thinks they spelled it) in the late '80s and early '90s, and a project called Black Sash, which included Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio and Jon Theodore, formerly of the Mars Volta and currently in Queens of the Stone Age. Moore more recently played in the Mopar Mountain Daredevils, which featured Cotton Casino from Acid Mothers Temple.

Moore has amassed a ton of awesome vintage equipment in his home studio, such as tube amps from the '50s (including Harmony and Masco* amps) and the '70s (including McIntosh and Ampeg amps); analog synths (including a Micromoog and a Roland SH-09); and vintage guitars (he usually plays a 70s Gibson L6). For all the recording nerds out there, he has a TEAC X-1000R reel-to-reel 2-track and a 3340S 4-track, as well as a Presto 6N record-cutting lathe.

"I'm on a constant hunt to learn about who the recording engineers were [on favorite records], which studios they used, which mixing boards they used, which microphones they used, what guitars they played, and then trying to find similar things myself," he says.

His personal record collection is bigger than the one in the store, and it's still growing, he says. "I still find new music all the time. I've been doing this forever, but it's still amazing how much material there is out there."


He's also on the lookout for records he think might interest his wife, occasional City Paper illustrator Paige Shuttleworth. She has her own impressive vinyl collection and shares a lot of his taste in music. Married seven years, they didn't combine their collections, he says, but they both DJ sometimes, so they have a "share space."

"Part of the fun of listening to music isn't just listening to it by yourself but being able to share it with somebody," he says.

That's why when Moore DJs, he breaks out the good stuff—the rare and expensive records that other DJs wouldn't dare bring into a crowded bar or music venue. "I've had other DJs yell at me, saying, 'Do you know how much that's worth?!'" Moore says. "But records are meant to be enjoyed."

His record collection is more than a hobby; it's central to his worldview.

"Maybe there's something more to why I like music so much," Moore reflects. "Maybe it's not just the music. I think that it's also the mindset of the people that make music, and the people that appreciate music," he says.

"It's not just listening to music and having a good time and smiling and dancing and partying," he says, it's about finding something that "creates that passion in life for you. And music does that for me. It just makes everything better."

* An earlier version of this story wrote the name of the store as "El Supremo" rather than "El Suprimo." The Masco amplifiers were mistakenly identified as Marco Polo amps. City Paper regrets the errors.