In a succinctly worded email, Doug Hanners instructed us to meet him at a storage shed in a suburb outside of west Austin, TX. It was there that we would do the interview. We pulled in next to each other on the gravel driveway and exited our cars into the humid morning air. He is tall and spry and, in a gesture that seemed to defy the scenario’s drop-off characteristic, strode over to warmly shake our hands. Ushering us into a generic white barn that had already collected the outside heat, he flicked on the fluorescent overhead lights. The shed is divided into two rooms. One contained a library of 45s and in the other laid boxes upon boxes of records waiting to be catalogued. He plugged in an old fan to circulate the stifling odor of cardboard and finger grime saying, “they used to hang these in the general stores back before we had AC. It still works great!”
Doug has organized the Austin Record Convention since it started back in 1981. The largest recorded music gathering in the US, collectors come from all over the world to hawk rare 78s, 45s, LPs and even CDs. (Doug swatted away the idea that CDs ever posed a serious threat to the sale of vinyl. “They were great for playing in cars, but that was their high point.”) The show’s success derives from Austin’s reputation as a music capital and from Doug’s fifty plus years in the business of rare and collectible vinyl.
Always a collector, his résumé features many musical accomplishments, including a self-published magazine (Not Fade Away) and reissue label of rare Texas garage music. Nowadays, collectors call him from all over to buy rare albums and singles. “There’s nothing I’ve got that I can’t be talked out of,” he said matter-of-factly. He is an enthusiast of garage-rock, gospel, and early rockabilly, but his priority is to run a successful business.
Doug developed methods for buying records in bulk early on. Among his biggest scores, was a collection acquired from the E.J. Shelby Music Company that was headquartered in Waco, TX. Defunct jukebox dealers often held stockpiles of retired 45s and Doug learned quickly how to trace them through their state issued licenses numbers.
Some discoveries are less about method, however, and more about being at the right place at the right time. He told us a story about an operation in west Texas that would place little shelves of records in rural grocery stores. “He had a warehouse full of records. I got there just in time because they were just throwing them into the dumpsters after he passed away.” Luck combined with good detective skills has been a winning combination for him. When he started the Austin Record convention, he owed its success to his intricate understanding of the music industry’s most important distributors and lead figures.
Along the way, he formed relationships with numerous high-profile label managers and producers. He said of Huey Meaux, the infamous producer and owner of of Crazy Cajun records, “he was a good friend of mine. He was a real crook but a great business man.” Doug laughed knowingly. “He had a Cajun accent that was ten feet thick.” He spoke in detail about Texas record producers and label owners and began to introduce the records behind his collecting stories. Once a few were played, the 45s started cascading off of the shelves.
Listed alphabetically and by label, Doug would surface with a record to play us only to be reminded of another, which would send him headlong back into the collection. Spinning a Texas rockabilly number (The Moonlighters’ “Rock-A-Bayou Baby”) where the singer screams to bridge the refrain and guitar solo, Doug exclaimed, “That’s what I call the Texas Scream!” There seemed to be enough examples in his collection to merit a thesis on the “Texas Scream” (see “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”)
Remembering his gospel records, he knelt down to inspect a neglected shelf of his collection before hurrying back with a few rarities. Dozens of records had already begun to accumulate around the turntable station, forming a colorful collage of labels (Dynamic, Greg, Tara, Teardrop, Mayte...). Up till that point, we had covered Chicano-rockabilly, garage-rock, the formation of the 13th Floor Elevators and Billy Gibbons’ early years with the Moving Sidewalks. “Oh yeah, this one is pretty tasty,” he said lining up a gospel number “Don’t Leave Me.” From San Antonio, The Songsters of Harmony sing a style of electrified, rural gospel that became popular in the early sixties. For a group that put out less than five records, we were stunned by track’s emotional depth. Once the track ended Doug commented appropriately, “Some records I don’t mind taking off before the end, but these guys… I can never do it.”
One can only speculate how many powerful performances like this lie hidden away in Doug’s vault. He has, thankfully, already taken steps to bring these records out of obscurity. He formed the Texas Archive label - a series in the mid 80s dedicated to the reissue of rare Texas garage-punk and rockabilly - with fellow collector Pete Buesnel. And, as a resource for students of Texas musicians and labels, he formed the Doug Hanners collection at UT Austin.
Doug began the interview with the air of a businessman discussing his trade, but ended it full of the kind of fervor that only true music purists can tap into. What allowed him to bridge both worlds was a dedication to knowledge, rather than the possession of physical objects. Zen though it may sound, I think his ability to detach from the physical object preserved his appreciation for the intangible qualities within the records. It all goes to show that in the best of collections, the collectors themselves are more priceless than any piece of vinyl.
--- Jonathan Shifflett