Record hunter

Joey D


If you ever spend time digging for records in Sacramento, chances are, you’ll run into Joey D. The 53-year-old is a professional crate digger that hunts for rare grooves at estate sales and then flips them for hundreds of dollars. “I find at least one record a week, that will make me survive,” he says. In addition to a well-trafficked eBay page (, he manages a record booth at the 57th Street Antique Mall, occasionally works as a deejay and assembles critically acclaimed reissues of obscure garage bands for his label, Frantic Records.

How many records do you have?

Seventy-five thousand 45s. I used to have a lot more, but I’ve been getting rid of them. LPs, man, I’ve gotten rid of thousands in the last five months, so I probably got 15,000. It’s all fairly good stuff, nothing that I wouldn’t be proud to sell. I’ve got about 18,000 CDs.

When did you start collecting records?

I’ve been collecting since I was a kid. When I was 10, we used to buy every 45, all the hits every week. So, if a new Van Morrison or James Brown came out, I would run down to this little appliance store that had a little thing of records in the corner and a little turntable where you could listen to them, and make sure it was the right one. It exploded from there. Then, in the ’70s, I collected LPs. I never used to do it for selling. The selling part came in the last 12, 15 years.

So, you’re able to sustain yourself just by selling records?

Not just this. … I deejay, I sell antiques and I’ve got a record label. I’ve been working on this book for 12 years about Northern California music in the ’50s and ’60s with my best friend, Alec Palao, who works for Ace Records. He does the Bay Area, and I’m covering Fresno to Chico. It’s ’50s rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll, doo-wop, ’60s soul, ’60s rock, psychedelic and garage. It also has early ’70s soul and funk. But it has to be obscure bands. It can’t be the Grateful Dead: They’ve already been talked about.

What are some of your most valuable records?

Oh, then I’d have to kill you (laughs). There’s a couple that I don’t want to say, because they’re insider secrets.

But you sold them! It doesn’t matter!

No, you don’t understand. I don’t want people to know and then look for those records. These are underground records that the majority of people don’t know about.

But those are the high prices—the few that run as high as $5,000. However, I just sold a Hank Mobley on Blue Note Records for $3,000. A year or two ago, that would have went for $5,000, but everything is down because of the economy. Even in Japan, you have fewer bidding wars now.

Is record collecting competitive?

Very. There aren’t a lot of soul guys in this town, believe it or not. San Francisco or European guys come over here and think they’re going to get it. Well, yeah, they might get lucky. But the regular collectors around Sacramento go right over the stuff that I pick. They just don’t have any clue.

It’s part of record-collecting culture. These records have gone undiscovered for years—because it had a stupid name, it was on a dumb label, there’s only a few around, whatever. If I gave out their names, everybody in Sacramento would be looking for them. I want to get them first. When I find a record for 20 cents and sell it for $5,200, that’s another three months that I don’t have to work for the Man.

I got a good one the other day. (Pulls out a 45 record.) This is Bobby Blues Ray. This was released on the Ross label, and it was made in Oak Park. I found the first known copy five years ago, stone mint. I sold it to a guy from New York on eBay for $500. He got it in the mail, and the next day, he was in France playing it. Then, when the new edition of The Essential Northern Soul Price Guide came out, it was listed at 750 pounds, which translates to around $1,200.

I found another copy last week for 75 cents. As soon as I saw it, I had to change my drawers. That’ll go on eBay for $500, even though it has a lot of tiny scratches and stuff. I’d be amazed if it didn’t sell, even in that condition.

What’s the difference between older collectors like yourself and the new generation of vinyl fans?

We don’t call it “vinyl,” we call them records. And we don’t call it “crate digging,” we call ourselves record hunters. And the reason why we get the best records is because we get up at the crack of dawn. We can go to bed at 5 in the morning, and we’re still up at 6 or 7. All of these little funk deejays are hung over and in bed while I’m standing in line at an estate sale. They laugh at us old fuckers, like, “He doesn’t know good music.” I’ve forgotten more about music than these young guys will ever know.

And if the sale starts at 9 a.m., be there at 8.

This story has been modified from its original print version.