By Duane Davis
After 40 years as one of the co-owners of Wax Trax, I am occasionally asked what the secret might be to keeping a business open that long.
My answer has always been simple and unequivocal: go into business with a workaholic. Which is exactly what I did when I went into business with Dave Stidman all those years ago. Here’s how it happened.
In early 1978, Dave Stidman and I were not selling records out of a store on Capitol Hill in Denver.
In fact, I hadn’t thought about getting in the record store business at all.
For most of that year, Dave and I were caseworkers with Jefferson County Social Services. I had started in social work in Grand Junction in 1974 working in a child protection unit, investigating and providing on-going services in child abuse/neglect situations. I had transferred in early 1976 to Jefferson County where I met Dave Stidman, the man who would become my business partner in Wax Trax.
How that came about was pretty loose. In the summer of ‘78, Dave and I were at the JeffCo Juvenile Probation Officers Annual Chili and Beer Blowout at a park in Golden. We had had a few beers and we were talking social work when Dave, pretty much out of the blue, says, ‘Hey, let’s get a record store!’ I popped another beer open and said, Sure, why not…
It turned out Dave was serious. Like me, Dave was a caseworker in a Adolescents in Crisis Unit. Dave talked to me some because I was the only person at Social Services who had heard of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (and in fact, even had their album Easter Everywhere).
Dave was already a serious record collector, particularly of old Rockabilly 45s. He had a regular route of ARCs, Goodwills and junk stores that he went to, picking up records on the cheap and then selling/trading to used record stores, one of which was Wax Trax, which had recently moved into a new spot at 13th and Washington.
Dave had gotten to know the owners, Jim and Dannie, but dealt more with Mike Smythe, a guy from England who was also a very knowledgeable person when it came to Rockabilly.
Having started Wax Trax in 1974 (originally in a small spot on Ogden Street), Jim and Dannie had figured out in their four years in Denver that they needed a bigger city to fulfill their vision of what their store should be: punk, post-punk, industrial, goth: Chicago was where they wanted to be. They were ready to sell out and move.
Jim and Dannie weighed different offers but liked Dave. Dave was pretty much fed up with Social Services and eager to get into the store. He got me on-board, we came up with the price and the first week of November 1978, we took over Wax Trax Records.
To get off the ground, Dave, happily I might add, quit Social Services and moved into a roughed out ‘apartment’ space in the back room of Wax Trax. Jim and Dannie had lived back there, fitting in a shower, a stove and refrigerator, and a bed. It was primitive but serviceable and suited Dave right down to the ground.
And that’s when I found out what it was that would keep us open for the next four decades: Dave liked to work. He liked to work seven days a week. He liked to do that month in and month out, year in and year out.
Here’s my favorite pre-Wax Trax story about Dave, a story that also illuminates another reason why we are still open after all this time.
While we were still at Social Services, Dave and I talked a lot about music, discovering that we had some shared interests in ‘50s rock n roll, ‘60s psychedelic and garage, and at least a curiosity about this stuff seeping into the culture called Punk rock.
But Dave’s thing, his real thing, was Rockabilly – something I knew a little about but not near enough.
Dave invited me over to his house one night to play some records and educate me. We went down into his basement, which was dark, dank and stuffed with record racks full of lp’s and boxes of 7” singles piled about here and there.
And what an education it was: Dave sat on a chair next to a beat-up turntable, a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, flipping 45s on and off the platter, talking all the while about singers, bands, labels, recordings and the obsessive minutia record collectors gather around themselves like layers of pearl.
And it turned out that it wasn’t just Rockabilly. It was crooners, rockers, long-hairs, Blues guys all missing a limb and one or more of the five senses, punks, folkies, one hit wonders buried in the pop charts from 30 years ago, greasers, torch singers, cowpie yodellers, piano ticklers and banjo pickers, jazz men known only for one note and an overdose, head bangers and acid eaters strung out on guitar solos as intricate and identifiable as a particular kind of spider’s web, doo wop boys in matching robin’s egg blue suits and with black velvet trim who moved in yearning lock-step harmonies, grunters and howlers, sweathogs and ice-queens of every possible sex.
It was music, it was all night long. It was everything.
But let’s get back to the thing about partnering up with a workaholic. It isn’t just that Dave has been at the store pretty much seven days a week for the past 40 odd years: it’s that it’s not just the fun stuff he does: when Dave sees something that needs to be done, he doesn’t look around to see who he might tell to do the job – Dave does it, he steps into the traces and he pulls the weight.
He did that the first day we opened.
You can assume he did it today.
Come by tomorrow and you’ll see him do it again.
And I’m thankful for it.