Hipsters wearing walking along the street in vintage attire and wearing oversized headphones, blasting the latest Indie rock have nothing on local music connoisseur Sumter Bruton.
Since the 1950s, Bruton has been introducing sounds of rhythm and blues to generations of music lovers. His parents, Kathleen Bruton and the late Sumter Bruton Jr., founded Record Town on South University Drive on Feb. 1, 1957.
“I feel like I’m a professor – Dr. Jazz,” Bruton said. “At one time I didn’t care, but now that I’ve gotten older I’m like the mayor of the block.”
Though the strip of shops encompassing the storefront has seen a variety of neighboring franchises over the years, the shop’s interior has sealed hundreds of records in time capsule-like fashion.
“Every record I have – I have 12,000 – is written down by the record and I have every song checked off in a master catalogue,” Bruton said.
Along with contributing to and preserving the large collection of vinyl records, Bruton keeps the record straight when it comes to music history. His knowledge of jazz music, along with his stories of local legends like T-Bone Burnett and his younger brother Stephen Bruton, provide a unique customer experience.
Today, fewer customers have heard Bruton’s tales. After entering the hospital with a staph infection last spring, his deteriorating health is significantly cutting his hours at the shop.
An Old Store
Gerard Daily, who worked at the shop while attending TCU in the ‘70s, has returned to serve customer needs daily. He said former Frogs that stop in feel a sense of nostalgia as they introduce their own children to the former campus hangout. Daily said customers say the record store smells the same as when they were youngsters.
“It’s like a dinosaur,” Bruton said, “Yeah there’s a lot of wear and tear, but it has got a lot of stories to tell.”
Daily said at one time there were sound booths in the back of the shop for customers to listen to tracks from the store’s player.
The imprints of Bruton’s late father, a jazz drummer from New Jersey, and his 90-year-old mother from Granbury, are found in the shop’s eclectic mix of music memorabilia, CDs, vinyl and instruments with hand-marked price tags.
Bruton recalled his first job putting plastic covers over the vinyl albums.
Tom Reynolds, a local musician and president of Reynolds Cattle Co., said he has known the Bruton family for most of his life and said the store serves as a musical education center for the community. He said he’s spent more than $2,000 annually on records from the store’s specialty collection.
Despite Record Town’s charm, Bruton said working at the store was more of an obligation than an ideal career choice. At first, he attended TCU on a baseball scholarship and when it came time for graduation, he decided he didn’t have the chops to pursue it professionally.
“If I had been a little bit better, I probably could have been a pro baseball player, but I wasn’t that good,” he admitted.
Bruton started playing guitar in various local blues bands while at TCU. He had continued to play with the Juke Jumpers until recently.
Bruton recalled having a keen ear for music at an early age.
“Before I could read, at about three years old, I’d get my daddy’s records out,” he said, “I didn’t know what I was listening to, but I knew the color of the label.”
His younger brother Stephen ran with his knack for music, eventually making the Bruton name famous with a multi-million dollar career. Before dying from cancer in 2009, he produced and wrote the music for the film Crazy Heart.
Sumter spoke about his brother Stephen calling him while on tour in Europe. They’d reminisce about jamming out at the Blue Bird nightclub in Como– Fort Worth’s historically African-American neighborhood.
Stephen Bruton and T. Bone Burnett used to stop into Record Town with musicians on their way to play gigs at South by Southwest in Austin, TX, Daily said. Because of this, not only does the store house the music of legends, but serves as a touchstone for local musicians.
Dave Millsap, who recorded an album with Stephen and can be spotted at gigs around the Metroplex, recalled his first visit to the store in the late 60s. Back then, he said, Sumter Sr. would tune the ears of youngsters into the sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The same informed taste lives on in Sumter Jr., he said.
“You could pick up a record and ask ‘what do you think?’ and he’d just shake his head and say ‘nah you don’t want that,” Millsap said.
The Future of the store
After the Brutons have all closed shop, Sumter said he doesn’t have any plans. Even after a close call in April 2013, he said he didn’t plan to sell. Although he has raised four kids, none of which were his by blood (through three marriages, none of which lasted) no Sumter Bruton IV remains.
“I’ll walk out this door some day and die and everyone can figure it out from there,” he said.
Daily said his many years at the store have never been about the money.
“I would rather have people hear the music than make a house payment off selling them a new album,” Daily said.
For many in the community, Reynolds said, the empty storefront wouldn’t go unnoticed.
“If Record Town ever closed there would be a lot of wet eyes around this town,” he said.
Daily said he doesn’t know what the future would hold for the shop, but was optimistic about the reemergence of a vinyl market.
“If it was a chain store it would have been closed a long time ago because, you know, I’m sure it’s not making a whole lot of money,” he said, “Now that vinyl is coming back it’s a pretty choice location.”
Longtime fans discuss their fond memories at shop online on their Record Town fan page on Facebook. Meanwhile, new generations of students wander the campus storefront, traveling back in time through the sound of vinyl tracks turning.