Blake Wagner shares his experience digging for records at Rooky’s Records in the Lower Haight.
You would be a fool to run aground in San Francisco without paying a visit to Dick, the owner and sole employee of Rooky Ricardo’s in the Lower Haight. In the world of oldies enthusiasts, the man is a bona fide cult figure, but I didn’t know that when I stumbled into Rooky Ricardo’s on my very first trip to the city in the fall of 2017. Since then, I’ve made semi-annual pilgrimages to Rooky Ricardo’s, and can rightfully credit Dick with turning me onto some of the music I cherish most.
Take my advice – give him three songs you already know and he’ll show you twenty that are even better. Dick is a vinyl psychic. He pulls records like tarot cards and each one seems eerily germane. “Loser Again” by Jackie Moore is the Five of Cups, “I’ve Come to Save You” by 100 Proof Aged in Soul is the Knight of Swords, and “Foolish Fool” by Dee Dee Warwick (Dick’s signature song) is, well, the Fool. It seems as if he knows every record in the store. Grabbing a 45 at random, all I have to do is ask Dick whether or not he thinks the song is up my alley. He’s never been wrong.
Dick has compiled around 150 mix CDs over the past two decades, and his prices have yet to adjust for inflation; 28 songs for $10 is the golden ratio. He laments the rise of boutique reissue labels that peddle fetish objects or contain maybe one or two standout tracks. “There’s no pleasure in that,” he says. “It’s not a cohesive listening experience. I sequence my compilations to have a certain ebb and flow.” He suggests that the process of building the perfect mix is more art than science, and does not pore over hidden gems exclusively. While many of his CDs are chock full of unfamiliar names, private pressings, and regional hits, he does not shy away from throwing a Jackie Wilson or Aretha Franklin tune into rotation as necessary. It’s a melange of the familiar alongside the totally obscure, but it’s the essence of crate-digging at its deepest and most devotional.
Dick observes that “people come into the shop looking for a $200 low-rider 45 because they heard it on a compilation,” but Dick’s tastes are more egalitarian. Sure, when one record becomes the shining star of a recent, highly-publicized release, Dick is more than happy to sell a copy at its appropriate asking price. Records like these keep Dick in business. Rent ain’t cheap, and stashing a couple of gilded records in the vault for high rollers is never a bad idea. However, what sets Dick’s mixes apart is that most songs, obscure or not, can pretty much be had for $5 or $10 – on top of that, Dick probably has them in stock.
So go in, grab a handful of 45s, walk out with a few CDs, maybe even come back again before your trip’s over and collect them all. There is nothing more rewarding than an aimless weekend in San Francisco, exploring the city by foot and coming home with your own souvenir of the obscure, forgotten, and beautiful music waiting at Rooky Ricardo’s.