Kelly's Klassics

Looking for a needle in a vinyl haystack? Head to Wilton Manors on Saturdays

Kelly Massing gets pissed every time he opens the phone book. After more than 15 years in the Yellow Pages, he can't believe what they did to the listing for his Wilton Manors record store, Kelly's Klassics. After all that time, the phone number is still there, correct and unchanged. There's no address included, but that's not what has Massing riled; he leaves that out purposefully because he's open only one day a week, on Saturdays. And he doesn't care if prospective shoppers are unable to find his store -- "selling is no problem," he says.

What really makes him angry is that BellSouth has eliminated the category called "Records, Tapes, and CDs." Now Kelly's is up-front in the "CDs, Records, and Tapes" section. "Nobody'll ever find it," he laments, "'cause they really screwed me. They screwed me good."

Just a peek in Kelly's front window reveals the backassward logic in lumping the store in with digital-age merchants. Kelly's Klassics sells records. Other stores still sell vinyl, but there's just a shoebox full of CDs amid the piles of vinyl at Kelly's. Crates and cardboard boxes filled with records are stacked haphazardly, like a maze. Seven-inch 45s are crammed into metal display racks. Hardback books on Elvis, Sinatra, Dylan, and Jagger are mingled with a Millennium Falcon replica and ancient Superman curtains.

Seventeen years ago, Kelly started peddling the records at the back of his mom's antiques store. "And eventually it just exploded into the hell that I have now," he says. At that time, Wings N Things, Dairy Queen, his mom's vintage clothing store, and a chiropractor made up the small strip of storefronts where he now does business.

Once, long ago, the store was roomy enough to accommodate Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane and his wheelchair, recalls Massing, a slightly svelter cross between David Crosby and Fat Freddy. With a crown of ginger curls framing a bald pate, a baggy Bugs Bunny T-shirt, and rolled-up blue jeans, he balances himself on a leaning stack of records. "This place used to be organized and clean," he says. The 1,000 feet of floor space ran out long ago, he explains. Now he has to keep part of his stock inside his new van, which is parked in front of the shop.

This Saturday afternoon, the store fills with browsers. A nearly senior citizen in polyester golf pants, a blue plaid shirt, black socks, and sandals strolls in. He's looking for Annette Funicello vinyl. Or Julie London? Maybe Marilyn Monroe?

Kelly finds an old Funicello LP. "But she was really a 45 girl," he says. "Of course, with a body like that, she could have sold anything."

"It's amazing what's collectible today, when you think about it," says the sandal man.

Already today, Massing has sold an old 45 by the Four Seasons for $100. Forty-fives are lucrative nowadays and far more collectible than albums. His biggest sale ever was for a rare 45 from the 1950s -- the Larks' "My Reverie." "I sold it to him for $6,000 cash," Kelly says while showing off a rarer-than-rare private pressing from Harry Casey that goes for $200. Dated 1970, it's the first recorded appearance from the man who went on to found KC and the Sunshine Band.

As browsers browse, the store fills with sounds. Thunder rolls through leaden skies as a passing siren drowns out the faint air-conditioning hum. Then there's a loud static-y PLOP! as a stylus lands in the lead-in groove, and snaps and pops pass through Kelly's tired woofers. Patrons shuffle past one another in aisles that make the ones at Bob's Books look like an airport concourse, murmuring "'scuse me." There's the soft smack of plastic-sleeved records being thumbed through and the sharp intake of breath when someone spies The One He's Been Looking For.

"Wow!" sandal man says to himself. "Eddie Arnold's 'May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!'"

Occasionally, Kelly's high-pitched giggle interrupts the silence or the ancient crackle of one of his old 45s. Today, he plays an old Four Seasons jingle for Coca-Cola and "I'm Hot" by the PingPongs. "Try finding that on CD!" Kelly laughs.

Kelly's doesn't seem to carry the same mediocre used albums you find everywhere else (Alanis Morissette, Spin Doctors, Night Ranger, and other embarrassments must be buried in another carbon-dated layer). Instead, he's got the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' original 1967 LP Easter Everywhere; a sealed copy of Kraftwerk's The Man Machine; a pair of $700 Beatles Yesterday and Todaybutcher covers. Some of this stock came in during the late 1980s, when some record collectors replaced their old albums with CDs.

"I love those people," Massing says. "They would bring in records and say, 'I have this on CD now, so I'm gonna bring you my mint mono Yardbirds record. Would you take it from me for, like, a dollar?'"

Everyone in the store looks up and laughs.

As an example of Kelly's filing system, a copy of Rush Hemispheres is sandwiched between Jerry Lewis... Just Sings!and String Along with the Kingston Trio. So finding that elusive Little Richard single may be tough unless Kelly knows exactly where it is. Which he does. Probably. Expect to dig a bit, which is part of the fun. Nothing's priced; pick up an album, show it to him, ask how much. He'll squint. "Ah, probably 20 bucks," he'll say.

"People need me more than I need them," he continues. "It's like a sickness, and they have to continue to buy. I'm going to get records they're going to want."

The final score: After two hours of barely scratching the outer layers of Kelly's concretion of stock, I've found a few goodies to satisfy a nostalgic craving: a cutout Captain Sensible collection and an import version of the Stranglers' Aural Sculpture. An obscure, out-of-print mid-'80s Latin jazz/new wave outing from Quando Quango called Pigs + Battleships. A tattered first pressing of Jaco Pastorius, the famed 1976 debut from the long-lost native son. Everyone in Fort Lauderdale seems to have a story about Jaco. Kelly is no different -- in fact, he met Jaco the night he died. Just a few yards north of the store on Wilton Drive, the bass player tried to push his way into the Midnight Bottle and was beaten to death by the bouncer.

"I didn't recognize him," says Kelly, remembering the night (September 11, 1987) Jaco paid a visit. "He sure didn't look like that," nodding toward the sober, clear-eyed musician on the LP sleeve. "He was inebriated, falling all over himself." As he was leaving, Jaco noticed a Weather Report album by the door. "I'm taking this," he told Kelly, snatching it up. "I'm on this record." He grabbed another album and started stumbling out. Catching him at the threshold, Kelly told him, "They're $4 each!" Pastorius grabbed a pen and a Post-It note, scrawled something on it, threw it at Massing, and bolted.

"He'd written his name there," explains Massing, who later framed it. "And I know good and well that had to be his last autograph."

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