In a packed warehouse in Greenwood, an audiophile’s dream comes alive.
Hundreds of thousands of records fill floor-to-ceiling shelves along the walls. Boxes with labels such as “Stones,” “Spike” and “Elvis” are stowed on shelves, arranged in aisles and stacked in any available space.
All of it is the collection of Gerald and Nan Ruark.
This vast musical repository stretches from the early decades of the 20th century to modern times. The best items will find their way to the collectors’ conventions that the Ruarks put together every few weeks.
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Throughout the Midwest, music lovers gather, drawn by their love of old records, rare memorabilia and stories from rock ’n’ roll’s heyday.
The Ruarks have been organizing these meet-ups for more than 30 years. They’ve seen the ebb and flow of musical trends, from the strong interest in vinyl to its downfall and now a re-emerging interest in 78s, 45s and other records.
“I thought by now we’d have everything sold and we’d be sitting at home,” Gerald Ruark said. “That hasn’t been the case.”
Gerald Ruark started collecting vinyl and other musical memorabilia when he was still in high school. The Ruarks opened their own used-record store in Southport, Alpha Records & Music, in 1983.
Right around the same time, they started putting together collectors conventions. The weekend get-togethers connected memorabilia dealers with fans in major local cities.
They started their first convention in Indianapolis. Since then, they’ve expanded to events in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Nashville, Tennessee.
This upcoming show on Sunday will be the Ruarks’ 261st one.
A major focus for them are the titans of rock history — the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis. Part of their collection includes a 2-foot tall cutout of John, Paul, George and Ringo from the ’60s.
They’ve unearthed versions of George Harrison’s greatest hits, Ringo Starr’s third record and a boxed set of Elvis Presley’s “The Legend Lives On” release.
“It’s a miracle you can sell any of (Elvis’) stuff anymore. But we actually have a 14-year-old kid who collects that stuff from us now,” Gerald Ruark said.
Maybe the most common artist in the prolific collection is Spike Jones, who Gerald Ruark points out as his favorite artist. The bandleader and satirical musician worked up ballads and classical works with sound effects such as whistles, gunshots, cowbells and other unique accents.
When Jones’ daughter started a fan club for all if his followers, Gerald Ruark won an award for helping recruit the most new members.
Records, cassette tapes, books and trinkets are stowed away in multiple boxes.
“Gerald probably has everything (Jones) has ever produced,” Nan Ruark said.
Some of their rarer items were the Vogue picture disks. The vinyl records were embedded with an artist’s illustration, such as one of a young woman on a picnic gracing an album for the song “Doodle Doo Doo” by Art Kassel and his Orchestra.
Only 74 different kinds were ever released, all coming in less than a year in the late 1940s.
Collectors could pick up a record of four Lone Ranger programs, all released in 1978. Picture disks commemorated sports moments such as Nolan Ryan’s fourth no-hitter, Tom Seaver’s potential perfect game broken up by the Cubs, and Frank Robinson’s first home run as a Cleveland Indian.
A vinyl record embossed with a picture of Dolly Parton had been turned into a clock, going for $40.
Part of the challenge is thinking about what people want to buy, Nan Ruark said.
Since David Bowie’s death Jan. 10, the thinking was that people would be more interested in his memorabilia. The Ruarks brought out a single of the song “Blue Jean,” made out of blue vinyl, that they thought would do well.
That hasn’t been the case, though.
“We had two or three out at Indy the last time and didn’t sell any of them,” Gerald Ruark said. “Every dealer had stuff out from him, but no one bought anything.”
Where the conventions formerly had been packed with music fans flipping through boxes of records, attendance is down now. When the Ruarks first organized a convention in Dayton, hundreds of people lined up to enter the arena where it was conducted. Now, they’re lucky to get 200 people.
People can search for the rarest of albums or special releases online without ever leaving their homes.
“They used to be extremely profitable. Now, because of the Internet and other opportunities to get music, if we break even, we’re happy,” Nan Ruark said.
But the Ruarks have been watching reports of a resurgence in vinyl records recently. Sales grew 52 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Recording Industry Association of America. After sales nearly flatlined in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has grown every year since 2007.
Digital music and CDs can’t compete with the artwork and information that you get on a vinyl record, Nan Ruark said. The large square covers are works of art themselves, which makes them desired by both audio and visual fans.
“People are buying turntables again. They say it’s coming back,” Nan Ruark said.
Music Collectors’ Conventions
Who: Organized by Gerald and Nan Ruark, owners of Alpha Records & Music.
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: LaQuinta Inn & Suites, 5120 Victory Dr., Indianapolis
Admission: $4 or $3 if you mention them on Facebook
Online presence: Alpha Records & Music can be found online at discogs.com for online rarities, under the seller name ruarkalpha.
- March 20: Ramada Plaza, 9700 Bluegrass Parkway, Louisville, Kentucky
- April 10: Radison Hotel Airport, 1112 Airport Center Dr., Nashville, Tennessee
- April 24: Crowne Plaza Hotel, 5901 Pfeiffer Road, Cincinnati, Ohio
- May 22: LaQuinta Inn & Suites, Indianapolis
- June 26: Ramada Plaza, Louisville