Roger Butler has lost his modest home on Spokane’s South Hill. He is days away from having to get out.
But I won’t go into all the bad luck and bad decisions that brought the 69-year-old musician to this point. That ship, as they say, has sailed. And sunk.
What I do want to tell you about is Butler’s most pressing problem.
He needs to find a good-hearted soul who will give him a place where he can temporarily store his collection of vintage vinyl records.
That may not sound like such a big deal. Not until you see what a guy can amass in 60 years of record collecting.
Butler often tells people that he has 100,000 records. “But that was the point where I stopped counting,” he explained while leading me on a tour through his cluttered abode.
Butler has records galore in practically every format: 45s, 10- and 12-inch LPs and even those old 78s my parents once danced to.
Many of Butler’s records have already been boxed up. One basement room has boxes stacked floor to ceiling, five rows deep. The main floor is a tangle of record stacks and more boxes. A similar landscape awaits anyone who ventures upstairs.
“I do like most everything,” Butler said. “I’m so eclectic.”
No kidding. Butler’s albums run from The Monkees to Thelonious Monk. He’s got Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa.
What a scene. Marlon Brando’s brooding face stares out from the cover of “Jazz themes from The Wild One.”
There’s Coleman Hawkins and Carl Perkins. There’s an album of Miles Davis playing Porgy and Bess.
There’s simply too much to absorb in one visit.
Ray Charles. Jerry Lee Lewis. Dave Brubeck. Elvis Presley. Roy Orbison. Benny Goodman. Peter Frampton. Bing Crosby. Chet Baker. T-Bone Walker…
“If something is good,” he said, “it can only be better by having more.”
Butler is a soft-spoken man. He has deliberately held onto his sense of humor, he said, so as not to succumb to his bleak situation.
Butler’s hair is a bit long and mostly gray. He wore a loose plaid shirt, black pants and sandals. His big toe poked out of a hole in his white sock, the left one.
Butler is a walking encyclopedia of music, especially when it comes to his favorite idioms: rock and roll and jazz.
Near the front door, he stopped and picked up an album by an artist named Richard “Popcorn” Wylie. “This is a rare one,” he said, offering a brief history. Wylie “was a football player. He didn’t care about royalties…”
Butler’s music liner notes would start at age 9. That’s when the Spokane kid fell in love with music and began his lifelong hobby of collecting records. The group that first won his heart was The Four Aces, a vocal quartet with a signature shuffle beat.
The year was 1951. Popular music was still civilized and sedate. In a few years, however, an explosion would take place in a Memphis recording studio and the world would never quite be the same.
Butler was a student at Lewis and Clark High School when that Elvis bomb went off.
He decided to take up the piano. To his delight, he found that all the hours he had spent listening to records had given him a fine musical ear.
He joined a band that, after a name change, became The Frogs.
“We were actually the first animal group,” he said with a laugh. “We were going to have lily pads and wear green tuxedos.”
Butler said he would love to see his collection become a reference library for musicians.
Better yet, Butler could sell it all. That could take away some of the sting out of losing a house. It would give a single man something to live on in his old age.
Butler has no idea what kind of nest egg his collection would provide. But he does know what it represents.
“That’s the history of rock and roll,” said Butler, waving a hand at a random stack of boxes. “And the history of jazz, too.”
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