The Record Keepers: Mark Stryker

Music writer, jazz fan, lover of records and the places that sell them
Mark Stryker
Mark Stryker

Mark Stryker’s vinyl adulation started when he acquired jazz drummer Buddy Rich’s 1967 live album Big Swing Face. “I was 10. I had heard my older brother’s high school jazz band play the title tune from this 1967 LP, and that’s what inspired me to want to play the saxophone,” Stryker says. “I took up the alto at age 11. I still have the record I got in 1973, but I also recently bought another copy to have one that’s less beat up.”

Now 56, the former arts reporter with the Detroit Free Press (1995-2016) and author of 2019’s Jazz from Detroit and 2020’s Destiny: 100 Years of Music, Magic, and Community at Orchestra Hall in Detroit is still a vinyl devotee and has a special reverence for the places that sell it.

“A great record store is a miracle of civilization,” says Stryker, who lives in Plymouth with his wife and approximately 3,600 jazz and 2,500 classical LPs. “A refuge combining the spirituality of a church, the camaraderie of a corner bar, the expertise of a musicology seminar, the peer support of a halfway house, and the self-righteousness and obsessiveness of a place where record junkies debate the arcana of obscure hard-bop records and Maria Callas bootlegs. These are my people, my tribe.”

These houses of vinyl worship have the power to save wayward souls who stream music at low bitrates, turning them into proselytes who exalt in a turntable’s analog-warm light, sending them searching for strange sounds spawned by all sorts of creatures, whether made of flesh or felt.

“Some years ago, I was at Encore Records in Ann Arbor, one of the great record stores in the country,” Stryker says, “and I overheard a clerk say to a customer, ‘Have you looked in our Muppet section?’ I thought to myself, ‘Holy s***, the stock here is so deep that it even has a f***ing Muppet section!’”

While not all chapels hold the recorded works of Kermit and Miss Piggy, Stryker’s congregation is blessed with all sorts of places to worship in southeast Michigan.

“I tell people all the time that metro Detroit is used-record-store heaven,” he says. “We have so many truly fine stores that to do them all justice would take two full days of shopping. I go to my favorites once a week and try to get to the others every few weeks.”

Sometimes during those temple visits, Stryker sees fellow parishioners suffering from a little-known spiritual virus known as “recordshoppingitis.”

“Every once in a while I’ll be in a store and I’ll see the eyes of someone as they’re flipping through the bins,” Stryker says, “and they’ll have that same blank expression that you see on gambling addicts at casinos as they dump dollar after dollar into the slot machines. Or I’ll see the same emotionless stare of an alcoholic downing whisky at a bar before noon. I’m not like that, but whenever I see those people I think, ‘There but for the grace of God …’”