The Ballad of Music Man Murray

Ampex tape and circus discs, boxes and boxes of surface hiss, from Ray Noble to Raymond Scott, sing a song of an unsung bigshot
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“Before the Internet, this was how you could find out what had been released and when,” he says, pulling a volume off the shelf. “You call me up and you’re looking for the song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen,’ so I look it up in Phonolog and I see everyone who recorded it, with catalog number, and I can find it for you. I don’t use a computer, so believe it or not, I still use these sometimes.”

Photograph by Marla Rutherford

To get to the thousands of international and rock LPs on the second level, you have to walk up a rickety flight of stairs lined with boxed single-artist 45 collections like Duke Ellington’s Songs of the South African Veld or Freddy Martin Plays Jerome Kern. They lead to a wall of phonographic rarities: acetates, Silvertone vinyl, ten-inch Edison records, and multiple binders labeled by Gershenz simply as oddities.

“I find it sad that not enough people see this as an archive,” he says, thumbing through a bin of circus LPs. “It depends on your age. If a 22-year-old comes in here, it means nothing to him. When I was growing up, we were interested not just in singers of the day but singers of the past. Nowadays, singers from the past just aren’t remembered as much.”

Gershenz does have one regular customer from the mp3 generation, 21-year-old Will Edmiston, a DJ with the aspiring local hip-hop group Brothaz Bent. “When I started looking for riffs for the beats I make, I got bored with typical record stores,” he says. “Murray’s is family owned. It’s not in the heart of Hollywood. You don’t have all these other crate diggers looking over your shoulders.”

During a particularly heavy research spell last year, Edmiston visited Music Man Murray four times a week for a few months straight, often spending hours sprawled on the floor as he rifled through obscure rock and pop LPs from the ’60s and ’70s. “I remember this one day it was so hot up on the second floor that I took my shirt and shoes off and nobody cared,” he says. “They told me that the store was my home. Being able to spend the whole day by yourself with thousands of records—it’s a true sanctuary in there.”

Gershenz might as well get an executive producer credit on the Brothaz Bent CD. Edmiston estimates that 80 percent of the group’s music comes from the shelves of Music Man Murray. “If only I had 200 more customers like him,” says Gershenz. “Then I’d really be in business.”

Herein lies the central conflict for Music Man Murray. If he had 200 more customers like Edmiston, it would no longer be the sanctuary that makes it so special. On the one hand, Music Man Murray is indeed a business, and Gershenz needs to unload inventory to stay afloat. On the other, the store is his self-curated palace of memory, the 45-year-old offspring of a man who is not good at saying good-bye. Every sale is a loss.

“I live in a seven-room apartment,” he says. “I use the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the breakfast room. All the other rooms and all the halls and the dining room are packed with records. Boxes and boxes and boxes of records. My garage is full of records. My store is full of records. I have three warehouses full of records. I know that I have to sell them, but the truth is, I hate to part with any of them.”

This feature was originally published in the July 2007 issue of Los Angeles magazine.