‘In stepped a stately Raven’: The revitalization of vintage
By Wes Wade (email@example.com)
Walking into Raven Records & Rarities, you’ll notice a glass cabinet to the left. Lots of replicas clustered together in one corner there, like Dr. Frankenstein’s latest project, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon ... wait, is it talking to me?
No. Of course not. That’s just Jay Nations or Jack Stiles, the friendly co-owners of the 1,500 square foot shop tucked away just off Kingston Pike. It’s a bastion of all things vinyl, collectible, cool and, shall we say, of representatives of the stranger world of pop culture memorabilia.
What’s inside is just a small sample of the decades-long collecting habits of Nations and Stiles, of years spent scouring road shows and estate sales in search of the perfect items to compliment their respective passions. For Nations, it’s vinyl; monsters, shock theater icons and comics for Stiles.
“If you collect it, it ought to be here,” Stiles said. “Except antique furniture and glassware. This is pop culture collectibles. If you collect it, a version of it is here someplace. Pick up your records ... oh, pick up your comic ...”
“I have old rock magazines too,” Nations added slyly.
Raven Records hasn’t been a Knoxville name since late 1994 when Nations closed his original store. Nations then started selling records through consignment with other shops, like Nostalgia, South Knox Collectibles, the Book Eddy and Southland Books. But after a 16-year hiatus, Raven Records is back with a vengeance -- throwing an ampersand and Stiles’ eclectic “rarities” into the mix for a co-op unlike anything else in Knoxville, East Tennessee or really the whole state, for that matter.
“I was just burned out and decided to quit,” Nations said of his decision to close the first Raven. “(I) swore I’d never have another shop again. And if you’d asked me this the same time last year, I would have said, ‘No way.’ But it all sort of made sense all of a sudden. And having Jack as a partner has helped as well.”
There’s no doubt that a resurgence in the popularity of vinyl -- that most beloved cardboard jacketed treasure of audiophiles everywhere -- hasn’t hurt anything either.
“It’s the only format that has any growth right now,” Nations said. “And the major labels are screwing it up again. They could sell a good pressing for 10 bucks. But no, they have to add a few more grams of vinyl and charge twice as much. I’m going to be all used for as long as I can. I’ll get into new stuff someday, but not right now.”
Whatever kind of tunes get you going, Raven is sure to have it. Clearly marked sections house artists from the rock, soul, folk/acoustic, gospel, jazz, blues, world, R&B and rap genres, in addition to any type of sound that might fall somewhere in between. In the back are rows and rows and boxes and boxes of value priced LPs for just a buck or two. Raven also carries bootlegged copies of hard to find records or recordings that never enjoyed a major label release. If you can’t find it elsewhere, ask Jay Nations.
For your dose of vintage pop culture stimulation, Stiles is your man. Superman, Batman, Monster Madness and Dark Shadows board games? Check. Retro movie posters from “Mad Max,” “The Road Warrior” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia?” Uh Huh. Classic-themed lunchboxes painted up with the life and times of Grizzly Adams, the Cabbage Patch Kids, Dark Crystal and H.R. Pufnstuf? Definitely.
And the walls are lined with decades of EPs and LPs and the figureheads of the finest rock ‘n’ roll expertise.
“I want you to walk in and be overwhelmed by all the cool vinyl,” Nations said.
“All the coolness on the wall ...,” Stiles added.
If it’s vintage, if it’s odd ball, if it’s something you had no idea even existed -- or possibly could even exist -- they’re your guys.
Wes Wade is the arts and entertainment columnist for Weekend. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)