If you haven’t heard, vinyl is making a comeback, but although Leslie Jones does a robust business in the grooved, pizza-sized medium of yesteryear, he’d just as soon leave trafficking in the chic and trendy to the retail giants. Jones just carries good music, as he said.
“I’m a fan, a believer, man,” said Jones, owner of Rock Star Records in east Tupelo. “I believe that good art, including a good medium to deliver that art, like vinyl, and the artwork that envelops it, is a beautiful thing,” said Jones. A small, eclectic shop, Rock Star Records is about a mile from the Genesis point for many rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts: Elvis Presley’s birthplace. Jones was busy online running down a special order for a punk rock enthusiast. “Europe,” Jones mumbled, discouraged, under his breath. “It’s all in Europe.”
On the wall behind Jones sat a vintage copy of Velvet Underground’s 1966 debut album, the cover, designed by Andy Warhol, featuring the iconic, alarmingly yellow, and brashly phallic banana, in keeping with the album’s theme of social deviancy. Beside it was the lately lauded yet timeless Revolver by The Beatles, as well as their Rubber Soul. Jones clutched a strikingly beautiful copy of Death Before Dishonor, a 1987 release by the Scottish punk band, The Exploited. The mesmerizing cover depicted an androgynous, somewhat Byronesque figure in the breathy embrace of the Grim Reaper.
The tidal wave of the digital delivery of music has sparked what Jones affectionately called a “Renaissance of the appreciation of sound,” meaning that many connoisseurs have gravitated back toward the sometimes scratchy, always imperfect, yet undeniably deep and resonate quality of vinyl. The numbers flesh it out, Jones said. Vinyl isn’t just for music geeks anymore. The majority of Jones’s sales are in vintage vinyl. Still, he wants to deliver quality music to his customers, in whatever medium he can. Jones is anything but a highbrow purist. He brooks no quarter for elitists with their attenuated views of what is art and what is not. In Rock Star Records, a music lover can pick up everything from a vintage vinyl copy of Linda Ronstadt’s Living in the USA, or Jimi Hendrix’s Free Spirit, to a compact disc of Nirvana’s Nevermind, or Beck’s Odelay. “Good music transcends mediums,” Jones said. “We have the largest selection of CDs in northeast Mississippi,” he said. Jones also carries a full complement of new vinyl.
The posters on the walls of Rock Star Records show Jones’ variegated tastes. The 1,700-square-foot store is an egalitarian, artistic society. Ozzy Osbourne flashes a lupine snarl from the cover of Bark at the Moon. A stupidly smiling Donkey Kong takes equal billing with the perhaps theatrically morose visages of Bono and The Edge on the cover of The Joshua Tree. Jones is an unapologetic fan of 80s bands and he does a crisp trade in hair metal records. Somehow, at Rock Star Records, Winger’s In the Heart of the Young, doesn’t look out of place beside At Folsom Prison, by Johnny Cash.
Jones is an old hand at retail sales and has owned music and videos shops. His reasoning for opening the Rock Star Records was simple. “Music lovers needed a place to go,” he said, allowing himself a nostalgic, backward glance at the steadily shrinking landscape of true music stores—music stores in the truest sense of the term, not simply stores that happen to carry music, almost as a begrudging exception, in addition to a galaxy of other items.
Rock Star Records is open 12:30 to 9:30 pm, Monday through Thursday, 12:30 to 10 pm on Friday, noon to 10 pm on Saturday and 1 to 6 pm on Sunday. Why should a customer drive from Oxford or Columbus or someplace miles away to peruse Jones’s multifarious mosaic of music? “Selection and customer service,” Jones said, smiling mischievously. “It sounds simple but those are values that are disappearing from retail.”