By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
It all started with Shelley Pierce hunched over the vinyl bin at Cheapo. She had most of the albums she wanted, but enjoyed the thrill of the hunt.
As she finished flipping through the new arrivals, a short, plump woman in her 50s came in the front door of the store, lugging a crate full of used vinyl records. Once she dropped it off at the front counter, she turned around and went back out to her car. Ten crates and 15 minutes later, the woman was out of breath, leaning over the front counter looking at the employee behind the desk.
"Whatever you're willing to pay, I'll take it," she said.
The employee stood baffled, half-heartedly flipping through the selection with a blank look on his face. He looked up at the woman, uninterested.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we can't use any of these," the man said.
The woman's face went red. "Well, I don't want these records. You can just have them."
"That's not our policy. I'm sorry," the employee said.
"Well, where's the closest dumpster?" the woman finally blurted. He pointed her to the SuperAmerica out the door.
Pierce stood in the background, watching the conversation unfold. She spotted a couple of good finds in the woman's crates, including the Concert for Bangladesh box set, something she didn't have in her collection of more than 4,000 records at home. When she heard the word "dumpster," she had to intervene. She knew she would be getting some junk, but the thought of the records being thrown away was too much for a collector to take.
Pierce walked over to the distraught woman as she picked up the first crate to lug back outside.
"Ma'am, I don't have a lot of money on me, but do you mind if I look through your records?" Pierce asked.
"You can just have them," the woman said, raising her voice and looking back at the Cheapo employee to be sure he heard her.
Pierce carried the crates back outside to her two-door Chevy Cavalier as the woman walked alongside her. As she stuffed three crates in the back seat, she asked the woman why she was getting rid of so many records.
The woman's friend had just passed away, and she was helping clean out her estate. She was exhausted, sweating in the July heat.
"Your friend's records will be loved and taken care of," Pierce promised. "I host a radio show in Mankato. Your friend's records will be played on my show."
Relieved to be free of the crates, the woman left Pierce to finish filling her car with the records. Pierce never got the woman's name, but she managed to hand her the $10 she had in her wallet.
Satisfied with her car full of unknown vinyl treasures, Pierce drove to her sister's home in White Bear Lake. She was spending the weekend in town with her family, and when she pulled into the driveway, they were busy getting their boat ready for an afternoon on the water.
Her younger sister, Carrie Carroll, expected Pierce to come to her house with a handful of vinyl finds. When she arrived with her car jam-packed, Carroll just rolled her eyes.
Pierce plopped down on a lawn chair in the garage and flipped through her almost-free collection.
"Oh my god! Look, it's Pink Floyd's first album!" Pierce squealed.
In the middle of the crate, Pierce came across a special find: a record without a band name or album title. Pierce loved picking up these mysteries during her hunts. The records were usually polka bands, church choirs, or a woman singing along to the radio, but the slim chance of finding a valuable lost recording made it worth a listen. The record had a simple label and "4-22-74" handwritten on the front.
She put the record aside, reminding herself to listen to it later.
One month later, Pierce remembered to bring the blank record with her to work. Settling into her radio studio at KMSU Mankato before taping her show in 2005, Pierce pulled the record from its paper sleeve, lowered the needle on the vinyl, and played the third song on side one.
The keyboard leads the song into an up-tempo guitar solo backed up by conga drums. The singers come in, harmonizing the first verse.
Every night I close my eyes/Waiting for the sun to rise/Waiting for the moment when I'm walking through the park with you/Waiting for the moment when I'm holding hands with you
This was no polka band or church choir. Pierce knew seconds into the first song that this was a band that took their craft seriously. The soulful harmonies and Latin-style guitars reminded Pierce of early Chicago and Santana. She thought it sounded like a West Coast soul band with black singers.
Pierce's radio co-host, Tim Lind, came in shortly after her first listen.
"Remember that blank record I got at Cheapo?" Pierce asked Lind. "You've got to hear this."
Pierce slipped the needle back onto the spinning vinyl. Lind expected a laughable high school band. When he heard the first harmony, he sat down to actually listen.