Bleecker Bob wrestles Hilly in Heaven.
Hey folks, I am behind on my posts. Sorry about that. I had some stuff. This story had me a little... Verklempt.
Robert Plotnik, otherwise praised and revered as, Bleecker Bob, owner and criminal mastermind of Bleecker Bob’s Records, a Greenwich Village Music mecca that became THE place to get British import singles or some supercool unsigned bands in the 1970s., died last Thursday in Manhattan. He was 75.
It has been a bit of a grind for Bob as the halcyon days of record collecting was dimming and his health was dropping, especially after a stroke almost 20 years ago. He was still in the shop barking at patrons often enough that I caught him twice in the last year, rolling around in his wheelchair he yelled at me both times, for old times sake. It wasn’t out of nostalgia, he yelled at me because Bob could be a freaking annoying asshole. He could be reminded of some slight or another, bad taste in music, being in a crappy band 35 years ago that he saw at 8:30pm on a Tuesday at CBGB, anything. It was enough to vow I’d never return thousands of times only to be back there the following week. Bleecker Bob’s had the stuff… And if he didn’t have it, you could be sure no one else did either.
Every guy who worked there was kind, helpful, and never disdained you for your musical taste. However, they never acted or pretended they were interested in what you were looking for. Often, enough you would be looking for something that they also collected and a great conversation would ensue, starting off sheepishly and then blossom and then you would spend your week’s pay on records. Now if Bob was there and you wanted a 45rpm from England priced $3.00 featuring a band you liked that he didn’t he actually would refuse to sell it to you. And then he would belittle your taste in music. I have a friend, who is Bob’s cousin and we didn’t know for years they were related, because even he wasn’t spared Bob's ire.
Back in the 1970s there were record stores everywhere in Manhattan catering to every taste. There were two 78 rpm only record stores, jazz, classical, R and B, and countless rock used vinyl shops. In the East Village, there were maybe 50, It’s hard to remember. In High School, I had an odd job at Columbia Records. I was a High School Rep. That meant, basically, I was supposed to give advance LP’s, Posters, and give away concert tickets to pad out the shows. A record would be set to come out, I would pick up a case or two of LP’s and try to entice kids I knew into talking about the band/artist. This was street promotion back in the 1970s. I’d go to 20 parties at the weekend. Put it on if it was suitable, give it away to anyone who expressed an interest and promise to get their opinion the next time you saw them.(rarely) It would get them talking about it amongst their friends. And a buzz would buzz.
Often I would be stuck with five or ten copies of a record. That led me to Cliff Colteri who owned a record store downstairs from my apartment. He was another surly cus but, he could also be hilariously funny. Cliff often had quite a few import singles on his shelves behind the counter also for three bucks. I told Cliff that I was overburdened with an advance record that my parents were getting mad at me and wanted to charge me storage. Evidently, the record company had already charged the artist for the promotion and didn’t want them back. What was I going to do? Cliff offered to buy two of everything for $1.00 each. $1.00 each!!! 18 bucks… I was rich! Then he told me to go over to Bleecker Bob’s. Cliff explained that everyone paid $1.00 advance singles that they would sell for $2.00 or 3.00 each. I got to Bob’s with my messenger bag filled, after 20 minutes Bob had gotten me down from a dollar to 50 cents cash and 50 cents trade. Grrr Bob!
This went on for a couple of years on and off and then I aged out.
Years later when I was directing music videos for Relativity, where I would do extremely low budget videos that they couldn’t afford. I would do them for 1/2 cash and 1/2 trade. That allowed me to raid their warehouse. Relativity not only had their few labels but they distributed some very cool labels. Like, Ryco Disk, SST, Dischord, and more. I was in heaven. One day I bump into Bob doing the same thing. He was smiling. Smiling, Bleecker Bob, Smiling? Yes, he, like me, was a kid in a candy store, picking through the shelves like it was the greatest thing in the world. And it was.
Barry Kobrin, the founder and the owner of Relativity, told me the story of how he started the company. It all began with two friends who had record shops. Barry, it seems would travel to Britain every three or four weeks and fill his suitcases with all the recent releases. Because he bought so many, so regularly, he would be buying them at wholesale plus 15%. He was almost never stopped by customs and if he was, he’d just say it was for his private use. Ahhh, those pre-TSA days! His pals would then mark it up to $3.00 and he and they would split the money. Bob and the aforementioned Cliff, were his partner’s and this little scheme changed the New York musical landscape forever. Cliff ended up working in the record industry and Bob… well, he had his own little corner of the world.
In recent years, Bleecker Bob’s maintained a certain allure because of his insistence of stocking bootlegs. Concerts, out of print, if you wanted it he could get you a copy. I once requested a copy of Joe King Carrasco and the Crown’s first Album. (I don’t know why!) Bob hated it, but if I wanted it he might know a guy. For those who aren’t familiar is if you want anything in New York City everybody knows a guy. A week later, I returned and asked if they had found the record. Sure enough one of the employees pulled the vinyl copy out from behind the desk. “Oh, I don’t own a turntable anymore? Shoot!” the clerk said, “It’s $10.00 don’t worry it will play on your CD.” Sure enough, a paper sleeve was inside the cover next to the paper sleeve and record and it contained the CD version of the LP. Now there were several out of print records I bought in a similar fashion and most of them didn’t come with a Vinyl copy. I started picking up concert discs from all sorts of bands. Some were great, some were crappy, but such is the case with bootlegs.
And so another chapter of New York City closes. Despite myself, I know I join a lot of people and saying, I'll miss him. I hope he joins that other great misanthrope of my childhood, Hilly Krystal, and they can argue about, The Shirts, for eternity.