Long Beach Record Collector Steve Propes Goes ‘Old School’ With New R&B Book • Long Beach Post

Though today’s age of Spotify, iTunes and Billboard’s music download charts have made most of our sounds digital, there remains a growing market among DJs, collectors and sonic history fans for the physicality of records, especially in Long Beach where all-vinyl DJs and funky soul clubs like Goodfoot reign supreme.

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old schoolSteve Propes–a Long Beach local and one of the region’s foremost experts on R&B and vocal harmony groups–has been keeping this passion for vintage 45s alive with a growing lineup of books that, for more than a decade, have provided collectors and fans a wealth of encyclopediac information about records both big and small. 

The latest book, his seventh, is an ambitious compendium of information about every song recorded between 1934 and 2011 by R&B artists and vocal groups in Southern California. It includes detailed info and background on each track including where it was recorded, who wrote it and the dates of its chart debuts. The book’s title? Old School.

“My interest in SoCal R&B groups began when I arrived as a pre-teen in Long Beach in 1953 and was one of many youths who listened to the Johnny Otis Show on Long Beach-based KFOX,” says Propes, who is also a freelance writer for the Beachcomber newspaper based in Los Altos. “[R&B] replaced the Eddie Fisher-Perry Como style of pop that got old fast and appealed to a much older crowd. R&B was teen–it rocked.”

Old School is an extenstion of Propes’ 2000 book, a decidedly smaller-scale undertaking called L.A. R&B Vocal Groups: 1945 to 1965, which was co-written with Galen Gart. L.A. R&B Vocal Groups, like all of Propes’ books, grew out of his extensive record collection, which he began building in the late ’50s and only grew as he began listening to soul radio stations and discovered record swap meets.

In 1981, Propes’ massive collection and interest in the R&B and soul genres landed him his own radio show on KLON, which had just been acquired by the CSULB Foundation and was about to institute a jazz format. Through 1989, he interviewed some of music’s biggest names, starting with Richard Berry (who first recorded “Louie Louie”) and Don Julian who had “The Jerk,” Brenton Wood, Big Joe Turner, Ike Turner, various vocal groups and horn blowers like Joe Houston.

By the end of the decade he had conducted around 400 interviews, many of which he included in Old School, bringing first-person insight to how some of the region’s most popular songs–from War “Low Rider” to The Coasters’ “Yakity Yak”–came about.

Devoid of images or a visually stimulating layout, Old School is a text-heavy database perfect for researchers of vintage vinyl recordings, but through its thickness is a thorough compilation that could serve as a resource for all fans of local music. 

“The original intended audience is the record collector who has a record he knows nothing about and wants to know more,” says Propes. “[But also] as party and club DJs have been seeking out these sides to keep their audience on the floor, their need for info on the records seems pretty much a given.”

Steve Propes will be signing copies of Old School: 77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934 – 2011 at Dyzzy On Vynyl, 3004 E. Seventh Street on Saturday, March 22 from 2:30PM to 4PM. To purchase the book from Amazon, click here

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