When CDs blasted onto the scene in the 1980s it seemed to mark the beginning of the end for the vinyl record that the baby boomer generation – among others – grew up with.
Record stores – remember Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor or Dearborn Music or Harmony House or Tower Records – replaced record bins with CDs and then replaced CDs with empty shelves and closed doors. Best Buy became one of the few places to buy CDs but even there the space dedicated to music slowly shrunk into what is now a small corner in the back.
The I-Pod created I-Tunes which created quick and easy music available in a matter of minutes without leaving your house. Records were replaced with CDs which were replaced by downloading music on your computer, phone or other mobile device.
Fast forward to 2016 where there has been a decrease in digital downloads and an increase in streaming sites such as Spotify and Pandora commanding incredible audiences. But there also has been a new – well, old – player on the rise in the music business.
Yes, vinyl is back.
Whether it’s because of nostalgia or the physicality of a record and the album cover or that so-called “warmth” of the vinyl sound – music is supposed to crackle and pop – record sales are climbing the charts. In 2014, record sales grew by more than 50 percent to top one million, the highest since 1996 – and the upward trend rolled on in 2015 and into this year.
Rainbo Records in Los Angeles, the oldest vinyl-pressing plant in the U.S. and third largest in the world, was once down to pressing 5,000 records a day. It is pressing more than 25,000 records daily today.
All of this is sweet music to Carl Pellegrino.
The Dexter resident owns a collection in the neighborhood of 25,000 records, a number that decreases and increases constantly. Pellegrino is either buying, selling or playing his records and what started out as a hobby turned into an obsession and has now become his business and even livelihood.
“When I was in my twenties I used to work in my uncle’s bar and one of my jobs was to change the records in the juke box,” said Pellegrino, who has lived in Dexter Township since 2011. “I would keep the records I was taking out. Then a woman who was working there gave me something like 200 records.”
And is interest in music and records would quickly spin out of control.
“Yeah, I was hooked,” he said.
Pellegrino, now 58, had plenty of Beatles and Stones in the house but he became “obsessed” with Michigan artists and we aren’t talking just Seger or Nugent. He wanted anything and everything Michigan related in his collection and it started with Motown.
“I was collecting rock and roll and Detroit R&B,” he said. “And anything Motown. I have one of the most complete if not the most complete Motown collections in the world. I would say I have about 99 percent of every Motown 45 ever released.”
His Michigan “obsession” goes beyond rock and roll. He has college glee club, high school marching bands, doo wop, blues, soul – anything with a Michigan moniker is on his hit list. His favorite though are the vintage Michigan garage band records that are rare and difficult to find.
“I started selling some records so I could use that money to buy more Michigan stuff,” he said.
And that’s how he met his wife.
“Yeah, I met her at a record show,” he said. “She collected Motown and I collected Michigan artists. I bought some records off of her and that’s how we met.”
In 2002, Pellegrino was laid off from his contractor job with General Motors.
“I really loved that job, too,” he said. “It was great. I liked what I did and I liked the people I did it with. That was hard to leave.”
But he replaced one love with another.
And his music has kept him rocking in financial stability ever since.
“At the time I was selling some stuff to collectors overseas,” he said. “Mostly soul and dance music. I also buy and sell at record shows. I even bought a collection of about 3,000 45s at a garage sale.”
He also created an E-Bay store and even has a couple people working with him. They clean records, pack orders, list records for sale and keep the business moving to the tune of 1,500 records shipped a month.
It’s a big business.
“Yeah, I’m buying all the time,” he said. “I go to a few dealers and record shows and flea markets. Larry Ray, who is a longtime friend and very knowledgeable, does a lot of buying for me. He’s a big part of our success. When I first met him he had an apartment with records stacked all the way to the ceiling.”
In 2004, Pellegrino sold a record for $9,387.
“It was by a band called the Index out of Grosse Pointe,” he said. “They were a garage band in the 1960s.”
In 2005, Pellegrino bought a record for $3,500.
“It was by a band called Young Men and it was on the Maltese label out of Detroit,” he said. The group was popular locally – with a local fav called “A Young Man’s Problem” in 1966 – but never broke nationally.
But they left a lasting impression on Pellegrino.
“I just loved their sound,” he said.
He said buying and selling on E-Bay has its advantages and disadvantages. For the buyer, there are plenty of choices and options. Many dealers bundle packages together which makes it convenient and helps reduce shipping charges. Also, sometimes you can “steal” a record that has no minimum bid and just falls into your lap.
“Condition is everything, whether buying or selling,” Pellegrino says. “The price on a record will vary greatly based on condition as will interest in it. Sellers have to put up new and interesting stuff all the time. It takes dedication and a lot of work to be successful on E-bay.
“Also, shipping has gone way up on vinyl records and that has driven the prices up. But there is more interest and more people selling these days.”
Yes, vinyl is definitely making a comeback and that’s music to Pellegrino’s ears.
Pellegrino’s E-Bay store is called motor city music.