Ray King from Dr. Wax Records
As I continue looking for different perspectives of the music industry, I thought it would be cool to chat with someone from a record store. So, as I thought about the best record stores around, I instantly remembered Dr. Wax Records. The store was founded in 1980 and its current location in Hyde Park has been open since 1984. Dr. Wax is considered to be the indie soul, jazz and hip hop authority in Chicago and it’s for a good reason. Dr. Wax has everything a music enthusiast would want. The variety of music available in the store is unmatched and the music conversation that you’ll have at Dr. Wax is perhaps the best you’ll find anywhere. I’ll bet you could ask the employees there about any artist and they’ll know something. I know this from several visits of my own.
This past weekend I caught up with Ray King, also known as DJ X-Ray, from Dr. Wax. We had a great chat about the store, the independent music industry and artists on the rise.
Mimi Soul: How has Dr. Wax changed over the last 30 years?
Ray: There’s not much of a change; even with the digital age. It’s not that we weren’t ready for the digital age; we just had to change from the traditional way of selling music. A lot of us employees are real passionate about the music as a whole. We always wanna show you the new, show you the next, and where it came from. That’s just the personality that has always been there. So, for the most part, nothing has really changed.
Mimi Soul: Who would you say are your primary customers? Are they everyday people like me or do you do get a lot of djs?
Ray: It’s primarily regular everyday folk. They really support us. They’re buying a lot neo-soul, r&b and jazz. Some of them may be aspiring artists who come in with their cds and trade music in one way or another.
Mimi Soul: In addition to the shift toward digital music, can you think of any other major changes in the industry?
Ray: Right now, it kinda needs to go back to the grass roots level. You have to always be conscious of how you’re gonna sell music. If it’s sample based, the djs are gonna buy it. If it’s featuring a hot artist, the kids are gonna buy it. If it’s an independent artist, the grown people are gonna buy it. So, the ways of selling music needs to be more balanced. It needs to go back to the streets. Artists need to go back to touring. The artists that are getting out there and connecting with the people are winning now.
Mimi Soul: So, what are your thoughts about the independent music industry?
Ray: It takes a lot of hard work and there are so many people doing it. I would say get a partner you can trust to handle the business. That way you can concentrate on the art. Some of these artists have to wear too many hats and they lose focus on either the business or the art. So, it’s real important that you have someone that you can trust. You just can’t do it all by yourself.
Mimi Soul: I know that Eric Roberson is definitely on the list, but is there anyone else you can think of that’s doing a really good job at managing the independent route?
Ray: I would say Ledisi even though she’s with Verve now. I remember when we received her first cd. It kinda shook up everything. When the first Ledisi came out, everybody that could buy it, bought it. It was a breath of fresh air for what was going on. Everybody else was kinda into their second or third album and then she came out and just broke through. On the independent side, there’s a ton of them to look for. Artists like Algebra, Julie Dexter, Peven Everett, N’Dambi, Yahzarah. So, there’s a ton of them to really look for and I’m quite sure that if you’ve come here, you’ve been educated on all of those.
Mimi Soul: Yes, and I have stuff from almost all of them.
Ray: The independent scene has become a culture in itself because they know that they can out-sing the next artist that we hear to death. They know they can outperform them but they haven’t caught their break yet. It’s just a matter of getting their business in order.
Mimi Soul: I like what’s happening with independent music right now and I’m enjoying being a spectator. I saw an Algebra show with some friends a few months ago and a couple of them hadn’t heard of her. By the end of the show, they were fans. It has been a good thing to see.
Ray: With independent artists, if they find out someone is in town while they’re in town, they’ll easily either attend the show or they’ll be on stage and just perform with them out of nowhere. They get up there and jam with each other with no problems. To me, that’s really important.
Mimi Soul: I agree and I think it’s great when you go to a show and you see something that you wouldn’t get if you only had the cd.
Ray: Definitely. We’re a test market here in Chicago. We’ve been known for being consumers. So artists are gonna test music here and see how it works. And usually if they’re in town, they’re gonna come through here and see Duane.
Mimi Soul: Is there anything coming up soon that I can help you spread the word about?
Ray: Right now, we’re not attached to any shows other than the Sommore comedy show. But I’m sure some are coming because it’s fall. And, Eric Roberson is here once a month.
Mimi Soul: Ok, so I have to ask you a personal music question that I ask people all the time. If you had to part with all of your music except 3 cds, which 3 would you have to keep?
Ray: Don’t you mean 3,000? (laughing)
Mimi Soul: (laughing) I know it’s a tough question.
Ray: One cd that I always love buying is Electric Mud by Muddy Waters. Another is The Best of Kool and the Gang 1969-1976 and I’ve been finding myself playing the Jackson 5 Ultimate Collection. I bought another copy of it the other day. So, if I had to pick 3, I think it would be those 3.
Mimi Soul: Can you think of any Chicago area artists that may not be on the mainstream level yet but we should know about?
Ray: William Kurk is on his third album. The good thing is that you can always come to a place like this and find something new that will make you say all music isn’t bad.
Mimi Soul: That’s why I enjoy Dr. Wax. I hope it never closes because we need more stores like it.
Ray: Yeah, everyone who says that needs to come in and shop. (laughing)
Thanks for a great conversation Ray! If you’re ever in the Hyde Park area of Chicago, you owe it to yourself to stop by Dr. Wax. Just ask for Ray or Duane. I guarantee that whatever kind of music you’re looking for, they’ll have just what you need.
Dr. Wax Records
5226 S. Harper Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60615