'Nothing Truer Sounding Than Vinyl'

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About 10 years ago, when CDs were first developing global music-buyer appreciation, the death knell of vinyl records was sounded.

But it never happened. Records never went away.

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If it's got Elvis Presley's name or image on it, Payson record-and-rock-memorabilia collector Dave Crowell almost certainly owns it from Elvis picture disks (above) to Elvis coffee mugs to Elvis-autographed napkins.

In fact, they're being snapped up like platinum hot cakes to the point where new bands have started to produce them alongside their CDs.

The reasons these music industry artifacts won't die are as varied as vinylphiles themselves, according to Dave Crowell. And this Payson resident should know, since he owns an ever-growing collection of LPs which numbers about 65,000.

"Some say the popularity of vinyl records has never waned because record sleeves are works of art which cannot be replicated on much-smaller CD covers," said Crowell, a Realtor with County Living real estate. "Others claim that nostalgia is the key factor, since everyone over 25 remembers buying and playing them."

Still others argue that the sound of a pristine plastic disk played on good equipment is "fresher and more atmospheric" than the sounds which emanate from a CD.

That is precisely where Crowell stands on the issue.

"To me, there is nothing truer sounding than vinyl," he said. "CDs are very sterile. They have their place, and I enjoy listening to CDs ... But there's nothing that beats the sound of vinyl, even when they're old and beaten up."

Crowell, 62, doesn't just collect vinyl. He also hoards Elvis and rock 'n' roll memorabilia, baseball collectibles, Kachina dolls, and Western paintings and sculptures about which he even wrote a book in 1970.

"I've been collecting my whole life, and I'll collect until the day I die," Crowell said. "My mom and dad had an antique store in Kalispel, Montana, where a lot of the old cowboy artists lived. But since they didn't like cowboy art, I started collecting it when I was 16 years old. ... Some things that I paid $200 and $300 for are worth $20,000 and $30,000 today."

He started amassing his record collection about one year earlier, in 1955.

"That year just about marked the start of rock 'n' roll, and I really got into it. The first record I ever owned was probably some early Sun Records stuff. I bought all of the early Sun records Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and I've still got them. They're shot, but I still have them. And once I started, I couldn't stop. I just kept buying music."

Especially after Sun Records signed up a young, unknown singer named Elvis Presley.

"Elvis has always been No. 1 for me," Crowell said. "In fact, probably the one album in my collection that I couldn't live without is the very first Elvis album. I still have my original copy. It's not worth all that much money because they reproduced it so many times, but it means a whole lot to me."

So does Crowell's memory of the evening he ate dinner with the King, which was arranged by a mutual friend.

"We didn't talk that much about music," Crowell remembered. "He liked to talk about sports. He loved football. But he did sign some programs and napkins for me."

Unfortunately, Crowell didn't think to ask Elvis for a copy of the one Presley record he has failed to add to his collection: A spinoff from the TV special "Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii."

"That show was sponsored by StarKist Chicken of the Sea, and the company produced 500 albums especially for the corporation's executives," Crowell said. "Those are really sought after. I'd love to find one, but I doubt I ever will."

Still, there is one record that's even higher on Crowell's must-find list.

"Johnny Burnett and the Rock 'n' Roll Trio recorded an album on the Coral label in about 1953. It's just called 'Johnny Burnett,' and it's just old, old rockabilly stuff. But, man, I'd sure like to find that one."

Which brings Crowell to the most valuable vinyl record he's ever found in a Payson yard sale, no less.

"I bought this guy's entire collection for $25, and one of the albums in there was a Johnny Burnett recording worth about $5,000. In fact," he added with a Cheshire-cat grin, "I've found two of them right here in Payson, and there's only 11 of them known to be in existence in the whole United States."

On the bottom line, though, when Crowell searches through boxes of ancient LPs, he's only looking for albums that appeal to one man: Dave Crowell.

"I collect because it's so much fun finding something that is valuable to me, maybe not to anybody else," he said. "I don't buy it just because there might be some monetary value to it. If I don't like it, I don't buy it."

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