Pittsburgh native Keith Shapiro documents revival of Rhino Records store
August 2, 2012 4:00 AM
Members of The Ramones in front of the Rhino Records store in Los Angeles.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rhino Records is best known for its enormous catalog of reissues and retrospectives, which started modestly with novelty songs in the '70s and built up to major artists from the Beach Boys to the Grateful Dead.
Before that, though, it was just a store in a "ramshackle" space on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Pittsburgh native Keith Shapiro, who has made a documentary, "Rhino Resurrected," first heard about it as young teenager here listening to the late-night "Dr. Demento Show" on Westwood One Radio.
"He mentioned Rhino Records from time to time, and they seemed to be responsible for all my favorite tunes," says Mr. Shapiro. "The Dr. created this sort of Ed Wood, '50s wrestling, sleazy 'Los Angeles of the mind' that resonated with my adolescent brain. Some years later when I decided to move out West, I was thrilled to see there was a real place called Rhino Records that was weird and fun like I pictured it."
The Allderdice and Penn State grad became a customer of the Rhino store when he moved there in 1998, but, like so many other record stores during the 2000s, it fell victim to the decline of hard copy record sales and closed in 2005. Five years later, Mr. Shapiro, a film editor who had made a documentary about Peter Himmelman, "Rock God," heard that the Rhino crew was re-grouping briefly for a pop-up store.
"I showed up, saw them setting up and immediately felt a strong vibe that I better start filming. I asked Sam Epstein -- director of the pop-up store and later producer on the film -- if I could shoot and proceeded to shoot for the entire two-week run of the store. I thought I'd make a cool short about the pop-up store, but as I met more and more fascinating people there and the insane history of Rhino Records began to reveal itself I knew I was on to something bigger."
The first challenge, he says, "was getting notoriously coy and opinionated record store people to open up to me on camera and graciously share their stories."
It features interviews with founder Richard Foos and longtime employees of the store, along with vintage footage of in-store performances from Nirvana and Steve Wynn, and performances from the pop-up store, including Richard Thompson, Syd Straw and Peter Case.
The current challenge is funding the project with a Kickstarter campaign that ends Friday.
"Now that the film is getting out into the world," Mr. Shapiro says, "I need the budget to pay for licensing, scoring, legal, mixing, color correction and so much more that will enable the film to be distributed."
The story of Rhino, he says, is an "incredible triumph of the underdog business," but beyond that, he adds, "I wanted to make sure this story was universally relatable and not just for the people who experienced Rhino Records first hand."
"Rhino Resurrected" will be screened at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Class Room Theater, 477 Melwood Ave., Oakland, at 7 p.m. Tuesday with Keith Shapiro on hand. It is free. Information: 412-681-5449.