Meet the Twin Cities mega-collector who's selling off his record collection

James Gillespie's record collection once totaled 20,000 vinyl records.

James Gillespie's record collection once totaled 20,000 vinyl records.

Five years ago, Kristin Gillespie could hardly walk around her own house. Her husband’s vast music collection kept getting in the way.

“Music is a big part of our life, I love music,” she says. “I’d just like to be able to sit in my house and not trip over something.”

For more than 30 years, James Gillespie filled his house with vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes, and instruments, the spoils of decades spent working in the music industry. At its peak, his collection amassed 20,000 pieces of vinyl, 5,000 CDs, 500 cassettes, and dozens of instruments — from guitars to banjos to drum sets.

But beginning Friday, James will sell off another chunk of his collection from the front yard of his Minneapolis home. It will be his fifth time participating in NEighbors Garage Sale Weekend Northeast (June 17-19), and he expects between 300 to 400 music lovers to come and browse his wares. In fact, the sales have been so popular, James even gets regulars who arrive before it begins. 

“There’s usually a few people who are there an hour, an hour and a half before we open,” James says. “We usually open at 9 a.m. and they’ll just come and line up in the grass.”

Over the last four years, James has sold most of his collection. Now his unwieldy, 20,000-record stash is down to a more manageable 8,000. But he says this year he’s finally cleaning out some albums he previously wasn’t willing to part with, so people should expect to find some rarities — especially if they’re looking for jazz.

“It’s going to be a lot of really great jazz,” James says. “There will be some Charlie Parker, a lot of Atlantic jazz from the ‘60s, some John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. Not exactly household names … but they’re all good.”

Salegoers can also anticipate finding a good stock of rock n’ roll, folk, country, and even some classical music, James says, although he doesn't plan on selling his especially rare artifacts. Things like his original Stooges albums, or his original mono Beatles LPs, he says. 

One of the most expensive albums he owns, estimated at around $400, is the British banned version of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, which features a dozen fully naked women on the cover holding a Hendrix album.

“It was never released in the States because it’s just naked women,” he says. “It’s a great cover.”

John Beggs, owner of Road Runner Records in south Minneapolis, has attended James’ sale for the last three years. He appreciates the quality of the music. 

“It’s not your usual garage sale fare,” he says. “He’s got lots of good stuff of all genres, and everything’s in good condition.”

Beggs says James has been a regular at his store for about 15 years, and is someone who really knows his music. Even if you don’t find the records you’re looking for at the yard sale, Beggs says chances are you can still have a good lengthy conversation about music with James. 

Vinyl sales are making a comeback, Beggs says, so he’s happy to have another venue to find quality, used records. Good used records are what make stores special, he says, since there’s only a finite amount and everyone wants the best ones.

“The competition is for the used,” Beggs says. “The new records, any store can carry. You just pick up the phone and order more.”

James says his sales have been steady every year, and he’s glad to see vinyl becoming popular again. In his first year alone, he sold 1,500 records.

“I remember one guy walking out with 200 [records],” he says. “He could barely walk.”

Despite the vinyl resurgence, James says it doesn’t make up for what the internet did to the music industry. That’s part of the reason he started selling off his collection in the first place. 

For 25 years he worked writing commercials for major music retailers and ad agencies, including MusicLand, BBDO, and Best Buy. But in 2005, Best Buy laid off James and most of its other music employees, James says, partially because CD sales had plummeted. So, he decided to start selling off his collection as a way to make some extra money.

“I had no desire to get rid of all my stuff,” James says. “It was a combination of things, but mostly it was kind of driven by a need to make some more money.”

Kristin says she’s glad to get some of her house back. The collection took up most of the basement, and even spilled over into a few other rooms. “He even had some of the laundry room,” she says, laughing.

She plans to restore the sewing room and finish up their old music room. That's where she and James used to play music together (she plays the autoharp, James plays guitar). But still, she knows how hard it’s been for James to get rid of a collection he truly cares about.

“He should get an honorary PhD in music,” she says. “He’s got over a thousand music books.”

James says he always considered himself as a sort of an archivist, saving the music that would otherwise be lost to the world. But now, he says he usually find even the rarest albums he think of streaming on the internet. The irony isn’t lost on him, either, considering it’s the internet that cost him his job.

“It is ironic,” James says. “What’s even more ironic, in a way, is I’m such a fan of the Apple Music site … and in some ways I actually listen to music more now.”

Beggs says vinyl sales will never be as high as CD sales were a decade ago. Streaming seems to be the future, even though it's less profitable for artists and labels than physical sales. But Beggs thinks the recent vinyl resurgence is due to intangible reasons, driven simply by music buyers who care deeply about the music.

“It takes something more than just having it stored on whatever hard drive you’ve got,” he says. “You’ve got to say, ‘I care a lot more than just having it stored.’ And that’s the person who’s going to come out and that person’s going to buy vinyl.”

Gillespie's yard sale runs 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. June 17-18 on the corner of Benjamin Street and St. Anthony Parkway in northeast Minneapolis.