Requiem for a Record Guru
Bob Switzer: 194?-2005
I was deeply saddened to learn on Friday about the death of a true mentor, Bob Switzer, the proprietor of Halifax's vinyl paradise, Taz Records. I'd known Bob since the late '70s, when he was a clerk at Sam the Record Man stores in Halifax and Dartmouth, and later owner of his own stores Rubber Soul and later Taz Records, which would become a mecca for record hounds, from joes like me to Van Morrison and Billy Corgan, in search of a rare slab of jazz, blues, country or pure adrenaline rock and roll.
Bob was a curmudgeon in the truest sense of the word. If you didn't know him well, you might think he was one of the biggest assholes you ever met: he always spoke his mind, even berating customers for their poor taste in music when they brought some cheesy flavour-of-the-month pop record or lame relic of prog rock up to the counter. Think Jack Black in High Fidelity, only twice as old, twice as crotchety, with jet black hair modelled on the blond waves of his idol, Jerry Lee Lewis.
I can't even begin to think of all the artists that Bob introduced me to over the years, but when he pulled a record off the shelf, or some obscure European CD reissue, and said, "You need to own this," you didn't think twice about slapping down the cash. I was probably 12 when I first encountered Bob, and since then I've steeped myself in Howlin' Wolf, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Eartha Kitt, Slim Gaillard, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Travis Wammick, Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio, any number of obscure '60s guitar instrumental 45s (which I didn't think for a second about forking over $15 for), Link Wray, P.J. Proby, Babs Gonzalez, Charlie Feathers, Billy Lee Riley, Mickey Baker and on and on. The guy knew more about authentic music than most people know about their own families, and sure he may have turned off a few customers with his brusque manner, but fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. That was Bob for better or worse, rarely without a smoke in one hand and a coffee in the other, with an opinion on just about anything you'd care to mention and a withering sideways glance that would reduce lesser men to powder.
He had his quirky tastes too...a wall of the store was plastered with Tammy Faye Bakker album covers (cracked me up every time I saw it) and it seemed the rarest record in the store, given its place of prominence behind the counter with a large "NOT FOR SALE" sign attached, was an autographed LP recorded by Xaviera "The Happy Hooker" Hollander. He loved the wit of Tom Leher and the majestic organ of E. Power Biggs. He wasn't someone you could easily figure out, and he was always full of surprises. Bob Switzer was a local legend in every sense of the word, and a key influence in my coming of age as a devoted disc junkie.
If you could do me a favour, after you read this, go to your record collection and pull out anything by any of the artists mentioned above (you've got to at least have some Howlin' Wolf), especially Jerry Lee Lewis, and blast it as loud as your landlord and the time of day will permit. I highly recommend Lewis's classic Breathless, which Bob once told me "is the greatest rock and roll song ever recorded. End of story." Now it's the end of Bob's story, and dammit, he was right about Breathless, and nobody can prove him wrong.