● By Kerri Regan
Tales of Meteor Music
Story by: Kerri Regan
Rockin’ Ron Sullivan is well aware that in today’s world, many folks tote their music collection around on a device that’s no larger than a credit card. But if they haven’t heard their favorite song spinning on a turntable, they haven’t truly experienced that music.
“The bass is bassier, the highs are higher. It’s hard to describe. But every time you compress the sound (to put music on a CD or MP3), you lose something,” he says.
Sullivan – one of the West Coast’s most prolific vinyl collectors – turned his hobby into an entrepreneurial endeavor last year when he and his wife, Patricia, teamed up with son Mark to open Meteor Music in Anderson. The shop’s décor is a testament to its multi-generational appeal – posters of The Three Stooges and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys hang alongside punk denizens Dead Kennedys and The Cramps.
“Mark and I are almost a perfect match, because where I drop off on knowledge, he picks up,” says Sullivan, who was recently interviewed for an upcoming documentary about the growing popularity of small record shops.
His biggest sellers are ‘60s rock albums – Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd. Though he wouldn’t knock another’s musical taste, you won’t find “classical, polka, square dance music, easy listening, elevator music or pop schlock” at Meteor Music. Not big sellers, he says diplomatically. He’s a fan of American roots – blues, rockabilly, zydeco, swing and bebop.
“American music is the most revered treasure in the whole world,” Sullivan says. “My wife and I push America’s music.”
And the next generation is loving it. One recent afternoon, a 20-something couple from Ashland spent $60 on ‘60s rock; within an hour, another young man plunked down five bucks for a stack of Ozzy Osbourne albums. “What’s heartwarming is that young people are going back to vinyl,” Sullivan says.
So what’s the difference between a CD and a record? “In one word? Warmth,” Sullivan says.
Since buying his first album (Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”) at age 13, he has amassed about 15,000 45s, more than 10,000 LPs and a few thousand 78s – and that doesn’t count the records at Meteor Music.
“My music room at home is like a museum of music – wall-to-wall records, posters, disco balls, jukeboxes,” he says. He’s got every LP, every promo, and every picture sleeve that Elvis Presley ever made – he prefers early Elvis to the Las Vegas-style version of The King, but as a collector, it was just short of a job requirement to buy all the memorabilia.
In fact, the best bargain he ever got was when he paid a few pennies for the ultra-rare one-sided 45 of “Old Shep” by Elvis, worth about $1,000, he says. He scored the sweet deal while working as a bread salesman, and the owner of a Yreka radio station told him they were switching to eight-track, so Sullivan bought the record collection.
“Radio stations and jukeboxes – that’s where you get the best records,” he says.
He’s also paid a pretty penny for vinyl that he couldn’t live without – he shelled out a few hundred bucks on a rare 45 by Little Richard.
In his younger years, his car had a 45 player mounted into his dashboard that played 14 albums at a time – they went upside down onto a spindle, and the needle came up to play the music. Then came the four-track, the eight-track, the cassette, the compact disc and the MP3 player.
But records will never lose top billing in Sullivan’s heart, and it’s a dream come true to share his passion with other music fans. Meteor Music buys, sells and appraises vinyl, in addition to selling sheet music, vintage clothing and turntables (he’s sold 14 since the business opened). The shop is named for Meteor Records, a Memphis label that was short-lived, but of the albums they produced, “Every one of ‘em was killer,” Sullivan said.
He’s also a DJ and music promoter who has helped book bands for local venues, including MarketFest, and he won’t book a band unless he can personally vouch for its quality. He and his wife also hosted Rockin’ Ron’s House Party in 2003, a live music festival that he might reprise one day.
And he has an uncanny mental archive of music. When the Sacramento-based band The Hucklebucks stayed at the Sullivans’ home, the musicians took turns with their requests in Rockin’ Ron’s music room. After listening to the faves of the drummer, the bass player and the guitarist, the sax player was ready for his turn. Problem was, he didn’t know the title. Or the artist. Or the label. He just knew it was recorded in New Orleans – and he hummed a few bars.
Soon, to the sax player’s amazement, “Jam Up Twist” by Tommy Ridgley was spinning on the turntable.
Sullivan has favorite albums in every genre, but when pressed to choose his “favorite favorite,” he goes with Train Time by Louis and Frosty. “It’s bluesy, rockabilly-ish – it just rocks,” he says.
And he’s stoked that young people are embracing rockabilly and blues music.
“They’re keeping it alive for us,” Sullivan says. “It’s the best music ever.” •
Meteor Music 2927 East Center St., Anderson (530) 378-2050