Mill Valley, Calif. Music Mecca Closes

           December 28 - Courtesy: Paul Liberatore

           John Goddard, owner of Village Music in Mill Valley, stands with a life-size cutout of Conway Twitty in the third room of albums in June 2000. Goddard says high rents downtown are unreal' and play a major role in his decision to close the music mecca after five decades. Village Music, the famed rock 'n' roll record store that has been a hip institution in Mill Valley for a half century, is closing in the new year.
           John Goddard, who has owned and operated the nationally known vinyl-emporium-cum-rock-museum since 1968, will selling his vast trove of vintage records and rock memorabilia over the next nine months and shutting his well-worn Dutch door for good at the end of September.
           Goddard, a familiar figure around town in his ever-present Village Music T-shirt, jeans and Converse tennis shoes, cited the burden of higher and higher rent in downtown Mill Valley as the major factor in his decision to call it quits after five decades.
           "Bottom line is, I can't pay the rent here," he said. "If I could afford it, I'd stay open. But I really can't blame my landlord because, as high as the rent is, it's lower for this building than most of the buildings in town. In the whole town the rents are unreal. It's a fact of life in Mill Valley."
           The funky shop at 9 E. Blithedale Ave. - its walls papered with vintage posters and rock collectibles - has been a favorite hangout for roots music fans and record collectors as well as some of the biggest names in pop, rock, jazz, R&B and blues.
           George Lucas researched the soundtrack for "American Graffiti" at Village Music, and B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Ry Cooder, Mel Torme and Elvis Costello are among the many stars who have shopped there over the years.
           "There were times when B.B. King came in on every tour," Goddard recalled. "I'll never forget the day he pulled up here with both his tour buses. He wouldn't let the band go to their hotel until he came here first. He must have had 40 people waiting in the buses while he came in.
           A shopper searches for a Jackie King album among the vast collection of vinyl at Village Music in June 2000. (IJ archive/Jeff Vendsel)and bought some records. He's been a huge fan of the store over the years."
           Kathy Severson, executive director of the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, was shocked when she heard the news.
           "There goes an institution," she said. "I hate to see this happen. John Goddard is an icon in town. This is very sad for all the people who come from near and far to enjoy what he's kept dear. I'm very sorry to hear this."
           Born and raised in Mill Valley, the 63-year-old Goddard began working at Village Music in 1957, when he was a 13-year-old record collector just discovering the roots of rock 'n' roll.
           "By working in the store I got a discount on my records," he remembered. "I pretty much went from Elvis Presley to Little Richard to Muddy Waters in a space of about eight months."
           In 1968, he took over the business and built it into a shop that is revered among rock music cognoscenti and collectors of rare and vintage vinyl records.
           But, in recent years, Village Music fell victim to the economic shifts in the music industry, unable to compete in the iPod era with Internet music sales, the rise of the CD, aging baby boomers no longer buying records and changes in taste among young music buyers.
           "The fact that the record business isn't much fun anymore had a lot to do with my decision to close," Goddard said. "But there are a lot of things."
           Known as much for speaking his mind as his knowledge of roots music, Goddard blamed a lack of support from people in the community for contributing to the demise of Village Music.
           "The fact is that this store isn't supported locally anymore," he complained. "Twenty years ago, 80 percent of my business was local, and now 80 percent of my business is out of town.
           "I'm going to spend the next nine months talking to people bemoaning the fact that I'm not going to be here anymore, and these will be people who haven't bought anything here in 20 years," he added. "There's going to be a big uproar about how sad it is that I'm going away, but the uproar is going to come from people who don't shop here. If I sound a little bitter, it's because I'm a little bitter."
           Over the decades, Goddard celebrated various anniversaries and occasions by producing and hosting memorable concerts at nearby Sweetwater nightclub with stars such as John Lee Hooker, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana and Robert Cray as well as reviving the careers of lesser known R&B legends like Bettye LaVette, Howard Tate and Little Jimmy Scott.
           He said he would not be averse to selling the business to someone else, although he can't imagine why anyone would want to buy it. "It just isn't feasible anymore," he said. "And it hasn't been feasible for a long time."

Back to the "Take Note" Main Page