Bill Daly of Crooked
Beat Records: The TVD

Music is a connector for millions of people and a barrier breaker for language. It is a simple sound changed by an interesting beat that welcomes all to get on their feet. While music is produced in almost every format today, the most desirable is that on vinyl.

A vinyl record is still the only mode of listening that keeps music the center of attention. It’s an investment of time and a dedication to one album promising that we will stick around to turn it over, store it in its proper upright position and cherish it as one of the few treasures we physically own. Vinyl keeps the music and the experience in tandem, starting with the process of shopping for a record.

The record shop is also an investment of time we forget we need, leaving with a stack of records and the excited feeling of wanting to run home and give it a spin. It’s the one experience you can’t rush, you can’t duplicate, and can’t cheat. Bill Daly of Crooked Beat Records in Adams Morgan is a champion for the truth in music and the genuine appreciation of the record.

Crooked Beat started off in Raleigh, North Carolina and recently celebrated its 15-year anniversary, with plans to stay in business for another twenty at least. It’s located under a stairwell welcoming customers with its bright red door, out-of-print posters adorning the walls, and a carefully tended best seller rack that lures in new prospects.

Record Store Day is Saturday, April 20 this year, a busy day for Crooked Beat. Lines begin hours before the special early entry hour of 9am with dedicated patrons standing in lines wrapping around the building. Passers-by stop and ask what’s the fuss and, surprised to hear the answer, laugh and reminisce about when they had records. While Record Store Day is a one-day celebration benefiting all independent record stores, it should be noted that every day is a day to dig in. Labels distribute exclusive records for one day, but Crooked Beat will give you a rare or hard-to-find album 365 days of the year.

What was to be a 30-minute interview turned into two hours of Bill’s wealth of music history and the small moments that changed his life, leaving goose bumps along the way. We talked about Bill’s childhood record shopping days, his Joe Strummer stories, his desire to bring more local musicians the attention they deserve, and his new record label. Join Bill this Record Store Day and make every day a record-buying day at Crooked Beat. Do dig in.

What was your first experience with vinyl?

We’d move every three years because my dad worked for the government, but we’d always come back to DC. When we were in Atlanta, I bought my first record. I was eight years old, and I still have it—The Raiders, Indian Reservation. The first 45 I bought was when I was seven, Joy to the World. I don’t have that one anymore—it broke when I was eight. In 6th grade, I went through the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Led Zeppelin phase. In 10th grade (1979), I discovered The Clash. That band changed my life. Everything I wanted to get out of music I got from the Clash. It was stripped down, it had the energy from the late ’50s rock and roll, and it wasn’t overproduced at the time. It spoke to me. I still have Clash 8 track tapes. It’s funny, they were phasing out 8 tracks, but I still have a lot of them. We always bought vinyl, but when you rode in your car you’d have to have 8 track tapes, so we’d get the tape and vinyl.

Growing up in DC, can you talk about how music influenced you?

I grew up in Silver Spring, about three miles from the DC line. When we were kids, me and Paul—who works at Crooked Beat sometimes—used to get up in the morning at 8:30 and go to record stores all over DC and come back home around 6pm. We’d do that at least six times a year. We’d go to Joe’s Record Paradise, Yesterday and Today, Penguin Feather, Kemp Mill, and a lot of other record stores that are closed down now.

We still keep in touch with Skip from Yesterday and Today, which was a legendary record store. That’s where all the Fugazi members worked. I used to go there and Ian MacKaye was a clerk and friend of mine. He still comes in and visits me quite often. It was a great store; there weren’t many stores that sold punk rock back in the ’80s, but they had all sorts of hard-to-find records and imports there. If we wanted something from a major label, we’d go to Penguin, Kemp Mill, or Olsson’s, which was also really big back then, too. Since we have been back here, I’ve seen a lot of stores close, but back then if you took the time to drive around DC, you’d find a record store for all sorts of different genres. You could find a lot of rare and unusual stuff in DC.

Back then, the 9:30 Club was on F Street and there weren’t a lot of venues, but DC was a major stopover, so you got to see a lot of bands that didn’t play often but always stopped in DC. For larger shows, the 9:30 Club would use the Ontario Theatre on Columbia Road. I remember seeing Bow Wow Wow there in 1982. Joe Strummer, Public Image Ltd, and the Ramones played there too.

You named your store after The Clash song, “Crooked Beat.”

Yes, I had two titles in mind—this was back in 1997. “Crooked Beat” isn’t the biggest Clash hit; Paul Simonon sings and Mikey Dread appears on the track. I’ve always thought it’d be a cool name for a store. The focus of the music I wanted to sell at Crooked Beat was “left of the dial” music so The Replacements song “Left of the Dial” was the runner-up. Most of the stations that were left of the dial were college radio stations or stations that were more freeform. My wife was the one who told me not to name it Left of The Dial because she said everyone would call the store asking about soap! (laughs)

Crooked Beat fits your store perfectly. It’s off to the side, not mass-produced, and run by its own beat.

A lot of people don’t know where it comes from and then sometimes will figure it out years later. Now I have the signed Joe Strummer setlist in the store…

Can you talk about the Joe Strummer setlist? How did you get it?

I saw Joe Strummer in 1999 at the 9:30 Club. After every show, Joe Strummer would come out and talk to people. I wanted to talk to him, but there were always hundreds of people waiting to see him so I never bothered. I did meet Mick Jones at the Bayou once, and we got invited backstage to hang out for an hour, but Strummer was always my favorite.

My friend walked up to Strummer at a show in Seattle and told him that his friend had a record store in North Carolina called Crooked Beat Records. Strummer stopped what he was doing and said, “A store?” Strummer then pulled my friend aside and talked to him for 10 minutes. He said Strummer kept muttering to himself, “Man, we got a store named after our song.” Then Strummer took the setlist and signed it for him for me. Strummer told him that he the next time he was in North Carolina, he was going to find my store, but he never made it. The set list still has the cigarette burns and duct tape that he put on it. It was pretty cool. Now I have a 4″ x 6″ picture of Strummer and the setlist framed in the store.

Another crazy story is how I got the Joy Division poster I have in my shop. A distributor in London called and said they had found a bunch of old posters and asked if I wanted them since I sold old music. They asked if I liked Joy Division, and I said “Yeah, do you have any Clash?” The poster was a promo poster for their first EP.

A year later, I was talking to the same distributor, and they asked me if I still had the posters. I said, “Yeah, I still have the Joy Division posters left.” The lady on the phone yelled, “Crooked Beat still has those posters!” and a guy in the back said, “Tell him to send them back!” She got back on the phone and asked if I wanted to send them back. Apparently they went to some show in France, and they were selling those posters for $500! This was in 1998. Another guy saw them going for $2000. I was selling them at my store in Raleigh for $15, but then I sold the rest during the early days of eBay. I kept the last one.

Posters are snapshots in time; they aren’t mass-produced or ever reproduced— it’s usually just for the one album being promoted. The same stuff happens today; Neutral Milk Hotel posters used to sit there for a while until people realized what they were. When they do reproduce posters, it’s never the same.

When I read or hear what you have to say about Crooked Beat, whether it be about new stock or your anniversaries, it is always really heartfelt and genuine. You take great pride and love in your store. It’s admirable and lovely to see how much of your heart is in it. Can you talk about what inspired you to open Crooked Beat Records?

Before I had Crooked Beat, I worked for School Kid Records for years. I played in bands for a long time and had recently graduated from NC State when the manager of School Kids called me at midnight one night and said, “I remember a long time ago you told me that if I had any extra hours to work at School Kids, that you’d be interested.”

Wow, I had only talked to him for five minutes once in my life. He dated a housemate of mine a while before that. I remember the one time he came over to our house, he stood there in awe looking at my Stiff Little Fingers albums, posters, and records all over the apartment. I remember thinking that this guy was going to look at these records and not know a single one of the bands. Then he stopped, and he told me how cool my record collection was. Two years later, the owner of School Kids at that time told him to go find someone who knew a lot about music and records, so that’s why he called me.

I worked for School Kids for seven years, and I learned a lot about the record industry. I was interested in how the wheels moved. I didn’t understand as a kid why certain bands played on the radio and why others didn’t. Buying all the punk stuff and reggae artists, I wondered why Rush never played on the radio. My brother told me back then, “the radio isn’t quite ready for them yet.” They were selling a lot of records, but were never on the radio. It was the same with punk and new wave. When I was in junior high, I’d ask the radio stations why they wouldn’t play certain bands. Sometimes they’d play the songs for me because they said I sounded like I really wanted to hear it. Back then, the radio stations had more interaction with the public, and throwing in random songs was okay.

I remember when I lived in DC, the original WHFS station—based in Bethesda at the time—was one of the first stations to play Jimi Hendrix and The Sex Pistols. They had a weird format—they’d play Little Feat and the Allman Brothers but then another DJ would come in and play The Clash and Sex Pistols. We’d sit there and listen to 102.3—the home of progressive music. That’s also the first time I heard the Dischord bands.

It was really inspiring to see the Fugazi guys in Yesterday and Today. I’d go there whenever I had a ride, asking people to take me there and listen to them talk to customers. As successful as Fugazi and Dischord Records are, Ian is still the same person he’s always been. He tells me, “Crooked Beat is the type of place I can come in and pull out a record and be able to talk intelligently about it.” The thing about a place like this is that it’s fun to come to work. You don’t know everything right away, but you learn about music just by working here as long as you have passion for it.

I remember when Thurston Moore came in the store last year and bought a ton of records, and it was the one day I wasn’t at the store. Henry Rollins comes in the store when he’s in town and he even wrote about us once, too. A lot of the local musicians come in. We actually try to cater to our local DC musicians.

We are re-vamping our website, so I want to have a section just for local bands with a section for each artist. I want this to be a community record store. It’s the greatest thing when I talk to a band that is pretty popular, and their records weren’t in the stores, and my band, The Insurgence were. I told them that whenever I went to record stores, I’d consign my records there and simply ask record stores to sell them, whereas bigger bands who put so much into promoting aren’t even in record stores.

What do you enjoy most about owning your own record store?

Every day I come to work, there’s always something new I discover, someone playing drums on an album, or a producer I didn’t realize worked with a certain group. There are so many different vibes you get from different music. In the store, I also rediscover bands I had forgotten. Music is so mood driven, sometimes it goes past you, and then sometimes it just clicks.

I remember being told that I could never succeed in running an independent record store. Now I look at our top sellers and feel so proud that we did it. When we first opened, I remember people telling me that they would drive two hours to buy a Belle and Sebastian record. Another guy was a DJ who discovered the ’70s band, Gang of Four, at Crooked Beat. He started playing it on his radio show, and people went nuts; they thought it was a new band. The album was an import because it had been out of print for years, so after he played it, I sold 51 copies in one month. A lot of bands get exposure from our playing them in our store. The Evens is our number one best seller, and Neutral Milk Hotel jumped up to number two recently. That album has never stopped selling since the ’90s; it is the most consistent selling album.

Soon we will have more bands play in-stores. I want to focus on DC bands to help expose their music. We’ve had some big names play in-stores before, and a lot of people come out. Ian Svenonius did a book reading here once, Kimya Dawson came when Juno came out, and we had 250 people trying to get in. Our promotion for our in-stores reach over 4,000 people, so it’s always good for the band.

Another exciting thing I will be doing is purchasing a VPI Record cleaning machine. It can clean 200 records at a time. That will help the store, and it will also be available for a charge to customers who come and bring in their records for cleaning. We’ll try it out with some of our regular customers and go from there.

Do you think Record Store Day helps the independent record store?

Record Store Day does help, and with all of the articles about how much vinyl grew last year, record labels are lining up to contribute. This Record Store Day should be massive. The problem is that they always distribute less than people want. They want to savor the collector mentality, but for someone at the caliber of Nirvana or Tom Waits, 3000/4000 copies is too little for the demand. It should be safe to say that if someone gets in line at 4am, they will be guaranteed a copy, instead of the store only getting 1 or 2 copies. RSD does help the stores, but they never provide enough.

The first Record Store Day was in 2008, and we’ve had two of them here and three back in the old Adams Morgan location. The other place was a little more narrow—now we have a lot more space behind the counter. I am brainstorming all the time on how to add more space; I have a lot of vinyl I can’t put out because I don’t have the space right now, but we are working on it. Record Store Day is great, but a lot of people only come on Record Store Day or Black Friday, when they should be coming in every day.

Can you talk your band The Insurgence ?

Bob Mould had a band called Sugar, and David Barbe of Sugar produced our albums. When I opened Crooked Beat, I thought I’d have more time for the band, but it’s taken up a lot of time. We did finish our album, so we will be getting something out soon. We don’t have a lot of time to tour, but we want to make sure we document what we have done. We have two CD releases and have been on several CD compilations. From 1987 to 2000, we played over 400 shows. It was really fun.

Do you feel that having your record store helps you handle band business?

I’ve learned about the touring and playing side of the music business, but also realized the importance of the record store. When I was in college, I majored in Communications with an emphasis on the record industry. I’d write papers on things like payola and why a band would sign with a major label versus an independent label. Independent labels today can distribute just as much as a major label. When bigger bands, like Tom Waits, jump over to an independent label, it makes the independent label stronger.

Also, if a band is only doing ten days a year and a bunch of local shows, it’s hard for the label to recoup what they put in, and in turn, makes it hard for the other bands on the label.

Speaking of independent record labels, can you talk about your new record label, Crooked Beat Records?

Yes, we are still in the early stages of the label, which will be called Crooked Beat Records. I have plans to put out a compilation with some local bands, so we will see what happens with that. What I would like to do is put out some of our Insurgence records.

Down the road, I will be accepting bands on the label. For new bands, it will mostly about exposure through compilations at first. Already owning a record store is helpful starting a label. You have distributors at your whim so it’s easier to create the leverage you need as a label. It becomes a three-way street between the store, label, and distributor—that is a powerful relationship. You hear stories from bands about how they don’t get paid by distributors or labels, so having that relationship already as a label and record store is helpful.

When you run a label, you need to treat people as human beings, and you have to be honest and have the desire to promote their music for them. I can take a band and launch them to the next level. My label will be a launching pad, while building up the things we do. It’s funny because a lot of people already think Crooked Beat is a label—I get calls where people sing on the phone to me.

I want to focus on local bands that I believe in right now and want to get more exposure, so I have some ideas already of with whom I want to work. But for now, I will be concentrating on finding albums and artists that I could reissue or even release for the first time. I have knowledge, from owning a record store, of what, and how much, will sell. Years ago, when they were re-issuing vinyl, labels would ask me who I would re-issue, and they would take notes. My wife told me I should charge a consulting fee. (laughs)

There’s a lot of music out there that an independent label can take on and give the care and attention that it needs. To run a label you have to know a lot about the ins and outs; your hand has to be on the pulse all the time. It’s a lot of work. One of the great re-issue labels, Soul Jazz, out of London, has been able to obtain rights to reissue a lot of obscure jazz and reggae and just recently got North American distribution.

What DC bands are you impressed with?

Möbius Strip, Chain and the Gang—there’s a lot of people who are still finding out about them. I am really impressed with the guy from Cricket Cemetery. He brings me a bunch of releases. A lot of people don’t walk into record stores any more asking you to sell their records. I love it when bands and labels do that. It shows initiative, and I will play it in the store if someone brings in their record. The Points was a big seller for us four years ago, and then they broke up, but Travis from the band brings me releases from his label Windian, and I enjoy getting them.

Getting air play in a record store can really help. I tell bands that they should learn how the music industry works, put something out on their own to see how it operates. A lot of young bands are under the perception that they will be big stars when signed with a label. As big as Merge or Sub-Pop is right now, for every band that sells well, there are six bands that aren’t doing as well that someone at the label hopes will succeed.

I want to help local bands get exposure. There are some local bands that bring us their records, we play it, and we end up selling them because people like it. Whenever someone brings something in, we do play it. If it’s a local band we give them a little more attention.

John from the band Georgie James and Q and Not U had a record that we played a lot and did really well. Now he’s in a new band with Chris Richards called Paint Branch, which is funny because Paint Branch High School was the arch rival high school where we grew up. I remember as a kid we’d play basketball tournaments at Paint Branch High School, and it was always a big deal to play there. Paint Branch was named after a stream that ran between Montgomery County. DC is so transient, but the people who are from here are familiar with all the references from around DC, which is always fun to talk to people about and sometimes comical, especially when it leaks into music references.

The Vinyl District is doing great things. I remember when Jon first wanted to start the site and came to me years ago and asked me if he could advertise Crooked Beat on the site. I wasn’t sure about it because I thought it would be expensive, but Jon told me, “No, it’s just for exposure for your store, it’d be free.” I said that would be great and have always admired Jon for that. I love reading all of the different posts on TVD because sometimes I start reading other cities’ and learn something new about what is going on in each city. It’s interesting, and I like that. Great job.

Thank you, Bill Daly! Don’t forget to stop by Crooked Beat tomorrow for Record Store Day and every day! Check out Crooked Beat’s Facebook page for updates on RSD titles.

Get out there, you vinyl freaks!

Photos: Richie Downs

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