(Pictured left to right: “Darrell Edwards, Buddy, Ron, Dante & DJ Shadow” at Music Exchange in Kansas City, MO)
I hate doing posts like this. Many vinyl record diggers and music enthusiasts in the Kansas City area are mourning through the news that former record store clerk, Darrell Edwards (pictured, far left), from the famed Vinyl Exchange and the still-running, Zebedee’s on 39th Street, has recently passed away. Darrell probably wound up spending over half of his life selling records to various vinyl heads, including DJ Shadow (see picture above). Below is the full interview I conducted with Darrell back in the fall of 2008 at a Dairy Queen in Raytown, just before he left for church one night. It’s a long read, but anyone who knew Darrell to be a bright face in their lives (and at their favorite local record stores) are encouraged to keep reading…
The Dusty Groove Dealer: An Interview With Darrell Edwards
(Fall 2008 Issue)
“Darrell Edwards, a record store clerk at Zebedee’s on 39h Street, and former employee at the old Music Exchange, has just turned 50. Roughly half of those 50 years have been spent dealing vinyl to as many different characters as you could imagine.”
Chris Mills: You’ve made it clear about your dissatisfaction with local radio. Could you tell the readers what’s got you riled up about this subject?
Darrell Edwards: I think the problem with radio, overall, is that it’s become corporate. There’s no more personalities in radio, at all. And with the advent of program directors and such, the DJs don’t have freedom to play what they feel should be part of their program and aren’t able to show their personality through the music they present. It’s not the same as it used to be, where DJs would actually get records and break them or go out and find records and present them to their audience. Now it’s all driven by dollars and things of that nature. We’ve kind of lost the art of the true radio personality.
Chris Mills: Do you think the possibility of a college radio station within earshot of Kansas City would generate public interest in local or alternative music?
Darrell Edwards: I think if anyone did something different it would have a great impact. I recently turned 50 and I would say people in the 50 to 60 range feel like they don’t have a voice where they could hear something that’s appealing to adults. Most mainstream music appears to all be the same no matter what the label is that they place on it. (They’re trying) to make something that’s too mass appeal. It doesn’t have any variable to it. Not that I like labels per-se, but there was a time when you could tell the difference between a Johnny Cash song and a Lionel Richie song. Whereas now, too much of it sounds the same. You could put it on any station and it would be accepted for the most part. So I think that anyone that could come in and do something cutting edge…I mean, cutting edge by today’s standards. Because there was a time in the 60’s where you could hear a James Brown and Hank Williams on the same radio station. And that’s not the case anymore. So I think a (college radio station) would help greatly.
Chris Mills: When did it become cool for kids to dig for records? Is it still cool?
Darrell Edwards: Well I guess growing up in the time that I did there was no such thing as used records. So you’d still dig but it was all new stock. The used thing didn’t come along until the late 70’s and didn’t blow up in this part of the country until the late 80’s or early 90’s. The advent of digging came along because so many of the (record stores) would be so poorly organized, so that the only choice you had was to dig. And usually by doing that you could stumble across things that were just mind-blowing. Whether you knew that or not wasn’t the case. It was just like, “This label looks cool,” or “This producer’s on there,” or “This person wrote the song.” So I don’t think it started out as a cool or un-cool thing. It was just a necessity to attain whatever it was that you were searching for. I think that’s definitely still in play because we’ll get people at (Zebedee’s) who will come in and dig for four or five hours. They might buy something, they might not.
Chris Mills: Do you think crate diggers are rather obsessive individuals?
Darrell Edwards: Probably. I’ve met so many different kinds of people in this business and I’ve worked in news stores, I’ve worked in combination stores, I’ve worked in just used. Record people are obsessive, period, I think. I’ve met so many different kinds of personalities and you can see the urgency of whatever it is ticking in their brain at any given moment. I think it’s just the personality of a record person. Now CD people are a different type of people. But vinyl people have their own thing and their own little ways of ticking. It can be very interesting. Even the repeat customers will do things that teach you how to deal with them.
Chris Mills: Who are some of your most loyal customers at Zebedee’s? Are there people who come to Zebedee’s regularly who’ve migrated there after Music Exchange closed down?
Darrell Edwards: Of course all my DJ friends. Be it hip hop, pop DJs, house DJs. They really don’t have anywhere else to go. There are a couple of other stores now, but they (Zebedee’s) were the first ones to reopen after Music Exchange and Recycled Sounds shut down. I don’t remember everyone’s names, but I remember faces. I’ve been doing this since 1985 as a sales person. You encounter a lot of the same people. I started selling new cassettes and new CDs and new vinyl. In 1990, I went to used, and I worked for Alley Cat. At all the places I’ve worked at, there’s a circle of people that I’ve seen in 1985 and some I still see today.
Chris Mills: A friend of mine is writing a book about the early disco enthusiasts and DJs and how they used disco as a way to break out of their strict, Midwestern, religious upbringings…
Darrell Edwards: Well…again, I was born in ‘58 so I got into music in the mid-sixties, bought my first 45 in 1965. By the time I got into junior high and high school, I used to always take my records to the parties. I guess around 1975, I heard my first 12-inch, and that got me interested in doing my own extended versions of songs. I started on a tape recorder, but I could make it work by using the start and stop buttons and listening for things. The advent of disco took hold shortly after that and that was before disco was pop.
When the “disco sucks” thing took hold, it wasn’t even disco anymore – it was pop by then. People equated (artists who weren’t disco) with disco and that’s where the whole hatred thing came in. It was around before it became popular. It was an extension of dance r&b, which is what the disco purists really search for and latch onto. More people were doing it, more labels were starting up.
I don’t think I approached it from a rebellious stand-point. I just liked the aspect that it was dance music and in this part of the country it’s not a widely accepted form of music because of the speed of it. People here like to slow dance and be intimate and they’re not really trying to get up and hop around and be wild or carefree. It (disco) was a hard thing to get people to accept. But if you could find the right stuff and get it around the right group of people then you could make a lot of things happen. And of course, with house being the child of disco, it was easier for the kids in the late 80’s and 90’s to latch onto because of loops and samples. That took a little less effort than disco because disco was orchestras and bands and real drummers. It was crazy, but it was real music compared to anything we get anymore.
Chris Mills: Why do you think uptempo music and dance music in general is not well-accepted in Kansas City?
Darrell Edwards: (In Kansas City) people like slow music. I mean, for a while it seemed like most hip hop was in the 70 to 90 BPM range. They didn’t want upbeat, dancey hip hop anymore, like when it was back in the 80’s when Sugarhill and Grandmaster and all them were around back then.
Chris Mills: Do you think there’s a new push for more hip hop to go more uptempo right now?
Darrell Edwards: I hope so. I‘ve been around some younger people at functions, I have God-children that just graduated high school. And they kinda just stand around while listening to music. But kids just don’t seem to dance anymore with the exception of that Superman thing that everybody was going crazy over. I grew up in a time where kids used to lose their minds on dance floors and the party was on when the party was on. You could play a slow song here or there, but that wasn’t the purpose of the party. Hopefully they’ll bring back something a little more uptempo. There was a time when most hip hop artists had a house track on their album, or at least something at 120 beats per minute.
Chris Mills: Tell us about what you do when you spin out at a club.
Darrell Edwards: I (take into account) the age (of the people at the party), and what kind of mood I’m in. I might be on a political thing and so I might play stuff that’s conscious or I might be in “I’m in love” mood. I just try to access who I’m playing music for and put my own mood into that group of people. If ten people walked in with the exact same records, none of us would play those records the same way. We all approach it from what’s going on in our head. There was a period of time where DJs would black out the labels on their records so other DJs couldn’t see what they were. I (didn’t understand it). I’ll write down every song I’m playing for you! That kind of makes me feel honored, when someone wants to play something that I would play. It’s like telling your friend, “Hey, you need to check this out.” It’s being selfish. It’s weird.
Chris Mills: I could kind of sympathize with DJs who are trying to make a living by just playing clubs. They wouldn’t want somebody to undercut them and try to steal their gig.
Darrell Edwards: Well I’ve never had to make a living off playing in the clubs (laughs). I’ve played a couple clubs during my tenure as a DJ. And that was some of the worst work I’ve ever done. It was tedious and monotonous and (I’d hear requests) for the same song 20 times in one night. It’s been a lot easier being a free-lancer. You have a lot more freedom. Because I’m not the play list kind of person.
Chris Mills: What were some of the more important things that you took away from your time working at Music Exchange?
Darrell Edwards: I met the best boss I ever had. I’m really sorry that that man is not alive anymore. I have never met anyone more genuine in my life. The staff. Anyone who worked there for any period of time. That would be Bill, Charlie, David, Dennis, Randy, Mark Reynolds, Sedante, Wayne Carson. I’m still in contact with those people to this day. They were lasting friendships.
A lot of the customers were just cool people. I’ve gotten juke boxes from customers, 8-track players, and I’m into that kind of stuff. I’ve met a lot of people who were into the same kind of thing. Mostly, the friendships I’ve acquired. I was there for ten and a half years.
The biggest one was getting to work for and know Ron and Nancy Brooks. I don’t think I’ll ever meet another Ron Brooks or Nancy Brooks, in all honesty. There’s just not two better people to work for. I miss Ron dearly because…it just don’t get no realer. We’d fight one day in the morning and then at night we’re at the bar drinking. It wasn’t a grudge-holding thing. It’s not that easy to get along with (people you work with). I’m not the easiest person to get along with. I’m opinionated and set in my ways as well.
When Ron hired me, I remember the day I walked into the store, and I was in there to shop. He called me into his office and he says “I understand you’re looking for a job.” How he knew this, I have no idea still to this day. He said, “I can hire you, but I can’t pay you what you were making at your last job.”
I told him, “I’ll be the hardest worker you have, but I’m not a yes man. I don’t kiss butt. I don’t take no mess off people. I don’t let customers misuse me. I will not let you misuse me. I won’t let co-workers misuse me, and I won’t misuse anybody. If we have any beef, we should be big kids and talk about it and get it worked out.” I said, “If you can deal with that, I’ll work here.” He said “Ok, fine.” There were times when there was tension between us, but it wasn’t anything that was lasting. Nobody ever held grudges. I was actually supposed to go back to work for him when he was supposed to reopen Music Exchange in the Bottoms. But that never happened, hence why I’m still at Zebedee’s.
Chris Mills: We’ve got about 7 minutes left before you leave for church. Is there anything else you‘d like to add?
Darrell Edwards: I think I pretty much told it. I think I did my first party in ‘77 and I haven’t stopped since. I kinda thought I was gonna have to for a while because I had a mild stroke in 2004. The people at the hospital told me that I wasn’t going to be well enough to walk or talk or write. God said something to me that was different. I told them I was gonna go home and I’ll be back when I get better. And that’s what I did. I went back home and just tried to do things as they used to be. And slowly but surely it all came back. I guess God knew that I wasn’t ready to be a vegetable yet. It all worked out. That’s why I’m on my way to church, because I’m about to give him the praise.