Unless you're of a certain age and from a certain part of the country, the phrase "Rather Ripped" likely means one thing to you: the 2004 Sonic Youth album of that name. But if you were in Berkeley, Calif., in the '70s and '80s, you might realize that before it was a record, Rather Ripped was a record store — one that owner Russ Ketter has decided to re-open in Lawrenceville.
Ketter, a South Side native, went to California in the '60s; as a young man here, he'd played music with locals like Jules Hopson of The Marcels and Joe Negri. ("I thought I was a musician," he deadpans.) He sought gigs in Los Angeles but quickly moved north to Berkeley, where he worked at a student-owned record store called Leopold's. In 1971, Ketter started Rather Ripped in a small storefront.
Through the decade and into the '80s, Rather Ripped became a Berkeley fixture: Ketter hosted shows for artists like Patti Smith, and had an annual birthday party for the store with acts like Roky Erickson and The Residents, even after he'd gone all mail-order. During its heyday, the store was known as a haven for punk and art-rock records, and employed the likes of Greg Kihn before he made it big.
The Sonic Youth album came as a bit of a surprise for Ketter; one of his Berkeley pals, Ray Farrell, was working with Geffen Records at the time, and told Ketter that they'd brought up "Rather Ripped" as a possible album title. It was a play on the fact that by the mid-'00s, people were ripping their music from CDs to their computers — and on the old Berkeley store that everyone knew.
Ketter and his wife returned to Pittsburgh in 2006 to care for his mother; he began selling records at the Trader Jack's flea market in Bridgeville, and surveying the record-store scene here. Last weekend, he moved records and CDs into 4314 Butler St. in Lawrenceville, the new location of Rather Ripped. Despite a healthy number of record stores already here, Ketter is confident the city can support more.
"You're never going to find the same records in two different stores. With CD stores you will, but not records."