"Some of my best discoveries have been made in what may be the greatest record collector store in the world: Village Music in Mill Valley. Any shop that confronts you with it's own ever changing 'Hall of Fame' (which might include a Lester Young, The Fairfield Four, some Bill Monroe and the great Otis Rush Anthologies) and a rack called 'Sometimes a Cover Is Enough,' featuring such classics as 'Music for Sleepwalkers,' must be doing something right"
-Elvis Costello, from the liner notes to his recent collection of oldies, Kojak Variety (Warner Brothers)
The Village SavantJohn Goddard, the brains behind Village Music, has something he thinks you oughta hear.
I WAS SITTING IN MY DREARY OFFICE ONE AFTERNOON, listening to KJAZ, expecting to be dunned with yet another reprise of Pat Metheny's latest or a mournful instrumental rendering of some standard like "Willow Weep for Me," when the DJ changed my day by playing the King Cole Trio doing "Paper Moon."
I guess I was born a little late for Nat King Cole; I always thought of schmaltz like "Unforgettable," and his old man troubadour (opposite Stubby Kaye) in Cat Ballou.
But here was a young King Cole. His voice as incandescent as Astaire on the stairs, tripping over his own playful piano playing and the fluid, Charlie Christian-like lines of guitarist Oscar Moore. I knew that I had to have a record by Nat and his trio, and not one of those crummy collections with no information on the sleeve. I knew I had to go to Village Music.
Village Music, in Mill Valley, has long been a mecca for music mavens of all stripes. Though celebrated for its rhythm-and-blues collection, Village also features scores of rare and definitive titles in a host of genres-country, classical, jazz, international, soul, pop, even easy listening. While clerks at hipper-than-thou rock record stores will literally laugh at you for buying the wrong record, Village Music is egalitarian.
"The little elderly person who comes in and buys Montovani records has as much right to those as somebody who comes in and buys Otis Redding or James Brown or Charlie Parker, the stuff that I love," is proprietor John Goddard's way of saying, "The customer is always right."
Goddard bought the store 21 years ago, after having worked there as a clerk for eleven years. He began buying and collecting and stocking records according to his own youthful taste, which meant the bluesier, the better. "I went from Elvis to Muddy Waters in about six months," he says. Like the inventory, his proclivities continue to expand.
"I go through country phases, and I go through gospel phases, and I go through Judy Garland phases," says Goddard. "My top ten favorite records would be completely different from day to day."
In keeping with his ever-changing moods, Goddard stocks a pile of "Personal Favorites" near the cash register-not to be confused with the "Village Music Hall of Fame." The difference? Personal Favorites are whatever Goddard happens to be high on at the time, while the Hall of Fame includes only bona fide classics. "if you buy something from the Hall of Fame stack and don't like it," says Goddard, "it's not the record, it's you."
A third stack, labeled "Sometimes a Cover Is Enough," is fairly self-explanatory. These records have photographs or artwork that is, well, special. None of them is suitable for listening.
There is plenty in Village for the eye as well as for the ear; the walls feature enough memorabilia to fill any respectable American music museum. Here's a mug shot of Janis Joplin; there's an autographed picture of Hank Williams, pére and fiIs; and near the door is the first-ever royalty check Sam Phillips wrote Chester Burnett, aka Howlin' Wolf. Posters from movie musicals (replicas of which are on sale) cover the walls-everything from Home in San Antone with Roy Acuff to House Rent Party with Pigmeat "Alamo" Markham ("A riot of laffs. . .. Entertainment that's hep and sizzling") to Hot Rod Gang ("Crazy kids ... living to a rock'n' roll beat"). And, of course, Village has got your back issues of music magazines, your 45s and 78s, your FREE JAMES BROWN T-shirts, your VILLAGE MUSIC bumper stickers ....
Almost as renowned as the store itself are its customers, some of whom have appeared at the anniversary bashes the store throws for faithful customers and friends. Last year's party, held at Mill Valley's Sweetwater Tavern, included performances by such disparate musicians (and Village Music fans) as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, James Burton and Jerry Garcia, How did Goddard get these people to play? "I invited 'em," he says.
P.S. I didn't find the Nat King Cole record I was looking for that day, though there were plenty of other Nat King Cole records in stock, including several Nat had sung in Spanish. By the time I made it to the cash register, I'd picked out a George Jones best-of, a Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke LP, Black and Blue by Lou Rawls (now out of print), The Patsy Cline Story, John Coltrane playing the blues and the Sex Pistols' soundtrack to The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.
And then I started flipping through the Village Music Hall of Fame ....
- Sean Elder, "Only The Best," Nov, 1989