It was 1987 and my mom was throwing an oldies-themed party for him. I was 12, and because I’d developed a sense of which of my parents’ 300 or so records were good, I was tasked with being the DJ. I selected mainly 45s emboldened with the words “Motown,” “Volt,” or “King,” and my mom’s or aunt’s name scrawled in perfect teenage script along the sleeve. A few of my parents’ friends brought their old 45s to the party and added them to the mix. By the end of the night, records by The Shangri-Las, Booker T. and The MG’s, Ike and Tina, The Drifters, Marvin Gaye, and Tammi Terrell were all left behind. They remain a coveted part of my stash to this day.
When I moved to San Francisco in 1998, I lived near the Lower Haight. Following one hungover breakfast at Kate’s Kitchen, I found myself at the door of Rooky Ricardo's record shop. Bleary-eyed, I took stock of my surroundings: vintage posters, brightly colored candy dishes filled with bubble gum, and a speaker nailed to a shelf above the front door. The speaker pumped the sound of some forgotten female voices out onto the sidewalk. The beat, bass line, and passionate soulful singing infected me once again.
Over the past 25 years, Dick Vivian, owner of Rooky Ricardo's, has become San Francisco’s ’60s soul medicine man. I love walking into his shop with a song in my head, telling Dick the title, and watching him do his best to lead me to another tune he’d think I’d like. He’s yet to steer me wrong. Visit Rooky Ricardo's on any given afternoon and you can expect to find a smattering of local soul DJs, collectors, and casual shoppers among the hundred thousand or so little 45 rpm records, LPs, and Atomic Age doodads. The thing that sets this slice of record-geek heaven apart is that it isn’t just a place for record hoarders, it’s a place for music lovers of all kinds.
Dick has customers who come all the way from England looking for rare 45 singles, people who can't believe that he doesn’t keep a secret stash behind the counter. In fact, he’s heard people ask about his “hidden” vinyl so many times that he actually keeps a box of “special records” aside just for those collector nerds who need to feel the exclusivity of an ultimate rarity.
But I think the real treasure lies in something seemingly banal: an old plywood dime store display he’s filled with 60 or so homemade CDs. It’s there in plain view, right in the center of the shop. For the past six years, Dick has been pouring hours of hard work into creating a selection of what he thinks are the best overlooked girl group, pop, and soul singles, and painstakingly bundling them into sets of CDs. Dick, who was once a local television dance star, tells me he started making these mixes in an attempt to preserve a sound that was very alive when it first popped out. “I’m an old guy now and I can’t dance as long as I used to,” he says, “but some of these songs still get me. They still make me feel alive."
Last summer, some pals and I hosted a soul dance party at the Verdi Club. We had a dress code, a big dance floor, and an 11-piece band, complete with a horn section and shoo-wop girls. One of the singers, my friend Heidi Alexander from the band The Sandwitches, picked an exciting and somewhat obscure set of girl group numbers for the night. Most of the tunes came straight from Dick’s mixes.
This December we decided to throw a “Winter Formal” and needed a DJ. I asked Dick, who doesn’t really DJ anymore, but he took one look at the band’s set list and said he’d do it. Not only that, but Dick is also trying to get his dance partner from his television days to come down and show us how to move to the music the right way. When he tells me, “Nobody can Mash Potato like I can,” I believe him.
Dick told me that all he really cares to do with his shop and his mixes is pass on his knowledge and passion for the music. I feel proud to have our city’s soul shaman behind the turntables at my oldies party. I think it’s safe to say that the partygoers can leave their old 45s at home.
Rooky Ricardo's record shop is usually open from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays and noon to 6 p.m.-ish on the weekends. If you get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, grab one of his homemade comps in the middle of the store.
If you'd like to see Dick in action as a DJ on December 10, you can buy tickets to the “Very Special Winter Formal” here.