That One Time I Went to Vintage Vinyl and  “Papa” Ray Gave Me an Album …

While I spend more than a little time in record stores, I had no intention of going into Vintage Vinyl that day. I was meeting a friend for coffee late that afternoon, and I assumed I would have little time for anything else. 

As it happened, my meeting went much shorter than I thought it would. So now I had some time on my hands. Vintage Vinyl was right across the street. Well, why not?

I’ve been to Vintage Vinyl a gazillion times. Nine times out of 10, I know what I’m looking for long before I hit the door. This was going to be that tenth time. I had no plan to be there, so I had no agenda. It was time to do what I do best in record stores: wing it until something hit me. 

I hadn’t gotten 15 feet into the store when I bumped to a co-worker. We made a little small talk, and I realized one of my favorite tunes was playing on the store’s overhead speakers. 

“Dude, this is Miles Davis,” I told my friend. “It’s a tune called ‘Right Off’ from an album called A Tribute to Jack Johnson. This must be a part of your collection.” 

I’m quite certain my friend blew my recommendation off as we parted ways. No biggie. My work was done.  With Miles still on my brain, I made my way to the back of the store, where the jazz is located. 

I made my way through a couple of the browser bins, looking for nothing in particular. I saw a couple of mildly amusing titles, but nothing I had to have right now. That’s when I heard a man’s voice ask if he could help me find anything. 

My day isn’t complete without at least one glib comment. So when I hear the question, my nearly immediate answer to anyone wanting to help me find something is, “I could stand to find my youthful idealism, if you know where that is.” I fired off that response without thinking about it, and it earned a chuckle. “Well, music is good for that,” the man said. That was when I looked up to see who I was talking to, and realized I was face to face with Tom “Papa” Ray, the co-founder and owner of Vintage Vinyl. 

I wasn’t completely sure it was him until I heard him speak again. Papa Ray has a radio show called “The Soul Selector,” which airs on KDHX, our local independent radio station. I’ve enjoyed the show for years. Now here we were, face to face. 

It was nice to finally associate a face with the voice. I have no doubt this man has forgotten more about music than I know. Nevertheless, I was determined not to make a fool of myself. So I mentioned that I enjoyed his show, and I was really pleased to hear one of my favorite Miles Davis albums being played. I’m pretty sure I saw Papa Ray’s eyebrows raise in a way that said, “This one might not be an idiot.” Before I knew it, we were engaged in conversation. 

The talk is a bit of a blur, but I remember rattling off a few of my favorite artists, and he had me pegged musically within seconds. This was one of the rare times I didn’t mind being stereotyped. If, for any reason, Papa Ray was right on the money! 

I wish I had connected with Papa Ray while I was researching my book. I tried to get in touch with him, but we were never able to make it work. Well, I hope he can help me with my next project. I’m sure he will be a valuable source of information. 

It’s funny … we tried to part ways at least three times. But the conversation wouldn’t allow it. There was such a natural flow to our talk, nobody wanted to give it up. When it finally looked like we were wrapping up, Papa Ray surprised me by saying, “I want to give you something.” With that, we were headed back to the jazz section. 

Papa Ray had a good idea of what I liked, so he reached for a particular LP. He asked me if I was familiar with a St. Louis artist named Tony Thompson and his project called TBeats. I was not. With that, Papa Ray handed me an LP called The Sound of My Mind, Part II. He had a feeling I would like it. Who was I to argue? I thanked Papa Ray profusely, and promised him I would blog on the album. 

And now I will do just that. 

Papa Ray called it: I really like this record. I spend a great deal of time looking for what I like to call “21st Century” jazz. This album definitely qualifies. It pays respect to jazz forms of years past, while adding more modern elements to the mix. When I hear TBeats, I’m reminded of other modern artists like Christian Scott, Snarky Puppy, and Kneebody. There’s a lot to take in on this record. It will definitely take multiple listens to absorb it all. 

What sticks out most is Thompson’s ability to let his music breathe. It would be easy to let his keyboards walk all over the spacious compositions that remind me of “In a Silent Way.” But Thompson puts the music ahead of himself, and that selflessness allows the music to be exactly what it should be. 

Tony Thompson has created an interesting album that has me clamoring to hear the series’ first volume. It’s not like I need an excuse to go to Vintage Vinyl, but now I definitely have one. 

I can’t thank Papa Ray enough for taking the time to talk to me, and for taking the leap of faith that has vaulted me into yet another musical world. 


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