When the first aching strains of the Soul Communicators' "Those Lonely Nights" arch through the pristine Art Deco interior of the Ritz ballroom, the dance floor fills, dancers literally leaping over tables to get there. And even though the Ritz -- in the rural village of Desborough, England -- is 3,000 miles and three decades away from the origins of this 1968 Pittsburgh soul obscurity, each of the 200-plus attendees seem to know every word.
Maybe that's because local deejay and record dealer Des Parker, who visits Pittsburgh two or three times a year, knows Pittsburgh like home. So, it seems, do almost all the similarly middle-aged soul fans in attendance. Or at least they know parts of Pittsburgh. As one soul fan says, "I've spent many, many 'appy days there -- in McKeesport, that is."
"Pittsburgh," laughs another. "'Course I've been to Pittsburgh. Years ago I got [a rare record by] The Incredibles for 25 cents in a bin at that place in Car-negie!"
Carnegie? McKeesport? What about our gorgeous new stadiums? What about Oakland, our academic and arts capital? What about Carson Street? Or the inclines? Damn it, won't somebody think of the inclines?
To an entire underworld of American-music vinyl junkies from London to Tokyo, Pittsburgh ranks higher than New York or L.A. on the tourist to-do list. But, like deejay Parker, they've never heard of the Pirates, much less The Andy Warhol Museum. They come for the record-collectors paradises in Millvale and other area towns. There, prized and rare jazz, R&B, doo-wop, funk, soul and disco records still command the respect due them in the heydays of their genres. There, collectors can still celebrate the musical culture that other regions of the country shed (lost?) years ago.
But that may be changing. The global record economy is shifting, thanks to tanking sales of the new releases, which keep many shops afloat, and the growth of eBay and other online warehouses. The city's network of shops is struggling to save its seat of honor amongst collectors. So we present you with a guidebook to Pittsburgh as visiting record tourists see it -- while they still can.