An Interview with Jeff Loos of Backtrack Records
Written By Robert Benson
Vinyl is back. From the ‘error’ by a Fred Meyer employee (where LP’s were ordered by mistake), major electronic retailer Best Buy’s stocking vinyl in select stores and mainstream recording artists releasing records gain, the resurgence is upon us.
And in the heartland of America, records are a hot commodity. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Loos, owner of Backtrack Records, located in Lincoln, Nebraska. Backtrack Records (www.BacktrackRecords.com)has been selling vinyl records in Lincoln for over 16 years, mostly as an online entity. But the ‘brick and mortar’ store is a busy, bustling arena of quality, vintage LP’s, with a special emphasis on the 60’s music scene.
Let’s explore Backtrack Records with owner Jeff Loos:
We keep reading about the resurgence of vinyl records, what is your take on this ‘new found love’ of records?
“First of all, records really never left, they just got pushed to the side because of all the hype on CD’s,” explained Jeff. “We then find out that CD’s aren’t all they were hyped up to be and the price really never came down like they claimed-plus they are digital binary sound.”
“The record industry did keep pressing records during this time except it was on a much smaller scale. People who still owned turntables from the middle price range to high end always knew that a clean record LP was superior to the CD in sound, if the record was an analog pressing in which almost all are.”
“We’ve had a retail store for over ten years from 1988-2000 and went to the world-wide web and decided after seven years to reopen the retail store. I’m glad we did because I have previous customers from the past come in and I ask them what they have done for the past seven years and almost all say they still been spinning their vinyl and are glad we are back open (that’s a dedicated customer). Also we’ve made many new friends world wide who love the sound of records over CD’s. Countries in the U.K., Germany, Sweden, Holland, Spain, Japan, Australia, etc, are all pressing and selling vinyl.”
“I’m so amazed that almost all of my customers know that vinyl records are analog and CD’s are digital plus they know the difference that analog is a continuous sound wave and CD’s are sampled and chopped up in bits. This can get a lot deeper but I don’t want to get into that but you can just Google in ‘analog vs. digital’ and it will give you the true scoop.”
“Finally, I can say that most of the major record labels are up and pressing again, not everything is getting pressing but lots of great artists. Recently I just purchased the new “Doors” box set and it sounds fantastic (what a great job by Mastering Engineer Bernie Grundman, Jac Holzman the founder of Elektra Records and Bruce Botnick the original Doors producer did on this box set). The “Complete Clapton” box is great as well as the “Traveling Wilbury’s” new release. Another “Led Zeppelin” box is coming out soon. The pressing are usually a short print, so if any doubt don’t get left out because some of these pressing will be worth as much as some of the originals.”
What is it about the sound of vinyl that makes it better than a CD or really any digital format?
“Vinyl LP’s (analog sound) is primarily the reason LP’s sound better than CD’s. It all comes down to a true continuous sound wave length vs. digital sound bits, with a gap between each sampled bit. The system you play your records on is very important and there are quite a few variables that play a role in the sound you hear. Power source, turntable, speakers and more all come into play, it can pretty deep and expensive if you want to go for the high end equipment,” explained Jeff.
I refer to digital sound as ‘binary sound,’ is this a good comparison when debating analog vs. digital sound?
“From what I understand is that if we took an analog pressing and tried to convert it from its source to a computer, it first must go through a process converting it to binary numbers so the computer can read it. So I would say yes your correct in saying that digital sound is a binary sound into bits,” said Jeff.
I imagine that you have amassed quite a collection, what are some of your personal favorites in your own collection?
“Actually, when I first open my store in 1988, I promised myself and the store-that the store came first. It paid my rent and let me buy more inventory to make a better store. So really, I personally don’t have huge collection for myself. I do have my favorite bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Beatles, and Pink Floyd- you get the idea classic rock.”
When did you first start in the business and why did you pursue this retail genre?
“I have a Bachelors Degree in Teacher College and couldn’t find a teaching job in the area back in the 1970’s/80’s, so I decided to open a retail record store. I always loved “Dirt Cheap” records in Lincoln, and a friend of mine owned it and moved the store to Omaha and said why don’t you open a store in Lincoln and that’s we did. It’s a fun job but still it is a lot of work. Cleaning thousands of records by hand does take some time and patience. The love of the music and the customers are by far the most interesting part of the job. There always seems to be a challenge either finding that rare record for someone or finding the new vinyl that is being pressed.”
I always tell people about the “thrill’ and adrenaline rush that I get while ‘crate digging’, what are your thoughts about record collecting?
“It’s like an Easter egg hunt for me. I’m always thumbing through record stores while on vacation looking for that rare find,” detailed Jeff. “I seem to always see something from the 60’s or 70’s I haven’t seen in the past. There’s ton’s of groups out there that have only one or two albums and sound great, but only a handful of people know about them and the radio didn’t play their music. There are so many major bands that tie in to another band that goes on forever. Look at the “Traveling Wilbury’s” and all the bands those guys played in.”
Regarding grading records, what methods do you utilize when grading the records that you sell?
“The Internet is the tough place to grade records because in the retail store I leave the record open for the buyer to inspect. I try to be tough on grading because I hate to have returns. On the Internet we grade record & cover as a M- (extremely clean, looks & sounds like a new record), VG++ (possible small wear but looks and plays close to new), VG+ (minor scuffs, possible small noise but no skips and plays ok), VG (usually end up in my $1.00 section or the goodwill).”
Is there any particular genre of music (i.e. blues, jazz, etc) that is selling the most in your store, what is “hot” right now?
“I would say that classic rock is really the best right now. From college kids to the baby boomers, they all seem to be playing this genre. Jazz and blues hold their own but I have to stick with the classic rock,” said Jeff.
How large is your ‘online’ inventory?
“Our online inventory is about 6,000 records, we have added a few more, but since we opened the retail store, I’ve kind of got a little behind on the data basing of our inventory. We have a little over 15,000 items in the store.”
What about selling on eBay, what experiences have you had, good or bad?
“EBay is fine for what they do but I really don’t sell much there. I’ve had a few of the high dollars items and moved them on eBay but I really don’t sell any of the $8.00 to $15.00 records there. I would rather sell them on our site at www.backtrackrecords.com or www.MusicStack.com or www.Gemm.com,” explained Jeff.
What is the best ‘record find’ that you have ever been a part of?
“One of the best finds was an original 1958 Buddy Holly “That’ll Be The Day” Extended Play with the liner notes on the back cover in near mint condition. I’ve also had a couple of the Beatles “Butcher Cover” 2nd state version.”
Where do you see vinyl records five years from now?
“Five years from now I see vinyl records still holding their own in the market,” predicted Jeff. “High end tube equipment seems to coming into the scene more and more. The audiophile market seems to be holding its own. The companies are continually trying to make the analog sound even better. The “Doors” box set is a good example. The vinyl of this set actually sounds better than the original records because they are using the new technology. Life is good when the sound keeps getting better. Don’t forget some people just play music while other people listen to music, there is a big difference.”
What is the difference between an audiophile record and a ‘regular’ record?
“An audiophile record is mastered at better equipped mastering plants such as Mobile Fidelity, Classic Records, Speakers Corne and the like,” explained Jeff. “Many of the U.S. records are mastered at the home plant and pressed at RTL. The people, who master the record, produce it and engineer it, are all very important. Also many companies are going to 180 gram & 200 gram vinyl claiming a nice big platter makes a difference. The companies are also using virgin vinyl which also helps. Let’s not forget that many of the late 50’s and 60’s records were taken very seriously when it came to sound. Mercury had the “Mercury Living Presence” series, “RCA Living Presence” “London Bluebacks” & “Columbia SAX Series.”
“Regular records sound good on a middle range turntable, high end turntables and equipment need high end quality records. You are wasting your hard earned cash if you play a high end record on a low end turntable.”
So, there you have it, vinyl records are back and we have learned why; from a gentleman with his hand on the pulse of the vinyl resurgence. Let’s hope that the music keeps always being what it is all about, and if musicians and record companies really care about the sound, the vinyl record will live forever.