In cities and towns across the country there are few record shops that can boast a successful track record across multiple decades but in Downtown SLO, we are proud to have Boo Boo Records. In February I had a chance to sit down with owner Mike White and discuss the history of Boo Boo’s, shop culture, vinyl and the music industry in general. As a continuation of my interview series of Downtown SLO personalities I was really excited to learn from Mike how the shop fosters such a magical experience consistently. After all, I grew up shopping for albums in that shop and it was almost a Wonka-esque experience with every flavor of music you can imagine and just a really happy and safe place.
Mike White moved to San Luis Obispo as many other young men do, with ambitions of pursuing higher education. He grew up with a grandmother that shared her passion for gardening with him and in 1974 Mike started studying Ornamental Horticulture at Cal Poly. In 1978 the founding owners, Ed Taylor and Glenn Forbes moved the shop from its former location at Rail Road Square to its current location at 978 Monterey Street. That year Mike joined on as an employee and unbeknownst to him, would be the beginning of his vibrant career in the music industry. The record shop soon captivated his passion and after finishing his degree he decided to stay on as an employee at the shop.
At that point in time there was no real manager for the shop so he took on that role and in his words, “it was the real halcyon years for the industry with retail exploding.” Over the next 8 years the shop continued to enjoy the boon of the record industry and in 1986 Mike bought into Boo Boo Records as a partner and never looked back. Through that period of time it is apparent that the shop was a great place to work. In fact, if you visit the shop’s website you can find a video in which Ed speaks to the culture of the shop and the importance of building a positive experience for the customers and the lore of the shop that lives on today. When I asked Mike to explain he just laughs and explains that when the shop was named and the Cosmic Rooster logo were developed it was in the drug haze of the 70’s. Enough said.
While the name and logo creation are still very much a part of the business they take a second row seat to the level of customer service that the shop commands and that is a point of pride for Mike. In 2010 he bought out the remaining shares of the store and became the sole owner but you would never guess that the people working in the shop don’t own it. Employees don’t really turn over in the shop and the folks that work there stay because they have the right vibe to match the shop’s culture of creating a safe place to work. The personalities within the shop are just as diverse as the music: on the shop with characters like Fred Friedman, Frank Hayes and Malik Thorne there is a personality to make any genre of fan feel comfortable in the shop.
The fact of the matter is, Boo Boo’s is a safe place for young metal heads and jazz fanatics to assemble under the veil of music without persecution. For instance, when you meet Frank you get the vibe that the guy is a heavy metal expert but what you may not know is that he also is a host of a jazz radio show in Morro Bay. The employees in the shop cross many genres of music and are more than capable of helping a new collector discover music that they have never heard before but may come to love. Mike states, “Music is the universal language that unites people – we need that more than ever.” If you listen to the full audio version of the interview, you can hear a bit of chatter on protest singers and the returning popularity of politics in music.
On the subject of returning trends in the music industry I pressed Mike on his take on vinyl and its recent gain in popularity. To my amazement he explained that even cassettes are making a small comeback and that he doesn’t see vinyl as a fad but as a true trend and a real hockey stick at that. The steep upward curve in vinyl sales is reflected in the fact that vinyl presses are being purchased and refurbished across the country and every new released album is also being produced in vinyl. The struggle that they face in the shop is getting stock of those releases. As we explored the topic a bit more I had to ask why there was a recent boom in that part of the industry. Mike credits it to the nostalgia of the whole event of putting a record on a turntable and transforming a black disc into sound like new listeners’ parents and/or grandparents. To him, hearing an album on vinyl adds fullness to the recording that is apparent in a comparison with digital media.
Still, he recognizes that all three current mediums for music are very complimentary; those media being vinyl, CD and digital download. When I asked Mike what he is currently listening to he laughs and responds that in the shop he is at the mercy of his employees and at home and in the car he is at the mercy of his kids but that he enjoys most of the music that they are all listening to. A few seconds of reflection and he admits that his standout album has been William Tyler’s most recent album. Naturally, in my journalistic pursuits of adequate writing I checked out the album. The bottom line is to always trust the advice of a record shop owner when it comes to music. Especially when it comes to his one message that he would like to share with everyone. “Buy local if you can.”
If you are in the hunt for some new music, a needle for your turntable or a Cosmic Rooster tee, be sure to swing by Boo Boo Records and pay the team a visit. For more information on their shop you can also visit their website and click on the “About” link to watch a short documentary on the shop. Lastly, for an expanded audio version of our interview you can listen to the podcast below.