by Bob McPeek
The sudden and tragic passing of owner Charlie Scales in turn has led to the closing of Hyde and Zeke Records, after over 36 years as an integral part of the Gainesville music scene. The thousands of friends who shopped at Zeke’s made the store a gathering place for music lovers of two generations.
The loss of Charlie Scales and the shuttering of Hyde and Zeke Records are a huge double blow to many. As a cofounder of Hyde and Zeke’s, I’m still reeling. Two memorials for Chas have helped me recognize and appreciate his gifts to the community. But there has been no such ceremony for the store, so I hope you will allow me a few words of remembrance and gratitude.
Hyde and Zeke’s was the creation of my friend Ric Kaestner and me, way back in the late hippie era of 1977. Ric and I met in Columbus, Ohio, where we both performed one night at a songwriters’ showcase in a bar near the Ohio State University campus. Despite quite different musical styles, we started performing together, finding common ground in wacky humor. While I finished my Ph.D. in psychology, we played local clubs under a variety of goofy band names, till one of them stuck: Hyde and Zeke.
Love of music infused our lives. Ric was a gifted singer and picked up some extra cash operating lights at the Agora for the likes of REO Speedwagon. I was the kind of guy who dreamed about records—12” plastic tickets to another place. Aided by the fact that we were chums with a Columbus used record store entrepreneur (“The Mole”), another place meant somewhere we could move and launch a used record store (with The Mole’s financial backing)—and, for me, some place other than being a psychology professor.
Gainesville fit the bill. After Ric came back from a friend’s wedding in the sleepy summer of Hogtown 1976, his enthusiasm for the place won me over sight unseen. We packed our bags and left Ohio just in time to avoid winter, arriving in Gainesville the week before Thanksgiving, 1976. We immediately set about looking for a location for a used record store.
Hyde and Zeke’s almost didn’t happen. Landlords took one look at us and generated excuses why they couldn’t rent us space. Somehow Ric, the diplomat of the team, convinced an import store named Macondo Kalimba to consolidate their sparse shelves and rent us the back half of the storefront at 919 W. University Ave.
With perfect timing, The Mole then announced that he was withdrawing his backing. We didn’t have a Plan B, having moved a thousand miles and chucked away promising careers with one goal in mind. So, after much handwringing, we pooled our meager resources, scoured garage sales for used records, and opened Hyde and Zeke’s in early 1977. We didn’t dream of huge business success; I remember thinking I’d be satisfied making $100 a week. It was, as I said, about music.
Our main concern was finding good inventory, and we peppered the streets with mimeographed flyers advertising “we buy records.”
Despite our naïveté, we grew quickly and steadily. We made back our initial investment within three months, largely because the start up amount was so pathetically small.
We survived our first competitor, who opened shortly after we did with a better location and much better inventory.
I like to think people felt they got a fair deal at Hyde and Zeke’s and enjoyed the comic atmosphere. Maybe they also felt sorry for the underdogs. For the first few years, we NEVER got a bad check, a fact that other student-oriented business owners had trouble believing.
In 1979 we moved across from campus, to 1620 W. University. Business boomed. We added employees: Gary Gordon, who was elected mayor while he worked for us as manager; J. D. Foster, a great bass player who later played with Dwight Yoakam and made a career as a record producer after moving to California; Bill Perry, a never-ending font of music knowledge and a natural at customer service; and Charlie Scales, a great guitar player with an encyclopedic command of every known musical genre (and a few as yet undiscovered).
Those were the golden years, from my perspective. We had a thriving business and a close staff that shared or surpassed our love of music. I especially remember Fridays fondly, when we delighted in playing the weirdest records we could find. Take, for example, forty minutes of repeated different inflections of the word “hello,” from the immortal vinyl classic, Teach Your Parrot to Talk.
For me, the golden era reached its zenith in 1981, when we released the first record on the Hyde and Zeke label, Stranger in the Same Land. Full disclosure: the band, Tranceform, included Ric and me, as well as George Tortorelli, David Smadbeck, and Ralph Gray. This was the culmination of all the threads of my life: making music and putting it on vinyl.
That peak, of course, couldn’t and didn’t last. Over the next few years, our focus on the store began to drift. I was operating a second business, Mirror Image Recording Studio. Ric, restless, moved to Tennessee. We tried opening a second store, in Ocala, which didn’t work. Gary left the store, and we had differences of opinion about management with his replacement. Records were on their way out; the digital age was well underway. The business continued to grow, but the shine had faded for the founders.
We sold the store in 1986. Sadly, the new owner made a series of bad decisions, siphoned profits to support another failing retail record and video store, and eventually took all the stock home and changed the locks on an empty storefront, without any advance notice to customers or even employees. The store sat empty for a few months, until my hero Charlie Scales stepped in and rescued it from a premature demise in 1990.
There were still good years left, but the inexorable rise of digital music, file sharing, and downloadable MP3 files provided one blow after another. The staff shrunk and locations moved further and further from campus. Chas kept it alive with some great help from Bill Perry.
I don’t know details, but I’m pretty sure that over the last few years Chas was barely eking out a living, driven primarily by his love of music and given hope by a mild recovery of interest in vinyl. I can only hope he still found satisfaction going to work each day. I do know he was proud of having “a good run,” a comment he shared with Bill not long before his untimely passing.
I can’t help but think that, just as record collections have shrunk from rows of stacked orange crates covering a wall to a device that fits in your pocket, so has the importance of music been diminished to a fraction of its former glory. For every one of us who lives and breathes music, who finds inspiration to get through the day in a magical song, there are dozens for whom music is simply another indistinguishable element in the media soup that washes over their numb brains.
Maybe I’m just a grumpy old fart ranting and raving about the good old days. What I know for sure is that there is a Hyde and Zeke shaped hole in my heart. Fortunately that hole is filled by a sense of gratitude to my partners, collaborators, friends, mentors, patrons, and occasional nut cases who intersected with Hyde and Zeke’s over the last 36 and a half years. Yes, Chas, it was a good run. A damn good run!