In every major city, it can become all too easy to get lost in the shuffle, unless of course you go the extra mile to get to know your neighbors. For our new week-long series, “Know Your Neighbors,” we’d like to introduce several people in each major borough of Boston that are working to help create strong communities.
Some of these strangers are up to radical work in the non-profit, arts, and music world as well as just being wonderful human beings. By looking around, asking questions, and working to get to know the people we pass by each day, Boston will hopefully begin to feel stronger and more connected.
We start this series off with Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. Our next subject: Skippy White, owner of Skippy White’s Records in Eglleston Square.
A: I became interested in records because I started as a collector. You know, I was listening to R&B and began by collecting the records I liked. I was laid off by Raytheon and with unemployment; you really have to hustle to make ends meet. I went around to a lot of sales, and that led me to the warehouses, where the stores got their sale records. I started selling records to other record collectors. Then, I started going to warehouses and getting large enough quantities to sell wholesale to them. Eventually, one of the record shops wanted to hire me. I worked there about three years and after that I wanted to strike out on my own. Even though I didn’t have the money, I decided I would do it anyway. I opened up my own store in 1961.
Q: Where did you set up shop?
A: The original location was on Washington st. in Roxbury at 1820 Roxbury street. When urban renewal came through in the late 60’s the entire half of that street was taken demolished. We moved to 1763 Washington street. It was a big move and a bigger store. We were in that area for 27 years.
A: I used to have Kool and the Gang, some of the rappers in the early rap days, Eddie Floyd, Joe Simon, and Otis Redding and James Brown come into our first shop.
A: We have 20 to 25,000 records. we also have a warehouse with another quarter to a million records.
Q: Who are your regulars?
A: The local inhabitants from Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and South end are our regulars. The older clientele have records in their attic that they only play in the summer and they just want to get rid of them. Then you’ve got the younger folks that are super attracted to vinyl. We never gave up on vinyl, don’t forget it. I get people from Japan, Germany, and lots of folks from NY.
A: I’ve loved gospel music from the beginning. If you go back to the music of the 50’s, or what people call Doo-wop, you realize it all came from Gospel. You just change the words to love songs, instead of love of god, and it’s all the same thing. You’re just talking about two different subjects.
A: I have a quarter of a million brand new, unplayed records from the 60s and 70s.Today we probably don’t sell a 45 record for less than 10 dollars and many of them go for 20, 30, 40, 50 or even 100 dollars.
A: You’re asking me after all of these years! I can’t pick one record but if I had to, I’d pick one that was groundbreaking. If you come out of the 50’s and go into the 60’s, you see soul really emerged with Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and James Brown. The record that came out of the rhythm and blues, rock and roll era of the 50’s was probably “For Your Precious Love” by Jerry Butler and the Impressionists.
A: I’ve been on the air for 53 years and in the record business for the same amount of time. I started on WILD before the record business. I’m going to release an autobiographical book at some point in the future.
Q: So you’re prepared to give all of your secrets away?
A: Oh yeah, people might be a bit surprised by all that I’m going to release.
A: In the summer of 1967 there were riots. We survived certainly but a lot of business around Blue Hill avenue were burned and demolished. we didn’t have that problem on Washington street. The following year in april, Martin Luther King was assassinated. That was another riot in the making. I had a hand in James Brown because he was booked at the Boston Garden, and while I was at WILD at the time, we had him get on the station and say to the people instead of coming out, because of the violence, stay home and we will televise the concert from the Garden. So that way we could give many people a free concert and make sure they stayed safe. At the the time, I’m looking out my window while cars are being flipped, riots are happening, and I’ve got people coming in and buying records throughout the day. That tells you something about the community and the respect the community has had for me over the years. I never had a problem. My customers were my friends. I know a lot of my customers by their first name. Certainly everybody knows me. It was just a matter that I knew they would stick by me and do no harm to me or my store. I just never had any problems.
The Boston Globe said that the Northampton station, where I was once working, was called the meanest corner in the city of Boston. There were people outside selling drugs, winos, lots of crime, but in my record store – I never had problems.
You have to respect people if you want the same back to you. I have always respected all of my customers and they know that.
See more from BDCwire’s “Know Your Neighbors” Centre Street series:
Pt. I – Lindsay Metivier of Aviary Gallery
Pt. II – Derek McIntire of Bikes Not Bombs
Pt. III – Ben Katzman and Chris Collins