If life is a symphony, Andrew Simpson is its conductor.
Sifting through the 40,000 or so records tucked away in the basement of Simpson’s Gordon Head home is more than just a walk down memory lane – it’s playing the soundtrack of an almost forgotten piece of history.
These aren’t just your ordinary records, they’re the original 78s that captured the music from the early part of the 20th century.
“It’s the grandfather to the vinyl” LP record albums most are familiar with, said Simpson, who also has a couple hundred cylinder records which originated in the 1890s to play on the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison as well as 1,000 or so Edison Diamond Discs that the inventor released in the 1910s and ’20s.
“The 78s were more practical because you could have two songs on a disc,” he said.
The 78s continued in widespread use through the 1940s and into the early 1950s until LPs made their arrival, coinciding with the birth of rock and roll. But Simpson’s love of the recordings stems more from their historic value than any musical taste.
“Everyone who’s on these records is dead, everyone who bought the records and enjoyed them is dead, so it’s kind of like a lost bunch of music. It’s like the archeology of records,” he said.
Simpson’s interest in the hobby started almost by accident during a 2003 road trip to California and Nevada.
“We went into Virginia City, which is an old western town in Nevada – it’s a tourist trap. There was a phonograph museum and it clicked in my head, ‘That’s pretty neat’,” he recalled.
Upon his return home, Simpson picked up an old phonograph from an antique store up-Island then slowly began to amass his collection of records, picking them up online from sites like Used Victoria and garage sales.
“You find people giving away lots – giving them away or selling them for very modest prices,” he said, adding most of the records can be picked up for 50 cents or $1. “There are gems you can find, just like with baseball cards, there are Babe Ruth records that are worth a lot.”
Simpson said the one-sided 78s from the early 1900s are valuable because of their rarity, along with songs from the Roaring Twenties and early jazz era.
“The ‘20s and ‘30s is what everyone’s after – they’re after the old blues and jazz, the good time music,” he said.
But that music can be hard to find, as many of the old 78s were recycled in the 1940s to turn out the popular wartime music of artists like Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra or Artie Shaw.
“That’s the music that people will recognize. When I bring people down here they don’t want to hear the stuff from 1915. Pull out the rock and roll.”
While Simpson has a few of the early rock and roll stars on 78s, he actually doesn’t own any of the traditional LP albums.
“All the music that I grew up with and I listen to, I just have on Spotify,” said Simpson, whose collection has brought more than a few bemused looks from his wife.
But Simpson has no intention of stopping now and his collection continues to grow – the 78s lining shelves mounted to the walls of his basement, many in special sleeves to protect the delicate recordings that have started to crack.
Simpson hasn’t even heard all of his 40,000 records, saying he doesn’t get down into his basement studio as much as he’d like.
“As you’re sorting it, you pull out the ones you want to hear. I’ve tabbed the ones I like, so they don’t get lost,” he said. “Eventually, if I live long enough, I’ll listen to them all.”