Glory Days

It's time for early-Eighties nostalgia, thanks to a record store's anniversary celebration of Miami's rip-roaring rock

At the tunnel-light end of the Seventies, Ted Gottfried was working as a water-meter reader for Dade County. Leslie Wimmer was employed at a bookstore near her home in Deerfield Beach. Along with a close friendship, Gottfried and Wimmer shared a passionate curiosity about the revolution in rock. Disco was doing its death dance, weird noises had been heard out of London, New York, even Cleveland. Sex Pistols. Ramones. Dead Boys. Wimmer and Gottfried were listening, and they wanted to hear more.

The two scoured local record stores such as the Magic Minstrel, Twin Sounds, and Happy Note for imported punk releases and underground American slabs. They heard about a catalogue put out by JEM Records. "I called for it," Wimmer remembers, "but they said they didn't deal with individuals, only companies. So Ted calls them right back and says he's with the 'Miami Record Co-Op.'"

Once the catalogue arrived, Gottfried began collecting money from friends and placing orders. "UPS would pull right up to Ted's door," Wimmer says. "Then we figured it wouldn't be that much harder to get a building, set up racks, get some stock. This is how businesses start: stupidity." Out of such naive faith emerged one hub of a vibrant local-music scene, one that would change all their lives.

Stocking the proposed store would be easy, Gottfried figured. Over the years both he and Wimmer had acquired extensive record libraries. "Ted was ready to put his entire collection on the market," Wimmer says. "At first I was too, but as I went through it, I balked at giving up my Joni Mitchell and Traffic albums." In October of 1979 Open Books and Records set up shop in Deerfield Beach A plenty of fine selections, even if they were a bit short on Joni Mitchell releases. The operation moved to new locations a couple of times, settled in North Miami nine years ago, and commemorates its fourteenth year this week with a celebration of those glory days and, especially, The Land That Time Forgot A an album that embodies a musical epoch. As many of the leading pioneers as could be found have been invited to reunite this weekend at Open's anniversary. The group F, whose "I Saw Your Vision" is one of the hardest cuts on The Land That Time Forgot, will be there, as will rockabilly-star-turned-computer operator Larry Joe Miller ("Young and Wild" is on the album). The Essentials can't make it, but they have, with help from Bill Ashton, sent a video.

Before Open opened in the Seventies, Gottfried had worked at Potpourri on Bird Road in southwest Dade to learn more about music retailing. Soon he met Bill Ashton, who had just taken a job at the Miami Herald, where his duties included writing about pop music. (Ashton was also the first customer of Open's predecessor, the Miami Record Co-Op.) It was always fun to see Gottfried strolling through the newsroom toward Ashton's desk dressed head to toe in all black, fedora and shades included.

What those outside the loop didn't know: One of the all-time great original-rock scenes was beginning to take shape. Like your favorite song, it didn't last long enough (in this case, maybe six or seven years). And like a sunburst or shooting star, it was something to behold.

"And no one remembers," Wimmer says now. "People have short memories. And with change, people moved on, new people came in. They weren't there for it, so how could they possibly remember? There's no history book you can turn to."

That history comes alive this weekend, a reminder of what the city's rock community once had. Plenty of enormously talented and defiantly original bands. Clubs galore willing to stage them. Record labels. A radio program. Press. Retail outlets catering to the cool. All of it wide open to local music. A scene that was a scene. A legacy. In the land that time forgot.

All this was before MTV and progress made music-listening a primarily passive undertaking, one where you never have to leave your living room. Back then it was more do for yourself A and Do-it-Yourself. Naturally, Gottfried and Wimmer began exploring the local rock clubs that were sprouting up in Broward and, to a lesser extent, Dade. The clubs were about to receive a fresh jolt of new rock. "This was the end of the Seventies," Wimmer says, "and everybody was all punk hair and make-up. We see this tall guy in a white dress suit with vest and everything. Dressed like that he was really the most punk of all. He was laughing, but very sincere and quiet. It was Charlie Pickett." Pickett, like the other musicians who came to dominate the local scene, followed no one's rules but his own. In the end, though, that still doesn't fully explain the mystery of why so few achieved the kind of national recognition that had been expected of them.

A heavy equipment operator by day, Pickett, a guitarist and singer, was something else by night. Eventually one local critic, Jon Marlowe of the Miami News, would anoint Pickett's the "best bar band in America." Rightfully.

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