Ah, the joy of finding good records for cheap! To record collectors, DJs and cratediggers, it’s like striking gold. Imagine having a local record shop with a steady flow of import records, old and new, in every genre, priced at 1 Euro each. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, that’s exactly the kind of shop ‘Slap A’ Music’ in Copenhagen was for 15 years.
As a young man, Arne ‘Slap A’ Olsen sailed the seven seas as a sailor and boatswain (head of sailors) on big cargo ships out of Copenhagen, Denmark and was chairman of the Danish Seaman’s Union. When he went ashore, he went into the record business, running ‘Slap A’ Music’ and three other record shops in Copenhagen, as well as selling records at markets around the country, until he retired two years ago at the ripe age of 76.
We met Arne for a talk at the home for retired seamen in Copenhagen …
By Jesper Jensen
How did you get into selling records and running a record shop?
It started when I was sailing on America from 1954-55. That was when the big rock stars were out: Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Coasters and all those. In Brooklyn, New York there was something called ‘The Fox Theatre’ and once a month they had Top 20 shows of the record sales. I signed off in New York many times and waited around to ship out. My friends and I always went there to listen to music. There I heard them all play live. And they all played only their top hit. That was very exciting. It was a guy called Murray the K (popular radio DJ) who hosted the show. He was world famous back then. That’s how it started for me. And I already had a record collection when I started sailing. But I lost it because I signed off in Palermo and my friend who signed off in Norway was supposed to bring my records to my brother in Copenhagen. But he forgot so that’s how I lost my first collection. But that gave me the reason to start a new one!
How did you take the leap from that to starting your own shop?
I first bought a small shop on Vigerslevvej (in Copenhagen) called ‘Slap A’ (‘Relax’) which sold used books and other things. That was around ’69-’70 after I finished sailing. I’m not that good at dates. I haven’t written dates down, because I’ve been busy living my life and not stopped to keep a diary! And then I started also selling used LPs, because music was my interest. But that presented some problems, because back then we had to keep what was called a ‘costs book’ where we wrote down everything we bought used, whom we bought from and so on, because sometimes you had a feeling that the goods were stolen. That was complicated, so I thought it would be easier to sell new records. So I dropped the old and went with the new and found out that it was cheaper and easier, because new items were billed and registered.
Then I expanded with another shop on Toftegårds Allé in Valby (a neighborhood in Copenhagen). We remodeled it for LPs and named it ‘Jukeboxen’ (‘The Jukebox’). But when we did inventory after one year, instead of having a profit we owed 42.000 Kroner (~5.500 Euros). So I closed. And then I opened on Nørrebrogade (busy main street in the Copenhagen neighborhood Nørrebro).
You still had the courage to continue?
Yes I did, ‘cause if you lose one battle there’s an opportunity to win another.
Of course, it was tough. I’d rather have a profit than a debt. But I bought Nørrebrogade. That’s was around ’72. I was there for 15 years.
I was looking for suppliers of records. There was somebody called Poul Hansen in Ballerup (outside Copenhagen) and his company. I worked a lot with him.
Before Nørrebrogade, I worked at a shop called ‘Jimmy’s Place’ in City Arkaden in Copenhagen. It was owned by a guy called Jørgen Adrian. He had a partner in Lüneburg (Germany) called Kraul. I went and looked at all his records and bought a lot, which I sold on at markets. We made contact and as a result I started working for him, sorting records and so on. They arrived in containers back then. Eventually we became partners. He managed the imports and I ran the shops. That’s how it started.
And there I met all those famous people. ‘Jimmy’s Place’ was already famous back then. That’s where I first met Ole Erling (Danish organ player and label owner) who became my good friend and whom I still see today. He was selling a big batch of reggae records one time and I was very excited about reggae music, ‘cause I had been sailing on Kingston, Jamaica and the West Indies. But he sold them right in front of me to somebody else. But I got to know him. Jørgen Mylius (famous Danish radio presenter) often came in and bought the little singles. They were downstairs … stacked up! His eyes were rolling at all those records! I also met Flemming Krøll (popular Danish folk singer) down there. We became good friends and I ended up marrying his sister! We were married for 16 years until she sadly passed away. We often gathered and partied at ‘Nezer’s Piano Bar’ and ‘La Fontaine’ (Copenhagen jazz clubs) when they released new records and so on. All those people shared my interest and helped me a lot.
What has been the most fun or exciting part of owning a shop and selling records?
I think every day is exciting. You see new things every day … The most interesting part was when Jørgen Adrian and I traveled around America buying records. That’s was really exciting! We went from New York to Chicago and Detroit and all the way down to Nashville where we visited City Records, which was one of the really big shops in Nashville. Funny story … A French guy named Mike Bluth who was the exports manager invited us to a country show at the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ with all the big stars. When they had foreign guests, they introduced them from the stage. Boxcar Willie – he used to whistle like a train – was supposed to introduce us. But he couldn’t say our names – ‘from Denmark: Arne Olsen and Jørgen Adrian’ – so I didn’t understand him until someone poked me and said ‘It’s you. Get up!’ and then they all clapped. I’m a seaman, not a government official, so that was strange. But it was a treat.
You were treated with a lot of respect.
When you buy a container full of 65,000 records, you don’t pay peanuts for that! By the way, it helps to have a good bank.
Talk about those containers. How did you choose the selection?
We didn’t choose anything. It was a package deal – take it or leave it! But when we could sell them on at 5-15 Kroner (~1-2 Euros) each and still have a very good return from it, it was OK!
When we got those 65,000 pieces, we moved them into the freeport at Copenhagen Harbor where we sorted them and then brought them into the shop a little at a time. Back then, you still paid 25 percent VAT plus 2.5 percent foreign VAT. But we didn’t have to pay VAT until we took the goods out of the freeport, and we didn’t have to pay the final amount until the last record of the batch was sold. So we could purchase new stuff before we had to pay VAT on the last half. That was very advantageous!
But we shared a warehouse at the harbor with a company that imported dog food from Greenland which was made from sardines, so our records started to smell like fish. So instead, we rented a hangar at Tune Airport (outside Copenhagen) and put the container in there. It took four guys two days to unpack and sort it all.
Which genres and styles did you sell in the shop? I know it by reputation as a specialty store for US import Hip hop in the 1980s and earlier on Soul and Funk?
By the thousands! They came on these twelve inches. It was hard for us to keep up with the sales and the selection, so what we did was we put them out and let people sort through them themselves. And that’s when all the “pathfinders” came! That’s the time when it was made legal for local radio stations to play music. They came from all over the country and they carried out piles upon piles until they were hunchbacked! It was a cornucopia for them. I had a few young DJs help me sort the thousands of twelve inches, and in return they could choose 10 records each.
Was it Hip hop, Disco, Rock ‘N’ Roll …?
Everything! All that you could want: Soul music, Zydeco … We took everything, and we had customers for it all. One time Kraul came with a Volkswagen van full of twelve inches. Mainly American stuff. We also got promotion copies of albums, hundreds of them. They said ‘Not For Sale’. We kept them in the backroom for the connoisseurs. We also had some bootlegs. At one point, someone made me aware that they were illegal. So I said ‘Good thing I’ve already sold them, then’!
For a record collector today it sounds magical that you could find US import Hip hop and Funk back then and that it was so cheap.
They were starting to introduce CDs so a lot of it (the vinyl) was dead stock. And a lot of it was so-called ‘cut records’ where they had cut a small hole in the cover or cut a corner off the cover. They were titles, which were discontinued and therefore priced down so they marked them so sellers couldn’t charge full price. But they stopped doing that, I think it was too much of a hassle. Some we got 10 copies of, some we got 30 copies of. And it was easy ‘cause we just put them out in stacks.
Then some people in the business heard about it and came down to vacuum the stuff they could use to sell on at three times the price. But we didn’t want that. We had a lot of problems with Bjørn from ‘GUF’ (discount music chain in Denmark). He snatched all the copies of a Beatles record that was sort of obscure, that we hadn’t seen before. But I gave him a slap on the wrist and said ‘You can have 2 and get out!’ And he didn’t come again. They were for my customers, not for him! We only got one box of it. I wish I had kept one.
Have you kept any records?
I had a big record collection, but I’ve let it go for personal reasons. I’ve seen when people pass away, big stacks of records get thrown in trash bins with herring salad and other waste and I won’t risk that. So I’ve distributed it to some people who could make some money by selling it on to people who really care for it. I don’t mind who as long as it’s somebody who care for it ‘cause it’s worth a lot more than 5 Kroner a piece now, that’s for sure!
Why did you sell records that cheap in the shop? Not that it isn’t commendable …
I could have charged more. Some of the containers were so good that we had to … And we did have expenses. We had to pay for a small staff, transportation, VAT and so on. And everything was legitimate so we never had problems with accounting or anything. The earnings were pretty good. In this country, a profit of 30 percent is considered good. And by selling at those prices we got 30 percent. That made it work. For example my wife wanted to go to London and see the big Live Aid marathon concert, so we booked two tickets, flew over, saw the show and came back home. That was inspiring, to see Queen and everybody else. I could do that. That’s how I wanted to spend my money. And the customers were happy, too.
Any interesting war stories?
One time Peter Asschenfeldt (Danish businessman and publisher) wanted to start a jazz record club like the book club he already had. Jørgen Adrian asked me and Kraul to buy in with a third – 75.000 Kroner (~9 .800 Euros) – each. So we started it and released four volumes of ‘Asschenfeldt’s Jazz Club’. But the quality was too poor ‘cause the music was taken from worn old records and people didn’t want that so we ended it. While we were doing it I called Kraul to talk about the agreement, but he said ‘What does that concern you?’ I answered ‘It concerns me ‘cause I’ve paid a third’. It turned out they had paid for one half each and Jørgen (Adrian) had taken my third and used it to pay for his half! So I called Jørgen and said ‘You have 24 hours to return the money to my account’. Which he did, but after that, our partnership was over. But by then I could take care of myself.
Another time we bought a container, which was supposed to contain a lot of Electric Light Orchestra. But it never arrived, ‘cause we were the seventh buyer of the same unit! The seller had sold it to seven different people! Jørgen (Adrian) had paid for it and could document that he hadn’t received it, but he still got slammed with VAT. Those were the conditions ‘cause we had imported and bought it, just never received it. I was told that the mafia was behind it via a Swedish guy, and that the Swedish guy also got busted for insurance fraud by setting his own factory on fire. Some of those guys were scoundrels.
You also sold records at markets while you had the shop?
Yes, I hired my daughter and some friends for the shop. I can’t stand being inside all day. I’m a seaman and have always worked outside. So I went on the road and did the markets. If I can’t have water under the keel, I’ll take ground under the keel! From town to town and sell. Especially ‘Midtfyns Festival’ (the second biggest music festival in Denmark) … it was Heaven to deal with people who actually know music. I also brought my son along. I continued until I turned 76 two years ago. I could have collected pension when I turned 65, but I’ve enjoyed it through all the years. But now, it’s finally out of the system.
Do you think it takes a certain personality to be self-employed like you were?
It takes a strong back for sure! For a sailor to learn about business, payments etc. … You have to be careful. The authorities meddle in everything. A lot of times you don’t have a chance to know what to do. We earned well, but it cost a lot, too. An accountant costs 25,000 Kroner per year (~3,200 Euros) – that’s a lotta 5 Kroner-records!
‘Slap A’ Music’ was open for 15 years and eventually closed due to a combination of factors: Repeated burglaries, mold and water damage caused by a fire next door and a demand to build costly new restrooms and changing facilities. But until then Arne and his shop were responsible for a steady flow of accessible and inexpensive vinyl, and ‘Slap A’ remains a fabled place for vinyl heads in Denmark.
FOR THE DJ’s …
Some of Slap A’s selection of cheap sealed US 12” singles. List compiled by collector extraordinaire DJ Sugi:
CAPTAIN ROCK: ‘Cosmic Glide’ (3 versions, light green label, NIA)
BLONDIE: ‘LLamame’ (Call me) (Caytronics, NY 1980)
JULIUS BROWN: ‘Never Too Late’ (West End)
CRASH CREW: ‘On The Radio’ (Bay City/Sugarhill)
SUGARHILL GANG: ‘Kick It Live From 9 To 5’ (Sugarhill)
SUGARHILL GANG: ‘The Word Is Out’ (Sugarhill)
TREACHEROUS THREE: ‘Yes We Can Can’ (Sugarhill)
TREACHEROUS THREE: ‘Action’ (Sugarhill)
TREACHEROUS THREE: ‘Whip It’ (Sugarhill)
MELLE MEL & DUKE BOOTEE: ‘Message II’ (Sugarhill)
VICKY D: ‘Mystery Lover’ (SAM)
VICKY D: ‘The Beat Is Mine’ (SAM)
BBCS & A: ‘Rock Shock’ (SAM)
SCANDAL feat. LEE GENESIS: ‘I Wanna Do It’ / ‘Love Either Grows Or Goes’ (SAM)
NORTHEND: ‘Happy Days’ (Emergency)
STYLE: ‘Movin‘ On’ (Emergency)
VIENNA: ‘Watching You’ (Sutra)
R.J.’s LATEST ARRIVEL: ‘Body Snatcher’ (Sutra)
ONENESS OF JUJU: ‘Every way But Loose’ (Sutra)
DAVID JOSEPH: ‘You Can’t Hide’ (Mango/Island)
DAVID JOSEPH ‘Live It Up’ (Mango/Island)
CHOICE MC: ‘Brooklyn Style’ (Rocky)
CHAKA KHAN: ‘Tearin’ It Up’ (Warner)
GEORGE BENSON: ‘Inside Love’ / ‘Inside Of A Dream’ (Warner)
SERGE PONSAR: ‘Out In The Night’ (Warner)
SUNFIRE: ‘Video Queen’ / ‘Never Too Late For Your Lovin’ (Warner)
MARGIE JOSEPH: ‘Knockout’ (Houston Connection)
MARGIE JOSEPH: ‘Move To the Groove’ (Houston Connection)
TRANSIT AUTHORITY: ‘You Make My Life So Right’ (Houston Connection)
BAMBU: ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose It’ (Zebra)
TROUBLE FUNK: ‘The Beat’ (Jamtu)
TROUBLE FUNK: ‘Hey Fellas’ (Sugarhill)
THE WHATNAUTS: ‘Help Is On The Way’ (Harlem International)
KING TUTT: ‘Comin’ Out’ (TK Disco)
ANITA WARD: ‘Ring My Bell’ (TK Disco)
JAMES BROWN: ‘Rapp Payback’ (TK)
ARLENE EVANS: ‘Get It Up’ (FSO)
RANDY FREDRIX: ‘The Hunter’ (Salsoul)
TOM TOM CLUB: ‘The Man With The Four Way Hips’ (Sire)
TOM TOM CLUB: ‘Pleasure Of Love’ (Sire)
QUEEN SAMANTHA: ‘Take A Chance’ (TK Disco)
UNCLE LOUIS: ‘I Like Funky Music’ (TK Disco/Marlin)
BOMBERS: ‘(Everybody) GET DANCIN’’/‘DON’T STOP THE MUSIC’ (West End)
Thanks to Hans-Henrik Kaster for the contact and to DJ Sugi for the list.
Jesper Jensen is a Copenhagen-based writer, filmmaker and vinyl head.