Robert Benson goes on record about his venture in vinyl
By Ann Grote-Pirrung
Don't tell Robert Benson that vinyl record albums are passe.
He has more than 3,200 reasons to believe differently.
Benson, of Oostburg, is an avid collector of vinyl records, a passion that started in the late 1960s.
He vividly recalls one of the first 45s he fell in love with: "My brother bought 'Fever' by The McCoys," Benson said. "And I kept listening to it over and over again, and the first beginning of that song is the drum. And I kept listening until he yelled at me. I don't have that one, but I still have some of my brother's other old 45s."
Benson caught "the fever" in more ways than one, embarking on an almost 40-year search for vinyl albums, both 45s and the longer-playing 33-1/3s.
"I stay away from the 78s because they're very breakable and a lot of them aren't worth very much," he said.
He still fondly recalls some of his first acquisitions. "The first album I bought was probably a Gordon Lightfoot or a Jethro Tull. And the first 45 I got was Neil Young's 'Heart of Gold.' And I'm still a Neil Young fan now," he said, showing off a recently released Young album which Benson plans on preserving.
"This will never be played."
Through the years the record industry turned more and more to 8-track and cassette tapes and then CDs, but music-lover Benson, who appreciates all different types of music except for opera, kept his sight on vinyl albums, which appealed to him for a variety of reasons.
"Part of the allure of vinyl is the hunt," he said, "finding them. To me that's the fun part."
The hunt takes him to flea markets and rummage sales.
"I just found a gold mine here in Oostburg about six weeks ago, right down the street," he said, displaying some of his newest finds that included a number of girls' groups from the '60s.
Benson plays his albums on both a traditional turntable as well as a newly-acquired machine that records albums onto CDs.
"It preserves the album and it makes the record portable so I can listen to it in the car, the beach or anywhere I want to take it," he said. The machine is manufactured by a company called First Street and costs about $400.
"I think it's a good buy. I love it," he said.
Turntables, needles and accessories for the traditional "record player" are very easily found, according to Benson.
"The Internet has opened up a lot of doors … and has brought down the prices of albums," he said.
Cost of the albums can range from $1 apiece or less to big bucks. A record price guide gives a variety of values for albums, depending on condition. One of Benson's most recent acquisitions was The Angels, "My Boyfriend's Back," a record that could conceivably bring in $60 but for which he paid $1.
"Just because this book says it's worth $60 doesn't mean it's worth $60," he said.
Scratches bring the value down, but more important to determining the value of the record is how the album sounds.
"I'm very picky with my grading," Benson said. "I'll listen to the full album all the way through and then I'll 'play grade' it. I look at the visual grade and then I play it and then I rate it."
The book value of $60 for The Angels' album would go down to about $40 in his "book."
But Benson doesn't sell his albums. Collecting is strictly a thrill for him, which is obvious as he goes through some of the acquisitions he made at that Oostburg rummage sale, including albums by Jan and Dean, the Electric Prunes, Mae West, Shirley Temple and more.
"That was just like a jackpot to me," he said.
As many treasures as Benson has found, he has a wish list of recordings he would like to find.
"The 'Butcher Album' by the Beatles. I talked to a guy who actually has one and it went for $10,000 to $20,000," he said.
And even though there are no record stores around here, companies are still making vinyl albums.
What's the attraction?
"Nostalgia, love of vinyl, the hunt, album-cover history…it's an adrenalin rush. When I found all those albums, (from the Oostburg rummage sale) I was up until 3:30 in the morning going through every single one of them," Benson said. "To me, that's exciting."
Benson has shared his fascination with collecting in "The Fascinating Hobby of Vinyl Record Collecting," an e-book that he recently completed, a process that took him a couple of months.
"It talks about album collecting, why people collect. I go a little bit into the hobby," he said.
The e-book is available through Click Bank. "Click Bank is an online marketplace that sells downloadable products," Benson said. The book is available for $5.99.
Benson isn't the only person to find vinyl albums attractive. Young people have discovered the product.
"Kids are drawn to the allure of vinyl because it's a more sincere sound production. They enjoy the thrill of finding them," he said.
And the drawings on the cover are also attractive.
"My favorite album cover is The Beatle's 'Revolver' album," he said.
Benson can't put a price tag on his album collection, as the prices fluctuate. But he'd be the first person to say that the enjoyment he gets from listening to the Beatles, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Elvis, Dylan, Kiss and many of the artists of yesteryear are "priceless. They define music."
For more information on vinyl record collecting, check out Benson's e-book at www.collectingvinylrecords.com.