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Today in
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January 26
1990 - "Duplicates" premieres at L.A. Phil; concerto by CalArts Music School dean Mel Powell wins Pulitzer Prize [story]
Mel Powell

A new independent record store, Gray Skull Vinyl, has opened in Canyon Country, where local music fans and collectors have suffered without one for years.

Located at 19983 Soledad Canyon Road, the shop is stocked with new and used vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s, VHS videos, DVDs, posters, framed photographs, t-shirts, caps, guitars, amps, music magazines, books, and more.

Victor Torres Jr., a 25-year Canyon Country resident and lifelong record and music collector, and his family opened the retail shop in early April in the small strip mall anchored by the Oak Tree liquor store at Soledad and Langside.

“Customers come in and they’re like, ‘Wow, I could spend a good half a day here going through all these records and talking about music,’” Torres said in an interview at the store last week. “That’s what I want when people come in and just enjoy the record store.

gray skull vinyl

The Gray Skull Vinyl storefront at 19983 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country on May 6, 2021. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

“I want people to walk in here and feel like they’re 15 years old again, see a favorite record or a poster, and say, ‘Oh, I had one of those! I don’t know what happened to it,’” he said. “But if they find it here, they could buy it again.”

From Swap Meet to Storefront

The new Gray Skull Vinyl store is an expansion of a thriving business the Torres family started six years ago, selling, buying, and trading music and memorabilia at the Saugus Swap Meet at the old Saugus Speedway a few miles west on Soledad.

After building a loyal customer base there, and then waiting out the pandemic, the family moved ahead with its plan to open a brick-and-mortar location nearby.

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Victor Torres Jr. and the northeast quadrant of Gray Skull Vinyl in Canyon Country, May 6, 2021. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

“We wanted to bring the experience our customers have at the Swap Meet to a natural record store,” Torres said. “With everything that’s been happening, I feel it’s the right time to have a store, especially here in Canyon Country. I feel that everyone wants to have that experience of going out to a place and feeling what it’s like to hold a record.”

The Torres family has been riding vinyl’s resurgence in the past several years and catering to continuing interest among music fans for collectible music memorabilia and promo swag.

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It’s a clear case of 8-tracks at Gray Skull Vinyl, May 6, 2021. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

While Gray Skull Vinyl’s name and logo and some of the memorabilia evoke a heavy metal and horror-rock and monster-comics-movie vibe (think cheesy ’60s drive-in movies, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Alice Cooper, KISS, Slayer), Torres said he’s trying to reach every music fan.

“This is a family-oriented record store,” he said. “I want parents with kids to feel comfortable walking in and showing their kids what music is about, what bands have been around for a long time, and have the youngsters appreciate everything their parents grew up with. I want everyone to feel like they’re at home.”

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The eastern wall of Gray Skull Vinyl in Canyon Country, May 6, 2021. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

The shop does indeed have choice selections in just about every musical genre, from all kinds of rock (and yes, lots of metal) to Latino, from novelty to jazz, from blues, R&B, and soul to soundtracks, from country to classical.

“Even if it’s Beethoven, Mozart, I have some in here because I also appreciate that style of music and listen to it, too,” Torres said. “I’m also a big fan of soundtracks. Growing up, I listened to all kinds of music, and I have that here. I want to share that with everyone who comes in that door. So, I’m reaching out to all [music fans] to stop by.”

Torres also encourages Santa Clarita Valley and Canyon Country locals to take any music or music memorabilia they want to sell or trade when they visit Gray Skull Vinyl, from single items to collections.

“I’m a collector at heart,” he said. “I’ve always loved collecting music and memorabilia. Now that I’m selling records, I have the same feelings as my customers. So, I will buy pretty much anything. With the vinyl, I clean the records, play them to make sure they are in working condition, and make sure the outer sleeve is in great shape.”

gray skull vinyl

Now, about the store’s name and logo: “I just always loved the sound and the look of the name ‘Gray Skull Vinyl,’” Torres said. “I watched a couple of cartoons, and just the name just caught me. Our logo is not really a gray skull, so it’s kind of a play on words, you can say. My very good friend Eric Pigors created our logo, and I think everything goes well – the name, the font, and the colors.”

Collectibles: Rare Records

 Along with popular mainstream titles, Gray Skull Vinyl’s record bins include a surprising number of collectible rarities.

At the front of one bin was a copy of the infamous “Masked Marauders” “superstar” hoax album from 1969, which I immediately snatched.

Another bin included the first version of the second solo album by Mama Cass Elliot (“Bubblegum, Lemonade and…Something for Mama,” also from 1969, coincidentally), with cover photo by my friend Henry Diltz and art direction by his pal Gary Burden, the ex-architect.

Along with salting the bins with rarities, Torres said he enjoys tracking down other hard-to-find titles, which he has done as a service for customers since Gray Skull Vinyl began operating at the Swap Meet.

“Any records you don’t find in the store or online, feel free to let me know,” he said. “I’m always willing to go the extra mile and look for that record you are looking for. That’s the experience I want to give to my customers.”

Between my questions, a customer came in to pick up a copy of the soundtrack album from the 1982 Arnold Schwarzeneggar sword-and-sorcerer cult favorite “Conan the Barbarian,” co-written (with Oliver Stone) and directed by John Millius and featuring music composed by Basil Paledouris.

“I tried two other places and they couldn’t find [the Conan soundtrack],” the thirty-something woman said.

Soundtrack junkies know Paledouris had previously scored “Big Wednesday” (1978, also directed by Millius) and “The Blue Lagoon” (1980) and went on to write the music for “Conan The Destroyer,” “Red Dawn” (Millius again), “RoboCop,” and “The Hunt for Red October” in the ’80s.

As Torres bagged the “Conan” album for the customer, they swapped trivia about Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for “Red Sonja,” the 1985 epic with Schwarzeneggar in a supporting role.

“She came all the way here from Palmdale,” he said after the happy customer left the shop. (See her photo and pics of other customers here.)

Collectibles: Memorabilia

On the posters and memorabilia front, “I have all kinds here,” Torres said. “When I was growing up, my whole wall was full of posters, and then eventually, I had a couple of posters signed. I think everyone at one time in their life has had a poster on their wall.”

There’s rare cool stuff any direction you look. On the store’s east wall above the bins, I spied a framed gold record plaque for Elvis Presley’s salacious 1960 No. 1 hit “Stuck on You,” which I loved as a precocious 8-year-old, much to the consternation of my mother.

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Elvis and Neil are at top right, sharing the east wall at Gray Skull Vinyl with The Cure, Celtic Frost, and The Beatles. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

And above Elvis was a large framed black and white photograph of Neil Young shot in 1990 by my friend Harold Sherrick, who just put out a book of his favorite photos a couple of years ago, “Stolen Moments,” via a local publisher in Castaic.

I could have spent hours in the Gray Skull Vinyl store, flashing back. Repeat visits will be necessary; it’s just 5 minutes from my home.

Lifelong Music Collector

Torres’s obvious passion for all things music drives the Gray Skull Vinyl store’s operations.

“I’ve always loved the whole experience of concerts, of records, and grew up listening to all this, to vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s when they started coming out,” he said. “I learned a lot about music with my dad. I remember watching ‘Live Aid’ [1985] sitting on my dad’s lap.

“One of my early favorites is this Pretenders record,” Torres said, plucking the band’s 1980 debut from a bin. “My first experience with this was listening to an 8-track in my dad’s 1971 Ford F-150 pickup truck. It was the first record he put on that I just loved to listen to. I was probably 10 years old.

“So, this record to me means a lot to me personally,” he said. “It takes me back to that time and place when I was younger. I want my customers to have that experience when they see something: ‘Oh, wow! I remember this record!’”

That was certainly my experience, so mission accomplished on my first visit.

Enterprising Ex-Roadie

Before opening the Gray Skull Vinyl store, Torres held down a variety of jobs, including band roadie.

“I used to be with a road crew for a lot of bands,” he said. “Around 1995, the brother of a girlfriend of mine was in a band and asked me if I could help him move his drums and guitar cases around. I’ve been doing that on and off ever since.

“I just love the whole experience of setting up a stage, lights, and seeing the crowd going crazy, because I know that whoever’s performing, I did something to help that experience,” he said.

Torres has had his share of straight jobs, too.

“I also worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car for seven years and used to wear suits every single day,” he said, so it’s not surprising he knows a thing or two about customer service. “Then on and off I’ve worked with my dad, and at another family business, moving around marble, granite, stone tile. But while I was doing all those jobs, music was always my first love, my favorite thing to do.”

Tough Market

Canyon Country has long been a tough market for music retailers. A Wherehouse chain outlet at Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway closed up in the late ‘80s, long before the chain went bankrupt in 2002.

The last known record shop in Canyon Country, near the old 31 Flavors on Soledad in Canyon Country, was an independently owned and short-lived operation that shuttered several years ago.

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Gray Skull Vinyl’s Latinoamerica bins are stuffed with mariachi, Norteno, banda, rock en Espanol, and more. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Since then, local music and memorabilia geeks have had to go to giant Amoeba Records in Hollywood or the smaller Rockaway Records in Eagle Rock to buy, sell, or swap stuff.

A couple of small indie record shops opened recently in Newhall, but now, Canyon Country residents finally have one in their own neighborhood again.

Torres said his family had been looking for a storefront location for a couple of years.

“We were about to get another location, but then the pandemic happened, so that didn’t happen, and then we just waited till everything died down, and then we found this place,” he said. “I believe a lot in energy and locations. This place came with a great energy, a lot of good square footage for what we need, so we just went for it.”

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Framed cover of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out” album, a classic from 1959, the same year Miles Davis released “Kind of Blue.” | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

DIY Social Media Promotion

But Torres concedes his location in the small strip mall is not a destination. Customers must know it’s there. He’s not likely to get much random walk-in traffic. Cars whiz east and west on Soledad at 50-60 miles per hour and drivers may not see the big “VINYL RECORDS” sign over the storefront door (unless their peripheral vision’s good).

So, in his first weeks open for business, Torres said he has been relying on social media and word of mouth to drive local fans to the Gray Skull Vinyl store.

“We’re trying to get the word out to whoever is interested in records to stop by and support your local record store, because at the end of the day, my record store is everyone’s record store,” he said. “It’s here for you, and we’re here for your pleasure.”

The website and online store can be found at grayskullvinyl.com. “That’s where I put some of my records up for sale for people who cannot make it to the store,” Torres said. “I send out online orders quick, same day or next day, ’cause I know they’re going to a good home.

“I also have an Instagram page, @grayskullvinyl, and Facebook, Gray Skull Vinyl, where you can find everything,” he said. “I’m a big dork when it comes to posting stuff, so I do apologize ahead of time for my posts. But they’re fun, they’re exciting.”

Until the store gains more traction, Torres said Gray Skull Vinyl will also continue to operate at the Swap Meet on Sundays.

gray skull vinyl

Victor Torres Jr. files vinyl LP’s in the back room at Gray Skull Vinyl in Canyon Country, preparing to add them to the bins out front, on May 6, 2021. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

“Since we’re brand new here in the store or at this location, we still don’t get the same traffic we get at the Swap Meet,” he said. “Plus, we have a lot of customers there who still send me their [want] list of records, and I have them for them at the Swap Meet.

“Eventually, once I get more inventory in here, more records, CD’s, tapes, we’ll figure out a way to have the pop-up store at the Swap Meet and this location open at the same time,” he said.

Torres said he and his brothers were excited to meet members of the metal band Celtic Frost at an in-store appearance 15 years ago, and that he would also like to bring artists to Gray Skull Vinyl for record release events, and perhaps a little live music.

“I want to have that kind of experience here in Canyon Country,” he said. “I want to do signings, maybe even an acoustic show, to bring the music to life and have it here for everyone to enjoy.”

Gray Skull Vinyl is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Soledad location, on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Saugus Swap Meet, and anytime at grayskullvinyl.com. The phone number is 661-904-7303 and email is GraySkullvinyl@gmail.com.

gray skull vinyl

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