The Vinyl Solution

Think 45s are a thing of the past? Think again.

"Maine, Rhode Island, California, Alaska," notes Carolyn's daughter Heather Johnson, who works alongside her sister Tamara Johnson in her mom's business. "I don't think there's anywhere we haven't shipped stuff at least once."

"People think there's no way you can make a living doing this," Carolyn goes on, "but we've actually grown over the past year. The need's still there."

"A lot of people don't want to get rid of their old 45 jukeboxes," Heather says. "They like them. And as long as there are those old jukeboxes around, there are going to be people who want records. And that's what we're here for."

Because of Hear Here's off-the-beaten-track location, those who want to peruse singles in person must make a special trip. On this mid-January day, when the high temperature is preceded by a minus sign, only a brave few do--but neither cold nor snow nor dark of night can stay Ray Fudge from dropping by to pick up a Grateful Dead album and a CD of selections by Irish specialist Charlie Taylor that he hopes will liven up one of the jukes he looks after come St. Patrick's Day.

As Fudge trudges down the stairs to confront the elements again, Tamara, sitting at a computer terminal printing CD labels, says, "Ray was mom's very first customer."

"He bought a 45 by Steve Wariner," Carolyn confirms. "It was called 'Lynda'--and it was spelled with a 'y.'"

Such a feat of memory is hardly out of the ordinary for Carolyn: She knows as much about the music available on 45 as anyone drawing breath. Ask her if George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" can be found on a single and she replies, without any perceptible pause, "It's on the B-side of 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,' by the Rivingtons." These songs have precious little in common: "Atomic Dog," from the early Eighties, is a slab of funk that was sampled more than a decade later by Snoop Doggy Dogg, among others, while "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" is an entertaining nonsense tune that fell eight spots shy of the Top 40 in 1962. Carolyn, however, doesn't recall this pairing because of its absurdity; she remembers it because she remembers everything.

"It's a necessity," she insists. "For example, sometimes people come in looking for things, but a lot of the time they won't know the titles. They'll ask for 'The Corvette Song,' but if you look it up in the books, there isn't any such song. So you just have to know that what they really want is 'The One I Loved Back Then,' by George Jones. Or if somebody comes in wanting 'The Perfect Country-and-Western Song,' that's 'You Never Even Called Me by My Name,' by David Allen Coe. And if you don't know that, they may never find out."

Carolyn, who's 48, has been picking up such bits and pieces of wisdom for as long as she can recollect. She was born on a farm in South Dakota but moved frequently after her father discarded his pitchfork in favor of a job as an aeronautics engineer. Because the family changed addresses so frequently, music became one of Carolyn's few constants. "My dad had a nice speaker system he built himself," she says. "He found the plans in Popular Electronics. My mom made him keep them in the basement, because they were made of plywood, but that didn't stop me from listening to them." Smiling, she adds, "I still have my very first record: Bobby Vee--'Run to Him.'"

Upon graduating from high school, Carolyn enrolled at the University of California at Riverside with no clear idea of what she wanted to do when she grew up. After a year of trying to decide, she dropped out in order to marry Raymond Johnson, who was then serving in the Air Force. Upon completing his hitch, Raymond got a bachelor of science degree in engineering technology and went to work for a company that serviced oil wells. The job required him to skip from site to site on a regular basis: "They'd tell him that if he wanted to pick up his next paycheck, he'd have to go somewhere else to get it," Carolyn contends. Thus, she returned to the gypsy lifestyle she'd known during her girlhood. Her first child, Grant, was born in Riverside in 1971. (Currently a U.S. Marine stationed in Kansas City, Missouri, he plans to become a computer programmer once his tour is completed; he wrote the program Carolyn uses to keep track of her inventory at Hear Here.) Four and a half years later, Heather made her debut in Long Beach, California, followed eighteen months down the line by Tamara, who arrived when the family was living in Kenai, Alaska. "We were there almost two years," Carolyn says about this last hotspot. "It was enough."

During most of this period, Carolyn worked as a full-time mom and homemaker. But when the Johnsons were headquartered in Dickinson, North Dakota, she got the opportunity to indulge her love of music by starting her own business, the Sarsaparilla Saloon and Dance Hall. "It wasn't a bar--it was a hangout for kids," Tamara says. "It had a dance hall with a mirror ball and a DJ, and it was great, especially since kids in Dickinson didn't really have much to do. I was only three when we had it, but I still remember it. Mom would work there all day, and we'd take our naps in the basement. I loved it."

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