One winter when Kevin Hiroshi Donan was a child growing up in Flint, Mich., he went to play outside with some of his father’s Frisbees – or at least he thought the round, black, grooved discs were Frisbees. Donan hurled the discs, watching as they disappeared into the deep snow.
“When the snow melted away, ” Donan says inside As the Record Turns, where thousands of records rise from the floor towards the ceiling. “I found out what a record was.”
Today, Donan slings records in a different way: He is a rare vinyl specialist, supplying collectors, DJs, musicians, archivists and others with high-quality copies of vintage sounds. In the more than 30 years since Donan and his wife, Monet, opened As the Record Turns, the offerings inside this compact Hollywood shop have attracted celebrity customers ranging from Paul Shaffer to Anderson .Paak, as well as cultural institutions like The Grammy Museum and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Back when Donan first started selling records, he wanted to make sure the focus was on copies that were in good condition. “Because my father was that way,” he says. “Pretty much, he bought his records new. If he bought ten, maybe one was barely open.”
The condition of the vinyl has also made As the Record Turns a go-to spot for prop managers looking for the perfect period pieces to appear in film and television, as well record labels in search of pieces from their catalogs. To date, Donan says the shop has supplied vinyl for over 1000 movies and 700 television shows. If you watched “The ‘70s Show,” you’ve probably seen a record from Donan’s stock. The teams behind movies like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Straight Outta Compton” looked towards As the Record Turns as well. Images sourced from records in the store’s collection have been used for over 2000 items like reissues of classic albums.
Before all this happened, though, Donan was the teenage drummer of the band Hypersolmystics, who played around Flint and the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, landing opening gigs for the likes of The Ohio Players and Parliament Funkadelic. By the end of the decade, Donan had moved to Los Angeles and spent the following years working various music industry jobs. He managed artists, worked at a vinyl pressing plant and became a recording engineer.
In the 1980s after they got married, Kevin and Monet decided to get into the music retail business. “At the time, cassettes were still king,” Donan says. Still, the couple saved up a few thousand dollars, investing that into “several hundred records.” They started out with a table inside a Glendale bookstore, then set up their own shop in Hollywood, where As the Record Turns has been selling rare, vintage vinyl for 34 years.
Stepping inside the store is like walking into a vault of musical treasures. Vinyl fills nearly every corner of As the Record Turns’ two rooms, with vintage gear accessorizing the space. A few choice pieces— like a Jimi Hendrix 45 and signed records from Eartha Kitt and Vincent Price — are displayed in a glass case in the back room. A few more rarities hang on the walls, but you will certainly come across more in the stacks. Despite the shop’s small size, digging here takes time; the on-site soundtrack section alone holds an estimated 6000 to 7000 records. And for as much vinyl as is packed in the store, Donan says he has plenty more off-site. Donan himself has been working on a book and documentary, “Black Film Tracks,” about the contributions of Black artists to film music.
From the get-go, the store’s focus has been on classic releases in excellent condition. Back in the 1980s, that meant releases from the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Bassey, amongst many others. Acquiring those records wasn’t easy, particularly since so many copies of these records ended up in stores outside of the U.S., but Donan traveled a lot.
“That’s a difficult thing to try to retrieve them, but I did,” he says.
In doing that, As the Record Turns carved out a niche at a time when record stores were more likely to focus on the latest rock releases.
“We made money on Julie Andrews records. We made money on Judy Garland records. We made money on Richard Pryor records,” Donan recalls. “Everybody was fair game, just as long as it was shrink-wrapped or sealed.”
Because Donan focused on finding copies that appeared new, or barely used, the store attracted another client base: record labels. As Donan points out, before cover art was created digitally, the components were photographed – and film ages. When it’s time to reissue albums, the best source for artwork might actually be a very clean copy of the original release. But there are other reasons labels might need to track down their back catalog. Items may have gotten lost in the midst of industry disruptions, like mergers, or they could have been damaged in a major event, like a fire.
In fact, about 11 years ago, Donan was tasked with locating first pressings from the Chess Records catalog. At the time, he’d something about a fire from the client. “I knew of nothing else,” he says. Like so many others, he didn’t learn the extent of the damage from the Universal Fire until it came out in the press years later.
While As the Record Turns has a reputation as a vinyl locator for the entertainment industry, it also appeals to music lovers who happen to be in the neighborhood. If you’re strolling down Hollywood Blvd. between Highland and Las Palmas, you’ll almost certainly miss As the Record Turns amidst the souvenir shops, tourist hubs and bustle of sidewalk traffic. To find it, you’ll head down a small pathway between storefronts leading to a courtyard of businesses, where the record store is positioned behind a fountain.
But plenty of people do find it.
On the day of our interview, a group of young shoppers ventured into the store and flipped through the bins. Earlier that day, Donan says, someone from New York stopped by and walked out with an anime soundtrack from Japan.
Turns out, there’s no typical customer at As the Record Turns.
“You can’t brand a person because they come in wearing a certain T-shirt that says I went to that concert,” says Donan. “Next thing, they’re asking you for a Dolly Parton record from 1969 or a Vincent Price record.”