Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Skinny With Steve Athey

If I remember the story correctly, the first person who spent a dollar in Skinnie's Records was the M-80's voice box Eddie Pierce. Since that initial transaction in 1987, countless vinyl junkies have gotten their fixes via the store's stocked bins. Whether you're Yngwie Malmsteen or yours truly, owner Steve Athey will often greet the chosen stash with an interesting anecdote (i.e., "Mission Of Burma: Loudest band I've ever seen."). Beats idle chatter about some crappy membership program at fye's register, that's for damn sure. Nearing 25 years of existence, Skinnie's has survived a coup by a bloated drug store, downloads from dipshits who've never dropped a tone arm, competition from facial-haired fly-by-nighters and changing tastes of young folks who'd rather borrow Mom's jeans than her Joan Jett records. Below are recounts from conversations that've taken place between us in the past. Grab a bottle of Boylan Black Cherry Soda, eyeball the Down At Delilah's picture disc and join Steve and me at the counter for some salty spiel.

Gunther: This might be the obvious question to end all obvious questions, but what was the first album you bought with your own money? Is it still a favorite in 2011?

Steve: First album I recall purchasing with my own earned income was Deep Purple's Burn. Not as big a favorite as their previous albums, which I obtained shortly thereafter.

Gunther: If I'm not mistaken, you grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. The Orioles had some great seasons during that time period. Nonetheless, what made you want to emulate Ritchie Blackmore instead of Rick Dempsey? Did seeing Kix/The Generators over four dozen times also assist in your choice of weapon?

Steve: I grew up in western Maryland, not Baltimore. I'll go out on a limb and assume that Rick Dempsey is some sort of athlete. I have never had an interest in sports. The previous question sorta answers the emulation factor to the point of my 2nd guitar purchase (the one Yngwie wanted to buy from me). Kix/The Generators/The Shoes were the closest thing I had to a "hometown" band that I got to see at high school- type social settings and the 1st introduction of going to a "bar" to see a live band. So they did leave a lasting impression. At least I can say it wasn't somebody like Dave Matthews...

Gunther: Why did you decide on a relocation to Tidewater? I believe you were working at the GE plant in Portsmouth for a time. Was there always a plan to open a record store, or did some choice words with a supervisor expediate a change in careers?

Steve: Came to Tidewater in May 1984. I was looking for a job, and it seemed more socially redeeming (punk rock). Worked for the GE credit department, not the plant. I never really "conformed" in a job setting. Plus, I would eventually be let go due to my medical condition indirectly (the brain aneurism). The shop was already being run for 3-4 years by a previous person who was getting a divorce. So between me being "unemployable" in the real world and my passion for anything that rocks, it all fell into place.

Gunther: The first time I visited Skinnie's was at the original West 21st Street location in 1989 or thereabouts. Think my brother Brian purchased the Misfits' Walk Among Us, while his friend A.J. opted for the Ramones' Mania on tape. L.A.M.F. looked cool enough, but I didn't hear the album until several years later. When did you realize that starting the store was a good decision?

Steve: Not sure about a "good decision," but at the time, it seemed like my primary option.

Gunther: Besides the tightly bunched racks of music and the camaraderie, what I miss most about the West 21st Street spot is the pool table that was briefly located near the store's entrance. Shooting stick with Rice, Jeff and others complemented the wild rock 'n' roll on the juke very well. What are your most memorable moments from the mothership? Also, have you ever blocked a sale, because someone attempted to buy the "wrong" album by an artist? For example, suggesting Motley Crue's Too Fast for Love over Generation Swine?

Steve: Every day, there's a memorable moment. Hopefully to someone who comes in here, gets told to set down Generation Swine and get Shout At The Devil (or TFFL).

Gunther: When Morrissey stopped into Skinnie's to do some shopping, how would you describe the encounter? Was he besieged by adoring fans/autograph hounds or left to browse? How did the in-store meetings with Thurston Moore, Danzig, Michelle Branch, etc. pan out?

Steve: The Morrissey encounter was very anticlimactic and has been told TOO many times. Thurston visited a few times. At that time, I believe he was funding an elite record store, so he was making purchases for it, I presume. I was very relieved with most of his purchases, as they were not the most "consumer-friendly" ones. He did pick up a copy of the No Room To Dance album. This was in the middle-90's, so the current nostalgia trend was certainly not present. Most any other "celebrity" encounter has been pretty routine. Like anyone else, there is something they're after, can't find and sometimes it's here.

Gunther: It wouldn't be a proper discussion among us without mentioning the Sea Hags. In spite of my qualms with the cover art, you told me to give the tape a fair listen. Of course, I now recognize the Sea Hags as sleaze incarnate. Sample lyrical lift: "You're only as good as your shittiest song/And a watered-down Shirley Temple lasts twice as long." Have you sold their disc in the long box? If so, was the buyer feted with a ticker-tape celebration?

Steve: That Sea Hags album got a lot of play at the time, but honestly, one of the many bands at the time that came and went.

Gunther: Is there a day in Skinnie's history that stands above all others? Regarding the store's impending silver anniversary, will there be a feast filled with balloons, beverages, bands and BBQ?

Steve: 25th will be a landmark from my accountant's prospective. Like every year, I'm sure there will be a fair amount of revelry.

Gunther: The Dictators or New York Dolls?

Steve: I'll go for the underdog like always: The Dictators. At least I got to see them fairly early on. Ross the Boss AND Adny both came by (separate occasions). Seeing the Dolls last time around was very anticlimactic. They're out with a new lineup opening for Motley this summer. Pass.

Skinnie's Records
431 W. 22nd St.
Norfolk, VA 23517
(757) 622-2241

Mon-Fri: 10 am - 8 pm
Sat: 11 am - 8 pm
Sun: By appointment



  1. I spent a lot of time in that store. Miss all incarnations of it!

  2. I wonder how many people, such as myself, squinted to look at the picture of the record bins.....

  3. That pic says it all. Lots of great records in the rack!

  4. How 'bout you, G. The Dictators or the Dolls? Although I think I know your answer!

  5. A new blog idea:

    VS. or BATTLES

    a blog posing questions such as DICTATORS or DOLLS where people choose their favorite... it could also feature team-ups between numbers of different bands or maybe even scenes... LA 78,79,80 vs. NYC 75,76,77

    Which is sorta like some discussions Gunny and I have had...

    And i suppose, im gonna stick with the dolls.... its a decadence thing. They scare me.

  6. Solid idea, but we'd be the only ones participating. Congrats to the 'Tators on their 3-1 victory, counting Steve's original vote. I'm assuming Josh would pick 'em.

  7. The Dictators, without a doubt. And that's no slight on the Dolls. It's just that I consider the 'Tators probably one of the ten greatest rock and roll bands of all-time, PERIOD.

    LA '77-'80 totally STOMPS '75-'77 NYC in my book. I'd give Boston the victory over NYC as well. You both know that I'm picking '76-'79 UK over all of 'em, though!

  8. Yeah. Yer right Gunther. We'd be the only ones participating... This 3Years Debate could really tage on with me personally because each of those time periods have at least one (but more) that i consider essential to my music listening...

    Germs (sorry josh) Black Flag
    Joy Division Dammed Banshees
    La Peste Proleitariat Cars

    Im being torn apart from the inside arrrgh!

  9. People from the Twin Cities circa '83-87 had it pretty well. Maybe even earlier than that, 'cause of the Suburbs, Suicide Commandos, etc.

  10. Ah.. SUICIDE COMMANDOS!!!! Now there ya got a fucking band! Match/MisMatch! AGH! I love it.