Crooked Beat Records: an Epicenter for Local Musicians and Music Collectors

Bill Daly at Crooked Beat
Bill Daly checks up on some of his vinyl merchandise. Photo by Tyler Sonnichsen

“This building’s magic,” Henry Rollins once told Bill Daly of the edifice that currently houses Crooked Beat Records on 18th Street in Adams Morgan.

Daly, the owner and operator of Crooked Beat for the past year and a half, has plenty of great stories to tell about his stores and his own experience as a music collector and fan, and his own surprises keep on coming. As it turns out, and Rollins was one of the first of many to point out to him, his building was once the original punk haven Madam’s Organ.

‚ÄúA lot of [DC hardcore] legends had their first shows upstairs,‚Äù said Daly, ‚ÄúBad Brains was even like the house band—they played every Monday night.‚Äù

Consistent with most venues that hosted punk bands (and invited them back, subsequently), the building itself was never in top shape, and the lower level, where the shop is located, is now an exhibition of maintenance problems. Between a few floods, one of which occurred last summer, measured approximately four inches deep, and cracked the paint job on the floor, as well as constant hydraulic seepage from Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream parlor next door, it’s a miracle that minimal amounts of their merchandise have been destroyed; even more so because their indie selection and specialization ranks among the finest in record stores in the East Coast.

Bill Daly, along with his business partner and wife Helen, opened Crooked Beat Records on 18th Street in September of 2004 after relocating his business to DC from Raleigh, North Carolina. Daly had always harbored great memories of the area from his youth, especially visiting Skip Groff’s shop Yesterday and Today in Rockville. The first time Daly stopped in there, a young record clerk introduced him to the first Bad Brains record, and it changed his life. That clerk also sang in a hardcore band that was unraveling, and also ran a fledgling independent label that was in dire straits financially.

Over the past twenty years, as Daly explained, the changes in direction and increased conglomeration of the music industry, as well as skyrocketing property values in major market areas (e.g. DC, New York, Atlanta), have built up obstacles to running a successful independent store. Groff closed Yesterday and Today’s storefront in the fall of 2002.

‚Äú[Groff] had been running [Yesterday and Today] for about twenty-five years when his rent rose above $4000 per month—out in Rockville,‚Äù Daly explained, ‚ÄúIt reached a point where he was wondering if it was even worth the struggle anymore.‚Äù

With approximately sixty independent, stand-alone record franchises left on the east coast, a struggle in maintaining a new business over its first few years should be expected. Daly estimates that Wal-Mart and Best Buy control almost ninety percent of all non-internet CD sales in the United States today, a staggering margin.

“[Best Buy] has been having a major influence on Indie labels,” said Daly, “they’ve been trying to coax them into distribution, [claiming that] they’ll sell their releases for [a cheaper price] than the typical, major-label list price.”

Major labels and their respective distributors also add another major obstacle to independent store proprietors, since many refuse to ship smaller quantities to stores that won’t guarantee high returns, even if they would sell all of the copies shipped.

“I’ve been trying to order the Operation Ivy album for the last six weeks now, but it’s not coming in,” Daly said, pointing out a perfect example, “[Op Ivy’s label] Lookout! went with RED distribution, a Sony affiliate, which was a big mistake for them, since Sony has a bad relationship with most of the independent stores that have a demand for artists like Op Ivy. [Conversely] a couple of years ago, we stocked a few Dave Matthews CDs, but they just didn’t sell.”

Despite Crooked Beat’s relatively short history as a DC store, it has become an epicenter for local musicians and music collectors. The store itself is not enormous in size, yet their inventory extends deep into a catalogue of independent music and lesser-known, highly revered major label artists, including a section at the front of the store devoted to DC-area music. Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, who will soon be releasing his first solo album, has an in-store performance planned for this winter.

Along with a majority of DC’s independent music stores, Crooked Beat also carries an extensive vinyl collection, both new as well as rare, out-of-print, and obscure. Neal Becton, the store’s vinyl specialist, and Daly are in the planning stages of a new quarterly, area-wide record show. There is certainly no shortage of dealers and collectors in the area, including Groff, who still stocks hundreds of thousands of records in storage and runs Yesterday and Today online.

“Hopefully, it will happen sometime either late summer or early fall,” said Becton, “We’re expecting to start with twenty to thirty dealers and hopefully it can grow from there.”

Undeniably, the music industry and the way that people purchase and listen to music has changed drastically and irreversibly since Daly first stepped foot in Yesterday and Today twenty-two years ago. However, he and his partners at Crooked Beat, like many of the most effective promoters of independent music, are not content to dwell in the past. What they are doing now is paramount, as many believe, to maintaining the quality and personality behind music stores and the scene in general.

Now, more than two decades later, despite all of the obstacles, both Daly and that clerk who introduced him to Bad Brains have come a long way by not caving to music industry pressures. Fortunately, they still see each other quite often. Ian MacKaye is a loyal Crooked Beat customer, and Dischord’s catalogue, vastly available at Crooked Beat, is selling considerably well.

2 Comments

  1. Looking to contact Phil Becton. Need to see if he is possibily related to Phil Becton last known in Jacksonville florida. If so please inform the senior Phil Becton I need his address for his Christmas package. The last years’s package was returned.

    Coles E. Wiggins
    jerico997@aol.com

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