Graceland exterior 1500

you’d be wasting your time and mine but I didn’t mind

MY RHYTHM & BLUES BOOK was first con­ceived in 1986, but a book that com­bined r&b and blues record didn’t occur to me until the early ’90s. My first and only choice for co-author was the leg­endary Val Shively: his store, R&B Records, had been a fix­ture in the Philadel­phia area for decades; cus­tomers came from all over the world to get lost in the back rooms filled with little records with big holes.

His knowl­edge of the rhythm & blues field was leg­endary! I had al­ready called him from Seattle—his re­joinder was, “You have a re­ally crappy base­ball team”—and would be in his neck of the woods in a few weeks. I asked if I could visit him at his store and have a few words.

“You’d be wasting your time,” he said.

I said I didn’t mind.

“You’d be wasting my time,” he coun­tered.

I said I didn’t mind.

I drove 476 from Wilkes-Barre (the city where I was born) down to Upper Darby and (even­tu­ally) found R&B Records. It was lav­ishly ar­rayed with super-rare col­lec­tables: in­cluding a rare twig from a tree, hanging from the ceiling, with a note stating it had been taken from the grounds of Grace­land.

I knew I was gonna like this guy …

 

You're wasting your time: cover of July 1967 issue of SEVENTEEN magazine with Twiggy.

For those of us who grew up in the ’60s, the word ‘twig’ will often bring up an image at odds with a tree. Of course, the like­li­hood of finding any­thing re­motely as­so­ci­ated with British models in R&B Records was nigh on im­pos­sible.

You’re wasting your time

The whole thing was as beau­tiful as the chance en­counter of a sewing ma­chine and an um­brella on an op­er­ating table. I was moved, and ex­claimed, “Wow! This is, like, as close to Elvis as I’m ever gonna get.”

Val looked at me quizzi­cally.

“Until I die, of course,” I added.

Val ig­nored me.

Also hanging from that ceiling was a pair of black plastic shades with a note telling me that they had be­longed to Stevie Wonder.

I was moved again and asked, “Are these the ones he wore in Muscle Beach Party?”

Val ig­nored me.

After hanging around for an hour or so, a couple of Val’s local reg­u­lars came in and started talking about the Phillies’ prospects over the next few sea­sons. This I also knew, and as someone who had been reading Bill James for sev­eral years, I usu­ally added ob­ser­va­tions to base­ball con­ver­sa­tions most fans of the game had never heard be­fore.

At this, Val glanced in my di­rec­tion.

 

You're wasting your time: photo of Stevie Wonder in 1973.

Photo lifted from the 1973 in­ter­view with Rolling Stone mag­a­zine, when Wonder was making his most won­drous music and was at the height if his fame and pop­u­larity. These glasses could have found their way to Upper Darby—you never know.

You’re wasting my time

After talking base­ball for an hour or so, Val looked at over at me and said, “Al­right. You! Wise-guy. Who are you and wud­daya want?”

I turned and my right hand slid off the handle of my .45 and down the side of my hol­ster. It was an au­to­nomic re­sponse, some­thing you’d ex­pect from a knee-jerk lib­eral like my­self. It had saved my hide more times than I could count. But it was the wrong move at this mo­ment.

“Uh uh,” he shook his head. “There’s a Colt S-double-A Peace­maker pointing at your giz­zard under this counter.” He nodded his chin down.

I didn’t doubt him.

“Sorry,” I mut­tered. “Habit.”

My hand moved away from my leather.

“How big’s yours,” I queried.

“Seven and a half,” he re­sponded. “Yours?”

“Five and a half,” I smiled. “I can get it out faster.”

Everyone laughed the kind of laugh you laugh when you know spilt blood’s been avoided. Guys com­paring the size of their gun’s barrel was a time-honored rite of pas­sage from en­e­mies to not-enemies.

I re­laxed.

For­tu­nately, he did, too.

He brought both his hands above the counter, smiled, and pulled a bottle from the shelf on the wall be­hind him. Layfrog—my fa­vorite single-malt.

He poured for both of us and things looked a little brighter.

“I prefer the 10-year-old to the 12,” I of­fered.

“Same here,” he nodded.

I in­tro­duced my­self.

“Oh! Right. The guy from the city with the crap base­ball team,” he noted as he sipped his drink. “You’re wasting your time.”

I said I didn’t mind.

“You’re wasting my time,” he said.

I said I didn’t mind.

Even­tu­ally, I told him that I was also from Pee-Ay and was vis­iting family.

“No wonder you don’t act like a lot of those guys from the West Coast,” he nodded.

 

The man: Val Shively. The store: R&B Records. The in­ven­tory: Price­less …

You don’t want me any way

I re­layed my plans for the R&B book and my hopes that he’d come aboard. We took our con­ver­sa­tion to a little diner he fa­vored. Val told me flatly that he wasn’t in­ter­ested in co-authoring a book with me or anyone else. Then he gave me the best ad­vice of my nascent ca­reer:

“You don’t want me any way,” he said.

I didn’t?

“No,” he sipped his water.

“You want Tefteller …”

 

FEATURED IMAGE: De­spite the many, many stoopit things said by taste­less people about Elvis and his life, Grace­land re­mains a beau­tiful house on a beau­tiful prop­erty. More than twenty species of trees can be found at Grace­land, in­cluding Southern Mag­nolia, Amer­ican Elm, Willow Oak, Red Maple, Pecan, Amer­ican Holly, Tulip Poplar and Black Cherry. And a fallen twig from any one of them could have found their way to Upper Darby—you never know.

 

 

 

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This piece is high-larious! Ques­tion: Who said: “little records with the _ig hole” first? (The letter _ is fried in my com­puter).

Neal - The first time that I heard the phrase was from the old “Dis­cov­eries” mag. days. It was from the late Cu_ Koda, re­fer­ring to 45’s. I never forgot it. This was around 1989, I think. The little records with the _ig hole. I love the in your face sound of them.