Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

Bob Noguera in Strider Records, his vintage record store on Jones St.

From doo-wop to record shop, it’s all about the music

By Karen Kramer

To walk into Bob Noguera’s store, Strider Records, on Jones St. is to be overwhelmed with a visual carnival of stimuli. The narrow aisle is filled with crates crammed with record albums, while the floor-to-ceiling shelves behind the counter are stuffed with thousands of 45s in their faded paper jackets. Somehow, he can find anything he needs within seconds.

Noguera, who has owned the store 27 years, has found a way to mesh his lifelong hobby of music into a business that is known on several continents. He says his first stirring of an interest in music goes back to his childhood in the Bronx where he grew up.

Noguera recalled, “Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s I remember my parents having a record player and it was the kind where you could stack 10 or 12 singles on it and they would drop one at a time. My father would listen to Perry Como and Tony Bennett and a lot of the big band stuff. So from a very early age I got a taste of different kinds of music.”

Noguera’s introduction to music may have started as a youngster, but like many Americans, it was his teenage years that brought the passion into full bloom.

“I remember watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and seeing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” he said. “As I got older I didn’t only want to watch the music but now it gave me the bug to want to perform. So I started taking accordion lessons. I got involved in choral groups in school and the church. I wanted to sing. There was a small group of kids that got together with me playing the accordion. We used to play P.T.A. meetings. I kept singing throughout grammar and high school.”

One type of music that was very popular in the 1950s and early ’60s was doo-wop, a style of rock and roll noted for its close harmony, usually sung in a group of four or five singers. It was this genre of music that won Noguera’s heart.

“Back then what I really loved was doo-wop,” he recalled. “You know the vocal harmony stuff…. It always got to me. When most of the kids my age were listening to the English invasion, the Beatles and all that, I was listening to music that came out before I was born. And sometime in the late ’70s I got to go out with a doo-wop group.”

He sang with many doo-wop groups, the first being Joe Villa and the Royal Teens, the group that years earlier had recorded the coy, quirky single “Short Shorts” (“Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts!”). “We played Madison Square Garden, and I was hooked. Music in some form or another became my whole life. Having a record store was a natural extension of the early days when I first got familiar with all kinds of music.”

Like a lot of kids who grew up close to Manhattan, Noguera would come down to the Village searching for music and excitement.

“When I was going to high school — that would be Cardinal Spellman High School up in the Bronx — on weekends I would come down to Greenwich Village and hunt for records. One of the stores I always went to, it just so happened that one of their regular workers was leaving and they needed a replacement and they saw that I seemed to know a lot about music. They took me on part time after school. I was like a kid in a candy store because I was surrounded by all this music that I loved.”

After high school Noguera went to Manhattan College, where he studied electrical engineering — a profession that his father had followed — but never really worked at the trade. His parents were supportive of the music and his father even helps out in the store occasionally.

These days, Noguera often sings with a group called the Jaynells. The group was originally started in the early ’60s, and one of the founding members still plays with them. In 1963 the Jaynells had a classic called “I’ll Stay Home.”

“It’s a very pretty song but it got swept under the rug when the Beatles came out,” Noguera noted. “The problem with that song is that it was about New Year’s Eve, so it had a viable marketability for only two months a year and then you couldn’t sing it anymore until the following Christmas. Now we do a lot of straight rock and roll like ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ Chuck Berry.”

The phone rings and it’s a client calling from California. The caller used to live in New York, and contacts Noguera whenever he needs hard-to-find records. The man is now looking for some obscure Latin music.

“I’ll let you know everything that I have when I go through the box. Then I’ll get back to you” Noguera tells him. He loves these kinds of challenges and even though Latin music is not his specialty — his strong points are rock and roll and doo-wop with blues, country, and pop a formidable second — he enjoys the challenge.

Noguera often gets calls from Europe and Japan. According to Noguera, when travelers with an interest in vintage music come to New York on vacation the first thing they do is check the Yellow Pages and find the stores that sell it. They then make a pilgrimage down to the shop on Jones St. and when they go back home they spread the word. The Japanese have a particular taste in old records.

“Well, these days soul music is very popular over there, music that was popular here in the ’60s and ’70s,” he explained. “Like the Memphis soul thing or the duo Sam & Dave.”

The 45s are arranged alphabetically by artist, and within that they are arranged alphabetically by song title. Noguera can pull out almost any title from the thousands on the shelf and relate a story that goes with it. He pulled out a 45 at random, and said,

“This one here is by a group called The Archies, who were never a group per se. This was a studio band. Bubble gum. There was an animated cartoon show on TV called ‘The Archies’ and in the cartoon they created a band and they got people in the studio to lip synch to match the band in the cartoon. And by accident they went and had a big hit. It was called ‘Sugar, Sugar.’ ”

He pulled out another.

“This is one of the big hits that Frankie Avalon had. I believe it dates to 1958. It’s called ‘Dede Dinah.’ What made this record so unique is that he sounds very nasal. And the reason for that is he actually recorded this whole song plugging his nose. The producers said, ‘Try this. Your voice sounds too normal and we have to give the record kind of a gimmick.’ And sure enough that’s how he sang it.”

What is not displayed on the shelves or resting in crates on the floor is living in a storage facility, since most of the inventory can’t fit in the small store. He has about 100,000 45s and about 20,000 LP’s.

“The knowledge that I have is due to the fact that I devoured every piece of material that I could get my hands on because I loved the music,” he explained. “It started out as a hobby for me. I started collecting records first. Forty-fives are a very significant part of my business. Many people have jukeboxes in their homes. Especially with this whole retro thing. A lot of people want to go back to the music that they remember when life wasn’t so complicated.”

Always one to be loyal to history, Noguera still lives in the Bronx, on the same block on which he grew up. He commutes to the Village every day and says he has the best of both worlds — where he works and where he lives. His store has been in three locations but it is actually three sides of the same block, starting on Cornelia St., moving around the corner to Bleecker, and then again to Jones, without ever crossing the street.

Noguera is well aware of the special place that Jones St. holds in music history.

“This block I’m fond of especially. It’s a very nice quiet block. The reason that Jones St. is noted the world over, is that one of Bob Dylan’s earliest albums, ‘Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,’ shows where he’s walking down the street hand in hand with his girlfriend. Well this is the block that was shot on. And Bob Dylan fans from the world over are aware of this and they come here and they want to recreate that photograph. They come with their girlfriends and they ask me if I know where exactly they were.”

Noguera understands what it’s like to have that kind of passion about music and its history.

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