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When Vinyl Was Cool

Frank Sinatra’s “Swing Easy!” demonstration record.

Stevens’ owner Ralph Bell helping a young customer.

Minnie Pearl Bell, Art Ahlbrand and Nancy Bell manned the shop

Teenagers listening to the latest records.

Zenith display of outdoor entertaining 1960’s style.

By Amy Ahlbrand Robinson

The teenage refuge of the 1950s and ’60s was the “record shop.” Stevens Records and Radio Shop, located on Kirby Drive near Rice University, was one of the first places Houstonians heard the records of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and later, The Beatles. Booths provided private spaces to listen to the newest albums before one invested $4.85 for an LP (Long Play) album – at a time when gas was 20 cents a gallon.

While dreaming of growing up to be a songwriter, Dene Hofheinz Anton, daughter of former Houston mayor Roy Hofheinz, listened to her own jukebox stocked with 45-rpm records from Stevens. Among her favorites were Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson and The Platters. Nancy Bell, who worked at the store as a teenager, still has her original Buddy Holly and Little Richard records.

Barbara Bell Lewis, daughter of owner Ralph Bell, was the record buyer for Stevens and recalls receiving free concert tickets from record salesmen who were eager to promote new artists such as Nat King Cole, Fats Domino and the Count Basie Orchestra.

Native Houstonian Robbie Leff remembers calling Stevens Records looking for a much-anticipated Beatles album and simply asking, “Has it come in yet?” The response? “Yes!”

Stevens Records is now just a happy Houston memory. However, vinyl record albums are making a comeback. There is still something special about listening to a record album in the order the Beatles and other performers wanted their songs to be heard.





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