SAM THE RECORD MAN – Farewell To The King

Sam Sniderman passed away on Sunday, September 23rd 2012. He was 92 years old.

I didn’t know the man. I never met him. When I saw him in passing there was a sense of reverence that came with the experience. As in “That’s him, that’s the guy.”

Simply put, the gentleman who was known as Sam The Record Man played a huge part in fuelling the music-obsessed soul trapped inside this 43-going-on-18 year old. Opened in 1961, the iconic flagship store on Yonge Street in Toronto that launched a cross-Canada chain was a haven and a world of discovery. It was also the place I happily dropped thousands of dollars over the course of my teen years and into my 20s without thinking twice.

When the store closed down in 2007 it was heartbreaking for anyone that had spent significant time weeding through the vinyl, cassettes and CDs. The weekly off-day visits, the obligatory stop-ins on the way to a pub, club, the movies or a restaurant on the weekends, the late night visits – which the Barenaked Ladies wrote about in ‘Brian Wilson’- on the way home… it was hard to believe it had come to an end.

Sure, there were other record stores on the same strip, but Sam’s was the place, particularly through the ’80s and into the ’90s. Didn’t matter if Cheapies sold certain albums cheaper on any given week, didn’t matter if A&A’s next door was bigger on selling the soon-to-be-impossible-to-find 12″ singles (that even the Record Peddler didn’t have in stock), didn’t matter if the HMV down the street was big and flashy; Sam’s was tradition. It had the old off-white tiled floors that should have been replaced at the end of the ’70s. It had plastic dust jackets over the vinyl LPs for a reason. It had that record store smell.

It was the ultimate mom & pop record store. Supersized.

I didn’t realize it at the time but, looking back now, in a way Sam’s was like home. Not in a cheesy nerd outsiders-got-no-place-else-to-go way, but rather one of those mandatory visits one made when in the neighbourhood. Five or 10 kilometers was still close enough to demand a music run. Or else. And I know I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

News of Sniderman’s passing got me to thinking about the ridiculous number of visits I made to Sam’s over the years. I found myself smiling over several vivid memories:

– picking up the mind-altering albums Mechanical Resonance (Tesla) and Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Part 2 (Helloween) based on cover art alone (this was the ’80s; pre-listening desk and pre-internet). Still love both records to this day.

– buying Yngwie Malmsteen’s Odyssey album on Saturday night, walking back to the car way the hell up on Wellesley and discovering the cassette only contained the leader tape, no music. Returning to the mobbed store without a receipt asking to exchange it, figuring I was SOL. Instead I got a smile and a “Sure, no problem, I remember you.”

– the concert list board made out of yellow construction-paper tags taped to the wall around the rock and metal section. Losing what passed for my mind upon reading about Death Angel playing the Concert Hall and Warlock playing The Silver Dollar (!).

– making one of my weekly mid-week visits and parking around the corner on Gerrard Street, patting myself on the back for finding a choice parking spot during rush hour. Getting back to the car just in time to see a tow truck yank the front wheels off the ground. That was officially the most expensive Britny Fox album ever sold.

– purchasing Loudness’ Hurricane Eyes and Judas Priest’s Ram It Down on the same day. Slapping the Loudness cassette into my walkman and being blown away by the sheer malevolence of the opening track ‘S.D.I.’. People must have thought I was insane judging by the stupid grin plastered on my face.

– the good-natured dressing down by some of the staff for my questionable purchases (Hericane Alice? Really?! Jeez…) and one very lively discussion about how CC Deville’s 25 minute guitar solo at the Poison show really DID suck.

And I’m sure the longer I sit here the more I’ll remember.

Ironically, only days after my officially unofficial 40th birthday party in September 2008 I was downtown Toronto testing out my brand new camera, and happened upon the unthinkable. The removal of the iconic Sam The Record Man signs had begun. I remember standing there, silent and stunned, and taking the shot below.

I have no idea if Sniderman and his family made a substantial fortune thanks to his Sam The Record Man franchise. I sincerely hope they did, though, because the lifetime of memories and music I got out of the deal are priceless.

Rest in peace, good sir, and thank you.

Check out a brief history lesson on Sam Sniderman’s legacy here.

Photo of Sam Sniderman courtesy of The Canada Press.