By Erin Wade–
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an enchanting little music shop on Highland Avenue with the handle of Underground Sounds. Upon entering Underground Sounds one sees miscellaneous music insignia lining the walls as one would at any CD or record store and a fair amount of CDs and vinyls organized by genre, condition and year. But one might find there is something about the store that is difficult to place.
Nowadays, most music shops in Louisville are fairly similar in what they carry in regards to genre or artists, but despite its small size, Underground Sounds has an unrivaled catalog. While rummaging through the CDs, I found several interesting and unfamiliar names, but when I happened upon the blues section, I struck a gold mine. I found a “Skip James” CD.
Unfortunately, you probably have no earthly idea who “Skip James” is. I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who has nor have I ever seen a CD of his in any store. “Skip James” was a delta blues artist in the 1930s. Sadly, the timing of the release of his songs coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression, resulting in very poor sales. James eventually gave up on music and slowly drifted out of familiarity. In fact, his whereabouts were unknown for the next thirty years until he was found in a Mississippi hospital in the 1960s. But not only did I find his CD in Underground Sounds, I found a whole section for his CDs. Giddiness ensued.
I questioned what kind of individual would have such a selection. For some reason, I imagined that only a wise old man on the upper side of his sixties could be running this place, but then I met Craig Rich. Rich has owned Underground Sounds for 16 years and, contrary to my predictions, he isn’t an old relic. He’s a delightful little hippie that doesn’t even look out of his thirties. Just mentioning “Skip James” to him induced this rampage of in-depth knowledge on the artist and slowly drifted to concert stories. Craig estimates that he’s been to around 6,000 shows; he can name drop like no other. This man is a paragon of music history connoisseurs. At one point, the conversation skipped to something unexpected. A customer came in and asked why he didn’t take the more lucrative route of running his business out of his house through internet sales, nixing the shop altogether. You could tell he’d entertained the idea before, but what he said next surprised me. He said that at the end of the day what he really wanted was to interact with people, to be a conduit between them and music.
While listening to all of his crazy adventures, I discovered what I couldn’t place before about his shop. And though it would be easy for me to just tell you what it is, I think you’d be very happy to discover it for yourself.
Photos by Erin Standridge/The Louisville Cardinal