By Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
When Neal Becton decided to quit his day job at Washington Post to open Crooked Beat Records with a partner in 2003 during a time when CD sales were dwindling, it seemed implausible that physical music could function as a legitimate business platform. After parting ways with his former shop in 2006, Becton overcame that initial skepticism again by starting up another imprint called Som Records, and so far it’s been certified as DC’s premier vinyl destination.
The 48-year-old DJ and record storeowner, who has been collecting vinyl for 30 years, hails from Atlanta originally. Thanks to a job in hotel management, he transferred to the nation’s capital in the late ‘80s. Although he was satisfied with his 9-to-5 jobs, the thought of opening up a record store always lurked in his mind. The small yet well-organized shop is an extension of Becton’s personal taste, which stems from rock but now emphasizes more international, reggae, soul, and jazz sounds. As a stockpile of both new and used records, the shop offers a wide range of prices starting with 45s sold for 50¢ to collectible 12-inches for $80. Don’t expect a cramped pile of junk you need to weed through because all that work's done for you at this shop. Neal was kind enough to speak to us, answering our Wax Nostalgic 7 Question Survey.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
Neal Becton: It was Fragile by the English band Yes. I bought it in 1975 in Atlanta at Peaches Records and Tapes. Yeah, that’s where I first spent my own money. I think a friend, a kid from my high school, a bass player whose taste I respected, told me to get it.
What’s your favorite record this week?
Neal Becton: Right now, I’d have to say Jorge Ben’s self-titled record from 1969. I love Brazilian music. That’s probably one thing I collect the most. And this record’s got everything. It’s soulful, and it’s also slightly psychedelic. It just works on many levels. You can dance to it, or just listen to it. It’s smooth, without being too smooth.
What’s the last record you bought?
Neal Becton: I bought a bunch this morning at the flea market. The last one I’m going to keep for myself…I got a really nice gospel record yesterday by the Art Reynolds Singers. I’m going to keep that.
What’s the most valuable/expensive record that you own?
Neal Becton: I got a few that are five to 600 dollars. I got this one record called Discovery Club that’s pretty valuable. It’s a hard funk record. I found it at a flea market a few years ago. It consists of two bands, one from New York, and the other from New Jersey. They kind of sound like Sly and the Family Stone, but little more psychedelic.
If you didn’t own a record shop, what would you do?
Neal Becton: Probably still do journalism. I studied political science in school, but I worked at Washington Post for ten years. I wasn’t a writer, but I was an editorial aid for national and foreign news. I was in the newsroom. Basically, my job was the guy between the reporters and the editors. And if somebody called Washington Post with a hot tip or a scandal, basically, I needed to talk to that person and figure out if it’s worth reporting. I remember when 9/11 happened I had to tell a reporter a plane crashed in the Pentagon. That was pretty crazy.
Why should people buy records?
Neal Becton: Everybody has his or her reasons. I think records sound better, they look better, and you can actually read the liner notes in the back. I just think it’s the best format for actually listening to music.
Have you ever played a certain record and gotten laid?
Neal Becton: Yeah, [laughs] I guess. I can’t remember any title, but yeah probably.
Som Records (Washington DC)
1843 14th St NW (between N Swann St & N T St), Washington, DC