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PAUL MAWHINNEY


Paul C Mawhinney has world wide acclaim for owning the world’s largest collection of vinyl records. This has been his life's passion in sourcing material for this staggering collection, of which he has 1,000,000 albums and 1,500,000 singles. It has been valued at approximately $50,000,000 and, unfortunately, for reasons I will describe later, he has to sell his collection in which he has put his whole life into. In 1951, at the age of 9, Paul Mawhinney bought his first record, Frankie Lane’s Jezebel. His collection has grown quite a bit since: Mawhinney has dedicated his life to acquiring every recording issued in the U.S. His now almost 3 millionstrong archive is organized alphabetically and catalogued in his Pittsburgh warehouse. This collection is growing every day. Paul is a very organised person, everything he does is based around keeping things in its place, whether it’s his collection, or cataloguing new or past releases in his ‘Music Master’ database, which he founded himself. He is part Irish and part German, because of his grandparents and their parents which was one of the first things he told me. We spoke about his parents; his father past away during the war at the young age of 47, but his mother is still here who is 87 who has always been a good mum to him. He has lived in Pittsburgh PA all his life. I asked him if he had any traits of these differing cultures.

Paul was in the army for four years, stationed in Germany (he laughs about this) and when he was released from the army in 1962 he met his wife, feel in love and got married. They have now been married for 46 years and have 3 children where through the years they have helped out in businesses. In his early days, Paul was a workaholic. He said that this put strains on him and his family because all he ever did was work. But then he had a revelation, one which made him realise that family was the most important thing. So now he has devoted the last 20 years to his family which is now “a fine relationship”. This is why that when he retired, that he wanted to give the companies outside of the archive to his children, ensuring that they had a source of income so that they could survive with those things alone. One of the greatest things about Paul is that he wants to help everybody. Everyday he is helping someone find the things they want, he helps artists when they come to him for guidance and he has also been so helpful in helping me. We have been in contact a great since the start of this project and he has been more than willing to do whatever I have thrown at him. He said that he has spent his life being a record expert, and if he can’t share that with anyone, then that's his fault.


Paul’s biggest honour was, in 1993, he won ‘Entrepreneur of the Year” in western Pennsylvania. This was over four different states, and he had to go to California to collect his award, people were taking his pictures. It was his proudest moment. This made his whole career. One of his most embarrassing moments was when he went to a Dick Clark convention. Paul shouted “Hey Dick!” replied, who are you? And Paul tells him, I’m the music master! Dick runs over and kisses him on the lips in front of everyone, Paul went a very deep shade of red. Paul suffers from diabetes and is legally blind. I gave Paul a disposable camera, seeing as he lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and he very kindly took some images of things that are very important to him and things that he uses everyday. You can probably tell from the picture quality which are the disposables, but the others are images that Paul has emailed me himself.


These two images that Paul took are of his lounge walls. I am assuming that it is like a montage to his family. Family is the most important thing to him, and one of the reasons why he had to give up his collection, because he couldn’t afford to keep it anymore and wanted to provide a better quality of life for them. Paul explained to me that his wife, his children, grandchildren and his mother are the most important things in his life to him. This montage of the family is the first thing Paul took a photo of, which I think says a lot. Paul is a very generous person, he went so far out of his way to aid me in my project, it is extremely important to him that he helps as many people as possible.


Record Rama, is currently the biggest archive of vinyl recordings in the world. It began through encouragement of Paul’s wife. She told him, at which point by now he had a collection of 160,000 records, that he had to open a record store, because her house couldn’t contain anymore. She told him, you have to call it Record Rama, apparently she just came up with that name out of the blue. Which he thought was a “pretty good idea!”. So in 1968 he decided to open up Record Rama. He claims that in those days, rent was very cheap it cost him $35 a month to open his record store. The first store was in the town of Etna, in Pittsburgh, but he then moved to the north hills, and it was still close to the city centre. To him, opening a record store was “wonderful”. He said that he had done so many original things that this sort of thing had never been done. He started by buying “tractor loads” of vinyl from distributors, obtaining many copies of the same thing, so he told me he put a sign outside saying “Records...99 cents a pop!” Many people would come into his store everyday, to him it was such a fantastic feeling that people wanted to share this experience with him. He then began to describe to me his daily routine at the archive. In the morning, he would have to sort out new deliveries, which then had to be put in alphabetical order. He said when he finally got a computer to control what he had it made everything so much easier. This would tell him quantities and locations. He would then spend the day organising, and selling, but for his shop to remain an archive, he had to keep at least one of every copy, so he did. It was incredible for him that people wanted to be involved whether it was buying or selling, he used to meet a great deal of dealers from all over the country, they gave him so much stock that he even had to sell some wholesale to make room for more. He was well known for it. He gets emails all the time, even to this day of people searching for records. He even received one just before we spoke from a man who wanted a record from a person he went to school with in 1995. The majority of the time, he has the copies. He feels honoured that people ask him these questions. This happens to him everyday, people from all over the world, even the Library of Converse.


I personally believe that one the greatest things that Paul has done was helping to expand David Bowies career. Because of all the research he does and all the great work that he did in his record store, he was able to figure out a way to make a mediocre artist a world wide star. He is very modest about it all, he doesn’t take credit for most things, and never has money on his mind. All he wants is to look out for is the welfare of artists, he believes if we do this then the music industry will hopefully one day be a better place. If we can all work together as a community and help one another, as he is, then it will be possible for us to help those who deserve it. When you are in business for as long at Paul has been, you become incredibly aware of what is going on around you. In his life, he kept hearing this song, that he thought was terrific, and people kept wanting to buy it from him, as if it was similar to a cult, it was an ‘underground’ thing. It went on for years and one day he said to himself, they market must be sleeping on this record. David Bowie recorded this single in 1969 and he was on Mercury records at the time, a major record label. He released a few albums and many singles but success was never really apparent as he couldn't seem to develop an audience. In 1973, Paul decided he wanted to help David Bowie because he thought he was a fantastic artists and deserved a hit. Money never came into Paul’s mind, he just wanted to make the public aware of what a talented artist Bowie really was. David Bowie was dropped from Mercury Records and was picked up by RCA, who fortunately for him, Paul had relations with. With RCA, Bowie has release more albums and approximately 20 singles, and still never had a hit. So Paul rang a man who was also from Pittsburgh, and simply asked him, do you want a hit record? The man replied, what do you know your from Pittsburgh! Paul told him to press 700 copies of Space Oddity and send it out to FM Radio and this would guarantee this would be a hit. I think we know what happens after this........ Paul told me that the guy he rang, who’s name is Tom, used to hang out with Elvis, and they used to go shopping at department stores. They would close the store when Elvis had arrived, because he spent $35,000 in an hour.


Paul has been the creator of many things, but he had one policy in life that everything had to be related to music. He claims he couldn’t of accomplished any of the things he did without the help of his friends and family. He said that he “had one foot in the archive and the other was out looking for other stuff!” Paul has several spin off businesses, apart from being the curator of the largest archive of vinyl recordings, he is also the creator of the ‘Musicmaster Database’ that he also wrote a book on too. Here, he logs everything that he comes into contact with. People send him things to log everyday, people can access this information online, if Paul has logged your work, it is a big deal which is why he has so many requests everyday. He identifies every release that a particular band has, and whether or not they were a hit to let everyone know the correct information. He said that some vinyl because its a huge hit becomes cheaper and widely sold, but the ones that aren’t hits are the ones with the most value because they were never sold. So these types of things he tries to build in database for collectors so that they know if they are getting ripped off or not. It’s an incredible amount of researching that goes into creating this database, but he loves every second of it. He also told me that its great how artists want to be involved with his database because their work can sit right there with everyone else's in the world, and often he listens to the records that people send him and he sits there and cries his eyes out because the music is so wonderful and touching but will never have a chance to be played on the radio. Today, he has about 3,000,000 song titles that he has entered by hand.


In 1983 he published a book on his database called ‘Musicmaster’, which is where the name for the database came from. So he would go to Librarys to visit the sound archives with his book and his ‘Spin – Clean’ (explained below) and all the girls would come along and kiss him and he could never figure out why. So, he asked why, one of the ladies who worked in the archive said before your database, we didn’t have access to our own archive, now we can get access in seconds! Then gave him a big hug, Paul was laughing all the way through his story. He constantly told me how he had a sense of humour, which was in itself quite funny.

He also set up 7 different record labels and a publishing company where he published 300 songs which has now been passed down to one of his sons. His son deals with a lot of publishing and licencesing which has been a very steady income for him.

He set up a business called ‘Spin Clean Record Washer’ which was a CD cleaner discmist that he has now past down to his eldest son and daughter which I hear they are running tremendously making a lot of money selling this.


The first ever record Paul bought was a Frankie Lane song called Jezebel when he was 9. This record was a 78, this is incredibly think but really fragile (generally the thicker the vinyl the better quality it is). He didn’t initially think of having a huge collection, it wasn’t for reasons to do with money, or fame, he just did it because he loved it. It was part of growing up to him. But what made him really start to collect was his idol, Elvis, he loved everything he did. Paul even went into the army the same time that Elvis did, he ate in the same mess hole as he did, he couldn’t get near him because he was the ‘king’! They wouldn’t let anyone near Elvis as he always had officers with him. He tried several time to get up to him and say how much he loved him and enjoyed his music, but he couldn’t get close. But, he saw him and ate near him in the same places he did. But that made him feel great. Paul had a burning desire to be near him and spend some time with him, but couldn’t ever get near him. He musically he influenced him and through the love of Elvis, he really starting collecting then, he even travelled to Memphis to get hold of some original recordings of Elvis. His other favourite artists are The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Five Keys, especially Roody West from the band who were popular in the 50s. He began to tell me how much he was in awe of Roody West. West sang for the group nearly all his life and unfortunately only recently passed away. Paul was interviewing an international DJ who was also interviewing Paul at the same time and wanted to know who Paul’s favourite artist was; Roody West. Five or so years past and Paul gets a call asking for his permission to play a recording on the radio, it was Roody West. Roody apartently had a copy of a newspaper article stating that Paul Mawhinney’s favourite artist was Roody West, he carried this is his wallet for five years. Paul was over the moon, he told me he was literally crying. At this point in our conversation, Paul was laughing and shouting with joy. He said “I don’t have any money but I sure have a lot of love!”


I wanted to know where was the best place to get records from, but he doesn’t go to fairs, he goes straight to the distributors. He would take a van with him and fill it with records, then he decided which ones he would keep for himself and which he would sell. For example, he had ZZ Top’s first record, which was worth over $200 original press. This he found incredibly exciting, to find hidden gems in these truck loads that he would receive from the distributors that would come all the way from Houston. He didn’t really have to go and look for records, he was handed them. The best thing about his job was this, going out on road trips with his friend (who was a Vietnam Veteran), who has since passed away. His friend would sell baseball cards and records too and they used to travel to all the cities to get their records, from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, they would made 500 mile circles around Pittsburgh, New York, Toronto, anywhere. And they also visited record shows as far as South Carolina and Vegas. I asked him if he went out to buy records singularly for himself, for personal reasons and he told me that “well, that is my personal collection! I can go downstairs and find any record I want!” His most valuable record is a Rolling Stones promotional record, were only 300 copies were released, its still in mint condition and is now worth $8,000. Paul never dreamed that he would become this big. Its an honour to him that he has the biggest collection in the world, he always loved his job and he still loves it today. In fact he can’t believe it, especially that fact that he is 70 years old. He told me that people think he is 40 because of the way he talks and looks, he thinks its down to his collection for keeping him happy his whole life, the years

have been kind to him. Being happy keeps him young. The Library of Converse made a study on Paul’s collection, stating that 85% of it was not available to the public. They made this statement not him, he says that no including what may be laying in a junk pile or in someone’s room, but who knows where they are? But at least Paul’s are all organised and filed correctly. He doesn’t really own any CDs, he has a personal collection of about 300, to him this is small and insignificant. He recently transferred some of his vinyl on to CD....something which I find hard to believe. He has a lot of greatest hits CDs that he collects, he thinks CD is a lot easier to listen to than vinyl. But, he does listen to vinyl everyday as his records are right beside his computer, he listens to his music whilst he catalogues. He also listens to online radio, where he can choose to listen to records that are purely from the 50s, his favourite era. Paul believes that vinyl is 100 times better than a CD. He told me this “Imagine this, they move the music by computer and what they do is they chop off the highs, they chops off the lows and then they compress everything......how could that be possibly equal to the open sound that you get on a record, with the basses and the highs and the fullness in the middle. There’s no comparison to what they are selling in music these days.”


Paul gets up int he morning and has a ‘normal’ breakfast, he gets up with his wife and takes his grandchildren to school. If any shopping needs to be done he goes to get it or he and his wife go. Then he comes back and checks his answering machine and then his emails and then begins his cataloguing til about 5 pm. Around this time, his family gets home from school; he has two grandchildren and one daughter still lives with him.....on top of his wife! (He laughs). So there are plenty of people in the house, 6 of them all together. Life is interesting to him, all the time and there is always something to do. If it’s a nice sunny day, Paul likes to go out walking with his family or he will drive them down to a shopping district and just cruise around. I wanted to know what Paul does to relax, but this is his relaxation, he enjoys every bit of his life and doesn’t need to relax, he loves every aspect and enjoys it to the full. He doesn’t consider what he does as work. He and his wife like to go on vacation, they regularly go to Florida for 2 weeks, or Las Vegas, California......They used to take 2 weeks in the summer and 2 weeks in the winter to travel anywhere they desired. He even told me about when he came to London, about 10 years ago and went to see all the historic sights, although they did plan to go to Ireland but never made it because they had too much fun in the city.


These photos are some of Paul’s family and home that he took for me. The two girls in these photos are of two of his grandchildren; some pretty crazy poses! But they all look so happy, they look like they lead a wonderful life together, they have a busy house, with six of them in it which could be tough but Paul see’s as a blessing. They have a big American house with a trampoline and other activities for the children, I suppose it would need to be big if six people were living in it! Paul also has a little Yorkshire Terrier dog, which is the family dog, but really, she belongs to Paul’s wife. They love to have barbeques as the weather is usually quite hot around here, they love to do things which involve the whole family. As you can see from the image too, that there is a collection of solar panels, Paul has his own way of generating electricity for the house. The image in the photo is Paul’s personal car, they also have a family wagon for trips out, but this is the vehicle he uses personally for himself.


Paul’s family love their food, his wife normally does the cooking as they love her food. They really like to get together as a family and eat round the table and talk about what they did during the course of the day. Paul is a firm believer in “a family that eats together, stays together”. This is the contents of his fridge, it’s huge. One of the things Paul cannot go a day without is his coffee machine, he loves to drink coffee. His favourite thing to eat is cinnamon and raison bagels. Paul has a sweet tooth, he loves scones and pancakes, ice cream other deserts but he also eats very healthily eating lots of vegetables. Paul likes pretty much most foods. He also sent me a photo of his wardrobe. This is his closet and his wife has her rail above his. You can see that he dresses quite conservatively, casual but respectable I think would be an accurate description of how he dresses. This is also a collection of his shoes, I don’t think I have ever seen a man with quite so many shoes.


Paul’ has a negative opinion of the current music. He explained to me that “ most of these guys own the publishing businesses, stole it, so the great songs that people know and want are now owned by the major labels, EMI is one of them in your country and they own all the Beatles stuff. So every time that's played, they are making money, and they don’t even care about the music, or the records. They make that, distribute that and have all these people working work them. Then they put this on iTunes and sell it for 99 cents, they don’t need any employees, they just collect the MONEY MONEY MONEY!! IT’S NOT A MUSIC BUSINESS IT’S A MONEY BUSINESS!! That’s sad. They will tell that I am an asshole, for saying such a thing, I just spent 42 years of my life doing what I do, and believe me, I KNOW what was going on, I was there. There’s a lot of artists that aren’t even there, they were exploited, that’s why the black artists were so poor, they never got paid! They never got any royalties! Tommy James, he had a zillion hits! They never gave him a penny! He only got money from his live performances. But that was the way they treated black people!” Paul told me many stories about major record labels exploiting young artists. He thinks that the whole industry today in corrupt. Paul believes that the only way forward now is to completely independent. I your a good enough artists and you can produce your own songs and put them out on the internet then you can get somewhere.


Unfortunately now, Paul has to sell on his collection, purely for financial reasons. The rent for his store was had been $35 a month, but today it has increased to $5,000. The last couple of years, 2007-08, the industry dropped by 50% so he wasn't even making enough money to make rent. This was because the internet had exploded. He used to have 150 DJs who would come into his store and buy the latest records and then they started disappearing. This was because people weren’t using records anymore, they were using computers to download their music instead where they could get a track for 88cents and his were $1.50. There was no way he could compete with the competition on the internet, they would be selling records for $10 and his was $12.50. There was no way for him to survive. Paul and his family then had a discussion, they then decided to “can it” and close Record Rama and try to sell on the collection. He is still to this day trying to find a home for his archive to preserve it for future generations. He will be 71 years old soon, and he doesn’t mind having to give up his life’s work and its time for him to retire. He still does his research everyday, but its time for him to stop. The only serious offers he has had have been a fraud. People have sent him many fake offers, which to him is insulting and wastes what precious time he has free. He is offering the collection for $3,000,000, e told me that nobody in this business has that kind of money. One man from Ireland bought Pauls collection through eBay for the asking rice of $3,000,000. eBay said that it was fine and the money will be with you shortly, Paul began to celebrate but unfortunately, the money never came. The guy turned out to be a total fraud. Paul very kindly sent me a selection of email from a man known as Mr Love, who I can only describe to you as a lying hippy. The deal was supposed to be closing the day we spoke. He offered Paul $5,000,000 for his collection and put it into a museum. He also told Paul that within five years time he would pay his family $100,000,000 out of good will because he understood the real value of the collection. Years ago it was valued at $50,000,000 but Paul says that it have even doubled since then. If I am honest, it seemed from the first few emails that this guy was telling the truth, and I think he honestly was going to pay Paul, but then since I last spoke to Paul, he hadn’t heard from Mr Love in over a month. He must of had a change of circumstances.


Paul said that “it seems like every asshole in the world wants to make a big hit with themselves and use me in their games. It seems like they want to hurt you, but they will never hurt my feelings because I love what I do, but they do certainly insult my feelings, they have no respect.” It does both Paul that people are fooling him around, he feels a that some are trying to make a fool out of him but feels that he has so much good in his life that they could never offend him. Still, it is extremely annoying dealing with time wasters. Paul explained that he did used to care about who his collection went to, now he only hopes that he will live long enough to find a home for it! He’s getting frustrated because he is paying over $1000 a month just to keep it. He can’t afford to keep doing this, he just hopes that somebody out their wakes up. He said he would take $2,000,000. I asked him how he publicising his collection, and he told me that he was doing it through eBay. I believe that if he had someone on the case to really advertise his sale then someone may pull through. Paul said “I’ll be damned if anyone thinks they can push me around anymore!” I also asked if this bad news was having any negative affects on his health, but fortunately the good Lord takes good care of him, he has been very fortunate to live such a great life.


Paul Mawhinney  

Taking an ethnographic approach, this book is a study into the lifestyle, routines, culture and mindsets of the worlds largest record collec...

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