Smiling Dog Records owner Mike Ludlam was standing behind the counter of his Minnesota Avenue shop Wednesday afternoon, looking through a collection of records by musicians who died in 2016.
He’d already mentioned Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson and Vanity, one of Prince’s proteges.
“I’m praying that we don’t have another one in the next few weeks here,” he said.
If the list does grow, though, Ludlam will be ready for it, and will no doubt add the deceased to the roster of artists whose songs will be memorialized at a special event at the Garage Pub at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. on Friday, Dec. 16.
He and brewery owner George Moncure are calling the event, scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m., “A Vinyl Farewell to Artists We Lost in 2016.” Ludlam will be connecting a turntable and receiver to the Garage Pub’s sound system and playing as many songs by as many of the recently departed musicians as he can squeeze in.
Ludlam, who opened Smiling Dog Records at South 27th Street and Minnesota Avenue 10 months ago, said that not long after he opened he pitched the idea of spinning records for dances at the Garage Pub, but nothing was decided and the idea lay dormant. Then, recently, one of Moncure’s employees suggested having a “vinyl night.”
Moncure recalled Ludlum’s earlier proposal, so he invited him down to the Garage Pub to toss around ideas for a series of what they are now calling “vinyl sessions.” The day he was scheduled to go to the meeting, Ludlam said, a customer happened to mention that he and a friend got together every December to listen to songs by musicians who had died in the previous year.
“I said, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea,'” Ludlam said. He thought it would be the perfect way to kick off the monthly vinyl sessions.
He’s been preparing for it ever since, going through his collection to find what he figures are the best or most representative songs for each artist. When necessary, he’s ordered copies of albums he didn’t have.
He is also inviting people who plan to attend the free, all-ages show to BYOV—bring your own vinyl. However, since he wants to put together a set list that flows well from song to song and artist to artist, he’s asking that people contact him beforehand with their selections. (You can call Smiling Dog at 861-6453 or message Ludlam on his Facebook page).
It should be a fun event, Ludlam said, but more than just fun.
“Every one of us should stop for a minute and acknowledge their deaths,” he said. “They literally wrote the soundtrack of our lives.”
When they were planning the event, Ludlam said, Moncure mentioned that they should definitely schedule an annual tribute to deceased musicians. That set Ludlam back for a moment.
“I guess there’ll be people that die next year, too,” he said. “That’s really depressing.”
He plans to introduce the songs and present a short biography of each musician during the tribute. Ludlam is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter himself, a veteran of numerous bands who’s also run sound and lights for other bands.
Asked to name his favorite among the musicians lost in 2016, Ludlam paused for a bit and said, “That’s tough. There’s so many really, really great ones.” If pressed, he said, he would probably name Leon Russell. “But,” he added, “Prince was perhaps the most talented one we lost this year.”
Moncure hedged a little, too. “It’d be a cross between the most popular—Prince—and David Bowie,” he said.
Moncure gave all the credit for the year-end tribute to Ludlam, despite Ludlam’s insistence that the photo they shot for a Facebook post about the event be taken at the Garage Pub, and that Moncure be in the photo.
“I don’t know much about the topic,” Moncure said, “but I love the idea.”
And although he’s still working on the set list, Ludlam is pretty sure how he wants it to end—with Prince’s “Purple Rain” and then, as a closer, Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Ludlam, who opened Smiling Dog Records last February, said business has been good, especially since the Hastings store in the West Park Promenade went out of business earlier this year.
There also seems to be increased interest in vinyl records. Three days ago, Ludlam posted a link on his Facebook page to a story saying that in the United Kingdom last week, consumers spent more on vinyl records than on digital music downloads.
It helps that people who like vinyl really like vinyl, Ludlam said, mentioning how a man stopped by the store last week just to show him some of his favorite records.
“That’s the thing about vinyl collectors,” Ludlam said. “They’re always dying to show their stuff.”
It also helps that Ludlam has slowly been diversifying the inventory at his relatively small store. In addition to records, CDs, cassettes, 45s and eight-tracks, Smiling Dog Records sells used guitars, new and used stereo equipment, clothing, art work, jewelry and purses.
Ludlam said he also does a fair amount of sales to people all over the world looking for rare vinyl. You’d think anybody with a web connection could find those rarities, but Ludlam said it’s not always the case. Some LPs are available only from other dealers and collectors, and Ludlam has connections with a lot of them.
“Literally, I can find anything,” he said.