By: Zach Brendza|Features Editor
This is the fourth story in a series about Pittsburgh’s remaining record stores.
Saying Sound Cat Records is a third-generation record store is only half true.
It is, in fact, the third go-around at an independent music store at 4527 Liberty Ave. in Bloomfield but the stores were not within “the family,” as they say. Not exactly.
Current owner Karl Hendricks ,42, of McKeesport, started working at Jim’s Records, the first record store at the 4527 Liberty Ave., in 1989. He continued to work when Jim’s became Paul’s CDs in 1993. And he stayed when it became something else: his own.
In late 2011, Paul decided to close up shop, but Hendricks didn’t want the ship to go down with the captain. So he made Paul an offer.
“Well, if it’s alright with you, I’ll keep the store going.”
It was alright with Paul.
Now in the space where Paul’s stood, and Jim’s before that, stands Sound Cat Records, a traditional record store that wants to appeal to everyone.
“[We] Try to have records that appeal to a person that buys one record a year or a thousand records a year,” Hendricks said.
Of the approximately 15,000 pieces at Sound Cat, one might find the new David Bowie LP, releases by indie rock bands like Pavement and The National, avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, locals The Harlan Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel and on, in addition to music-related DVDs and books.
“We probably have the best new and recently used music in the city,” said Jason Baldinger, Sound Cat employee who had worked previously at Paul’s. “Whatever we can squeeze in.”
Also on the menu are jazz records from Miles Davis and John Coltrane and older blues releases, the likes of Colin Wolf and Muddy Waters.
Jim Jackson, 53, of McKeesport, seeks out Sound Cat for their blues, once every four months or so, recently in search of Ana Popović’s new album, Can You Stand The Heat.
“[They have] Probably the best blues section you’ll find in Pittsburgh, without a doubt,” Jackson said. “Even when there were places to go, this was still the best blues section.”
The lack of blues, and jazz for that matter at record stores, leaves Jackson uneasy.
“No one has it anymore. It sucks,” Jackson said, whose favorite blues and jazz artists inclue Bernard Allison, Walter Trout, Paul Taylor and Ana Popović.
Although the half-hour drive does put it out of the way for Jackson.
“If these guys would come closer to McKeesport, that would be great,” Jackson joked.
Patrick Hnidka, 55, of Munhall, works at Children’s Hospital, a few steps shy of a 10-minute walk from Sound Cat, who found the shop one day while riding the bus.
Coming to the shop since ’77 when it was Jim’s, Hnidka usually stops in the “best record store in the city” once or twice a week. Today he’s looking for Molly Ringwald’s Except Sometimes on CD.
“Always been into female artists, whether its rock or jazz or whatever,” Hnidka said.
This week, Hnidka’s checklist was only the sole jazz debut from the Breakfast Club star, but next week the list is large, at ten new releases, including Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Mosquito.
But if they don’t have what you want, they’ll get it for you. Regardless of who or what it sounds like.
“They’re pretty cool, they’ll order whatever you want. Whether it’s Molly Ringwald or Justin Timberlake or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they don’t care,” Hnidka said.
With the vast selection and source of material at Sound Cat, what gets played in store is “stuff that we like, stuff that we want to hear,” Baldinger said.
He can listen to about 10 records or CDs a shift at the store.
“Obviously it’s a record store, you’re trying to listen to as much as you can,” Baldinger said while listening to William Tyler’s Impossible Truth.
As for SoundCat’s demographic, it’s “all over the place.”
“Guys that have been stopping in since dawn of mankind, unders 30s, and the occasional Bloomfield native,” Baldinger said.
There’s also a somewhat steady drunken stream of customers from Pollock’s Bar and Café, just three store fronts away.
As Record Store Day, celebrated every third Saturday of April to celebrate the art of music, nears, just a week from Saturday. Hendricks has been making preparations throughout the week.
The primary occurrence on Record Store Day is that a mass amount of releases being put out. But Hendricks does not know, just yet, what he will get, as orders are cut and allocated to different stores.
“I’m a little bit reluctant to publicize anything. Not one hundred percent sure what will be here,” Hendricks said.
But he does know that he will have 25 copies of Phish’s Lawn Boy, a deluxe LP reissue.
Sound Cat will open an hour earlier, at 9 instead of 10 a.m. on April 20, and the store usually has a line of 25 to 30 people prior to opening.
But beyond Record Store Day, Hendricks doesn’t know what the future holds for Sound Cat and record stores.
“Right now the future doesn’t look incredibly bright,” Hendricks said. “Hopefully I can do things to get people coming into the store.
“The worlds always changing. I hope record stores and my record store can keep up with the changing ways people get and listen to music.”