Who said that the LP is dead? Record vinyl has been making a huge comeback, and a cherished shop in Jersey City has never stopped carrying it for it for more than 40 years. When you walk into Stan’s Square Records at 737 Bergen Ave., the smell of vinyl emanates from the close to 10,000 albums and thousands of 45s.
“People come into my store and they say ‘that is a great smell,’” says store owner Stan R. Krause. “I love vinyl, I smell vinyl, I sell vinyl.”
Though you might run across an Elvis or Patti Page record, the store mainly sells classic R&B.
Krause, who has lived in Jersey City most of his life, got his start in the business at the age of 15 when he worked with his dad, Stanley F. Krause, who was an independent manufacturer of records. The plant was responsible for pressing and manufacturing many hit records, such as Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” a number-one hit from 1959.
“That led me to want to go further to find out what the music business is all about,” Krause says, “not just the entertainment side, but the manufacturing, distribution, and publishing end of the business.”
Krause also worked as a part-time salesman for the Relic Rack, a record shop in Hackensack. “Whatever I was paid, I wound up spending on records,” he says.
Krause was also in a few singing groups as a youngster. “I wouldn’t say we were good or bad,” he says. “We just had no understanding of the five-part harmonies in singing groups. In today’s type of music there are no five part-harmonies, no bridges, or melodies, just beats, and it’s dry to me. But it’s getting better. Through that early experience, I learned to sing a little bit, but I never utilized it. I was always more interested in the production end.”
In 1961, Kraus started Catamount Records, an R&B label. “I worked with people in New York such as Joe Webb, who was a producer of the Bobbettes at the time, as well as Tommy Glasgow, who produced a group called the Lost Souls, who helped distribute with me. I had a couple of records on the label that sold quite a few thousand, and that was a lot of 45s to sell in 1962 through St. Louis and Chicago.”
Two of the biggest sellers on the Catamount Records label were “Pretty Boy” and “Uncle Willie” by the Julietts, a group from Brooklyn’s Avenue C area.
The biggest group Krause produced was The Persuasions. “I produced their first two albums. After my five years with them, they went on to become quite big. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be a part of the music business.”
Krause also produced a radio show on the WPIX FM station in the early 1970s: “It was a big show on Saturday and Sunday nights from 6-11 p.m., and Gus Gossert was the deejay. The format of the show consisted of R&B and doo-wop style music.”
Catamount eventually paved the way for Krause’s record store. “When I opened up my store in Jersey City, I tried to make enough money to feed the label and also make enough money in the record store to eat,” Krause says.
Originally called Journal Square Record Center, the store opened in 1965 on JFK Boulevard four doors down from the State Theater. “I was in that spot for three or four years until the landlord raised the rent real high, so I moved across the street to an upstairs location, which didn’t benefit me totally, but I stayed there until I could find something else.”
Krause gives credit to his dad for the store’s current location because when he was younger, he wanted his store to be where all the traffic and everything else was: “My dad actually said to me that my store was a specialized store, I sell R&B, that’s where my base is. If I am selling something specialized, people will come to me. I don’t have to go where there is all kinds of traffic and pay the high rent the landlord wants.”
His first location on Bergen was across the street from where he is now, but the building had a big fire and it burned out 17 families. “I’ve been at 737 Bergen Ave. for 35 years now,” Krause says.
You can hear the sweet sounds of R&B and soul music from within the store. The display windows on the outside feature classic album covers and posters. Inside, albums line the walls. You can find an album or 45 by nearly every artist in the history of soul and R&B, from James Brown and Marvin Gaye to The Dells and the Ojays, as well as The Heartbeats, Moonglows, and Flamingos. In the back are 45s and even 12- inch records. Near the front counter are CDs by current rap, hip-hop, and soul artists.
Krause sells only original music by original artists. “If I sell a Drifters greatest hits album, you are going to get the original album with the original Drifters,” he says, “not some soundalike group posing as the Drifters.”
There’s a jukebox in the back. “That’s my baby,” Krause says.” It plays and it works and it has a pounding sound. That is a 1959 50-play jukebox. There were very few fifty-play jukeboxes made. That same year, 100- play jukeboxes were made, which are easier to find and go for a lot less money.”
Lining the top walls are photos of various celebrities from vocal groups of the fifties and sixties, as well as rappers. “Eighty percent of the people in those photos are people I met,” Krause says. He booked a lot of these acts for concerts at Symphony Hall and the Beacon Theater. “I don’t hang a person’s picture on the wall unless I met the person or had some affiliation with the person,” he says.
Among the celebrities pictured are the rapper Nas, whom he met at a dinner reception in New York, gospel singer Tramaine Hawkins, rappers DaBrat, Fat Joe, Naughty By Nature, Chill Rob G, Jersey City’s own The Manhattans and Heather B., and a rapper from Jersey City named Chill Divine, with whom Kraus produced a 12-inch record.
“The record didn’t sell big here in the U.S.,” Krause says. “At the time we put his record out, the rap sound was changing. The sound of Chill Divine’s record was positive rap. Rap became negative. So we had to go sell it in Japan.”
Though most of the rappers he knows portray tough-guy images, he says, “They are the nicest people in the world.”
Also on the wall of fame is PM Dawn, a hip-hop duo from Jersey City who had a huge number- one hit with the song “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Krause recalls, “When they first started out, they used to come in the store looking for James Brown records to sample his beats. One day I asked one of the members, Prince, why is he following the trend of everybody else? There are a lot more beats other than James Brown. I told him about Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf and the beats on their records and so he started picking out records by these artists with that type of early style of rock. He developed a sound and he made it.”
In the last five or so years, labels have been pressing the music of artists such as Alicia Keys, Beyonce, and Adele on vinyl as well as on CD. “I’ve always maintained that vinyl has a better sound and is more personal than CD and all the other different formats that came out,” Krause says. “If you put vinyl on a turntable, it sounded like the band or the group was in front of you, not down the street somewhere. Vinyl is back in the U.S. like crazy and it is starting all over again overseas.”
Four years ago, when vinyl came back on the market, sales were up 18 percent. As of last year, sales of vinyl are up 38 percent. “That is a huge jump,” Krause says.
How does one determine a record’s worth? “It’s the record’s label, the issue of the record, and the first print of the record,” Krause says. “The original becomes worth more and more because as time goes on, it becomes harder to find, especially when the original has a foldout cover whereas the reissue doesn’t.”
Krause says, “The CD is louder and convenient. When you ride around in your car, you have a party at your home and want to hear your favorite track five times in a row, the CD is convenient. Soundwise, however, there is no middle or low range. When a deejay plays vinyl records at a party, the beat is pounding and vibrates all through your body. The CD sound is synthetic.”
Krause says that young people are spearheading the vinyl movement: “High schoolers are coming in the store now and they are interested in real music. They’re not only interested in and looking for vinyl, but they also want to know the history of the recording artists on the vinyl and they ask questions. This is rejuvenating me and keeping me going because I can teach now what I’ve been teaching for years. The young people are anxious to learn, and I love it.”
When I was in the store, a guy in his early twenties was looking for Michael Jackson’s Bad on vinyl, and another young customer bought a current rap album on vinyl.
“It’s not a mega-sales store, it’s a culture store,” Krause says. “I also learn from a lot of the young people that come to the store.”
There was a time when it cost too much to make vinyl. “Record companies found another vehicle, a little cassette tape and a CD which is no cost to make,” Krause says. “Therefore, they are making triple the amount of money. Record companies found a way to take away the word ‘music’ and use the word ‘beat.’ I don’t condemn the new technology, but when I was coming up, an artist had to go into the studio and have an arranger, a writer, a producer, musicians, instruments, and a union. All of these people got paid.”
Krause believes R&B died around 1980. “It is still called rhythm & blues, but it is not rhythm & blues anymore,” he says. “Just like when Motown hit, it didn’t have the same gutsy ingredient as rhythm & blues, but it was termed soul music.”
Who are his favorite current singers? “There are quite a few, but my favorite singer in the last 20 years is Amy Winehouse. I love her. I can listen to her anytime. I know where Amy got her signature sound. If anyone my age or older listens to Dinah Washington do the licks in her lyrics, they’ll hear Amy do similar licks in her lyrics. I also enjoy Adele because she is a great singer. “I’m an entrepreneur of a capella,” he goes on. “When you mention vocal harmony, the true street a capella vocal sound that goes all the way back is comprised of five basic parts of harmony, the bass singer, the baritone singer, the first tenor, the second tenor and the lead, and that’s how you get the sound. When you perform a capella in that style, you’re doing correct a capella. It’s not an ensemble like you have on TV where you have 12 people singing all these parts and they don’t harmonize at all.”
Krause produced about 20 vocal groups. One of the great vocalists he knew was Skip Jackson, a singer, writer, producer, and arranger from the Junction section of Jersey City. “He was Jersey City’s genius of music and could sing all five parts of harmonies and play six instruments,” Krause says. “He used to come to my shop, and we became very good friends. He used to teach vocal lessons and would work with some of the a capella groups I worked with and taught them different styles of harmony.”
One of those groups was 14 Karat Soul, composed of two guys from Jersey City and three guys from East Orange ranging in age from 16 to 18. “Skip took them from a good singing group to a great singing group,” Krause says. “Skip and I produced an album with them. They performed on Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live during the time Eddie Murphy was there.”
Krause also worked with Jersey City groups like The Heartaches, who were from downtown and attended Ferris High School, The Royal Counts from Dickinson High School, and The Concepts, a Latino group, also from downtown.
Two members of a group he produced called Mixed Company are now part of his latest project, a vocal group called The Catamounts, who rehearse in the back of the store on Saturday afternoons. The group members are Jeffrey Chambers and Jimmy Woods, who were formerly with Mixed Company, Robert “Ippy” Ippolito, who did album jacket designs for the Persuasions, Mixed Company, and others, and a 21-year-old woman named Jacki Poss who is not from Jersey City. “She’s a mountain girl,” Krause says.
“All four members round out the versatility of a group that doesn’t just sing a cappella, but five styles of a capella,” Krause says. “People are amazed that everyone in the group can do different leads.”
The Catamounts, who also sing background vocals on a vinyl record of a Jersey City band and group called The 1 & 9s with feature vocalist Vera Marino, are scheduled to play Casino-in-the-Park in November.
What helps keep Krause grounded between running his store and his group is his wife, Ava. “She is the love of my life,” he says. “I met her while on tour in England with 14 Karat Soul. She was the maître d’ at her brother’s club, The Fridge. I sort of weaseled my way into asking and taking her out to dinner, and we hit it off pretty well. We’ve been happily married for 30 years. My wife and I are not into the material things, and that has a lot to do with our happiness.”
Among Krause’s hobbies are gardening and fishing. “I loved fishing ever since childhood,” he says. “Me and two other boys once hitchhiked the state of New Jersey finding every possible pond, lake, or stream that we could find. Fishing is relaxing, being out there with the trees, the water, the sounds, and getting away from the hustle and bustle.”
The record shop was closed for awhile a few years back because Krause had undergone six operations. “People thought I moved away or kicked the bucket,” he says. “I had built a huge customer base for 46 years. People posted prayers to me on the gate of my store. I guess when you give out love, you get it back.”
The store is now open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Krause says one thing that keeps him going is “the love of people and communicating with them. Mostly all of the customers are wonderful to deal with. Customers have actually bought me sweet potato pies and collard greens during the holiday seasons.”
How has he kept the store going for so long? “When people ask how I stay in business, I tell them not only do I sell records, I know records. I listen to all forms of music. I sell it and I know it,” Krause says. “The thing with me is staying happy. I am not interested in becoming rich. I make ends meet, I love music, I have a lovely lady and that’s all that counts.”
His advice? “For the young people coming up and the older people that are still here, relax, calm down, get some good vinyl and let yourself hear what music is all about and let your mind get into it.”—JCM