In 61 years, Record Town was never just a vinyl record store, so its grand reopening Saturday was less about shopping than about soul.
The music-shop home of the rhythm-and-blues “Fort Worth sound” is open and restocked in its new location behind a tea shop at 120 St. Louis Ave., near South Main Street 4 miles from its old home near Texas Christian University.
Depending on where and when you grew up in Fort Worth, you probably learned all about how the city is where Bob Wills’ Western swing sound began, or where jazzmen Ornette Coleman and “King Curtis” Ousley both played sax in a high school band, or where Willie Nelson first blended his songwriting with marijuana.
And you probably shopped for their music at Record Town, a family-owned store that became a haven first for big-band and jazz fans, then for rock and R&B shoppers as the late Stephen Bruton and his brother, Sumter, played lead guitar for national and local bands.
“The spirit of the new store is the same,” said Gerard Daily, 65, a 42-year employee who now owns part of Record Town along with the Bruton family and the partners who saved the shop, Fort Worth real estate developer Tom Reynolds and Burleson businessman Bill Mecke.
“People would come just to hang out and play music, or talk about music. It’s a place where people learned from each other.”
When the city grew its own 1960s rock music scene — “Hey, Baby!” was recorded in a studio on West Seventh Street, and singers like Betty Buckley, John Denver, Delbert McClinton and Ray Sharpe went from Fort Worth to fame — fans came shopping for their newest releases at Record Town.
But founder Sumter Bruton Jr., the guitarists’ late father, was a jazz drummer. In the hometown of swing bandleaders “Tex” Beneke and Ray McKinley, the older Bruton introduced jazz listeners to other artists while the younger Sumter taught college students about the blues.
“The first week I was at TCU in 1971, I went to Record Town looking for some Charlie Parker,” Daily said.
“I came out with six or seven other records that were just great. I was hooked.”
Mecke grew up in San Antonio listening to Texas rocker Doug Sahm or conjunto bands and found a second home in 1989 when he moved here and visited Record Town.
“Sumter” — the younger Bruton, now 73 and retired — “said, ‘Hey, that’s OK, but you really need to be listening to this.’ He showed me these Fort Worth bands.”
Mecke repeats the oft-told Record Town story about how a customer came in one day, took one of the collectible guitars off the wall and sat in the corner singing to himself.
That was a Crowley teenager named Todd Bridges. Today, he goes by Leon.
Austin lawyer Ware Wendell was in the shop Saturday for the opening. He grew up in Fort Worth playing in bands.
“Everybody who was in a band went to Record Town, because you never knew who’d be there — it was a touchstone,” he said.
He described the new location as “the same — the record bins, the pegboards, the guitars on the wall. It’s like the old place.”
Record Town is reopening just when vinyl records are selling well again. It’s one of four local vinyl record stores.
The shelves are stocked with both new and old records. The bestselling album so far is a hip-hop classic, “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre.
One feature that hasn’t made the move yet: the iconic Record Town neon sign. But it returns in wall-sized black-and-white, rising over a sofa “music pit” at the front of the store.
Mecke and his partners plan to cover one so-far-empty wall with photos of all the famous musicians, singers, songwriters and journalists to visit Record Town.
They’ll need a bigger wall.