Birds of a Feather: Gary Peacock of Peacock Records
By Garrett K. Woodward
Photos by Damian Battinelli
A melodic world opened when crossing the threshold into Peacock Records. Thousands of albums appeared, and a friendly voice from behind the counter would suggest something to check out a few rows down or simply start a conversation about the mutual love of the records.
Though the beloved North Country business closed in 2006, memories of the Plattsburgh store always seem to bubble up wherever music is played, heard, or simply triggered in mind through an interaction with a fellow kindred spirit of rock-n-roll.
The man behind Peacock Records was Gary Peacock himself. At 66, he now hides under the radar camping in the Adirondacks or working on his latest project: Mountain Stream Radio (www.mountainstreamradio.com). The station flips mainstream radio on its head amid a stream-of-consciousness format that encompasses decades of songs and bands, not just what fits a corporate formula for mass consumption.
Raised in Chateaugay, Peacock bolted for a trade school in Boston following his high school graduation in hopes of someday becoming a radio disc jockey. That dream was quickly snuffed out when he returned back to Upstate New York and found himself spinning his wheels at a local station.
But Peacock couldn’t shake his love of music, whether broadcast on-air or onstage at a nightclub. He started DJing at weddings and in bars which was a career move that would eventually parlay itself into Peacock Records. It was a 23-year endeavor that touched the hearts, minds, and souls of countless folks from around the North Country and across the country.
Follow the store’s history in a Q&A with the man himself:
So, you came of age during arguably the greatest era of music?
Yeah, absolutely. I grew up listening to CHOM-FM (based out of Montreal) back when they were a real creative force in the industry. They were more like a pirate radio station. It’s harder edge rock now. They came on with a bang in 1969 and their creative juices stopped flowing around 1976. You’ve probably read the book “Never a Dull Moment,” which talks about 1971 being the peak of rock-n-roll music. I was totally obsessed [with rock music]. Of course, back then it was only AM radio for the most part, until CHOM came on the air. So I was waiting until 9 o’clock [at night] when the transformers changed their power wavelength and I was able to get WABC in New York and WKBW in Buffalo, and the one in Albany, as well. But still, that was just Top 40.
Why were you so attracted to rock-n-roll and great radio? What did it spark within you?
What it sparked within me was the continuity with CHOM. The way they would program their music would be very much thematic sets. It could be a combination of where the lyrical content would create a stream-of-consciousness through several songs, as well as the melody, the rhythm, and the beat. They were into classic rock of course, but they were [also] into the British folk scene — Fotheringay, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band. Their [disc jockeys] were also stream-of-consciousness. They’d get on some kind of roll and just go with it for like an hour or two on end. That really captivated me. This was right during the heyday of The Beatles, Donovan, and all of that. I remember being glued to the radio and listening to that interview with John Lennon at that hotel [in Toronto in 1969] — it was earth-changing.
Was [music] as important to you as breathing and eating?
Probably more. [Laughs]. In fact, I remember the summer of ‘66. I was 14 and talked my parents into letting me sleep on the front porch every single night of the summer, and I basically did it for the reason that I’d be able to listen to the radio all night.
It all made me realize that music was the way I had to go. [Later], I had been working as a greenskeeper at a golf course down in Keene Valley, and I met this couple there from Sonoma County. They said, “If you ever come to California, look us up.” They lived on this little animal farm out there. So, I ended up moving there and got ready to enroll in Sonoma State. At the time, I acquired quite a large record collection. So, I bought a good tape deck and started amassing this library. My record collection was enormous, and I couldn’t bring something like that around to DJ with, so I would put the music on these tapes where I had about 14,000 songs to choose from. I had what I called the “mobile unit.” I’d DJ at bars and clubs and play “head music” like CHOM did. The radio in California was nothing compared to what they were doing at CHOM at that time. I packed up and came back to Chateaugay. I spent about a month putting together this giant binder of index cards, and transcribe by hand the times and places where you could find the songs [on the tapes]. I’d put the binder on the bar and people could make requests — that’s how I got started at the Monopole.
And now you’re in Plattsburgh DJing?
I had a gig at the AuSable Club as the greenskeeper from May to October and would go to California in the winter. This went on for a few years [in the mid-1970s]. When I finally came back, I would commute from the AuSable Club to the Monopole one night a week. It went over pretty well, then they added a second night. Then, that winter [of 1976], I was put on four nights a week. So, I was crashing at people’s houses in Plattsburgh during the week and crashing in Keene Valley on the weekends. Then, I got my van and started sleeping in that.
I worked in the Monopole for about 10 years, and opened the record store in 1983.
Was the original record store on Bridge Street?
Yes, where the head shop [This & That] is today. What’s kind of interesting was that I didn’t really put a whole lot of thought into [opening a record store]. It was not the smartest decision in my life. [Laughs.] In ‘82-’83, there was a record store in town — Giant Records — and it was a local chain behind where Texas Roadhouse is now. I got wind that they were going out of business in October, 1983. I thought, “There’s a vacancy, maybe I ought to consider this.” So, I jumped on it. This was back before computers, and I remember sitting up in the Monopole office reading catalog numbers off [one at a time] to my vendors for placing my initial order for several thousand records.
When was the first day you opened?
December 6, 1983. We were on Bridge Street for six years before we relocated near the Champlain Mall. We moved right after CDs started overtaking the shop. By 1988, CDs were pretty much full-tilt and I needed more space.
Do you ever realize how much of an impact that store had on people in the North Country?
I think I do - I hear it almost daily. Every time I do a wedding or something, five or six people will come up to me and say, “I bought my first tape at your store,” or, “I miss the store so much.” It’s very heartwarming. It makes me feel really good about what I did. Though, I feel strongly that I got as much out of it as my clientele. They don’t realize it was a two-way street. I probably made out better from a musical knowledge point-of-view. Somebody would come [into the store] and talk about something, pique our interest, and we’d run out and buy it ourselves.
The only parts that was planned [in the store] was if anybody came in and asked for something we didn’t have, we’d write it down. The other thing was telling our employees, “When that customer comes back in, I don’t expect you to know their name, but I do expect you to know what music they bought the last time they were here.” That kind of communication and openness to conversation is what made the store so successful. People came in knowing that they would be able to get good information and that somebody would be there to listen. Music heads love to spout what they know, and if somebody is there to listen, it makes for such a warm experience.
You had and continue to have a life in music. You made it work.
Yeah, it did work. I just can’t believe it when I think about it. How in the hell did I get this far? A lot of it is stubborn determination. [Laughs.] But, it’s all of you out there in the North Country that made Peacock Records what it was.