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Y&T: 20 Years of High Fidelity

By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 1997

TWENTY YEARS ago, if you wanted to buy the latest imported UK 45 by the Damned or the Stranglers or Elvis Costello or the Clash or Nick Lowe, you didn't have too many options around here. Then, in September 1977, Yesterday & Today Records opened in a little strip mall on Rockville Pike with an immediate impact on the Washington music scene.

On the shop's 20th anniversary, owner Skip Groff is looking back on the influence of his tiny record store at 1327-J Rockville Pike (301/279-7007), and putting everything on sale (20 percent off) for the month of September. Groff, who discovered music when the Beatles came to the U.S. to play on "The Ed Sullivan Show," had been a music writer and a DJ with a huge record collection before going into the retail side of the business. "It happened at the beginning of the import single thing, with Stiff Records and the Radar label in England putting out music that people in this country wanted to hear," says Groff. "And though my intention had been to be a collector's shop, selling out-of-print vinyl and old 45s, that changed pretty fast to include the new stuff that was coming out but wasn't being carried by the big chains."

He named the store for the old Beatles record (the one whose original cover had the butchered dolls on it), but the attraction for local music scenesters was the powerful new stuff from across the Atlantic. "We were getting new releases flown in from England every week, and had a steady stream of high school kids and young professionals who wanted the latest punk rock releases. And of course all the people in the local bands came out to shop, like the guys in the Slickee Boys and Black Market Baby."

Flush with fast success, Groff formed Limp Records (a counterpart to Britain's Stiff label) and released the Slickee Boys' second record and followed that with releases by the Razz, the D. Ceats, and Black Market Baby. He financed and released the Bad Brains' first studio recording, sending Slickee Boy Martin "Kim" Kane in to produce at Don Zientara's Inner Ear Studios, and when some high school kids talked about putting out a record by their band Teen Idles, Groff put up the money and studio time, helping launch the now-legendary punk label Dischord. "The Teen Idles record was going to come out on Limp, but it was clear that the band, and Ian [MacKaye] especially, had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do and where they were going."

For Dischord, Groff produced the first recordings of Henry Rollins and his band S.O.A., and Rollins was mainstay at the store, helping Groff unpack and shelve the boxes of records from across the ocean. Folks like MacKaye and MacKaye's current Fugazi bandmates Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty all worked in the store while their own recording careers took off, and Groff is still clearly nostalgic for the time when his store was one of the country's punk rock epicenters. At 49, he's taking stock, grateful that his hobby and passion can still support him and his family. (His wife Kelly was one of his best customers when they started dating 10 years ago, and they named their daughter Kirsty after British pop singer Kirsty MacColl. "Everyone thinks she's named for Kirstie Alley," Groff says with a sad sigh.)

And his store -- now that "alternative rock" is big business, vinyl is of little concern to major corporations and punk is no longer changing the world -- is now closer to how he first envisioned it: geared toward vinyl collectors and people obsessed with 45s, with Limp Records nothing but a fond memory. "We've got over a million 45s here," Groff says, "and vinyl collecting is really booming. We've been doing mail order since 1987, and a lot of business comes over the internet." (The Web site is http://members.aol.com/yatrec/private/index.htm). And besides all his vintage singles, Groff also carries all the current 45s released mainly for the jukebox market, out of a fondness for the medium. "The 45 rpm record will always be, as far as I'm concerned, the crown jewel of recorded music. The band puts all its marbles in one song, on one side, saying `This is us, our sound, what we are. This is it.' It's a real dramatic statement."

BIG BLUE HEART BEATS

Last week a band called Big Blue Hearts played a couple of shows in town, one at IOTA Sept. 4 after the Joe Walsh show at the 9:30 club was canceled (they were the opening band) and one Sunday night at the Hard Rock Cafe.

To clear up any confusion, this blue-hearted band is from San Francisco and shouldn't be confused with the Big Blue Hearts that played the Washington club circuit earlier in the decade. That band was a trashy roots-rock band that was frequently found on bills with the likes of the Slickee Boys and Date Bait. They broke up when leader Peter Murray (also an alumnus of local punks Marginal Man) took his songwriting and singing skills to Austin, where his band Belmont Hall is making melodic punk noise in the Texas capital's club scene.

But funny thing, the leader of San Francisco's Big Blue Hearts, David Fisher, lived in Washington several years back, fronting a band called Word Made Flesh. "We were a kind of Doors-y, psychedelic rock band. Terrible band, but really fun," says Fisher. "This was around '90, '91. We played d.c. space, the 9:30, the Bayou, the usual circuit." And doesn't he remember a band called Big Blue Hearts? "Nope, but people keep telling me about it so maybe it did sink into my subconscious somewhere. But we did a copyright search and didn't come up with anything. We weren't trying to steal anything."

Fisher, who grew up in northern Virginia ("Woodbridge, Arlington, Fairfax, Annandale, Alexandria. We moved around a lot.") and whose mom still lives around here, moved to San Francisco five years ago for a change of pace. He started writing his own songs, put together a band and landed a record contract on the Geffen label. His Roy Orbison-style singing and crisp songwriting is sending the debut release ("Big Blue Hearts") up the "Triple-A" and "Americana" radio charts, a fact that will ensure another appearance in the area before too long.

LEFT HAND MEN

It was bad enough when Snickers bought the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" for a TV ad a few years back. Now with Sprint sponsoring the Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" tour, we're getting print ads sporting the familiar Andy Warhol lips/tongue logo with the tongue pierced by the Sprint pin (clever, I'll admit). And above that, the printed lyrics "You can't always get what you want" are followed by Sprint's words "Yes you can."

Oh, it's all so craven.

Given the Stones' past willingness to sell themselves to corporate bidders, none of this should be a surprise, but we cannot sit idly by while Sprint turns right-handed guitar players Keith Richards and Ron Wood into southpaws for the sake of . . . well, we're not sure why. In big ads that ran in this paper last week, Mick Jagger is seen running across the stage of a packed stadium, while Keith and Ronnie play left-handed off to the side of the picture.

The whole thing stinks. At first you think the ad agency -- Grey Advertising in Manhattan, who wouldn't comment on the ad (Sprint wouldn't either, chickens) -- simply reversed a negative or something innocent like that. But if you look a little closer you see that the entire picture is a computer collage of several images. The crowd is looking way off in another direction, Mick's shadow is all wrong for the lighting and he's clearly been tweaked to make him sharper. Then there are those lefty guitar players. Here's a dog-bites-man story for you: "AD AGENCY ALTERS THE TRUTH!" Why am I surprised?

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