Thursday 7 July 2022

The Story Of Rather Ripped Records - Where Every Record Was A New Release & Chaos Was Guaranteed!

Interviews by Devorah Ostrov

The Rather Ripped crew circa 1977, including Paul Hallaman,
Doug Kroll, Ray Farrell, Reenee Gregg, Azian Nerudan,
Harold Woodring, Mikkel McDow, and Russ Ketter
Photo: Richard McCaffrey
Located at the corner of Euclid and Hearst on the Northside of the UC Berkeley campus, throughout the 1970s Rather Ripped was a haven for Bay Area record buyers and a mecca for music connoisseurs worldwide. "It eventually became one of the most famous record stores in the world," points out Rather Ripped's onetime co-owner Doug Kroll.

According to legend, Russ Ketter, Rather Ripped's original owner, skipped Woodstock and instead chose that weekend to come to California to pursue a songwriting career. That dream soon morphed into running a legendary record store with the motto: "Where every record is a new release." The store (if you don't count the loft space) wasn't very big. One estimate puts it at 30 to 40-feet deep and maybe 25-feet wide maximum. But as former employee Marc Time notes, "We had records crammed into the bins. The bins were so tight you could hardly flip through them."

Focusing on unusual and hard-to-find releases, Rather Ripped offered its customers a unique mix of sales staff who combined their specialist knowledge with obsessive tastes. And a chaotic shopping experience was all but guaranteed. On any given day, you could meet the members of the Police or Blondie, and perhaps have a record broken over your head. "We built an environment where people expected it to be weird and crazy," acknowledges Kroll.

There are a zillion stories that could be told about the store. Patti Smith famously made her Bay Area debut in the Rather Ripped loft, and the owners infamously fought (and won) a major bootleg bust. Their parties featured the likes of Horslips, the Real Kids, and the Residents. Greg Kihn rang up purchases during his tenure behind the counter, and Roky Erickson found a favorite soundtrack during his in-store appearance.

Many years ago, I interviewed some of the people associated with the store, including one of its owners, a well-known customer, and a few employees. But the story was never finished because I couldn't find Russ Ketter. No one seemed to know where he was, and I didn't feel it was right to do a history of Rather Ripped without his input. However, thanks to Facebook, I finally (!) located Russ, as well as a couple more former employees, customers, and loads of photos. 

Hope you enjoy this tale of "the best little record store you ever saw."

★ ★ ★

MARC TIME (Sales/Drummer for the Jars)
Flyer for Rather Ripped's 8th annual birthday party
featuring Horslips, the Real Kids, and the Jars.
(Courtesy of Marc Time)
Marc was a 25-year-old punk rocker/electronic music fan when he began working at Rather Ripped Records. He was the drummer for Berkeley-based band the Jars (which also featured his friend and Rather Ripped co-worker Mik Dow on guitar) and a former DJ at KALX. You can currently hear Marc on KWVA Eugene, where he hosts the Sunday Morning Hangover show:

Q: Tell me about your background and how you got involved with Rather Ripped Records.
Marc: Before Rather Ripped, I was working at Rasputin's. It later turned into Blondie's pizza after they moved across the street. And between 1977 and '78, I was on the radio playing punk rock on KALX. One day, the management came down and said, "You're playing too much punk!" They wanted a nice, varied format. They put me on at 3AM or something, so I quit. I got into Ripped in '78 through my friend Mik Dow [aka Mikkel McDow]. Mik was already working there, and he said, "C'mon over!" Rather Ripped was the store to work at. It was the place to be.

Q: I've heard that you were the first Bay Area DJ to play the Sex Pistols.
Marc: I believe so. I was one of the first, if not the first. There was a guy at KALX who was into glam named Christian Super, and he might have played it a week before I did. But I got "Anarchy in the UK" from a friend of mine, who had just gotten it from England. He said, "You gotta play this!" And I was playing the Ramones because I really liked the first album. But the station dictated that you had to play a certain amount of jazz records, so you'd hear a set with the Ramones, Ducks Deluxe, and all these other bands... and then you'd hear Al Di Meola. It didn't work, but that's what the station wanted, and that's why I didn't last there.

Q: By the time you started at Rather Ripped, it was already a well-established record store known for imports and out-of-print albums.
Marc: Yeah, if you needed something that was out-of-print or a hard-to-find import, that was the place to go. Nowadays, you can walk into Tower and get imports. But in those days, the only place that had imports was Ripped. You know, stuff like Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett… A lot of those off-beat records weren't issued in America.

Q: At that time, the store also seemed to lean towards avant-garde and techno music.
Marc: Ripped was more into progressive rock, space rock, and stuff like that. Which was really all that was happening in 1974/75, except for Roxy Music and bands like that. And the pub rock stuff like Duck's Deluxe and Brinsley Schwartz. But basically, Ripped was more into progressive rock, German rock, import-type rock. Russ was a real space rock freak, and Doug was more into progressive rock. When I started at Ripped, Russ and Doug were pretty much running the show; they were kind of equal partners. After a while, they got busy with bigger projects, and they put Ray [Farrell] in charge of actually running the store. And me, Ray, Rick [Johnson], Mik, and Paul [Hallaman] were the guys that were listening to a lot of the new music. So, we slowly introduced Russ and Doug and even customers like Greil Marcus to new wave.

1979 Top Picks as chosen by Marc Time, Rick Johnson,
and Russ Ketter (from the Rather Ripped newsletter)
Q: Were Russ and Doug opposed to punk?
Marc: At first, they seemed really opposed, especially Russ. He was a real Bruce Springsteen fan, a real progressive rock fan. Doug liked Patti Smith and stuff like that. But he couldn't get into the stranger stuff like Lydia Lunch or any of the bands that me and Ray were into.
   I remember one day, Ray was playing Teenage Jesus and the Jerks — the "Orphans" single. Ray was great at developing contacts with all the indie labels like Ork, all these little labels that were coming up. They loved us! Ray would get them to send us records on consignment, and we got the "Orphans" single on Migraine Records.
   If you remember, Rather Ripped had speakers that were the size of a house, and we played music loud! So, one day we were playing "Orphans." It's like: "Little orphans running through the blood, through the blood..." Russ came downstairs, ripped the record off the turntable, and broke it in front of all the customers. And then he just walked back upstairs as if nothing had happened.

Q: Let's talk about the in-stores. There was always some rock star popping into the store!
Marc: Oh, god! I wish I could remember all of them. There were so many in-stores there.

Q: Who were some of your favorites? 
Marc: Well, I'm a big Pere Ubu fan. That was one of my favorites! And I was just thinking about the Edgar Froese [Tangerine Dream] in-store. It's a funny story... Edgar Froese was hanging around — very proper German guy. My friend Paul, who worked upstairs and did mail order, put on "White Riot" by the Clash. Edgar Froese went, "My God! I can't stand it!" And he went running out of the store. But the Patti Smith in-store was totally packed, filled with admirers...

Q: Were you there for that?
Marc: I was there for the second one when she came with Jim Carroll. The place was mobbed, and she was holding court.

Q: Who else do you remember?
Marc: There was a Police in-store before the Police were really huge. Those guys were great! They were very friendly, even Sting. They were lovely guys. And I set-up the Dickies in-store. It was one of the Dickies first appearances in the Bay Area, and they were just super! The Dickies were wonderful.

Q: Other than Patti Smith's first in-store, where she did a poetry reading, did the bands perform?
Marc: No. They signed autographs, signed their records. They picked out records... We had a Roky Erickson in-store. Roky went up to Mik and said, "You gonna die!" Mik got so spooked that he wouldn't talk to him.

Ray Farrell hanging a Blondie promo poster and wearing the Neu! t-shirt
made by Mark Chandler in his commercial art class & 
given to him by Mark Hosler. 
(Photo: Mark Hosler)
Q: You mentioned that the bands picked out records for themselves. Do you remember what records Roky chose?
Marc: Roky didn't pick up regular rock records. He went to the soundtrack section, and he was so excited because he found the soundtrack to The Deep. It was a clear blue record, and he just went nuts — "The Deep is one of my favorite horror movies of all time!" Who else did we have in the store? We had the progressive rock bunch. We had Camel at one point, but we also had a lot of punk bands. The Clash came around for an in-store. I remember Joe Strummer wanted a "really greasy American burger." There was a burger joint around the corner, and we got him a really greasy burger. He loved it! And we had Black Flag in the store around the time of their first or second single. They came in and signed a few records, and then they went out and graffitied the wall outside of Rather Ripped. They put black paint all over it, and Russ hit the roof! Russ went nuts! He saw it as vandalism. He was gonna sue them. And we had a Billy Idol in-store before he was big. He came over on a promotional visit, just to see America. He wasn't even promoting anything, but he came into the store and stood around chatting. He was a very friendly guy. 

Q: How large was the store? I remember it being sort of small and always really crowded with people and records.
Marc: It wasn't that big. We tried to get every last bit of space out of it, but there wasn't a lot of room. And we had records crammed into the bins. The bins were so tight you could hardly flip through them. The used record bin was the biggest, and the cut-outs — the budget records for $1.99. We always pushed the cut-outs! If someone came to the counter with a brand-new album for $6.00, we'd say, "We've got one over in the budget bin for $1.99. Why don't you buy that one?" Even though it had a hole in the cover, we made more money on it. We made double the money on the cut-outs, rather than making 50-cents on the new ones.

Flier for the Police in-store at Rather Ripped
Q: The store made more money and saved the customer money.
Marc: And maybe that way, they'd buy another record, too. If they bought a record for $2, they'd have money left over for something else.

Q: Rather Ripped must have been one of the only places that sold used records back then.
Marc: And it was one of the first stores where you could trade your records in for other records. That was an unheard-of concept. I'd say that Rather Ripped pioneered that whole thing. There were a couple of other used record stores around at the time. Rasputin's was doing it, but Rasputin's was a dinky little store that hardly anybody ever went to. And there was Leopold Records. They had a little outlet on Dwight Way, but nothing approaching what Rather Ripped had in used records.
   I remember when people came in to trade their records... If they had a big stack, the records would be in different piles going up to the top of the stairs. You'd get a dime for the records on the bottom step and by the seventh step, you were getting a few dollars in trade. Doug or Russ or whoever was buying the records would point to each pile and tell you what you were getting. So, if you had a bunch of records that were worth a dime and you didn't want to sell them for a dime, you could just grab them and take them back. That was cool. It was kind of fair.

Q: Was Aquarius Records in San Francisco your main competition during the punk era? 
Marc: Yeah... But at the same time, Russ and Doug knew Chris [Knab, owner of Aquarius]. So, it was a friendly competition. Aquarius was really the biggest store in the area because they were right in San Francisco. But Rather Ripped was the East Bay equivalent. We had our own thing. We had people coming in from the Valley to buy records. We didn't have to compete for people coming up from the Peninsula. I remember when Aquarius was on Castro Street, their first store… They were really into the music, and that's something that everybody respected. Aquarius and Ripped respected each other for that. It was like we were fighting together against the big record industry giants.

Q: You said that the store sold records by independent labels on consignment. But I remember local bands sold their 45s on consignment there as well.
Marc: We were one of the few stores that carried records on consignment. Rather Ripped was really the only place you could get records by local bands. A band like the Twinkeyz would come in from Sacramento, and they'd say, "We've got a record called 'Aliens in our Midst.' You guys wanna take it on consignment?" And Rather Ripped was the only place that you could buy it. And we'd push it! You'd walk into the store and hear that song played at 100 million decibels. It's funny, Ripped had a very active sales force. If you saw a guy looking at records, you'd say to him, "If you're into that, you might be into this. You wanna hear what their record sounds like?"

L-R: Harold Woodring, Russ Ketter, Tim Byrd,
Georgette Darcy & her cat Fremsley, Jim Gray,
Paul Hallaman, Rick Johnson & Doug Kroll
Q: So, it was a sneaky hard sell?
Marc: It was kind of a hard sell. But we knew what the customer was into, and they usually liked it. But we were the only store in the area that played records for people in those days. We would just rip the record open, rip the plastic off it, and put it on the turntable.

Q: What if they didn't buy it?
Marc: We cleaned it up and resealed it! But hey, if you brought it home and it was defective because we played it... bring it back and get another one.

Q: What was the store's relationship like with the major labels?
Marc: We didn't really have much of a relationship with the major labels. The majors stayed away from us because at that time, selling used records and cut-outs was a no-no.  Nowadays, the Warehouse sells used records. But back then, if you sold used records, you were like pirates. You were renegades. We had distributors we relied on.

Q: A couple of years before you started at Rather Ripped, the store got into a lot of trouble for selling bootlegs. What happened with that?
Marc: They were blatantly selling them. I mean, they had a rack for them! The FBI came in and took them all away. So, to get around that, Russ started the Rather Ripped Club. They'd give you a card saying you were a member of the Rather Ripped Club, and you were entitled to "promotional" things. They took you upstairs to a "special" bin.

Q: It's like you were buying pornography!
Marc: Exactly! It was like buying porno from under the counter. So, for a while, they were selling bootlegs that way. And eventually, they ended up selling them as used, out-of-print records. They'd take the shrink wrap off and put them in the used record bins. We had these French tourists that would come in and say, "You've got ze bootlegs. We know you 'ave some bootlegs somewhere." And we'd go, "Ssshhh! They're not bootlegs. They're used records. We have used, rare, collectible records over here, sir." Because you never knew if someone was an FBI agent.
   That's one of the reasons why a lot of the major labels stayed away from us. Bruce Springsteen was really pissed off about people selling bootlegs. We had a five-record Bruce Springsteen box that we were selling, and nobody else had it. It just flew out of the store! But if the majors found out about it, like CBS... Oh, man! And I think that's the record that got us in trouble, those Springsteen bootlegs.

Q: Was mail order an important part of the business?
Marc: Russ may have started doing mail order because of this bootleg business. It was an outgrowth of that. He could sell things by mail order and not get in trouble with it. Plus, he could sell it for twice as much to some kid in Minnesota as we could get for it in the store. And for a while mail order was doing better than the rest of the store, it was really successful.
   After a while, it was kind of a running battle between Ray and Russ... Russ would say, "Give me that XTC import! I've got a guy in Kansas who wants it." And Ray would go, "But it's the only one left. And I've got a guy on the floor who wants it." So, who are you gonna sell it to? The guy that's standing right there? Or the guy in Kansas? Russ would just rip it out of Ray's hands and ship it off to Kansas. And he'd get more money for it! At that time, the profit on records wasn't that much — especially on imports. You only made a dollar or two. You know, running a record store is like having a candy shop. It really is! How much are you gonna make?

Q: Did the store make money at some point?
Marc: For a while, it was making good money. Until the big record slump of 1980, it was doing pretty good. But I think what really killed Rather Ripped was all the other stores jumping on the bandwagon — getting import albums, getting import 45s and consignment 45s, selling used records. All the stuff that Rather Ripped was famous for became mainstream. You could go to Tower and buy it; you could go to Tower and meet the Ramones. You didn't have to go to Rather Ripped to do it. You didn't have to make that trek all the way through the UC Berkeley campus to the corner of Euclid and Hearst.

Q: It was a hike.
Marc: Yeah, it was a hike. It was a 15-minute walk just to get to the Northside. But it was like the Yellow Brick Road. When you got there, the rewards were great. You got bootlegs; you got singles; you got used records. And you could hang out and talk and party, and even meet rock stars. That's what made the store special. It really was trailblazing. I know Aquarius had all the same stuff, but if you lived in the East Bay at that time, San Francisco was miles away. How many times would you go to San Francisco? A few times a year. If you lived in Berkeley or you went to UC Berkeley, Ripped was the place to go. Rather Ripped wasn't just a record store. It was a gathering place. It was a place to hang out and talk about music. It was a cultural center. If you're gonna put a name on it, I think that's what it was — the East Bay's cultural center for music at the time.

Marc Time at a Jars' rehearsal
Photo: Barb Wire
Q: I think customers also made the journey because they appreciated the wealth of musical knowledge at Rather Ripped. 
Marc: That's why I got hired, because I knew a lot about music. That's why everybody got hired there. Every record that we sold, we knew something about it. What was cool was, the used records had white stickers on the cellophane with explanations as to what the records were about. Like, "If you like Thin Lizzy, you'll like this." Or, "If you like Led Zeppelin, you might like this." Or, "This is the heavy metal album of the year!" So, you could go through the bin, and you could tell by the comments... Doug was the best guy for that. He would come up with whole record reviews.
   But that was the thing, to be creative and get into the music and be excited about the music. That's what really made the store unique. When you go to a normal record store, you don't know the people who work there. Some kid rings you up and that's it, you're out of the store. You don't know what he likes. You don't know what kind of music he's into. When you walked into Rather Ripped, you actually had someone you could talk to.

Q: And everyone who worked there specialized in a different genre of music.
Marc: Yeah, we each had a different crowd that we catered to. Tim [Byrd] would play... We would get in these records by the Chieftains, all these crazy folk bands, and he had a whole following of people that came in just to buy crazy Irish music. Worldbeat didn't exist back then, so you couldn't get it anywhere else. And we had a bunch of people who only bought Panpipe records. Who's that guy that's huge now? Gheorghe Zamfir… The first place he ever got played was at Rather Ripped. Now he's huge, and it's called new-age music. Well, Rather Ripped was one of the first stores to play new-age music for its customers. Then you had the heavy metal crew that would come in. They'd wanna hear AC/DC. At that time, AC/DC wasn't that big. So, we'd play their import records. Then you had the punks that would come in looking for stuff. So, depending on what you were into, you'd go to a different guy in the store. With me, it was techno music, like Throbbing Gristle or Neu! or Chrome. There were a bunch of kids from Concord who used to come in… This kid named Mark [Hosler] used to come in and say, "Play me the wackiest record you've got." So, I'd play him some Neu! These kids ended up forming a band called Negativland. They got the name from a track on the Neu! album — real Krautrock that me and Ray loved. They got their inspiration coming into Rather Ripped.

Q: Do you remember any other notable regulars?
Marc: Helios Creed, the guy from Chrome, would drop in every now and then, and we would talk. He didn't buy anything, but it was nice just having him there talking to me. And we had Tim Yohannan who started Maximum Rocknroll. I first met Tim at Rather Ripped when he was going through our dollar bin; he was just starting up his radio show on KPFA. In fact, Ray used to be a regular on the show. I went down there a few times, but I was more into techno and a lot of pop stuff. So, I didn't really fit in with that group. Even Ray's taste was a little off for Tim and his crew. We had a lot of wacky people too. I remember one day, this girl came in wrapped in nothing but a sheet, and the sheet kept falling off! So many people passed through there, I can't remember all their names. But even nowadays people come up to me and say, "Didn't you work at Rather Ripped?"

Marc Time (left) and Negativland's Mark Hosler (right)
(Photo courtesy of Mark Hosler)
Q: I want to talk about the Rather Ripped window displays, which were weird artistic statements in their own right and a huge part of the store's personality.
Marc: Everybody that worked on the floor had a crack at doing a window. The windows were always rotating. There was always stuff going on with mannequins or whatever. The windows would shock people into coming into the store; a lot of very strange things ended up in the windows.
   I remember a B52's window I did... We had the B-52s there for an in-store, by the way. I couldn't believe how snotty that Fred Schneider was, but Kate was great! Kate was the sweetest girl. Anyway, I did a B52's window where I took an actual lobster… I took all the meat out of it, obviously, and put it in the window. But those window displays would sit there for weeks. And like an idiot, I didn't Scotch Guard the lobster or anything. So, it really started to stink! After about three weeks, the store smelled like rotting fish. People were saying, "I think you better take that window display down." We used to have things like broken records in the window... The Residents window was really wild! That upset a lot of people. It was for The Third Reich 'N' Roll album, which had swastikas all over it. We had people coming in saying, "I'm really offended by your window." And we would try to explain to them that this is what the Residents are doing, blah, blah, blah. But we offended a lot of people with that window.

Q: What was Rather Ripped's connection to Beserkley Records? Greg Kihn is standing outside the store on his first album cover.
Marc: Before they censored the cover. The later copies were cut so that you couldn't read the Rather Ripped logo on the wall. I dunno why. But that was when Greg worked at Ripped. And Gary Phillips [Earth Quake guitarist and Greg Kihn Band keyboardist] worked at the store. He used to come in for free and play records for people whenever he felt like it! Basically, I think Rather Ripped was kind of a launching pad for Beserkley before they had their offices. I think we might have warehoused and distributed a lot of their records. They had a house up behind Ripped, so a lot of the Beserkley people were constantly in and out. The Rubinoos used to come in and just hang around and chat. Jonathan Richman came in a couple of times, but I think the music was too loud for him. I remember he showed up in a white tennis outfit with a tennis racket one day. He stood by the front door, but he didn't wanna come in because the music was too loud.

Russ bonds with Patti Smith at an in-store appearance
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: The store produced its own newsletter for a while. You guys did record reviews and features.
Marc: Right! They were irregular. They only came out when everybody had enough energy to put it out. But the whole idea was to expose people to the music that we were selling. What was cool was, we had charts where we would list our favorite records. You could tell by the charts what everybody was into, and you got to know the different personalities in the store by reading the newsletter.

Q: I've brought along a contest that was in one of the issues.
Marc: Somebody actually won that contest! I don't know who it was. I think they won a record. Maybe it was a bootleg.

Q: Shall we see how you do?
Marc: Haha! I probably can't answer 3/4 of the questions.

Q: Name the three female employees in the store. That's something we haven't talked about; there were very few female employees.
Marc: Reenee [Gregg]… Reenee ended up marrying Doug. She was cool. She was mostly involved in the management aspect of the store. And Ester... I don't remember Ester's last name. We called her Ester the Molester. She'd actually be out there dancing to the records. It was so funny! But she was really into new wave, and a whole bunch of people would come in just to talk to her. Those are the two women that I remember. What can I say? It was a guy-oriented store. But we did have our share of input from women. It wasn't just a bunch of guys partying all the time. The store always had a woman working there during its history.

Q: Speaking of partying, I've heard about the store's policy regarding lateness, which I guess goes along with it being a male-oriented environment.
Marc: Haha! The store's rule was if you showed up late, but you had a legitimate excuse — like you were getting laid or you were drunk — it was okay. I remember one day, Ray showed up four hours late and hungover. He'd been out all night partying with some woman. Russ was ready to fire him, but Ray said, "How about the rule?" So, Russ reluctantly let him off the hook.

Marc Time debates the Pros & Cons of Disco
(from the Rather Ripped newsletter - 1979)
Q: Back to the quiz... Name the two clothing stores that Rather Ripped opened and quickly closed.
Marc: I forget the names of them, but Russ had this thing going for a while... He had edible French maid's outfits… It was a frilly French maid's outfit made out of candy, and you could eat it. And he was marketing this stuff! He ended up opening a store... Was it called Explicit? I dunno. It was down at Grand Avenue near the Grand Lake Theater, that was one of them. It was basically bondage clothing, sex clothing, panties, and stuff like that. That was Russ' side thing. But the stores never really lasted.

Q: Name Rather Ripped's biggest selling LP ever.
Marc: It was probably a bootleg. It was probably one of those Bruce Springsteen bootlegs. I can't remember.

Q: Name the Rather Ripped dogs.
Marc: I don't remember anything about dogs. That might have been before my time. It was kind of a hippie store for a long time. And that might have been when they had dogs hanging around.

Q: Where was Patti Smith's first Bay Area performance?
Marc: Upstairs in the loft.

Q: Name three bands who have records that have played Rather Ripped birthday parties.
Marc: Horslips, the Real Kids, and the Jars... and the Residents. Right before I worked there, Rather Ripped had a really cool party with the Residents. It was at the Longbranch, and it was the only Residents' performance for a long time. I remember Snakefinger was dressed as a chicken, and the feet of his outfit were nailed to the floor. He just rocked back and forth all night. That was one of the most bizarre shows.

Q: Tell me about the Rather Ripped party that your band played. 
Marc: The Jars played... I forget what anniversary it was... the 8th anniversary? It was a disastrous gig. We played with the Real Kids and Horslips. The reason the Real Kids were on the bill was because of Ray. They were shoehorned onto the bill because they happened to be in town, and Ray said, "I don't want so and so to play. I wanna have some real rock 'n' roll on the bill." And then there was Horslips… That was really more along the lines of what Doug, Russ and Tim were into.

Q: Why do you say it was a disastrous gig?
Marc: I was upset that night for a number of reasons. Our bass player, Armin Hammer, was having problems with his amp while we were onstage. He also broke three bass strings during our twenty-minute set, and I broke a bunch of sticks and a cymbal. Plus, I always thought we sucked.

Q: The Jars were really popular around the time of that anniversary party. You and Mik must have been busy.
Marc: I think we kind of pissed off Russ a little bit when we started our band, because we were putting more energy into the Jars. That's why Mik left Rather Ripped. He was putting more energy into the band than he did into selling records. Mik actually started playing Jars' rehearsal tapes over the store's speakers, which didn't go down too well because you couldn't buy them. Even I would cringe when Mik came in with a cassette — "Oh my god, he's playing it again." I'd get really embarrassed.

Marc Time with the Dickies outside Rather Ripped
Photo: Clayton Call
Q: Were you there when Doug left?
Marc: Yeah... All of a sudden, one day Doug came downstairs and said, "I'm leaving the store." And to me, Doug was... I always liked Russ. Russ was cool, but he had a strictly business attitude. Doug was just a friendly hippie. He was really nice to everybody, a perfect gentleman. And a lot of people came into the store just to talk to him. Doug used to sell a lot of records. He had all these guys dropping hundreds of dollars on records. There was a guy from Sacramento who used to come in every Saturday, and he'd drop about $200 on records. Whenever Doug saw him, he'd start running around playing stuff for him.

Q: What happened?
Marc: I really don't know what it was. I think there was some disagreement about what was going on. Russ was taking out a second mortgage on his house to keep the store afloat. I think they were starting to run into financial problems because of the way the record business was going. Records just weren't selling in 1980. So, Doug said, "I'm leaving." And Russ said, "I'm making my wife my business partner." And after Doug left, they started selling macramé. They had macramé planters… And they got into selling more mainstream music.

Q: When did you leave Rather Ripped?
Marc: Sometime in mid-1980. I got kind of disenchanted. It just wasn't the same. And by that time, the independent stuff, punk, and new wave were starting to get big. And we couldn't keep the records in stock because we didn't order in quantity. Whereas Tower could order 2,000 copies of the new Joy Division single and sell it for less money because they dealt in volume. That really started killing us. The thing that pissed me off the most was, people would come in and ask to hear a record, and then they'd go and buy it at Tower because it was a little bit cheaper. Boy, did that burn me up!    
   A friend of mine was working at the Music Faucet on Dwight Way and Telegraph. They were in the process of moving and changing the name to Universal Records. They said, "C'mon over." We could get all the stuff that Ripped had, and we catered for the hardcore scene; the guys from Fang hung out there and Crucifix.

Q: Do you know anything about Rather Ripped's final days in Berkeley?
Marc: I never went up there after I left. But I know they decided to move the store to Oakland. I think Russ even moved it out to Stockton for a while. But that was pretty much the end.

★ ★ ★

REENEE GREGG (Bookkeeper/Office Manager)
Rather Ripped staff photo circa 1977
Reenee was living in Oakland and unhappily working in retail when she answered a help-wanted ad for a part-time office position at Rather Ripped. She and Doug Kroll began dating while they were at the store, and at the time of this interview, they had been married for several years.

Q: What were you doing before you started working at Rather Ripped?
Reenee: I'd been working in retail for a department store, and it was horrible. I was looking for a part-time job, something that was a little more fun than what I'd been doing.

Q: Did you know that Rather Ripped was looking for someone?
Reenee: No, I answered an ad in the paper. I actually didn't have any idea that it was Rather Ripped. But when I got there, I was like, "Yeah, I can deal with this. This looks good."

Q: Did the ad mention selling records?
Reenee: No... I don't really remember what it said. I was kind of a jack of all trades. I did some of the print ads, the bookkeeping, and sort of office manager stuff. But it wasn't really sales. Although I did work on the floor as back-up and did a little selling after I was there for a while.

Q: When did you start working there?
Reenee: That's a good question. It might have been 1974 or maybe '75. They were selling a lot of imports at the time, a lot of folk and electronic imports. And I really enjoyed it, because the other people who worked there liked a lot of the same music that I liked. It was alright!

Q: What were the accounts like when you got there?
Reenee: Uhmm... not good.

Q: Was the store financially stable?
Reenee: No, it was always a struggling concern. There was a period where we were clearly in the black, and it was a big celebration. It was like, "Hurray! We're out of the red!" I don't know how long that lasted, but it was always a touch and go situation. A lot of the time, we were in the red. The profit margin for records was really small; the mark-up was basically... nothing.

Mail order ad used in Rolling Stone
Q: When did you and Doug start dating?
Reenee: I was there for probably almost a year, and then we started going out. We saw each other for a while before anybody knew. It was kind of weird.

Q: You kept your relationship secret?
Reenee: For a little while. Can you hear Doug in the other room? He's shouting, "Wait a minute! Our personal lives!" Everyone knows about it now. We've been married for 11 years.

Q: There weren't many female employees at the store...
Reenee: Yeah, that's for sure. I can only remember four other ones. There was Georgette [Darcy]; she was there before me. We were there at the same time, but only for a little while. She was in sales. Esther Cutshall also worked in sales, but that was toward the end of my time there. She and Mik dated for a while. There were a number of romances between employees and customers, and there were a few between the employees. Also, there was a woman named Azian [Nerudan] who was originally from Malaysia. She worked in sales and enjoyed punk.

Q: Who was the fourth girl?
Reenee: Theresa... She came and did the bookkeeping after I left. I sort of trained her. It was a very male environment. In fact, I used to see women come in and sort of cringe. And then they'd go back out. But I got used to the environment. I felt like a sister to some of those guys.

Q: I remember the intense volume of the music. I imagine that would've made some people turn around and run as well.
Reenee: Haha! I was almost always up in the office doing the books or something. But I could always tell who was down on the floor. It was like, "Oh yeah, Tim [Byrd] is playing fusion down there now." It was always pretty clear. You didn't have to see who was down there; you could hear who was down there.

Q: What kind of music did you like at the time?
Reenee: I liked Roxy Music and Eno. I think those tastes helped get me the job when I interviewed. I got into Klaus Schulze and some of the other electronic stuff, but I didn't go in knowing them. Working in the store turned me on to them. I loved Gang of Four — that's still some of my favorite guitar work — Television, Talking Heads, Mink DeVille, Magazine, and the Cure, to name a few, and most of the jazz section! What I really loved about Rather Ripped was the theme/the model of it, which was: "Every record is a new release." And it was a real philosophy. I mean, it didn't have to be a new release to be appreciated by everyone. If it was new to you, and you liked it — it was your own new release.
   And everyone who worked there had different tastes, but they respected all types of music. Like Paul [Hallaman] was the resident authority on jazz. He really is a walking dictionary on blues and jazz. And Tim knew progressive rock really well. Doug knew pop and imports; he was pretty eclectic. Everyone was pretty eclectic. They'd have their little niche, but they liked a lot of different things. It was just neat because you'd get turned on to so many different things. And if you were interested in following up on a certain thing, you could find somebody who knew a lot about it. You could really get into it.

Rather Ripped employees
Greg Kihn and Gary Phillips - 1975
(photographer unknown)
Q: What were your favorite in-store appearances?
Reenee: Patti Smith... I wasn't there for the first one, but the second time she came in was great! She admired my bracelet, so I gave it to her. And she gave me the tie that she had on. She was really friendly and nice. But I remember we went to this warehouse with her where someone was doing a film, and somebody brought out some spray paint. She went into a fit. I never saw anyone so angry. It was because she didn't want to breathe the fumes, and they didn't give her any warning. So, I got to see her temperamental side too.
   But other people would come in, and just hang around and talk. They'd hang around long enough that you'd feel comfortable talking with them. Blondie's in-store was great. And the guy from Tangerine Dream came in and kept telling them to turn down the music. Haha! It was too loud, and they wouldn't turn it down. It was kind of an important part of Rather Ripped to have the volume up. So, he left. The one I remember the most was Joe Strummer because he was really... I don't know what he was on, but he was really wired. He stands out most in my mind. He wasn't quite as approachable as some of the other ones.

Q: It must have been a really fun environment to work in!
Reenee: It was a pretty crazy place. No one was getting rich, but everyone was having fun! For the most part, it was a fun scene to be a part of. Do you know about the phone-in requests? People could call in on the phone and request a song, and they'd play whatever the caller wanted. They'd hold the phone up to the speakers so they could listen to it. We used to advertise that on the radio.

Q: You mentioned that you wrote some of the store's advertising...
Reenee: Yeah, I did most of the print ads; they were usually for a specific album that was being promoted. Russ usually wrote the radio ads, and he delivered them too. The radio ads were always really wacky and off-the-wall. There were usually a couple of characters talking back and forth... I was in one of them! Russ just grabbed someone to be the other person. They ran them on KSAN, so sometimes they'd use somebody at the station, and other times they'd use someone from the store.

Q: What was the competition like with Aquarius Records in San Francisco?
Reenee: Actually, we were always friends with Aquarius. Chris [Knab] and Doug and Russ were all friendly. In fact, I think they talked about doing some business together at one time, but it never happened. I think the competition was more with Rasputin's and some of the Southside stores.

Flyer for a Psycotic Pineapple/Cement Trampoline show
presented by Rather Ripped. Tickets available at the
store's later location on Grand Avenue in Oakland.
Q: Did Rasputin's or Leopold's catch on to punk as quickly as Rather Ripped?
Reenee: No... Well, Doug was responsible for bringing Patti out for her first Bay Area appearance. They were really on the cutting edge of that. It happened pretty quick, and everyone got into it. But the good thing about Rather Ripped was that they had a lot of consignment singles. Local bands would bring their singles in and get some exposure that way. We had local singles, T-shirts, fanzines and pins... stuff that local people were making. And there was a great wall of 45s!

Q: And local bands played at Rather Ripped parties.
Reenee: Yeah, we always had local bands at our annual parties. But we'd also bring in bands that we believed in that weren't local. Like one year, it was Horslips from Ireland, and another year it was Osamu Kitajima from Japan.

Q: Tell me about the parties. Were there good turnouts?
Reenee: They were really fun! They were just full tilt, and there was always a really good turnout for them. They'd show a short film too. It was always a full house.

Q: What was the store's relationship like with the major labels? Were they less responsive because you sold used records?
Reenee: We had a really good relationship with Virgin. But it was on again/off again with some of the American labels. I seem to remember that the relationship depended a lot on who our rep was. I don't remember which label it was, but we still have a friend who was a rep back then. He was great, not only as a friend but to do business with as well. We didn't order the volume that stores like Tower did. We were a great store for the consumer and for the health of the music scene. But from a label's point of view, we were small potatoes.

Q: And you pushed cut-outs!
Reenee: Yeah, because we made more money on them. And actually, there were great things in the cut-outs. It wasn't like we were ripping anybody off. There were some great things in there; there were some good deals. It really went with the philosophy that it didn't have to be a new release.

A January 31, 1979, Rather Ripped receipt for
the Synergy (Larry Fast) LP Cords
Q: What was Rather Ripped's connection to Beserkley Records?
Reenee: A couple of the recording artists on Beserkley worked at the store, and they always had the Beserkley label prominently displayed. Same with the Residents, they were real big promoters of the Residents before anybody else. We also carried the Olivia label, a Berkeley women’s music label. And as I was sometimes the sole female in the store, I often interacted with them when they came in.

Q: Did you ever see the Residents without their costumes?
Reenee: I know who they are! I know who they are without their eyeball heads!

Q: Can you say who they are?
Reenee: No, that would ruin it. I loved their music and the whole concept. Doug worked for them for a while doing PR. Which is about the weirdest job you can do; doing PR for somebody that doesn't want to be known. He didn't do that for very long.

Q: Did you stay until the Berkeley store closed?
Reenee: No... Doug was ready to get out, and I was ready to move on too. Anyway, we both decided to get out at about the same time.

Q: Why did you want out?
Reenee: I just knew that I had to get on with things and do something else, even though I was really having a good time. The benefit of getting comp tickets and going out to see live music, even when we paid, was fabulous. We saw so many great shows! I especially remember Pere Ubu, Prince, Bobby Blue Bland... And we always had a community to rave about it or pick it apart. Although toward the end, that was also part of the burnout. You just can't keep up going out that many nights a week!
   And unfortunately, the future of independent record stores at that time wasn’t looking so healthy. Doug felt the same way; he wanted to go back to school. Actually, he didn't go back to school right away. He worked for the Residents for a while, and then he sold wine, and then he went back to school and became an attorney.

Q: What did you do after you left Rather Ripped?
Reenee: I started doing technical writing. I’m also doing some other writing and playing around with multi-media, but that’s just on my own. Technical writing is not that much different than bookkeeping, and it’s paying the bills. I am definitely part of the rhythm section keeping that background beat, you know. Charlie is my darling and I wanted to be Tina Weymouth! I sure wouldn’t have traded those Rather Ripped years for anything. It was a really fun community with a passion for music.

★ ★ ★

DOUG KROLL (Partner) 
Sting hanging out with Doug Kroll during the Police in-store
Photo: Hugh Brown
Doug was headed to law school when he was persuaded to make the leap from Rather Ripped customer to partner. According to him, through blind luck and a heavy dose of denial, coupled with the insanity of someone who didn't know any better, Doug helped turn around the store's shaky financial situation, and with his partner Russ Ketter, saw it through an infamous bootleg bust. Famous for arranging Patti Smith's first Bay Area appearance, at the time of this interview, he was working at a law firm in San Rafael.

Q: What was your background before Rather Ripped? I know you went to UC Berkeley.
Doug: I was in my last year as an undergraduate at Berkeley, I had taken the LSAT and I was headed to law school. While at Berkeley, I got to know the writer, Greil Marcus... He was one of my professors, but he was also writing for Rolling Stone and Creem at the time, and he got me to write a couple of articles for some rock magazines.

Q: What was Greil teaching?
Doug: If I remember right, he was teaching in the American Studies department. The class I remember specifically was a seminar that involved a limited number of students from multiple departments. It was a purely academic class; nothing tied it explicitly to rock 'n' roll. However, it being the early 1970s, everything was tied to the music of the time, especially with Greil teaching our section. One day during class, I used a line from the song "Something in the Air," a song off an esoteric album by a band called Thunderclap Newman.
   Afterwards, when everybody was leaving, Greil came over and said something like, "You used a weird phrase during the discussion today. I just wondered where you got it from." So I said, "It's from this weird record." And he said, "Thunderclap Newman, right?" And I said, "Yeah." So, then we got talking... but he didn't identify himself as a known rock writer. I didn't make that connection until I went home for a vacation and picked up my copy of a Rolling Stone collection of record reviews. I was looking for something new to get at the local record store in San Diego, and I was scanning reviews that gave records a high star rating. One of the reviews was an incredible rave for Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, and when I got to the end of the review, there was the name Greil Marcus. And I went, "Oh, shit!" That was the first time I became aware of the fact that he was a rock writer. Over time, we got to be good friends.

"I'd Rather Be Ripped" bumper sticker
courtesy of Marc Time
Q: How did you become involved with Rather Ripped Records?
Doug: I got to know Greil, and he knew the guys at Rather Ripped. He told me that they were the best, and I needed to support them by buying all of my records at the store. I checked it out, decided he was right, and eventually became a regular customer and started to socialize with them. Originally, Russ had two other partners; they were all old friends. Anyway, one day, I got a phone call from Russ. He said, "We want to take you out for drinks and dinner tonight to discuss a business proposal." So, we went out and probably drank too much and ate too much, and eventually, they said, "We want you to come in and run the stores." I said, "What? I don't get it." And they said, "We're in serious financial trouble." They'd expanded too fast. At that point, they had three record stores, an import/export business, and the mail order business.

Q: I know there was a Rather Ripped in Fremont for a while because that's where I lived, and I bought some of my first records there. Where was the third store?
Doug: They had one in Palo Alto called World's Indoor Records by the Stanford campus. So, they'd done a big expansion and they didn't have the cash flow to keep it all going. I mean, they were really on the verge of bankruptcy. I said, "Look guys, I love the store, but I don't want to take the helm just as it's going down. If you're in that much trouble, you need somebody with a business background. Somebody who can figure out what's wrong and turn it around quickly." They said, "No, we want you." It didn't make any sense. So, I turned them down. I said, "I'm a Political Science/English major. I'm getting ready for law school. I'm really not a viable candidate." But you know, they called me up again... got me drunk again... and I turned them down again. And the third time I turned them down, they said essentially, "We're gonna make you an offer you can't refuse. If you can turn the businesses around, we'll give you half ownership of the businesses." So, eventually I said, "Okay. I'll give you one year. If we can turn it around, fine. If we can't, I'm going to law school next Fall." Initially, I tried to keep up with school full time, worked nights stocking shelves at an Alpha Beta in Walnut Creek, while also taking on Rather Ripped. That turned out to be unworkable.

The Patti Smith Group (and friends) visit Rather Ripped.
Jane Friedman (Patti's manager) & Russ Ketter are in the front.
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: So, I'm guessing you were at least partially responsible for closing the Rather Ripped store in Fremont.
Doug: That was one of the reasons I was brought in. The Fremont store was weird. They had just expanded to Fremont, and it was kind of a weird place to put one of our stores.

Q: It was in a strip mall...
Doug: That wasn't it so much. Rather Ripped was a very esoteric store. It was the kind of store where somebody could ask for a record and not be told, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about." And by definition, that kind of store really needs to be near a college campus. It needs to be where people are gonna come in and ask for those weird records.

Q: And Fremont is not someplace where people buy weird records.
Doug: I never understood why they chose Fremont. And it was bizarre because Harold [Woodring, manager of the Fremont store] said some of the regular customers, especially the guys, would go home and hide the records they'd bought. They didn't want their other Fremont friends… their guy friends... to see that they had a David Bowie record or a Genesis record because that wouldn't be cool. That's really why the Fremont store didn't last for very long, because it didn't make a lot of sense.
   The nature of the store and the kind of music that it specialized in... We weren't interested in selling 200 copies of the new Journey album. A lot of times, we would choose not to carry certain records because we thought they were trash. Even if it was a hit, we just wouldn't carry them. And of course, we'd have these kids asking, "Where's the new Journey album?" And, you know, we'd brought in one copy because we had to. So, Fremont was kind of a mistake. We ended up getting a lot of customers out of Fremont, people who got turned on to it while it was there and would make the trek to Berkeley. In fact, some of our best customers over the years turned out to be the people we hit a responsive chord with in Fremont.

Q: Whatever happened to Harold?
Doug: He lives in San Rafael and has an optometry business in Berkeley. He was my first roommate at Berkeley and is both my optometrist and a good friend.

Q: Tell me about the history of Rather Ripped. How did it come to exist? 
Doug: The history of the store... This is where you really need to talk to Russ. Russ was the cornerstone of Rather Ripped. He was the person who created the whole thing. He definitely gets the credit.
   Russ came out from Pittsburgh, and he started the SOB store in Berkeley. You know where Tower is on Durant? A couple of doors down, there's a Students of Berkeley store called SOB's. Originally, it was located on the campus, and in the '60s, the university allowed them to sell records. By the early '70s, they'd moved the store to a bigger location off-campus. It was moved over to Durant Street, and Russ and the guys were running it. There's a great picture of them... It's kind of a parody of the Abby Road album. They're all buck naked, pulling little red wagons piled with records across the street to open the SOB store. And it was a great store! There was a very low mark-up, and everybody shopped there. It was a real cheap place to get records.
   So, Russ ran that store for a while, but as you can imagine, there was a lot of politics involved because it was associated with the university, and he wasn't a student. He just wanted to run a record store. So, there were inevitable conflicts. At some point, he left and opened Rather Ripped on the Northside. But it wasn't on the corner of Euclid and Hearst back then. They didn't take over the corner until around '73. When I first started shopping there, it was on the other side of the street in the middle of the block. It was really small, just a little corridor. That's where they started out. It was just the three guys, and they dressed like the New York Dolls — and they had a couple of big German Shepherds.

Q: What were the dog's names? That was a question on a Rather Ripped quiz.
Doug: I don't remember. They were there to deter shoplifters, although the Pittsburgh guys were always ready for a fight. But the dogs were a regular presence there for years.

Q: As a customer, what did you like about the store? 
Doug: Basically, what I liked was, they had the music that I was interested in when no one else did. I also loved their "in your face" attitude, where they constantly challenged you to listen to new stuff and avoid the hits. Russ was also very generous with his vast musical knowledge, which was great for a kid who loved music but was still a bit wet behind the ears musically.

Q: Rather Ripped's philosophy was: "Where every record is a new release." What did you mean by that?
Doug: That motto was printed on the receipts when I got there. I have no idea who came up with it, but I always thought it was great. It defined my lifetime approach to music. The way the music industry works is, a record is only exciting for them when it's a new release because that's when they're pushing it. As soon as it's not a new release, nobody gives a shit about it. But the concept at Rather Ripped was different. If you heard Howlin' Wolf for the first time, or Robert Johnson, or Miles Davis, or Billie Holiday... anybody... it didn't matter who it was — if you're hearing it for the first time, it's a new release for you. And I think that's a much better way to approach music.

Russ Ketter with some customers during the store's early days
at the corner of Hearst and Euclid.
Q: Who came up with the store's name?
Doug: I wasn't there when it was named, but I've heard the story. One of the original partners was named Richard, and rumor has it that he was the one who came up with the name of the store. At least that's the story I heard. They were having a meeting one evening to decide on a name and apparently it wasn't going well. They were drinking and smoking joints and getting progressively more altered, but with no success at coming up with a name. It got late, and Richard said something like, "That's it for me 'cause I'm rather ripped and I'm outta here." And they said, "That's it!" And for better or for worse, that phrase became the name. 

Q: What does it mean?
Doug: I understand that "rather ripped" was a British slang term for being very, very stoned. And that name worked for a lot of years. But it was definitely a '60s phrase, and there was a point where the name became... I don't know if it was a liability, but younger customers would come in and ask if it meant that all the records were stolen! They didn't have any association for what it meant. At one point, we thought about changing the name. But by then, it was so well-known, it would've been a tough thing to do.

Q: At one point there were four partners, including yourself and Russ. What happened to the other guys?
Doug: Russ would know the ins and outs of that. Obviously, I've heard stories and witnessed some of the conflicts, but the end result didn't involve me. I hadn't yet turned the business around; at that point, I was just the manager.

Q: I read a newspaper article that said, "One of the partners helped run the store $60,000 into debt." Is that true?
Doug: I know that there were some financial issues, but best to talk to Russ about those.

Advert for World's Indoor Records - Rather Ripped's
sister store near the Stanford Campus.
Q: Besides closing the Fremont store, how did you turn the business around?
Doug: Turning the business around had nothing to do with anything magical. It was purely down to hiring the right people and making sure the customers were well taken care of — which is what I enjoyed doing. A record store is a service-oriented business, and we were selling a very esoteric product. So, we really had to build customer loyalty. The majority of people out there had no reason to come into that store. The student-oriented businesses and housing were all on the other side of the campus. The Northside was known more for professors and graduate students. We needed the students, and ideally, the ones who were curious about music.
   The way it worked in the store... Russ was in charge of the business end of things and the mail order, and I dealt with the retail end of it. Russ was the one with the incredible knowledge of music and a voracious curiosity to hear anything and everything. He was constantly pouring over catalogs and reading all the music magazines from every corner of the world, tracking down the new weird thing. He would bring in the weird records, and it was my job to find the audience to go with them. And for many years, that process worked beautifully. And it was a lot of fun. It was fun for him, and it was fun for me.
   For some reason, because of that interchange, along with the employees who greatly contributed over time, the store got pretty famous. People would come from around the world to check it out. Despite its small size, it eventually became one of the most famous record stores in the world.

Q: And people had to go out of their way to get to the store.
Doug: Yeah... Although that actually worked in our favor. A huge amount of people came to Berkeley to buy their records from all over the Bay Area. And when they wanted something out of the ordinary, all those large record stores on the Southside, which were all pretty straight, would immediately send them over to Rather Ripped. We were friends with those guys, so if they got somebody who wanted an out-of-print record or a Genesis import, they'd say, "You need to walk through the campus..." So, that actually worked fine for us. Rather Ripped needed to be in that kind of an environment to exist.

Q: You mentioned Genesis imports... Most people wouldn't think of Genesis records as being especially hard to find.
Doug: Rather Ripped was probably the first record store on the West Coast, if not the United States, to bring Genesis records into this country. For their first two or three albums, when Peter Gabriel was still with them, nobody knew who Genesis were. But Rather Ripped was bringing those records in as imports. And the early Roxy Music albums... Before their first US release, there were two or three Roxy Music records that came out in Europe which weren't available over here. Rather Ripped brought all those records in.

A note of thanks to Marc Time from Jay Clem
on letterhead for the Residents' Eskimo LP.
(Courtesy of Marc Time)
Q: Something that's always mentioned in conversations about Rather Ripped is the staff's wealth of musical knowledge.
Doug: You could come into Rather Ripped and talk about or ask about anything, and those guys would know it. For someone who was really into music, it was the only place where nothing was too weird. I think that was the key for our most dedicated customers. They could ask about anything, and people didn't look at them like they were weird. You could talk about Édith Piaf, and then shift to Howlin' Wolf, and then to Roxy Music, and they would know it inside out.
   We had Paul Hallaman, who is a truly remarkable person, unbelievably intelligent and knowledgeable about blues and jazz. And we had Marc and Ray, who each had an incredible amount of specialized knowledge that we relied on. All of the employees brought something remarkable to the table, or they didn't last as employees. When it was clicking, it was absolutely magical. I mean, if you heard about something, or you were curious about something, you could come in and get the whole nine yards. If you wanted to get the records, we either had them or we'd get them for you.

Q: How important was the mail order side of the business?
Doug: Financially, mail order was probably the cornerstone of the business. It allowed the store to stay open. But the way mail order works… You put out a new catalog, and you get a bunch of money in. And then you've got to get a new catalog together, which takes time. That meant there were unavoidable gaps and delays. So, the store covered the daily operating expenses. We also had a search service. If we didn't have a rare record that someone was looking for, we would find it for them. And we would import records that weren't available in the US. We were even bringing in a lot of American records that were no longer in print here — Tim Buckley, It's a Beautiful Day, Buddy Holly... There's a lot of American music that's in print in Japan or Germany or England, but not in America. And we would ship records over to Europe that were available here but not over there. There was a lot of back and forth.

Q: Let's talk about Patti Smith. She famously made her Bay Area debut at a Rather Ripped in-store.
Doug: Uh-huh.

Q: Did you guys pay for her to come out?
Doug: No. Patti ties in with my Greil Marcus connection. Through Greil, I had become very loosely connected to Creem magazine. And at that time, Patti was doing some poetry for Creem. Almost every month, there would be two or three of her poems in the magazine. They'd usually be rock-oriented, and I really liked them. So, whenever I sent anything to Creem, I would include a little note to Patti.

Ray Farrell "getting rather ripped."
(Photo: Mark Hosler)
Q: Was this before the formation of the Patti Smith Group?
Doug: This was long before the Patti Smith Group existed. So, just after I started at Rather Ripped, I came across this ad in the back of the latest Creem magazine for an independent single on Mer Records that Patti had just put out. This was her original DIY release with "Piss Factory" c/w "Hey Joe." I immediately wrote her a note on Rather Ripped stationary saying I wanted 20 copies of the single. But being half asleep, and it being a communiqué from Rather Ripped, it wasn't that straightforward. I had cut myself shaving that morning, and I was bleeding. So, I put my hand down on the page and outlined my five fingers in blood from the cut. I then wrote "times 4 = 20," to signify that I wanted 20 copies, and sent it off to Patti. Don't ask me why I did this. I have no reasonable explanation. 

Q: It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
Doug: Haha! About a week later, I was working in the store very early in the morning when no one was there, and the phone rang. The person says, "This is Patti Smith." And I said something like, "Yeah, and I'm Ronald Reagan." She said, "Are you the guy that used to send me the notes at Creem?" So, then I knew it was her. She said, "I love your order, and I really want to meet you. We have some gigs lined up in LA, and we want to fly you down. Can you come?"
   I said, "That sounds great, but why don't you guys come up here?" And Patti said, "We don't have any money. The only reason we're doing LA is because we've got these gigs. We're not gonna make any money, but at least the gigs will cover our expenses." So, I talked to her manager, Jane Friedman, and said, "What do you need? What would it take to be able to come to Northern California?" She gave me the numbers, and I said, "I'll get back to you."
   I made some phone calls to the local clubs, all of whom knew us. I also laid out plans for an in-store. Greil said he would do a write-up in City magazine, Joe Selvin said he would do a big plug in the Chronicle, and Larry Kelp from the Oakland Tribune said he would do a plug. This was pretty incredible because Patti wasn't really known at this point outside of New York. Based on promises of at least three paying gigs, and some necessary pre-publicity, I called Patti and Jane back and told them, "Everything's set, and you can stay at our house." So, they did the shows in LA, and then they came up here.
   This is a funny story... I went to pick them up at the airport, and this scraggly group of people came off the plane — Lenny, Richard [DNV] Sohl, Jane, and their roadie Moe. But there was no Patti. I said, "Where's Patti?" And they said, "She's back on the plane. She was afraid to fly, so somebody gave her a couple Valiums. She's passed out on the plane." I had to go in and carry her out. When she came to, we all went to dinner and she fell asleep in her food.
   Later that night I was asleep in my bed, and I was woken up when someone started jumping up and down on it. It was Patti, and she said, "I just wanted to tell you, I'm not gonna let you down. I know you're scared shitless after you had to carry me off the plane. I've never done that before. I didn't know what I was taking, and I shouldn't have taken it. But don't worry, I'm not gonna screw up." I said, "Well, I'm very glad to hear that." And true to her word, she was absolutely phenomenal!

Q: How many people came to see her?
Doug: More than could get inside the store. It was packed! The downstairs was packed, the upstairs was packed, there were people out in the street. However, if everyone who now says they were there had actually been there, we would have needed a major venue.

Patti Smith surrounded by fans at a Rather Ripped in-store, 1979
(Photographer unknown; photo from the RRR FB page)
Q: What other rock stars visited the store?
Doug: Way too many to recall or mention. Elvis Costello used to come by every time he came through town. Now he goes to Mill Valley. He hangs out at John Goddard's store [Village Music], and they've become good friends. Costello was exactly what you would expect him to be. He's funny, serious, philosophical, political, and extremely intelligent.
   Joe Strummer was... I think Reenee mentioned him earlier. It was kind of bizarre; it was like he was on Quaaludes. The band had a day off before their show at the Berkeley Community Theatre that night. Joe didn't know anyone in the Bay Area, and his PR guy had another group in town that he needed to take to radio stations and in-stores. The PR guy asked if it would be okay to drop Joe off at the store for the day. Obviously, I said that would be fine. I spent the whole day with him. He was very standoffish. I couldn’t figure out whether he just didn't care for me — a long-haired hippie type — or if something else was going on. He had trouble putting full sentences together, and generally, I couldn't understand much of what he said. However, I was shocked when I went to the gig that night because onstage, he was just unbelievable. Every word was crisp and clear. He had so much charisma and so much presence onstage. Not my favorite day, but still glad I got to spend even that time with him.
   And Jim Carroll would always hang out whenever Patti was in town because they're old friends — and he would always show up with a basketball. He made me play basketball with him before he would autograph his book for me. I ended up in pain, and Jim was laughing his ass off — but he did autograph the book. He was a great guy and very easy to talk to.
   Perhaps the funniest in-store was the one we had for Blue Oyster Cult. Once again, that was tied in with Patti. We were Blue Oyster Cult fans anyway, but of course, Patti was dating Allen Lanier at the time. So, all these heavy metal fans showed up in full leather regalia to see their band. And they looked around, and then came to the desk to ask why Blue Oyster Cult hadn't shown up for the in-store. I said, "They're all here." I pointed at a guy in a sweater vest, and said, "There’s one of them." They didn’t believe me. They expected the band to be in full stage mode, when in fact, they were a pretty quiet bunch of very smart music lovers who were busy checking out the records.

Doug Kroll's and Russ Ketter's Top Hits for 1978
(from the Rather Ripped newsletter)
Q: I've heard that the Ramones popped in during their first trip to the Bay Area.
Doug: I received a call from Patti's manager, Jane Friedman, who told me her friend Danny Fields was the manager for the Ramones and they were coming out from New York to play some gigs in the Bay Area. I believe the first show was at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach. Jane asked if it would be possible for the Ramones to do an in-store at Rather Ripped?
   The first album had just come out, and they were relatively unknown out here. But I said, "Yeah! That would be great!" They were on a tight budget, so I agreed that I would pick them up at the airport in the store van and then take them to their hotel. I also agreed to chauffer them and their equipment while they were in town. At the designated time, I went to SFO, picked them up, and we loaded their equipment into the van.
   Danny, their manager, was an erudite New Yorker, and he had a list of fancy restaurants that he wanted to try while he was in the Bay Area. He said he would treat me if I made the arrangements. That sounded great, but I turned to the band and asked, "What about you guys? Where do you want to eat?" Joey said, "We can't eat anything but fast food 'cause that's what we eat on the road all the time. If we eat something else, it messes us up. We get sick." I said, "Whatever you want. I'll take you wherever you want to go." Two of them wanted Taco Bell, and the other ones wanted Jack in the Box. So, we went around to the different fast food places to get their food each night, dropped them off at the hotel, and then Danny and I went to dinner. It was all good, and they were a great bunch of guys to hang out with. Lots of fun! 

Q: Is it true that Tom Petty hired Ray Farrell during an in-store appearance?
Doug: Not that I know of. If that occurred, it was kept from me.

Rather Ripped advert in the October 1977 issue
of Trouser Press magazine
Q: Apparently, the person interviewing Ray waved Tom Petty over and said, "You talk to this guy. If you like him, we'll hire him."
Doug: Timing-wise, Jimmy [Gray] would've been the store manager, and he would've been responsible for interviewing Ray. And Jimmy was a big Tom Petty fan, so it's possible. Thank god Tom, who became a friend of the store, had good taste because Ray turned out to be a great employee! Ray and I were real tight. Ray was kind of the replacement for Gary Phillips. Are you familiar with Gary Phillips?

Q: From Earth Quake and the Greg Kihn Band...
Doug: Yeah. When I first started at Rather Ripped, the first person I hired was Gary. Gary and I worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day to turn the business around. It was Gary and I who were on the absolute front lines of turning the store around. Gary and I were on the floor every single day. At times, it was exhausting, but we loved each other and had a shitload of fun during that time. Eventually, Gary started flaking out. He was getting more involved with Earth Quake and some of the other Beserkley acts, so it became harder for us to count on him showing up. Finally, we said, "Okay, that's it." That's when Ray was brought in. To me, Ray became the other heart and soul of the store. I give Ray a lot of credit for being my counterpart. Ray was one of the key people who totally understood and dedicated himself to the store. Unfortunately, Ray and Russ didn't always get along.

Q: Was that because of their different tastes in music?
Doug: No, it had little or nothing to do with music. Ray could be a little flaky and a little spacy. And Russ, as the original Rather Ripper, was understandably very much into controlling the fate of the store. Russ would set rules, and Ray wouldn't fully comply with them. Sometimes he'd show up late or miss a shift. And Russ would say, "This guy's not working out." And I'd tell him, "We need people like Ray. He knows the customers. He knows what they want, and he'll spend time bonding with them. And it's not easy to find people who can do that." There were a lot of times when Russ wanted to get rid of Ray, and I would have to step in and say, "Absolutely not." I felt Ray was absolutely essential to the chemistry of Rather Ripped, and that he brought way more to the store than would justify firing him over some rules.

Q: Did the store have strict rules?
Doug: Our business had rules, and there were times when Russ would try to run a tight ship. And for a little while, everybody would toe the line, but eventually, it would settle back and chaos would prevail. However, it was a productive chaos, although sometimes that was pretty hard to see.

In recent years, the Northside Café has occupied Rather
Ripped's old location on the corner of Hearst & Euclid.
Q: Let's talk about the Rather Ripped window displays...
Doug: The windows were kind of a fun thing. All the windows were done by our employees. You couldn't have a window unless somebody in the store liked the group. I remember one time, Pablo Cruise had the Number 1 record in the country, and their manager came into the store. I don't remember his name, but he was a big name in management. He said, "Doug, it's really embarrassing. You've got a Bay Area group with the Number 1 record in the country, and you're the only store that hasn't done a window for them. You should support local music." And I said, "Well, we've got a very simple policy towards the window displays that we never override. Somebody in the store has to like the record or the group. If no one does, no window."
   I told him, "You're welcome to try, but I don't think you're gonna find anybody here that likes the band or the album." He got real angry. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. I said, "I'm giving you a fair shake. If you can convince somebody..." We didn't do record company deals where they give you two cases of promos if you do a window. We just didn't do things that way. Someone in the store had to actually like the group, and the wide-ranging tastes among the employees meant that we ended up with some very eclectic windows. Needless to say, there was never a window for Pablo Cruise at Rather Ripped, even though he brought [Chronicle writer] Joel Selvin and [promoter] Bill Graham into the fray to try to coerce us into doing it. Both of them laughed and told him that there was nothing they could do. If we said no, the answer would remain no.
   One of my personal favorite windows was one I did for the garbage man at Rather Ripped. He came into the store once a week to get the garbage cans, and over time I got to know him in a casual sort of way. He was a really nice guy. One day, he came in and told me that he would only be coming in for two more weeks because he was retiring. I asked him if he had any plans, and he said he hoped to pursue his musical career again. Obviously, I immediately asked him about his music, and he told me he had recorded some albums back in the late '50s/early '60s, and even had a bit of a hit with a song called "Mercury Boogie," which is now better known as "Mercury Blues."
   At the time, I had never heard of the song or any of his other music. His name was K.C. Douglas. I went upstairs and probably cornered Paul and Russ, and they filled me in. Russ even took me downstairs and embarrassed me by showing me that two of the LPs were in stock in the blues section. I immediately called Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie/Down Home Music, and asked him if it would be possible to get some covers and possibly some posters to do a window for K.C. After he got over his shock at this unlikely request coming from Rather Ripped, he said, "No problem." I did the window, and the following week when K.C. came to get the garbage cans, he couldn't help but notice the window. It brought him to tears. No one had ever done anything like that for him. After he retired, he set up some gigs in a club/bar in Orinda and he invited me to come and check him out. He was great! Unfortunately, the story has a sad ending because shortly thereafter, he passed away.

Can't find a record? Rather Ripped can!
Coupon for the store's Search Service
Q: Rather Ripped had a close relationship with the Residents. But didn't you get into some trouble with the window display for their Third Reich 'N' Roll album?
Doug: That's another interesting story... Rather Ripped was the first store in the world to agree to carry the Residents' records, starting with the first LP, Meet the Residents. That was the one with the Meet the Beatles cover that had been defaced with cartoon crawfish. After that, we started distributing their records and getting other stores to carry them. So, from the very beginning, we got to know the Residents and to be friends with them.

Q: And you saw them without the eyeball heads!
Doug: They don't wear those very often.

Q: What happened with the window display?
Doug: When they released The Third Reich 'N' Roll album with the swastikas and Dick Clark on the cover, they asked us to do a window. We agreed, knowing full well that it would be controversial. Unsurprisingly, there were complaints immediately, and I think some graffiti was painted on the outside of the window. We cleaned it up and made the decision to keep the window up despite the fact that the complaints continued.

Q: Because of the swastikas?
Doug: Yeah. And I can certainly empathize with that and understand it. But by the same token, Rather Ripped was certainly not a politically correct store. Our approach was much more in your face. And we didn't tend to back down on that kind of thing. However, soon thereafter, things escalated because during the night someone smashed the window. This made it more serious, but we discussed it within the store and decided we'd fix the window and leave the display up. However, when we explained our decision to the Residents, they expressed the concern that someone could get hurt and asked us to take it down. Which we did.

Q: Tell me about the infamous bootleg bust. Were you the only record store selling bootlegs at the time of the bust?
Doug: No, bootlegs were around and there'd been a lot of busts. But what we'd done that was different was that we'd been trying to legalize bootlegs. We had contacted ASCAP and BMI to say that we would pay the royalties, because the law regarding live performances wasn't very clear. If a record company recorded a live performance with the intention of releasing it, then they owned it. But the law wasn't clear about every time a band performed live. I mean, Warner Bros. is entitled to five albums by the Rolling Stones under their contract. That doesn't mean that every time the Rolling Stones perform live, Warner Bros. owns that performance. Now, the Rolling Stones certainly have the right to get royalties on it, but it was unclear that anyone was entitled to claim ownership. So, we tried to take that tack.

The Police with Rather Ripped employee Rick Johnson - March 1979
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: Was Rather Ripped making this argument on its own?
Doug: Yeah, we were the only store trying to do it legitimately. Everybody else was doing it under the table, but we were upfront about it. We did bootleg windows. We didn't try to hide it. And what happened was… Russ and I were at Village Music in Mill Valley that day, and Harold was working at the store. Apparently, an FBI agent came in and bought a double Elton John bootleg. Of course, they didn’t have the class to choose a Genesis or Roxy bootleg! The agent took it off the shelf and paid for it... and then all the agents came in. I understand they came in with their guns drawn. There were eight or nine of them; it was totally crazy. They had federal cars parked all around the corner.

Q: Wow! What happened?
Doug: Evidently, they swarmed the store. They wanted to shut the store down and take everybody to jail. So, Harold got on the phone and called me at Village Music. I said, "Let me talk to whoever is in charge." They put the head agent for the bust on the phone, and he said, "We're closing the store, and we're taking everybody to jail." I said, "Do you have a search warrant?" And he said, "Well, no..." And I said, "Well, then you're not taking anything. Get the hell out of there." And he said, "blah, blah, blah..." I told him, "You wait right there. You don't do anything. I'm calling my lawyer, and I'll have him call you." So, I called the lawyer and the lawyer called the store, and then I called the store and got the FBI agent on the phone again… And basically, they needed a search warrant to search and/
or confiscate anything.
   They had already taken all the bootlegs out of stock. I don't remember how many there were, but it had to be in the thousands. In addition to the stock in the bins, we had back-stock upstairs. We were also distributing to other stores at the time. So, they had all these records stacked up, and we made them put them all back. I gave them our most obnoxious employee, Rick Johnson, to monitor their work. I told Rick, "You’re in charge of this. No one else is to help. Have fun! Make them put each one back where it belongs, on the shelves, alphabetically. I don't want them stacked up in the corner. I want each of them back where they got them." And he went, "Oh, boy!" Rick hated authority; this was the perfect job for him.
   Russ and I immediately went back to the store. It took them about seven hours to get a search warrant, and there was a federal car parked on each corner watching the store. So, we called as many regular customers as we could, and asked them to get their butts down to the store immediately. Each regular customer that showed up was sent home with a couple boxes of bootlegs, as if it was part of their purchase. We said, "Just take them home. We'll get them back later." So, we got quite a few records out before the FBI was able to get their search warrant. But they did eventually get a search warrant, and they took the rest of the bootlegs.

Recent photo of Ray Farrell, Jello Biafra & Russ Ketter
Q: Were you guys arrested?
Doug: No, the store stayed open, and nobody was arrested. But it was big-time news! On all of the local news channels that night, the leading story was: Rather Ripped Gets Ripped Off. And it was also written-up in all the local papers. There was a lot of press coverage. It was just too good to pass up. I mean, Rather Ripped Gets Ripped Off. It was perfect!

Q: I know you sorted something out and were able to sell bootlegs again. How was the issue resolved?
Doug: It was one of those great fortuitous circumstances… They took the records, and the FBI wanted to prosecute us. They had been prosecuting people in Southern California and around the country. And there had been some successful prosecutions. So, a meeting was set up at the US Attorney's office in San Francisco. We went with our lawyer. The FBI agent was there, and the US Attorney was there.
   When we arrived and were shown into the meeting, I immediately noticed that the US Attorney assigned to the case was someone I knew. Not only that, but I knew him because he was a regular customer at Rather Ripped, and an avid traditional folk fan. He started the meeting by introducing everyone, and then asked that everyone but me leave the room for a minute. Obviously, this was not a popular suggestion, especially to the FBI and our lawyer.  However, the US Attorney cleared the room. Then he told me he had already decided that he was unwilling to prosecute the case against us. He said, "The record companies are selectively trying to enforce the laws on bootlegs. They screw the artists and don't give them their royalties, but they also want to screw you guys. And the problem is, the laws don't make it clear that bootlegs are illegal, especially when you guys have been trying to pay the royalties." He said that he wasn't willing to use his office and public funds to be a patsy for the record companies. "If they really wanted to make bootlegs illegal, they could easily pass a law to that effect. Instead, they just want to use my office, and I'm not willing to be used that way." Afterwards, he jokingly asked me, if he had prosecuted the case, would we have still made sure he got all the new folk imports as they came in? I told him, "Not a chance."
   Bottom line, he refused to prosecute the case, which meant that the FBI had to give us back our records. Not that that totally cleared the air. From that point on, we sold them as "used" even though they were new. Once they were used, it was an even greyer legal issue. Eventually, the industry changed the laws, but bootlegs have never gone away. And you know, it was kind of fun because some bootleg manufactures thanked us for what we tried to do. There was one that said, "Hats off and big thanks to Rather Ripped for the effort to make bootlegs legal." And another one said, "They stood up to the FBI and got away with it."

Doug Kroll, Ray Farrell & Russ Ketter - from an article about the
store's 8th anniversary by Larry Kelp in the Oakland Tribune.
Q: Did other record stores follow your lead and avoid prosecution?
Doug: As far as I know, we were the only ones who didn't get prosecuted and also got all of our records back. A lot of stores avoided prosecution, but we were the only ones that got all of our property back too. And the only cost was legal fees — which on a Rather Ripped budget, were painful to cover.

Q: The moral of the story is, it pays to have customers in high places.
Doug: Haha! Suffice it to say we were very fortunate.

Q: What was Rather Ripped's relationship like with the major labels?
Doug: It went in waves. We would deal with them for a while, and then we would get fed up because they wouldn't have what we wanted. And they didn't like to deal with our orders. We would order something and they would call us and say, "You made a mistake." We'd say, "What do you mean?" And they'd say, "You ordered 200 copies of this record, and we haven't sold any copies of it for 10 years. Nobody would want 200 copies of it. You must have meant something else."
   I remember we got a telex from Germany in response to our order for a large quantity of Klaus Schulze records. The telex informed us that they'd received the order, but that it had to be a mistake. They had never sold more than a couple of copies at one time of that catalog to anyone. We replied that it wasn't a mistake and that we did, in fact, want the order filled as submitted. If I remember right, they still dragged their feet, but ultimately we were able to convince them that we were serious.
   Another time... We used to sell a lot of Gheorghe Zamfir pan pipe records because Bob McClay on KSAN played him quite often, and there were no records available in the US at that time. I also understand that McClay loved his exclusive and wasn't happy when we eventually started selling Zamfir's LPs. However, after Russ finally tracked down the LPs, we had the same problem that we'd had with the German distributor. Zamfir's Romanian distributor didn't believe our order was real, and it took some effort to convince him otherwise.

Q: I know Rather Ripped advertised on local radio, but you also promoted the store with your own shows. Which radio stations were you on?
Doug: I did a show on KTIM, and I had a regular show with Norman [Davis] on KSAN. I did a show on KSJO. I did one on KOME. I also did periodic guest spots at other stations, including KALX and the Stanford station. 

Flyer announcing a Rather Ripped competition to win
tickets for a DEVO show at the Mabuhay Gardens
on May 27, 1978.
Q: What records did you play on those shows?
Doug: For obvious reasons, I would try to play music that was only available at Rather Ripped. It was mostly imports — whether it was rock 'n' roll or space or imported folk... whatever. But I did feature shows as well. I was on all of the major FM stations in the area at the time. Most of them, I would maybe do one or two shows a month. At KSAN, I was on every week.

Q: What was your show on KSAN called? I remember it was on in the middle of the night!
Doug: It was called "Sounds from the Aliens." I actually started to do one on punk too, but the guys at Aquarius took that one over, which was fine.

Q: Was there a lot of competition between Rather Ripped and Aquarius Records?
Doug: No. None. In fact, we talked very seriously for years about merging the stores and becoming partners. We even talked about doing a record label together. We were really tight with Aquarius and Chris [Knab]. Whenever Aquarius was doing something, we would support it; we would give out tickets. Whenever we were doing something, they were our support in the City. There was never any competition whatsoever.

Q: Rather Ripped also seemed to have a close connection with the Beserkley label and its artists. 
Doug: Yeah, they lived in a house on Spruce Street and we were their local record store. They hung out at the store, and we employed their musicians. They also used our machine to shrink wrap their records.

Q: We've talked about Gary Phillips, but you also employed Greg Kihn. Did you hire Greg?
Doug: I don't remember who made that decision, but it was probably me. However, Greg only worked there for a short time. He was our flakiest employee; he would just disappear. One time, he didn't show up for three days. He came in on the fourth day for his shift and said, "Do I still have a job?" I said, "What do you think, Greg?" And he goes, "I didn't think so." I said, "You're right. You don't."

Q: I hear you've got a great story about Jonathan Richman.
Doug: Oh, yeah! I was a Jonathan Richman fan, but I'd never met him. One afternoon, he had evidently come in while I was at lunch. He was upstairs shrink-wrapping records for the label. They all had chores. I didn't know he was up there. At some point, I put on Funhouse by the Stooges, which is one of my favorite records. Specifically, I played "I Wanna Be Your Dog." As usual, it was cranked up to an extreme volume. As it came on, I sang out the opening line, and immediately the unmistakable voice of Jonathan Richman sang out the second line. He was right above me in the loft upstairs. So, then I sang the third line, and Jonathan sang back the next line. Then I started crawling up the stairs on my hands and knees, and Jonathan started crawling down the stairs while we sang this duet back and forth. Jonathan was great! He was like a little kid. 

Russ Ketter & David Levine in 1971 at the store's first location
next to the Stuffed Inn on Euclid. (Photo found on the Rather
Ripped Facebook page)
Q: An article about Rather Ripped by Larry Kelp in the Oakland Tribune said: "A few years ago the store got a reputation as a space-rock shop, because owners Doug Kroll and Russ Ketter played so much strange — usually German — synthesizer based music. Since Kroll and Ketter now work in the background and Ray Farrell has taken over day-to-day operations, Rather Ripped often sounds like punk headquarters." Is it fair to say that the store massively shifted gears when Ray became the manager?
Doug: No... Certainly, punk had a big effect, but all of us loved it. It was a huge shot of energy that was long overdue, and it was a lot of fun. I think the reason the store's attention had shifted to German electronic groups was that it was something new. A lot of them went out of their way to insist that there not be any guitar. And if they did have a guitar, it was treated with electronics so that it didn't sound like a guitar. It was a definite and very conscious move away from Western rock 'n' roll, what rock 'n' roll had always been. And we were bored. Nothing was happening in rock 'n' roll. Think about who was at the top of the charts before punk hit. I mean, Peter Frampton... That was pure pabulum. We didn't want that in the store! There just wasn't much happening at the time. So, we were looking for new stuff, like we always did. If German space was the cutting edge, we wanted to hear it. When punk was the new thing in town, we wanted to hear it. Most all of us were music junkies, always searching for a new vein to explore.

Q: Marc told me a story about Russ coming downstairs and breaking a Lydia Lunch record...
Doug: Oh, that is very possible. I don't remember it happening, but we were all very much opinionated, and that kind of shit would happen pretty often. Lydia is pretty intense. I'm sure Russ considered Lydia to be, uhmm... less than talented.

Q: But overall, there was no problem with you and Russ accepting punk rock?
Doug: No, absolutely none. We all loved it. We all collected it. We went to the gigs. We did in-stores for all the punk bands. Hell, I was the one responsible for Patti and the Ramones, which gave us a lot of credibility as the other groups emerged. It was all good as far as I was concerned. That being said, some of the new punk fans teased me about my long hippie hair and said I should cut it off and go more punk. That never happened. I'm still an old hippie at heart. That's not to say that there were never disagreements over music, and passions often ran a bit hot. Russ had a hard time with some of it. There was some punk stuff that Russ thought was garbage, no question about it. There was some punk stuff that I thought was garbage. There was some punk stuff that Ray thought was garbage. But we absolutely brought everything in, and we had a lot of fun with it.
   Everybody in the store had their favorites. Tim [Byrd] loved fusion — Alan Holdsworth and all the progressive groups; Ray was real into punk; Marc was heavy into Can. Six times out of seven, if Marc put something on the turntable, it was a Can record. So, there would be times... On a regular basis, I'd have to go downstairs and tell them to mix it up a little bit. "Put a little Miles in there. Put a little folk in there." If you've got a lot of money tied up in imported folk music and it's not getting played, people won't hear it. The idea was, if you were on the floor, you could put the emphasis on your favorites. But the store had a lot of variety, and you were supposed to mix it up.

Squeeze visit Rather Ripped - with Ray Farrell, Doug Kroll & Russ Ketter
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: I have a copy of the Rather Ripped newsletter with your Top 21 records for 1978...
Doug: Oh, you do? Haha!

Q: Your Number 1 record for 1978 was Realm of the Incas from 1968.
Doug: Right! I still have it. But I keep looking for another copy because I know that someday I'm gonna wear it out. There was another one on the Aztecs that I've never been able to find. I'm still looking for it.

Q: Understandably, you include Alternative TV and the Residents. But you also list some completely normal records like Some Girls and Outlandos d'Amour.
Doug: Some Girls was a particularly good rock 'n' roll record. And at that point, the Police were not a big-time group. We saw them in a small club. I think by the time Outlandos d'Amour came out, they'd worked their way up to Zellerbach. But that's the biggest venue they were playing at that point. And they were a great band. Great records.

Q: And Greg Kihn's Next of Kihn...
Doug: That was probably out of loyalty. I really love Greg; I would always give him a nod.

Q: And Patti Smith's Easter, the Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope, and Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance...
Doug: That first Pere Ubu album was a big hit at Rather Ripped. I still play it often.

Q: And Steel Pulse...
Doug: Uh-huh.

Advert for the store's Annual Birthday Sale in
the May 1979 issue of BAM.
Q: And then a bunch of records I've never heard of.
Doug: Haha!

Q: Who is Conlon Nancarrow? And what was his Complete Studies for Player Piano?
Doug: Arch Street Records in Berkeley put that out, and it's really interesting. He's a composer who wrote things for the piano that were humanly impossible to play. He could hear the songs in his head, and he knew they would sound great, but no one could physically play them because they didn't have a broad enough reach with their fingers. Their hands would have to be huge. It was a real dilemma for him. He finally came up with the idea of doing it on a player piano because he could just put the holes in a piece of paper, and it didn't matter. You could play anything. So, they took his composition and put it into a player piano, and then recorded it. It's pretty remarkable, although certainly lacking in what one might call a soft melodic vein.

Q: And the Art Bears...
Doug: The guys and gals from Henry Cow... Fred Frith and Dagmar Krause. The Art Bears are the British equivalent of the Residents, only they were dedicated socialists. It's very outsider art music. I was always a sucker for that shit, as was Georgette [Darcy], who also worked at the store.

Q: Were these all records that you could buy in the store?
Doug: Yeah, they were all available. Except for Realm of the Incas, which is something I found used and fell madly in love with. Probably cost me a dime.

Q: Do you remember Jello Biafra shopping at Rather Ripped? He told me he was a regular customer.
Doug: Oh, yeah! Jello, or Eric as we called him... No one called him Jello. He’d been a customer for some time, and he was Eric. Eric used to always bug me to give him a job. Haha! But we were friends for years, and I loved him as a customer. He was a perfect Rather Ripped customer. He was into anything and everything. He would buy an Édith Piaf record and a Frank Sinatra record and a Ben Webster jazz record. His tastes were absolutely wide open. Elvis Costello was the same way, which is why he hangs out at Village Music now.

Q: Why wouldn't you hire Jello?
Doug: He was a little too crazy. Rather Ripped was a loose organization, but the bottom line was, we did have to be open. We had to have people who would show up every day, and the doors had to be open from 10-10.

Q: Marc told me there were two acceptable excuses for being late. One was getting laid, and the other was having a hangover.
Doug: I think getting laid was a carryover from the old days. If Russ and the Pittsburgh boys all got lucky, the store probably didn't get opened. However, the likelihood of that happening was probably pretty slim. I never saw it in writing, but it was certainly an inside joke — if you got laid, that was a legitimate excuse. Being hungover was probably frowned upon because we were often hungover. That wasn't a good excuse for not being at work.

Happy Holidays from Rather Ripped Records!
Q: One thing everybody remembers about Rather Ripped was the extreme volume of the music. Apparently, that was a problem for one of your famous visitors.
Doug: Haha! One time, out of the blue... I believe it was on a Sunday morning, Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream and two members of Ash Ra Temple — Manuel Göttsching and Rosi Mueller — came into the store. They weren't playing any local gigs; they were just traveling around the country. And they'd heard about this store in Berkeley that sold their records. They'd never actually seen one of their records in a record store in America, so they went out of their way to come to Berkeley to see if it was true.
   When they walked in, I was behind the counter. Edgar Froese, who's kind of the father figure of Tangerine Dream, is this large, kind of Santa Claus-looking guy with a beard and big bushy hair. I recognized him immediately and shouted, "Whoa! It's Edgar Froese!" It's unlikely that any other record store in the US at the time would have recognized these people. They were so excited to be recognized, and they said, "Where are our records? We want to see our records!" I showed them the bins for their various groups and solo projects, and then Edgar asked if I could turn the music down. I told him, "No, I'm sorry we can't do that." And he said, "Just a little?" And I said, "No, you're just gonna have to put up with it." So, he left.

Q: Why wouldn't you just turn it down for him?
Doug: Because we didn't do that. We just didn't do that. And the other two [Göttsching and Mueller] thought it was hilarious. Göttsching was saying, "Edgar, lighten up. Loosen up. This is amazing! These people have our records! You can take it!" Edgar said, "No, forget it." He went out to the car. Eventually, he did return, and he signed all the records he was on that we had in stock.
   We had a standard policy that we didn't turn it down. It was one of our cornerstone principles. It was always loud, and that was the environment we wanted. In some ways, it worked for us, but in other ways, it was a problem. I think that was a big reason why the store was predominately male-dominated. Although I think at that point, that was probably true in most record stores. But Rather Ripped was even more so because of the volume level, and the intensity of the store, and the kind of music that we carried. It was a very male-oriented environment. There was no question about it.
   Alice Waters of Chez Panisse once told me that she loved the store. I challenged her because I knew she was mostly a classical music fan — which wasn't a Rather Ripped stronghold. And every time I’d seen her come into the store, she'd made a quick exit. She admitted that was all true, but insisted that she did love the store, and visited it whenever she was in the neighborhood because she felt a strong sense of community and family there, which was what she was also trying to do at Chez Panisse.

Q: As well as the general noise and chaos, I remember there was always something insane going on!
Doug: Oh, yeah! We built an environment where people expected it to be weird and crazy. A big part of our job was to constantly come up with off-the-wall stuff. The best things were the phone requests. Anybody could call in on the telephone and request any song, any record we had in the store, and we would play it for them. But to do that, you had to stand on the counter and hold the phone up over your head while the song was playing, because the main speaker was above the front door. Customers would walk in and ask, "What are you doing?" And we would look at them straight-faced and say, "Phone request." Of course, the regulars would call in for the most bizarre shit, like this Scottish bagpipe record called "Roamin' in the Gloamin'." So, we'd put that on and hold up the phone.
   Something I did on a regular basis... When the store was packed, I would say, "Okay, everybody line up — you get to break a record! I know you all want to break a record, but you don't want to break your own records. So, I'm gonna give you a record and you get to break it." There'd be like 50 or 60 people in the store. I'd give each of them a record, and they had to break it. Some of them couldn't do it. They'd say, "Can I just take the record?" And I'd say, "No, you can either break it or put it back. But you can't take it home." The thing was to get the release by breaking the record. But even though it didn't cost them anything, and all they had to do was smash it, some of them could not break the record.
   Another thing was... I had a record of duck calls that I kept in the store. It was an instructional record on how to do duck calls, and I would use that a lot. When the store was really packed, I would tell Ray or Marc to take the music off and put the duck call record on. Then I'd get up like an announcer and say, "You are very fortunate! You are in the right place at the right time today because absolutely free of cost... no obligation... you're gonna get free duck call lessons." And the record would go on, and I'd say, "Everybody repeat after me..." And sometimes I'd sneak up behind a regular customer and beak a record over their head or kick them in the butt. I saw one of our regular customers recently, and he said, "Every time I came in, you'd either break a record over my head, kick me in the butt, or insult me. And I came in every week!" And I said, "But they were all personalized insults. They were directed just to you." There was a lot of that kind of… Reenee just called it a "conceptual art project." There was a lot of that because that was the store's image. We could get away with things. After going to law school, I think about the legal liability of all of the things I used to do — any one of which could've resulted in a major lawsuit. But the nature of the store was such that the public expected it from us. It was the image that we'd built. So, we had to keep doing it. We couldn't just all of a sudden stop and become a regular record store.

Q: What happened to make you leave?
Doug: There were a lot of reasons. I'd been doing it for a long time, and I was getting a little burnt out. And the industry was changing. That's what really made me get out. All my radio shows were stopping. And that was a key element to the store, having a place where I could play the music and people would come in and look for it. Suddenly, all the FM stations were going format. KSAN shut down... KMEL went to format... the big stations were all going blatantly corporate, with enforced playlists. There was no longer room or tolerance for what we'd been doing, at least on a level that could sustain a small independent record store. I feared that the change in the market was such that Rather Ripped as we all knew it couldn't exist. The days of doing business the way we'd been doing it were numbered, and I didn't want to be around when it changed. I didn't want to be running a Tower Records, a regular chain-type store. So, I felt it was time to get out.
   So, I gave Russ a year's notice. And I told him, "Before I leave, you need to have somebody else in place." And I knew it wouldn't be Ray. It should have been Ray, but I knew that once I left, there was a good chance that Ray and Russ would get in each other's face and it would end. As long as I was there as a buffer, it was okay. But it wouldn't take long for something to happen, and Russ would say, "You're outta here." I said to Russ, "You need to get somebody in to replace me. And it has to be somebody like me or somebody like Ray. You need that kind of personality."

Rick Johnson's Top Picks of 1977
(from the Rather Ripped newsletter)
Q: I understand that Russ brought in his wife as a business partner.
Doug:  Maybe a month before I left, he brought in his wife and his sister-in-law. And they wanted to run it like a straight retail shop. They didn't understand what made Rather Ripped work. The key element... A big part of it was hanging out. I mean, some people would come in when we opened the door in the morning, and they would leave when we closed the door at night. They would sit around and talk about esoteric music and spend a couple hundred bucks. But if there wasn't somebody they could talk to, they went somewhere else.
   I had one high school teacher from Sacramento who used to come down once a month. He'd come for the whole day. We'd usually go out and have a drink or go to dinner afterwards. At one point, he was moving away, and he sent me this letter that said, "The only time I feel like I'm at home and with family is when I come to your store." I think that was the highest compliment anyone ever paid the store. And that was a big part of what Rather Ripped was all about. That's how we turned the store around. We had a very specialized piece of a very competitive market, and we had to do a lot of work to keep it.

Q: When did Rather Ripped leave Berkeley?
Doug: After I left, I never returned to Rather Ripped. In the end, the split was very tense, even with a one-year notice, and it took years for me to reconnect with Russ. Eventually we did, which was good because he's one of the most important figures in my life. We taught each other a lot and had more fun than should've been legal — actually, much of it wasn't legal! And I think we created some magic for a period of time. I have no regrets. As for the subsequent incarnations of the store, that was Russ, not me. He should be the one to tell you those stories.

Q: When did the store close for good?
Doug: I should know this because they ended up filing bankruptcy. But do I remember when that happened? It had to be about '81 or '82. I have the old bankruptcy papers somewhere.

Q: Russ finally just declared bankruptcy?
Doug: Actually, they filed Chapter 7 and went out of business. And that was kind of the end of it.

Q: That's a sad way for something to end that meant so much to so many people.
Doug: It wasn't a pretty end, and sadly our partnership didn't end on the best of terms. But Russ really did make an incredible contribution to music. He made a huge difference to the Bay Area music scene. Bill Graham acknowledged it. Feature articles were written about people who'd made a difference, and Russ would always be listed.

Q: What happened to all the records?
Doug: I know the bulk of the remaining stock was sold to John Goddard at Village Music. I went into Village Music around that time, and John was laughing because a lot of the records still had the old Rather Ripped stickers on them. We didn't just have a sticker with the price on it. You got a little mini review written by whoever was processing the records that day. And John was getting a big kick out of these mini reviews for records he'd never seen in his life.

Q: In the end, you went to law school and became a lawyer.
Doug: Where I ended up is was where I was headed in the beginning. I ended up being a lawyer after a major side trip. And it was wonderful! For all those years, I used to pinch myself when I woke up each morning to make sure it wasn't a dream, and that I actually got to do what I loved for a living. On the day I woke up and couldn't make that statement, I gave my notice. But before that happened, I had a hell of a run!

★ ★ ★

GREIL MARCUS (Rather Ripped Customer/Rock Critic & Author)
"Vinyl Freaks" - unused mail order catalog artwork
(found on the Rather Ripped Facebook page)
San Francisco native Greil Marcus is an acclaimed rock critic and author of numerous books on the subject (including Lipstick Traces and Mystery Train). He earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies from UC Berkeley, where he also did graduate work in political science. 

Q: You were acquainted with Doug before he started working at Rather Ripped...
Greil: Doug was a student of mine at UC Berkeley before he worked at the store. I'd known him for a long time.

Q: And you were a regular Rather Ripped customer.
Greil: I went there a lot. I used to hang out there at night, and I'm not much of a hanger outer. But I would go there at eight or nine o'clock to look for records and talk to Doug and Russ. They were interesting people to talk to, and they were always desperate to make you listen to something. In the early and mid-'70s, they were full of anticipation for something new and thrilling, and they were positive that it had to be out there somewhere. They were continually latching on to things that certainly didn't provide that for me, whether it was Sparks or David Bowie. But their enthusiasm was really infectious.

Q: So, for you, Rather Ripped was a place to hang out as much as to buy records.
Greil: Yeah, it was a place to hang out. Not because things would happen, but because there was good conversation. It was probably the same way that French people in the 1920s felt about their favorite café. But you bought records there instead of coffee.

Q: In your opinion, did the closing of the store leave a gap in the local scene?
Greil: Not really... By the time the place closed, Doug had left, and the store had fulfilled its function. It had presided over the change that they had been waiting and wishing for, for such a long time. In other words, punk had happened. Patti Smith played her first show in the Bay Area in the upstairs loft of Rather Ripped records.

Greil's Top Tunes for 1977
(from the Rather Ripped newsletter)
Q: Did you go to that?
Greil: Yeah, I was there. There was a loft, where they had the office. They cleared that out. Her piano player and Lenny Kaye were there, and maybe 75 people. She read poetry and chanted — and it was just delightful. She was definitely trying to make something happen that wasn't happening elsewhere. And she succeeded in doing that.

Q: Did you discover any music at Rather Ripped that you wouldn't have otherwise known about?
Greil: Not really, but there were all kinds of bands that I got into much more quickly than I would've otherwise. Anything from the Sex Pistols to Elvis Costello. I remember seeing the first Sex Pistols' single on the wall for $5. I said, "Why is this so expensive?" They said, "Oh, it's been banned in England." I thought, "If it's been banned in England, I'd better get it. See what they're banning in England these days." And I wasn't terribly impressed. And I wasn't terribly impressed by the second one, either. But once "Pretty Vacant" came out, I suddenly saw the light, and I was able to hear what was so amazing about the first two. And you know, this was an ongoing propaganda campaign that Rather Ripped waged. I remember I went in there one time and bought every punk record they had. I took them all home, invited a bunch of people over, and we spent four hours listening to every damn one of them just to see what this business was all about.

Q: Did you return any of those punk records after listening to them?
Greil: You never took back a record that you didn't like after playing it once. You played it maybe 15 times before you took it back and said, "I don't like this," because you had to be ready with an argument. There would be a conversation about why you didn't like it. Or if you did like it, it was the same thing. If you didn't want to discuss what you chose to take home, you had better go somewhere else.

* You can read Greil's full review of Patti Smith's Bay Area debut and find his website here:

★ ★ ★

GEORGETTE DARCY (Formerly Georgette Johnson/Sales)

The gang gather for a reunion in front of the old
storefront at the corner of Hearst and Euclid.
(Photo courtesy of Georgette Darcy)
During her tenure in the mid-'70s, Georgette was one of a handful of female employees at Rather Ripped. She worked on the floor and once listed records by Henry Cow, Ivor Cutler, and Kevin Ayers as her favorites in a store newsletter. Georgette kindly replied via email with some of her memories of working at Rather Ripped:

I believe that I was hired in late 1975 and can't remember anything about my job interview. Rather Ripped was definitely a boys' club. I was the only woman working there until Reenee was hired to work upstairs, but it never felt like immersion in a toxic male environment. The men I worked with on the floor were all wonderful, and our shared passion for music made for a harmonious adventure.

Doug Kroll was the lifeblood of Rather Ripped. I remember him as being energetic, upbeat, and a zany extrovert in those days. The atmosphere was electric when he was working. 

As others have reported, the relationship between customers and staff was unlike anything I experienced before or since. People sensed that they were in a very special place. The employees were so devoted to the music and were only too happy to consider like-minded patrons as members of our fanatical family.

Patti Smith with photographer Richard McCaffrey
Photo: Hugh Brown
Music from the UK attracted me during this period, including works commonly labeled 'art' rock and avant-garde/ improvisational jazz, and some folk. 

I remember being temporarily mystified by the enthusiasm for punk, as it sounded inelegant compared to my insular focus at the time.

After leaving RRR, I worked on the south side of the campus at Rasputin, Tower, and then Rough Trade on Grant Avenue in San Francisco. 

My last stop in the business was working in wholesale/distribution at Rough Trade in London at both the Kensington Park Road and Talbot Road locations. From there, I worked in book publishing and, ultimately, public service.

It's difficult to explain how exciting it was to be in Berkeley in the seventies and be involved in some way with the music industry. And, for a while, Rather Ripped seemed like the center of the universe. There was something of unique significance happening in that place. It hit you when you walked in the door. Of course, these things never last, but I'm grateful that I was there.

★ ★ ★

RAY FARRELL (Store Manager)
Ray showing off the NEU! t-shirt that Mark
made in his high school art class.
(Photo: Mark Hosler)
At the time of this interview, Ray was working at Geffen Records, where he described his "unusual" position as "sales/A&R/artist development." But as a teenager, Rather Ripped's designated punk rock specialist experienced the nascent CBGBs scene first-hand. Berkeley was the final stop of Ray's own On the Road journey, and legend has it that up-and-coming rock star Tom Petty hired him to work at the store.

Q: What were you doing before you started working at Rather Ripped?
Ray: I was going to high school in New Jersey, and I was kind of a record hound. I would buy a lot of imports from mail order places, and one of them was a company in Berkeley called "The Dedicated Fool." They had this amazing catalog. It was really well written, very funny, and it had all these records you could buy for $1.99 by mail. And the catalog was really descriptive. You could tell these guys knew what every record sounded like. So, I bought records from them for a couple of years... And then I came out to California. I read Kerouac's On the Road, and I thought, "I wanna do that." But I wanted to live in Berkeley. I wanted to meet the guys who did this catalog, and I wanted to see if I could work there. But there was never a street address in the catalog; it was always a P.O. box. So, I didn't know exactly how I was going to find them once I got to Berkeley.

Q: The catalog was the mail order arm of Rather Ripped...
Ray: I didn't even realize that they were the same company. But I saw Patti Smith at CBGBs... Patti Smith and Television were big favorites of mine. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time at CBGBs, and I just fell in love with Patti. To this day, she's probably the biggest influence on what I've read, and what kind of music I listen to, and what I did after high school. I'm sure she's been an influence to a lot of people, but for me, it was really intense. To see that whole thing at CBGBs build up... That was an enormous thing for me!
   Anyway, I told Patti I was going to move to Berkeley. And she said, "You know, there's a record store that's bringing me out for a poetry reading." She said she was playing in a record store called Rather Ripped. And I thought, "Wow, what a great idea! I gotta find out more about that store." And then I kind of forgot all about it. So, I went on this trip around the country. It took me about two months to do it, and I finally landed in Berkeley. I didn't have any money by the time I got there, so I took a job at Sears. Then I got a job at a charcuterie on the Northside of Berkeley. But after a few days, the owner of the place said, "All you talk about is music. You should talk to my friend who owns a record store. They need to hire some people, and you would be perfect." So, she set me up with an interview.

Meet the Cramps at Rather Ripped - May 16, 1980
Q: I've heard that Tom Petty interviewed you for the job. How did that happen?
Ray: They "forgot" to tell me that Tom Petty was doing an in-store at the same time as my interview. Everybody in the store was totally distracted, and I was being interviewed by somebody who was kind of stoned and wasn't really asking me any questions.
   At one point, Tom Petty came upstairs to get a beer, and the guy who was interviewing me said, "You know what? Tom Petty's here and he understands rock 'n' roll. So, why don't you talk to Tom, and we'll let him decide if you're gonna work here or not." So, we talked about how great the Dwight Twilley single was, and Tom was kind of impressed that I'd met Denny Cordell from Shelter Records during my cross-country trip. And then he asked me who my favorite band was. So I said, "Above all else, the Beatles." And he said, "What do you like most about the Beatles?" I said, "They're the only band that can scream in harmony." And he said, "You're hired!" So, he goes downstairs and tells somebody that I'm hired. Of course, a couple of days later, I had to go back for another interview, which was straight-forward and a little intimidating.

Q: This must have been around the end of '76.
Ray: I came in during probably the second phase of Rather Ripped. The store already had a history. Patti Smith had already been there. Their infamous problem with bootlegs, and the FBI coming in and confiscating stuff — that had already taken place. And by the time I got there, Greg Kihn was no longer working there. And I came in at a time when, you know... It wasn't a great time in terms of music. We carried a lot of progressive rock, and I couldn't handle it. I really could not understand that stuff. But the store specialized in imports, and that's what the clientele was after — stuff that didn't come out in the United States.

Q: Were you hired to manage the store?
Ray: I came in simply as a clerk, and I became the manager... I guess through default. I don't think I ever really wanted it. I was very happy just buying records because I bought the independents. That was my gig. And then I bought imports for a while. And I remember doing things like setting up schedules and stuff. But I was like 21 or 22, and I didn't care about any of that. I just wanted to work at this record store. 

Russ & Doug pose for this Berkeley Barb photo following the
store's bootleg bust by the FBI. The paper reported that
$40,000 worth of LPs had been 
Q: Were you the designated punk rock specialist at Rather Ripped?
Ray: I started working at Rather Ripped just before punk rock really got going over here. People certainly knew about Patti Smith; she'd already put out Horses. And Television had put out their first single. And the Ramones' first album came out before I left New Jersey. But punk rock really happened while I was at Rather Ripped. Just after I started there, we got in ten copies of "Anarchy in the UK," and I remember thinking, "Oh, my god! The whole world's gonna change because of this single." You know, some people hated the fact that I liked punk rock. They would literally take the records off the turntable and throw them against the wall! There were a few people who just couldn't stand it.

Q: The FBI bootleg bust had taken place before you started working at the store, but it would've been a recent occurrence. And you'd probably bought some of those bootlegs from their catalog.
Ray: Yeah, and you know, I can't say whether it was right or wrong for the store to be doing it, but it certainly filled a niche that was very exciting to someone who was buying records. I know when I was a kid buying bootlegs in New Jersey, it probably kept me from buying a lot of other records because I'd get fixated on every Who bootleg — and they were like $20 each. But at that time, it was a big deal because the record companies and the FBI were cracking down on that stuff. It was funny too because we would get letters from people like Bruce Springsteen looking for Dylan bootlegs. He would say stuff like, "Personally, I'm not opposed to it because anybody that's buying my bootlegs already has my other records." And maybe he loses some money from royalties, but that was a lawyer thing more than anything else.

Pages from a Christmas edition of the Rather Ripped newsletter
Q: And all those records you bought for $1.99 must have been cut-outs.
Ray: Essentially, no independent record store can make a living off of domestic American record sales because there's hardly any mark-up, and you're competing with chain stores. And Rather Ripped really wanted to focus on more unusual music. They highlighted cut-outs that were only cut-outs because some record company didn't know what to do with them. Or they'd printed more than they could sell. So, the music was still getting through to a lot of people but at a much cheaper price. That was kind of what the store was celebrating, the fact that there was so much great music coming out regardless of whether it was on a major label or a small private label — as indies were referred to at the time. And certainly, that was true of imports, where they were never going to see mainstream success. But that didn't matter! At Rather Ripped, you would hear a good record on its own merits, not because Joel Selvin reviewed it, or because it was featured in Rolling Stone. In a way, the store very proudly disassociated itself from the rest of the record business. And the initial form of punk and new wave had that same spirit. It was a whole form of music that was very much anti-establishment. It was also a time when every record I brought into the store would sell. No matter what it was. Everything sold. Every 7" single. It was so new and so fresh that everyone bought everything.

Ray Farrell, Marc Time (in a custom-made DEVO t-shirt)
& Carl Stolz with the members of Camel at a 1979 in-store.
(photographer unknown)
Q: You were the independent records buyer at Rather Ripped. How did that work? How did you find out what was being released back then?
Ray: Well, at the time, there was no independent distribution network anywhere in the country. I would usually find out about records through Bomp magazine or Trouser Press, and there'd be an address to write to. Like with the Sneakers' first record, I wrote to Chris Stamey. I knew that one of Stamey's big influences was Big Star — and Big Star was going through a renaissance back then; both of their first two albums had been released as a double-set in England. And because we were selling a lot of those, I knew we'd probably sell a lot of the Sneakers' record too. So, I wrote to Chris and said, "I need 100 copies of this." And because we were the only store anywhere nearby that did that, maybe even on the West Coast, I knew we would sell all 100 copies. Unless every local record store had a guy writing to Chris Stamey, it was probably something you'd only find at Rather Ripped. So, I spent a lot of time doing that. And we sold a lot of stuff on consignment from local bands.

Q: You mentioned that you were also the imports buyer. What firms were you working with at the time?
Ray: Back then, there were only a couple of places where you could get imports. The main distributor was Caroline in the UK. I don't think they were even established in the States at that point. And there was Jem, they were really good. They had a warehouse on the West Coast. There was another company called Peters International. They specialized in European, classical and avant-garde music, and some progressive rock. They were truly embarrassed by most of the stuff we ordered. We weren't into a lot of classical music, but they were the chief exporter from Germany, England, and France — rock was just a by-product of their distribution system.

Q: And the store promoted all these records at an ear-splitting volume! 
Ray: Yeah, having records that nobody else had and playing them in the store was definitely part of the fun of working there. If you hung out at Rather Ripped for any length of time, you'd probably hear four or five things you'd never heard before, and you'd hear a lot of stuff that you wouldn't have heard otherwise. And we were genuinely really into it! It wasn't like we had to stretch to push something. If two of us got behind a record and bounced off each other while we described it to a customer, it was an unbeatable combination. I mean, you could be selling it to one person, and three other people would want it.

Q: What was your relationship like with Aquarius Records? Was there a lot of  competition?
Ray: We didn't see ourselves as being in competition with anyone. In a way, we saw ourselves as mavericks in that no one else was doing what we did. And we were far away from Aquarius geographically. Certainly, some of our customers came from San Francisco. But for the most part, I think we covered Berkeley and the East Bay. And we were all very good friends. Chris Knab, Russ, and Doug had been good friends for a long time. They'd visit each other's stores and hang out and talk about music. And we'd turn each other on to stuff. We saw no problem with that. If we could turn Aquarius on to a Graham Parker record, then there'd be a place in San Francisco that would be championing it. And they would do the same for us. They'd say, "You really have to check this out." So, it worked out pretty well.

Q: What about Rasputin's and the other record stores on the Southside of Berkeley?
Ray: I think Rasputin's was genuinely pissed off at us because we had a specialized search service. We could find any record, even if it was out-of-print. I went on buying trips to LA with Doug, where we'd get all kinds of records for $1.00 or 50-cents that were hard to find up North. And in a lot of cases, they were records that people were searching for. 
   But I remember Rasputin's had 25 copies of the Real Kids' album for 50-cents each. And we couldn't get it because it was out-of-print. So, let's go down the street and get them! They'd put red marks on the spines, so it was obvious that they came from Rasputin's. But nobody cared because you didn't see the red mark. That was the only way we would make money. Like I said, we weren't making money on domestic stuff.

Q: What was the store's relationship like with the major labels?
Ray: Major labels wouldn't deal with us directly. I remember the Warner Bros. rep was really embarrassed that we were ordering the B52's first album in quantities of 30 at a time because it was selling really well. And he hated the record. He didn't understand anything about new wave or punk rock; he was much more into the Marshall Tucker Band. And there were people at the store that he could talk to about the Marshall Tucker Band! You know, there was somebody for everybody there. If you wanted to talk to somebody who knew every progressive rock record and hated new wave, there was a guy there who was like that. That's what made the store fun! No matter what you were into, there was always somebody that knew exactly what you wanted and understood exactly what you were talking about. But I'll never forget that guy being red in the face about how many copies of the B52's record we were ordering. He was like, "Don't stick me with these later. I don't wanna get 150 of 'em back."

Q: I have a copy of your Top 10 records from 1978, as listed in the Rather Ripped newsletter. Do you remember what they were?
Ray: No... I don't remember my Top 10.

Q: Number 1 was the Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food.
Ray: Yeah! 

Q: Number No. 2 was Hans-Joachim Roedelius
Ray: Yeah!

Rather Ripped exterior
(photographer unknown)
Q: Kevin Coyne's Dynamite Daze was number 3; Television was number 4; Pere Ubu's Modern Dance was number 5... 
Ray: Everybody in the store loved Pere Ubu! I called Mercury Records because we wanted to do a front window dedicated to Pere Ubu, and the Mercury rep wouldn't even talk to me on the phone. He sent me a letter saying, "Sorry, but we are not promoting this group at this time." You would think, even if they're not promoting the group, there's at least an opportunity to sell some records because of it. And you know, it was unlikely that Tower or any of the other stores were going to keep Pere Ubu well-stocked — because they certainly weren't being pushed by their record company rep. Even on major labels, most of that stuff was isolated. It was better distributed, so it was easier to get the Ramones or the Saints or the Talking Heads, but there wasn't much of a push behind a lot of them. I wouldn't say it was bad for every new band on a major label. But in a lot of cases, they would only get off the ground because of a store like Rather Ripped or Aquarius.

Q: Gregory Isaacs was number 6; Klaus Schulze was number 7...
Ray: I think Klaus Schulze was in there for political reasons. There had to be some space music on there.

Q: Patti Smith was number 8, and the Rolling Stones were number 9... Some Girls is on everybody's Top 10!
Ray: Because it was just a great record! Keith Richards is still so much cooler than anybody in any punk rock band. Of course, back then you couldn't tell anybody that you liked the Rolling Stones. It was really bad to do that. People like Tim Yohannan were very definite about disassociating themselves from bands like the Stones and Led Zeppelin. But at Rather Ripped, we didn't really care about that. I think it's a pretty honest list. I think I did try to talk myself into liking Klaus Schulze at one point, but I haven't kept any of his records.

Q: Let's talk about some of the Rather Ripped window displays...
Ray: The windows were covered with so much stuff no light could get in! Rick Johnson did most of the best windows; he had a lot of great ideas. I remember… I think it was when I first saw the store. They did a window for the Residents' Third Reich 'N' Roll album, and they kept getting rocks thrown through it. The Third Reich 'N' Roll record had a swastika on the cover; it was very politically incorrect. Especially for Berkeley. Especially the Northside of Berkeley because more of the professors lived on that side. So, they caught all kinds of crap for that.
   Basically, we were free to just do whatever we wanted to do with the windows. Sometimes we'd do imports, or highlight the cut-outs, or we'd do them especially for an in-store. The Police came to the store on their first US tour, so we did a Police window.

Debbie Harry & Chris Stein at an in-store.
Photo: Richard Alden Peterson
Q: What did you do for the Police window?
Ray: I remember we made kind of a standard window with the album cover and singles and stuff. All the normal stuff you could get if you were into the Police. But I had this record from Stuart Copeland's first band... It was awful.

Q: Clark Kent?
Ray: No! This was way before Clark Kent. It was something he did in Berkeley; he went to UC Berkeley. It was this terrible progressive rock record that he put out with his friends. It was in the window, and I'll never forget Sting looked at it and said, "What is that?" And I told him, "That's Stuart's first band." And he said, "Are you serious? I've gotta hear this!" So, we played it, and he was just laughing. He couldn't believe how bad it was! He ripped Stuart about it for hours. He was like, "I can't believe you did something like this!" And he had to buy it. He said, "I'll give you $100 for this!" I think I sold it to him for $10.

Q: What other in-stores do you remember?
Ray: Oh, we had the craziest in-stores! My very favorite in-store was Roky Erickson. The only thing he said to anyone was, "I'm watching you die!" That was the only thing he said, but it was absolutely true. Haha! We had the Germs... We had the guys from Amon Düül... Roy Harper...

Q: Other than Patti Smith's performance, did any of the bands play live in the store?
Ray: No, I don't remember anyone playing live. The store was just too small to accommodate it. It was too small to put a PA in there. So, unless they were playing acoustically and singing without a microphone... And there was only room for like twenty people; every event would've been too crowded.

Q: You said that it wasn't a great time in terms of music when you started at Rather Ripped. But the store was at the center of a burgeoning local music scene in Berkeley, and it was closely connected to Beserkley Records.
Ray: And we were very tied into Ralph Records and the Residents. Yeah, Berkeley had its own very active scene going, and it was really fun and party-oriented. I remember we were the distributor for Beserkley before they hooked up with anyone, and we were selling the Beserkley Chartbusters record. And they were right up the street, so Greg Kihn and Jonathan Richman, the Rubinoos, Earth Quake... Gary Phillips from Earth Quake worked in the store, and the Rubinoos hung out there a lot. Everybody knew everybody... and it included Psycotic Pineapple and a couple of other bands. It was kind of like being in the ultimate high school clique. It was definitely an interesting time.

Mik Dow's Top Pics
(from a Rather Ripped newsletter)
Q: What did "Every record is a new release," mean to you?
Ray: That was our philosophy; records weren't just something that lasted for eight weeks. It didn't matter if a record was in the charts, or whether it was the hot new thing. It could be five years later that a record would surface because it was a cut-out or because no one had paid attention to it. So, we looked at every record as being a whole new world that you could get into. 
   I mean, Television's first album didn't sell at all at the time. It didn't mean anything in terms of sales, but it was one of the store's favorite records. And the influence that Television has had on so many people — it's a timeless record. And I think that's what Rather Ripped was really good at. It was really good at recognizing how influential a band like Television or Can or Tangerine Dream could be. 

Q: Do you recall any notable regulars amongst your customers?
Ray: Henry Kaiser would come in and listen to records. You know, he was connected to the Fred Frith school and what was considered at the time to be progressive rock. And Steve Wynn & Kendra Smith [the co-founders of Dream Syndicate] used to come in from Davis. They went to UC Davis, and they would come in and want to be turned on to records. Steve was really into power pop, and I turned him on to Big Star and Chris Stamey. I remember I really pushed this German synthesizer band called Neu! at him, and he couldn't stand it. He said, "I thought you were cool, and then you pushed this Neu! record on me. It's awful." The other person that was always a lot of fun was Jello Biafra! He had a knack for finding the weirdest records in the store, stuff we didn't even know was in there. And he'd make us listen to them. We had to play these records for him, and then he'd decide whether or not to buy it.

Q: Tell me about the store's birthday party with the Real Kids and Horslips. Is it true that you got the Real Kids onto the bill?
Ray: I was totally nuts about the Real Kids! They called the store and said, "We're playing a couple of shows in LA..." So, I got them the gig. It was amazing! We had no idea it was going to be that big of a show. It was at the Keystone Berkeley, and it only cost $1.00 to get in.

Q: How many people turned up for the party?
Ray: However many people could fit into the Keystone, which I guess was 500 or 600 people. It was packed! You couldn't move. It was really a lot of fun!

Q: When did the Berkeley store close?
Ray: I think it was in 1980. I remember we thought about buying the name from them, and we were going to look for a loan to start a store with. But we weren't motivated enough to do it. Then Russ moved the store to Oakland, somewhere way out of the way. I mean, part of Rather Ripped's great atmosphere had to do with the fact that we were in Berkeley, and we were near a campus. It was a great place to hang out and meet likeminded people. It was something that became a little center of activity.

Patti Smith with photographer Hugh Brown
Photo: Richard McCaffrey

Q: I've heard that Russ brought in his wife and sister-in-law. Did you ever meet them?
Ray: Yeah! I'll never forget this... We used these little index cards to describe the 45s on our wall — the band's name and the price, etc. When Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" came in, his sister-in-law made the card for it, and she put little smiling faces for all the o's! I took it off the wall and thought, "Wow, this is the beginning of the end." But it was actually really funny! She didn't know. She just saw "Joy Division" and thought it must be a happy band.

Q: These days, you're the Publicity Director at Geffen, but what did you do after Rather Ripped? 
Ray: When Rather Ripped closed, I went to [blues label] Arhoolie/Down Home. My goal was to stay in the independent label sector. I didn't want to work in a record store anymore. Because of my experience with small labels never having enough money to re-press records, I dove into distribution and networking. As punk rock and indies grew, there was a network built on college radio, clubs, record stores, and fanzines. In the underground, everyone helped each other.
   After that, I worked for Rough Trade and managed a band called Pell Mell. In 1985, I went to SST Records where I was in charge of promotion for bands like Hüsker Dü, the Meat Puppets, and Sonic Youth. Then in '89, I went to Geffen. When I look back at all the things that happened in my life because of Rather Ripped, it boggles my mind. Everything I've done in music came my way because of that store. It had such a great reputation! If it weren't for Rather Ripped, I probably wouldn't be as conversant about so many different styles of music, or have as much of an appreciation for it. That place pulled out all the stops and turned me on to a whole other world of what was going on. And I haven't been able to get out of it since then.

Q: Your job at Geffen must put you in touch with a lot of independent record stores. Do any compare with Rather Ripped?
Ray: When I started at Geffen, half of what I did involved dealing with independent record stores all over the country. There was a store in Denver like Rather Ripped, and there were stores in New York like that; stores pop up every year like that. It was something that did develop with stores around the country. They became a haven for what was going on, especially as punk rock took hold and as hardcore came along. And it's still very important to have that kind of store around because the chain stores are getting swallowed up by bigger chains all the time, and there's less interaction with people and music. 
   I'm still thrilled to see a new store crop up, and if they're anything like what Rather Ripped was, they are vital in terms of turning people on to new records. Music can be a real emotional thing with people, and you want to be able to talk to somebody who knows what you're talking about. So, it's great to see that it still happens.

★ ★ ★

JOHN SEABURY (aka John C. Berry/Psycotic Pineapple Bassist & Artist)
Psycotic Pineapple prepare to play on a flatbed
truck outside Rather Ripped in 1979.
Photo: John Howard
John and his brother Dave discovered Rather Ripped Records as teenagers and became loyal customers. Their Berkeley-based pop band, Psycotic Pineapple, once played outside the store on a flatbed truck, and a window display was dedicated to their album release. Now a Grammy nominated illustrator and designer, John is perhaps best known for his mischievous creation, Pyno Man. For more info, check out his Facebook page: John Seabury Art | Facebook.

John sent the following via email: My brother Dave is 2½ years older than me, and he was definitely making the scene. He was sneaking out at night (age 15) with his camera and shooting Hendrix and the Who at the Berkeley Community Theater, while I was 12 and stuck at home with my AM radio and comix.

Dave was really into records, especially unusual stuff. Rather Ripped was the perfect store for us young hipsters. They had European releases from Hendrix and Cream etc., plus "outside" stuff, prog rock and "art rock" like Zappa and Beefheart, which we were already into. So naturally, they also stocked new "weirdo" stuff like the Residents, Snakefinger, Devo and Pere Ubu. Most 45s had cool picture sleeves, and I bought many. 

Lithographs of Gloria Balsam - artwork created
by John Seabury while he was studying at SFAI.
(possibly 1974)
One day, I was in the store with Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos), and he showed me this funny album cover: The Dictators Go Girl Crazy. He asked Russ about it, and Russ said, "That's terrible, don't buy it."

So, Tommy bought two, one for himself and one for his brother Rob (Earth Quake). The Dictators were a definite influence on the Pyno — tasteless, with a sense of humor.

Rather Ripped was the first place you'd go if you made a new record. They hosted us at least twice for our record releases. We played a set on the back of a flatbed truck in front of RRR for the release of Where's The Party? and they devoted a whole store window to us. 

Plus, they hosted many other new acts with in-store appearances: Blondie, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman, the Police, etc. 

It was just a great place to hang out and shoot the shit. That whole block was a major center for us teens. I had two friends who lived upstairs over La Val's Pizza, the infamous dive Big Art's Hard Times, Giant Burgers (open all night), and the art house movie theater (forget the name).

Good times, and definitely RIPPED!
★ ★ ★

PAUL HALLAMAN (Store Manager & Mail Order Manager)
L-R: Reenee, Doug, Ray, Russ & Paul enjoying Rather Ripped's
8th birthday party at the Keystone Berkeley.
(Photo: Ray Santos)
Originally from Ambridge, Pennsylvania, Paul graduated in 1972 from Northwestern University. Three years later, he was living on Hearst Street in Berkeley and working at Rather Ripped Records. The store's onetime resident authority on jazz kindly contributed some of his favorite memories via Facebook:

I started working at Rather Ripped when Greg Kihn and Gary Phillips had their careers take flight. Born to Run had just been released. Initially Russ, Doug, Gary and Greg, as well as Miles, and David [Levine] — Russ's Pittsburgh partner — were working in the store along with Drew. I had just moved to Berkeley the month before, and when I first visited the store to buy rolling papers, I heard Pittsburgh accents and told them that I too was a native of Western PA.

Shortly after I started, three friends of Doug's from Southern California, Jim Gray, Steve Bage, and Rick Johnson came to work. Steve and Jim had deep musical knowledge, but Rick brought a lot of manic enthusiasm to the crew, and his windows were amazing. I worked with Georgette, Reenee, Azian, Paul M., Tim Byrd, and Esther. After Ray came on, I transitioned to mail order along with Tim and Russ. We got want lists from all over the world, and employees could pay off their bills by tracking down hard-to-find records and trading them in. Russ and Doug made an effort to carry many local small labels that specialized in Women's music, electronic and alternative music, free jazz, bluegrass, and rock. 

Much was made of the emphasis put on space music, Krautrock, and ambient sound. One morning, we were playing a Cluster record and a scholarly looking older man stepped up to the counter and listened intently for some time. When the side ended, he asked me, "Are there other records like this?" He then introduced himself as Dr. Leo Zeff, an Oakland psychotherapist. He explained that he used LSD, MDMA aka Adam, and other psychoactive drugs and music in his practice. We put our heads together and came up with a healthy stack of LPs for Dr. Zeff, and he referred many of his patients. Sometimes we had to turn the volume down on Crime or X-Ray Spex when one of Dr. Z’s people was in the store. 

Joan Alderdice & Russ Ketter (with a
Neu! poster made by Mark Hosler)
Photo: Mark Hosler
Stephen Hill had been doing Music from the Hearts of Space on KPFA for two years, and he came in regularly for new sounds. If he played a track on-air, Stephen would often give RRR a plug, resulting in a cascade of requests. His show is still in syndication today.

During my tenure from 1975 to 1980 I was, at various times, the domestic LP buyer, store manager, mail order manager, and the contact person for Bay Alarm whenever the alarm was tripped by some unfortunate pushing against the doors. While I was there, I remember in-stores by the Dictators, Ramones, Dwight Twilley, Tom Petty, Patti, Ian Dury, Blue Oyster Cult, John Cale, Heart, Gasolin', Horslips, Roky Erickson, the Police, Blondie, Billy Idol, Joe Strummer, and others. Incidentally, when Edgar Froese visited, a customer named Phil Lutz (RIP) requested 'White Riot' and then Froese fled. 

Harold [Woodring] was going to Optometry school at Cal and would come in once or twice a week at night to process used records. He and Rick were working when the FBI came, and since I lived two doors up Hearst, he called me and I came in to hassle with the former accounting majors with badges come to confiscate "any and all white jacket bootleg recordings." Since we had the front impact board covered with bootlegs and there was no attempt to hide them, they got very confused. "These are illegal." "Are they?" "Don't play dumb." "I am dumb. That's why I'm waiting for our lawyer and the owners to get here." He got so mad, he could barely get the words out: "You're all going to jail." We didn't. While the Feds were sitting across the street waiting for the vans to cart away the alleged contraband, we hauled thousands of records out the back door and stashed them elsewhere.

Also, in 1975-76 Jonathan [Richman], the Rubinoos, and other Beserkley people spent lots of time in the store. Later, countless Bay Area artists brought their DIY singles to Rather Ripped and we sold most of them on a consignment basis. We sold everything from Crime's "Murder by Guitar" to [Oakland Raiders] Marv Hubbard's "Fullbacks Ain't Supposed to Cry." And we enjoyed talking to Johnny and Frankie just as much as meeting Marv. That was Rather Ripped. Anyone might come walking through those doors at any time. There was a feeling of community on the Northside then. I would have been on my way back to the Rust Belt by Thanksgiving 1975 without the support of Russ, Doug, and the other kind souls who took me in. I hope I will never forget their friendship.

Finally, I want to remember Tony Miles, Gary Phillips, Rick Johnson, Timothy Byrd, and Paul Mendelsohn, who was cruelly murdered in 1991. I also want to remember Mik McDowell, who was a lot of fun to work with and a warm person. I learned so much from all these fine men. May their memories be eternal.

★ ★ ★

RUSS KETTER (Founding Partner)
Recent photo of Russ outside the (now closed)
Rather Ripped store in Pittsburgh
If not for Russ, there would have been no Rather Ripped Records. Using a template based on the favorite record store haunts of his youth, Russ was the mastermind behind a magical haven for vinyl connoisseurs not just in Berkeley but around the world. Now living back in Pittsburgh and not in the best of health, he took the time to answer dozens of my questions via email, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

Q: Where were you born/where did you grow up?
Russ: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'm a South Side kid.

Q: Were you living in Pittsburgh during the late '50s/early '60s?
Russ: Yes! I left for California in '69.

Q: Were you always an avid music fan and record collector?
Russ: My mother was a musician. As a high school senior, she played in a folk group called the Tamburitzans. [Based at Duquesne University, this long-running troupe perpetuates cultural heritage through the performance of music and dance mainly from Eastern Europe.] When she graduated, she was asked to join the college group but demurred as the war was on and she had plans for herself, including baby Russ. I told her later she should have gone to Duquesne as I certainly could have waited! With mom being a guitar player — acoustic, Hawaiian and steel, as well as the Croatian bisernica — I was listening, buying, and following her around on Saturday record collecting trips. She also started taking me to Darlene's record store when I was five years old.

Q: Growing up, who were your favorite bands/singers?
Russ: Pre-rock, it was Johnny Ray and Frankie Laine. My first live show was Jimmy Walker when I was six. He shook my hand as he returned for the encore, and I haven't washed it since. Haha! Later on, it was Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Sinatra... Pittsburgh had KDKA radio for early rock and doo-wop, and at night we could pull in WLS Chicago for blues singers and big bands. I liked a lot of R&B, rockabilly, and pop. I tried my hand at all of them.

Q: What were the first records you bought or asked your parents to buy for you?
Russ: The first record was Johnny Ray's "The Little White Cloud That Cried"/"Cry." It was a two-sided, top-40 hit in the late '50s/early '60s. And there was Bo Diddley's "Mona," and all of Elvis' records...

Q: Did you have a favorite local record store when you were growing up?
Russ: Darlene’s as a teen and Jules Kruspir’s as a college boy. Jules was the manager of the Marcels and other pre-punk garage bands. And I used to hang out at Sam Goody's, a New York City-based record store with a franchise in Pittsburgh. 

Paul Hallaman (left) and Russ Ketter (right)
Photo: Patrick Treadway, 1975
Q: Was Rather Ripped modeled on any of the record stores you used to frequent?
Russ: All the ones I mentioned above, along with the National Record Mart chain.
(A website entry by 70sKid about his memories of Sam Goody's sounds very much like RRR's blueprint: "Sam Goody didn't just stock the most popular stuff like other retailers. The store prided themselves in offering not only one of the most extensive record inventories around, but also a very knowledgeable sales staff. They stocked the largest labels and the smallest, including an impressive selection of foreign imports." (You can read the full story here: Sam Goody – Long Island 70s Kid)

Q: I read a newspaper article that said you were an aspiring songwriter. And that you auditioned for Jules Kruspir and Joe Negri [noted jazz guitarist and a regular guest on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood].
Russ: Both of them gave me a chance to present my songs and singing style. And both of them advised me to "go west, young man." So, I did.

Q: The same newspaper article said you skipped Woodstock to come out to California in 1969. Is that true?
Russ: Yes, I headed to California the same weekend as Woodstock. I went with my first wife, my friend Polly, and my wife's best friend, Sue. When we lost a suitcase in Kansas, my wife's mother told the Kansas Highway Patrol that I was another Charlie Manson. Haha!

Q: Do you regret skipping Woodstock? Couldn't you just come to California the following week?
Russ: No regrets, it was too much fun. And we took our time heading to California. 

Q: Your first port of call was Southern California. What happened when you got there?
Russ: We heard the radio warning us about the air. So, after a quick visit with an old Pittsburgh friend living in Long Beach, we turned the van right at the Pacific Ocean.

Q: Why did you go north?
Russ: There were just as many songwriters in San Francisco as in LA. But there was less wind in my hair, which was down to my shoulders. And there was less dirt in my lungs.

Q: I understand you started out working at Leopold Records in Berkeley. How did that come about?
Russ: If you remember, I came to California with three beautiful ladies. It was very hard to get an apartment at the time, but we told the rental agent that the ladies all had jobs, and I was a writer. For some reason, it worked, and we got an apartment two blocks away from the [Berkeley] campus. Two young men who were doing some clean-up work at the apartment also liked the ladies I was living with. One day, one of them came in and said Leopold's needed someone with a van to pick up records every day and that knowing something about them was a plus. I had the van and plenty of knowledge, so off I went to Leopold's. I met with Jason, the manager, and he hired me. My appreciation of the early Bee Gees helped, as he was a fan.
   I started the next day — filling in the stock, meeting co-workers, and making a trip to San Francisco, where our wholesaler was located. Having worked in a warehouse at one time, it was easy to figure out how the stock was organized. I asked where they hid the overstock, and I found all sorts of albums that no one had ever seen, plus 45s and more. After unloading the records back in Berkeley, I rearranged stock until late that night. It was near midnight when a long-haired fellow knocked on the door. "Do you carry any Roy Harper records?" he asked. A quick look at this gentleman revealed him to be the English troubadour. Luckily, I'd found some Roy Harper records while looking through NorCal's stock that afternoon. So, he was happy that we had his latest release, and I was happy to meet my first rock star. 

Q: Tell me about the Students of Berkeley (SOB) record store and how you became involved with it. 
Russ: SOB was the preamble to starting Rather Ripped. It’s where I laid down the foundation for what RRR would eventually become.

Q: Were SOB and Leopold's connected to each other?
Russ: SOB is the same as Leopold's. Same store. 

Q: Doug said there's a great picture of you with some other SOB guys buck naked, moving records across the street in little red wagons. Please tell me you have a copy of that photo!
Russ: No! There are no photos of nude Rippers!

A Rather Ripped logo with the university's
Campanile Tower in the background
Q: So, how did your tenure at SOB lead to Rather Ripped?
Russ: This is how Richard [Plaster] and I moved out of SOB/Leopold's and began RRR... I had just started working at SOB... SOB was a few law students who created the record store to get lower prices for students at UC Berkeley. While Leo's had a lot of sales, there was very little profit. So, in came the law students of SOB ready to wreck their wills. Besides having to fire the manager, I planned on cleaning up the place. Their version of what needed to be done was slightly different to mine. Okay, it was a lot different! 
   At that point, I called a strike so that SOB could continue making money for the Students of Berkeley. No one would lose their job on account of bad management, including SOB, who knew nil about running a record store. When told I could not go on strike, I let the lawyers know that I came from Pittsburgh and that I was well-versed in strikes. Richard, who was SOB's accountant, would have lost his job as well — he backed me, as did the staff. We reworked the books to make a profit and keep it without firing a bunch of people they knew nothing about. The strike was called off when Richard and I negotiated a three-month deal for the summer, which made me the manager. Richard [remained as] the accountant, sharing it with one of his SOB girlfriends, who was to be "the cop." The three of us became a very sweet management team. And with a great crew of people that I'd hired, we built a bit of a hippie conglomerate.

Q: What happened to make you leave SOB?
Russ: Basically, SOB did not want to pay the incentive pay I'd put in the original contract with them. After a bit of negotiating, Richard and I left SOB with our incentive pay intact. And Sir Richard and I made another deal with the lads at SOB — we gave them all the rights to the four new stores we'd opened, including a bicycle shop, art store, clothing store, and music store, as well as Leopold's. We said "goodbye" to our management team, and Richard and I were unemployed. But now we had some money to employ ourselves again. Onward and upward! 

Q: Was opening a record store in Berkeley your goal, or did it just happen by accident?
Russ: I would say it was an accident of time and place, and the fact that we had a deal to keep for the summer with Leopold's — to make it all work, stabilize Leopold's, get the bonuses. My songwriting got put on hold. Otherwise, who knows? I might be pickin' in a punk band. 

Sting in the center of the crowd at an in-store appearance by the Police
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: Who were the original Rather Ripped partners/staff? Did you bring people from SOB over with you? What were the first days like at the store?
Russ: The original partners were Richard and I from SOB. Additionally, there was Antonio Miles from Pasadena via Pittsburgh, but Miles did not want to be a partner. And there was Joel Webber, who went to Berkeley High; he helped us with adverts and became a super salesclerk. The store's third partner, David Levine from Pittsburgh, followed later, leaving the clothing chain where he had been working. 
   David taught us that good displays bring in new folks every day. Visitors like Max Cooperstein taught us to party. Local prog rockers Joy of Cooking lived and shopped nearby. The Fogerty’s became early customers, and there were tons of students traipsing back and forth across the campus. Plus, David Kuznets, the buyer for UC Berkeley's Music Library, added us to their list of sellers. And believe me, David’s taste was second only to my own musical curiosity
Q: When did you open the original store? 
Russ: April 1971, I think.

Q: Where did the original Rather Ripped stock come from? Were you and Richard selling your own records? Did you have a lot of promos and used records from customers?
Russ: All of the above. I’d been buying records for a long time in Pittsburgh. Having started my collection when I was five years old, I had a lot of variety already at my command. And when I got to Berkeley, I hit all the used stores every day until I got the job at Leopold's, where I got a bunch of promos. We also got $1000 credit from John at NorCal [record wholesalers]. And Rich, David, and I each brought a grand to the party. So, I just added good things that I had never seen before to the store.

Q: I know that Rather Ripped didn't always occupy the corner of Euclid and Hearst. Where was the original store located?
Russ: It was on Euclid Avenue. 

Pynoman & Gloria Balsam in front of an RRR window
display featuring John Seabury's ceramic sculptures.

 Photo: Hugh Brown 
Q: Why did you choose a location on the Northside of the Berkeley campus, away from everything else? 
Russ: We wanted a spot that would get us out of the Southside record store jungle — Moe's, Tower, Sandy's, Leopold's... And the rent was cheaper on the Northside! Richard canvassed the neighborhood before we moved there. He found three barbershops, a very good bookstore, and enough variety so that we fit right in. We bought out the lease on the barbershop in the middle of the block, which gave us decent street visibility. And eventually, we had the corner store — yummy!

Q: What’s the story behind the name of the store? And who came up with it?
Russ: Rich and I had just finished all the carpentry work, and we were relaxing. But our opening day was fast arriving, and the store was still nameless. A few sheets to the wind, in his inimitable Canadian/Brit accent, Rich exclaimed, "Russ, I believe I'm raaawther ripped." I said, "Wow! That's a great name! I'll write it down, and if it still sounds good in the morning, that's our name." It did and it does, and it was and still is.

Q: Were there other possible store names being kicked around besides Rather Ripped? 
Russ: No! We were sold on that one.

Q: Did you ever regret calling it Rather Ripped?
Russ: Nope! Nope! Nope!

Q: What were the names of the two Rather Ripped dogs? It was a question in a newsletter quiz, and no one else knows. 
Russ: The Shepherd was called Pup Pup; he was my dog. He was a stray my sister-in-law brought home one night. Pup and I hit it off right away. Ernie, the Basenji, came to Berkeley with Miles — smart as a whip, both Ernie and Miles! The dogs saved the store from a few robberies in their days.

Q: Apparently, Greil Marcus was one of the store's first customers... 
Russ: Yes, we welcomed this mad rock/sociology teacher from Cal, name of Greil Marcus. And he dragged along a fellow who had to bring his own speed bump for talking — Doug Kroll. By the way, Mr. Marcus, thanks again for that first Christmas gift; I sipped that cognac until March.

Russ with his German Shepherd Pup Pup in 1974
Q: Did you know Greil was writing for Rolling Stone and Creem when he started coming in? 
Russ: Yes, I loved his work and still do. This was the great man who had written the review of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. I'd brought the album with me from Pittsburgh.

Q: Did you and Doug hit it off immediately? 
Russ: Any friend of Greil's, etc. Besides, Doug was an excellent conversationalist and not just about records. 

Q: Was Rather Ripped one of the first stores in the Bay Area to sell used records and let people trade in their unwanted records? 
Russ: Berkeley had a great reputation for having many stores that carried used records and books. With our unique slant on used records, imports, and independent records, we just grew.

Q: Was it one of the first stores to sell cut-outs?
Russ: Cut-outs were the second gift to Ripped from Max Cooperstein. Max was a producer/executive from Chicago. Having worked with Buddy Guy and the rest of the Vanguard label, he'd come to Fantasy Records for a new challenge. One day — this was in the original store/corridor — Max asked if I'd like some Fantasy artists to play a Rather Ripped birthday party. This led to the first Rather Ripped birthday party featuring Alice Stuart, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, and Congress of Wonders at Berkeley’s Longbranch Saloon. The yearly party that Rather Ripped threw for its customers became one of our most popular events of the year.
   Max and the other Berkeley store owners taught me more and more about the ins and outs of the business of running a store. And we uncovered music — as well as cut-outs, the little corridor imported music from Jamaica, India, and France. And of course, we had all the progressive rock and reggae records thanks to Jem and Green Word including Can, Amon Düül, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Aphrodite's Child, Mike Oldfield, Gong… and even my old buddy Roy Harper.

Q: Both you and Doug refer to the original Rather Ripped store as a "corridor." Did the need for more space prompt the move to the corner of Euclid and Hearst?
Russ: Yes, Rather Ripped needed more space. But as with most things in life, there were several reasons that we moved. Sasha, my next-door neighbor from up the street, was renting the former corner drugstore. But it was too large for his store, so he offered half of it to me. 
   The downstairs space was about one-and-a-half times the size of the original store, and the upstairs area doubled our space. And it gave us a performance area for when people played live — we were thinking about [more] Max Cooperstein/Fantasy Records/Rather Ripped birthday parties. That location also had tons of frontage for display; the loud noise we played out the door was right across the street from UC Berkeley; and on game days, you could add 30-40 thousand people. And the rent was cheap!

Flyer for Rather Ripped's 5th birthday party with
the Residents at the Longbranch Saloon - June 7, 1976
(Flyer courtesy of Marc Time)
Q: When did you move the store to the corner of Euclid & Hearst?
Russ: I believe it was in 1972, that's when I met my [second] wife Dale and her sister Emiko. They helped pull out the millions of staples in the floor, along with the earliest RRR staff.

Q: What were the early days like at the corner location? Who was working there?
Russ: We had Doug by then, and he brought in three of his team from San Diego — Jim Gray, Rick Johnson, and Steve Bage — all talented men who entered the Rather Ripped cyclone, which it had become by that point. And there was Greg [Kihn] and Gary [Phillips], from Berserkley. It was a good crew. And I hit the radio advertisement trail real hard. Thanks to Doug's outgoing personality, a great staff, interesting advertising, and the two guitar stars, the store had plenty of business.

Q: Why did you decide to recruit Doug as a partner? How did you think he could help? 
Russ: Mostly, I couldn’t be in two or three places at the same time, and Doug was a great frontman with plenty of energy and ideas.

Q: How was the division of labor split between you and Doug? Did you each have specific job duties?
Russ: Yes and no... 

Q: Was Doug in charge of hiring the sales staff?
Russ: Pretty much. There were some lads and lasses who walked in and stayed over the years. They were the stalwarts. But it was a college town, and some people actually graduated! There was Ron Nelson from Pittsburgh and Polly, who came with me across the country. And Akiko, a young Japanese woman who lived in the apartments across the street. She started out as a Rather Ripped customer and eventually worked for us in sales. Akiko was a good person and a female, which helped give the store some diversity in an age when it didn't happen often enough. And there was Arayah; she was one of the early RRR workers who gave the store plenty of character and charm. "A-Ray-ah sunshine" — she named herself and her style! Other [people] who had been with the original Rather Ripped just burned out.

Q: Did you run help-wanted ads for store staff?
Russ: Sure.

Q: What did the ads say?
Russ: Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Haha!

Following their in-store, Russ shows the Dictators where the bus stop is.
The photographer has no idea why Russ is barefoot.
Photo: Hugh Brown
Q: What did you guys look for when you hired someone to work there? Did they need some specialist knowledge and an obsessive desire to share that knowledge with the public? 
Russ: Yes, obsessive is always good!

Q: You mentioned that Greg Kihn worked at Rather Ripped. What were his qualifications? 
Russ: See above.

Q: You also mentioned Gary Phillips from Earth Quake. What were Greg and Gary like as employees? 
Russ: Both were good, with a slight nod to Gary as he was so good at times, he just slid in smooth as silk.

Q: Was Greg still working at Rather Ripped when he was photographed outside the store for his first album cover?
Russ: Yes!
Q: Was he on his lunch hour during that photo session?
Russ: Who had time for lunch? Top Dog usually did the trick. [Then-located half a block up the hill on Hearst Street, Doug Kroll claims to have eaten "hundreds" of Top Dog hotdogs, "starting in 1970 when I got to Berkeley as a student through my RRR days."]

Q: Is that how your relationship with the Berserkley label started?
Russ: We were [already] friends and helped each other when we could.

Russ Ketter in front of the wall of 45s
Q: I grew up in Fremont, and for a little while, there was a Rather Ripped in the mall near my house. When did you open that store?
Russ: I'm not sure... To celebrate the opening of the Fremont store, we invited several local bands [including] Earth Quake and Greg Kihn to play an outdoor concert. The pavilion between Rather Ripped and Payless was packed with somewhere between a thousand and two thousand people! The police showed up near the end. Unfortunately, we never hit critical mass so that we could stay open.

Q: You also had a sister store in Palo Alto called World's Indoor Records, which closed around the same time as the Fremont store.
Russ: World's Indoor Records was a partnership that failed near Stanford University. There's a long answer to both those stores closing, but they each had interesting and maybe magical events associated with them. By the time we closed the Fremont store, we had pulled off the Patti Smith show as well as the biggest rock concert in Fremont, and we had dissolved the partnership with World's Indoor Records. And by then, the partnership between myself and Doug was just revving up.

Q: Was all this going on at the same time?
Russ: Yes! The more, the madder!

Q: According to a quiz in a Rather Ripped newsletter, there were also two clothing stores connected to RRR that opened and quickly closed. Marc told me about one he thought was called Explicit...
Russ: Yes, that was a short-lived partnership with [performance artist] Frank Moore.

Q: What was the other store?
Russ: The Mechanical Desert. It was a jeans store; David's shot at [selling] new clothes on the Southside. It was a bit too glam... or not.

Q: Was Rather Ripped in trouble financially at that point? Were you on the verge of going bankrupt?
Russ: Contrary to those who think we were either rich or broke, we did a lot of wiggling. We worked from morning to night, actually.

Q: I read a newspaper article that said, "One of the partners helped run the store $60,000 into debt." Is that true?
Russ: Wow! I wish we'd had 60K to lose.

Rather Ripped exterior circa 1978
Photo: Mark Hosler

Q: Patti Smith's first Bay Area performance famously took place in the Rather Ripped loft. How did Patti's association with the store come about?
Russ: Doug called me and asked whether we could bring Patti Smith and her band to Berkeley. Patti was the queen of the East Coast/New York punk scene. And Doug had written to her, inviting the band to play in our neck of the woods. He signed the letter in blood — great idea! Patti's manager, Jane Friedman of Wartoke Concern, a powerhouse publicity company, said she would take care of feeding them if I could house them. This relationship was one of the nicest meetings of the minds and artistry ever. In fact, we also hosted them on a practice tour right before Horses was released on Arista Records.

Q: I understand that the mark-up on new albums was minimal unless you could do volume. Is that why you also did The Dedicated Fool mail order catalog? How important was the mail order side of the business?
Russ: Mail order came as a result of several circumstances. Originally, Richard started doing it as a way to make some spare cash between SOB and RRR. And he continued doing it for as long as he was at RRR as a way to survive, but it wasn't a huge thing. When Rich headed to India, I inherited The Dedicated Fool. At the time, we had a plethora of singles and LPs in backstock, and true to my nervous energy and love of music, I hoped to use [the catalog] to make the store a bit of money and help it grow. 
   The other thing that happened at about that time... Jane Friedman gave Rather Ripped a wonderful plug in Rolling Stone. She said that we had every punk single in captivity — which got us tons of mail. So, naturally, the mail order side grew as it allowed us to reach people all over the world. And eventually, it overtook store sales as we devoted more resources to it. 

Q: You mentioned that Richard went to India. What happened to the store's other partner, David Levine, and your friend Tony Miles? 
Russ: Working in a small struggling biz is a bitch, and at that time, nothing was easy. Both men had to and did find something else to do.

Q: In 1976, Rather Ripped was busted for selling bootlegs. Was it the only record store in the Bay Area selling bootleg albums at that time?
Russ: Aquarius may have carried boots, but I don’t really remember.

Q: Do you know what/who triggered the bust?
Russ: The bust was triggered by a bootlegger who shall remain nameless. But rather than the music inside, it was a photo of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan on the cover that triggered Jim Marshall’s ire. The bootlegger had used the picture without payment, permission, or credit. The famous photographer alerted the FBI, and we alerted the bootlegger, who thought it was silly until the FBI showed up at his door. Oops! Since we were the biggest seller, we were the biggest target. We were the next target after our friend.

RRR staff (and some customers) - Fall 1976
Photo: Richard McCaffrey
Q: I understand you guys were actually trying to legalize the sale of bootlegs.
Russ: Doug and I had just returned from a trip to LA, where we'd met with the manufacturers of the boots. We suggested that we pay royalties to an escrow fund, something the major labels have never been good at — ask Willie Dixon or Little Richard. The people who made the bootlegs agreed. If we had been able to continue down this path, we might have changed the course of bootleg history.
Q: Can you describe the events of that day?
Russ: Here’s an idea of what went down... Doug and I had started selling bootlegs to another record store. They were glad we were setting up an escrow and were quite willing to pay into it. Then the phone rang. It was Paul [Hallaman], one of the Rather Ripped managers. He told us that the FBI were in the store, wanting to confiscate all the bootlegs. I told Paul to tell them to come back when I was there. Of course, that was funny to them, and they said they would wait until we got back.
   When we got back, there were about eight agents with their guns hauling albums to their van while some of our customers took pictures. We sat down with the agents, and they said if we told them who made the bootlegs, we would be exonerated. That gave us a chance to laugh, and they told us to meet them at the San Francisco DA's office. 
   We called our lawyer and told him to meet us there, but he was as useless as ever. He told us not to talk. Fortunately, we didn't listen to him. The DA told the FBI, "I shop at this store. They have a clear sign above these records stating what they are, and they advise customers to buy the regular records by these artists before they even think about the bootlegs. They cite the shady legality, sound quality, and the unsettled feelings of the artists themselves." The DA added, "I have murder, rape, burglary, and all sorts of crime to deal with. This is a corporate case, and I have a good mind to give them back their records." And we worked it while the FBI huffed out. In the meantime, Joel Selvin, the San Francisco Chronicle's music writer, called the honchos at the music corps and warned them that we had worked out a deal and the boots would soon hit the streets. Naturally, the record companies hit the ceiling, but we worked out a way that satisfied everyone.

Q: How did you resolve the issue of selling bootlegs?
Russ: We began a membership club. We sold membership cards to the Rather Ripped Records Fan Club, which entitled you to two "special" live albums, plus discounts to be determined each month. Memberships sold quickly, as did the "special" live albums. And we moved on. We focused our attention on imports, autograph parties, live acts, mail order, and regular business. Things were finally getting a little better in terms of store sales and mail order.

Russ at work in the Pittsburgh store
Q: Reenee mentioned a Rather Ripped party that featured the electronic/prog/popstar Osamu Kitajima. I know that show is something you're very proud of. How did he become involved with the store?
Russ: Around the same time [as the bootleg bust], we got a phone call from the manager of one of our favorite artists, Osamu Kitajima — the Japanese artist who had gone from a Beatles-type popstar to a stunning prog rocker. He mixed Japanese Kabuki-like rhythms with American rock 'n' roll and avant-garde jazz synthesizer sounds to create a totally different masterpiece that got tons of airplay at RRR.
   Turned out that Osamu wanted to play live in America. Also turned out Osamu and his manager knew who had promoted and sold more copies of his record than anyone in America. He asked us if we were interested. Yesiree, we were interested! We got right to work promoting this international show of one of our favorite guys. We thought we could use the loft at the corner store. After all, Patti Smith had done her poetry reading up there, and Sandy Bull had used the loft to introduce his guitar and oud stylings to our audience. Miles and I used to rehearse up there over the years, as did the Rubinoos and Jonathan Richman.       
Q: But that's not where Osamu Kitajima ended up playing.
Russ: The auditorium was Jim Jones' Temple Beautiful, which we got for a special price, thank the Lord. Sound was free courtesy of Richmond Records. Some DJs came to the door and asked to be put on the guestlist. We didn't care who they were, the price was only $2 a person, and everyone paid. All these session musicians from LA paid their own way to the gig just so they could play with Osamu. Prior to that evening, none of these people had been in the same room at the same time. So they were enjoying the music for the first time, as were we. By the second song, the entire stage seemed to float up to the ceiling and into outer space. And as far as I can tell, the astronauts are still looking for it. "Did you put a tape in?" I asked the soundman. "No, did you?" Man, it was a hell of a night!
   One more chapter in the Osamu story... MCA had picked up a small label called Headfirst, a progressive jazz label from Europe that included an album called Masterless Samurai by Osamu and friends. It was getting very little airplay or publicity, so I called MCA and asked about licensing it. Their answer was a bit befuddled, as they didn't even know they owned the rights to it. "We don't have that. That's not ours." I asked him to please double-check, and a few days later, I was informed they did have it. But they still wouldn't license it. Osamu continued to record, and we continued to sell records, and never the twain shall meet.

Flyer for the 8th annual Rather Ripped birthday party at the Keystone in 1979
Q: What was the store’s relationship like with the major labels? 
Russ: To be truthful, we got along with most of them. After all, we helped introduce many of their artists — for instance, Patti with Arista. And we kind of hipped them to the best of imported music, local bands, and indies like Horslips, Heart, and a young David Bowie. And many of their reps were our friends. 

Q: Did they object to your selling used records, cut-outs, and bootlegs? 
Russ: No more than I could object to the ilk they pushed, nor their bad arithmetic for black blues and R&B artists. Maybe LA was different, but the Bay Area has always been about the music.

Q: Was the Rather Ripped slogan, "Where every record is a new release," at the heart of what made the store special?
Russ: Yes! Rather Ripped was different from chain record stores like Tower, and the logos were part of it. Our earlier logo was, "The best little record store you ever saw." And we tried to live up to both of those logos, then and now. 

Q: What did "Where every record is a new release" mean to you personally?
Russ: I think I came up with that, as it's my philosophy about music. When you hear Miles for the first time, or Leonard Cohen, or anybody — you're having a new experience; it's a new release for you. And it's as valid as buying a new record or having a first kiss. It's what separated us from the big boys, who mostly sold whatever advertised newbies the majors were pushing. Under RRR's ideal, your ears are always open to new releases for you. Plus, you can choose from a much bigger field of millions of pieces of music and maybe skate the edges of art, which is important to those who enjoy reaching backwards as well as forwards.

Mark Time during a shift at Rather Ripped
(Photo: Mark Hosler)
Q: Rather Ripped was closely associated with the Residents and Ralph Records. How did that 
relationship come about?
Russ: They walked into our corner store one sunny afternoon carrying roped cubes of 50 used albums each; a range of $5.99-$10.00 discs. It was a very sweet trade-in! 
   They also had this strange album spoofing the Liverpool lads, John, Paul, George and Ringo, made up as crawfish. It was called Meet the Residents, and they wondered if we could sell any copies. We started off with the trade-in for them and the box they had of the crawfish. It being a weekend, that sucker needed a two-box replacement by Monday, and thus a bizarre friendship began. And no, there are no RRR employees inside the Residents' costumes!

Q: What do you remember about the Rather Ripped birthday party that featured the Residents?
Russ: Like most of our shows and parties, it was held at the Longbranch. The Residents and their guest star Snakefinger built a scaffold-laden jungle gym; it was purely improvisational. Meanwhile, the creative best of Berkeley filed in as the afternoon sun snuck through the windows until early evening. When 8pm rolled around, our local openers... I forget their name, but they were good, kept the Ripped and Residents' fans entertained. Faze, who were friends of Tim Byrd and quite a nifty prog band, brought more variety and spice to the proceedings. And that led up to the headliners — the Residents, who mix-mastered the music on tape, with the live craziness of Snakefinger's magic guitar. It was a coup for our customers, friends, the Residents, and Rather Ripped Records.

Q: Little Roger and the Goosebumps were on that bill with the Residents. Is that the band whose name you've forgotten?
Russ: No... Little Roger and the Goosebumps did the infamous "Stairway to Gilligan's Island," which earned them a cease and desist [order] from some Brit band missing its sense of humor. I mean, that Brit band seemed to like Randy California and Willie Dixon pretty well. 
   Okay, here goes... It was my band, the Legendary Poodles, that opened the show. I was the vocalist/guitarist, and the band included Michael Boyd — who later played with Deniece Williams — and two of Michael's students. We covered "Tell Me" by the Stones and played a few of my songs.

Russ Ketter fronting the Legendary Poodles
at the Longbranch Saloon - June 7, 1976
Photo: Richard McCaffrey
Q: Wow! You were in a band that opened for the Residents, and you weren't going to tell me. What do you remember about some of the other RRR shows and parties?
Russ: I’m not sure of the dates, but they were all great models of madness and independence! Going back to the early Max Cooperstein-inspired days... Our first show featured Fantasy [Records] faves Alice Stuart, Congress of Wonders. And either that show or the next one featured the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils and/or ex-New York City policeman and upcoming rock star Eddie Money. We also showcased Greg Kihn and Roky Erickson at our parties. The story goes, Roky, in all his acidic splendor, let Greg know, "I can see your face melting." Haha! Both Greg and Roky survived the solar acid heatwaves and rocked the house. Local bands were always featured, if possible. The Jars were basically Rather Ripped workers and pals. They played our 8th birthday party with Horslips and Boston’s Real Kids.

Q: How did Rather Ripped's friendship with Horslips come about? 
Russ:  We got to know Horslips when they were big enough in Eire and the UK that U2 was often their opener. Despite a series of excellent albums on RCA, Horslips moved to Janus Records — an indie label that was distributed by our friends at ARS. We'd previously helped ARS with Heart's original indie release. 
   One day, Billboard magazine called the store to see how the Horslips' LP was doing. They got Doug on the phone, and he was so eloquent they quoted him in a full-page ad and gave RRR as many tickets as we needed. We went every night and supported them in the face of a hostile Grateful Dead spin-off band. Charles [O'Connor], the smallest member of Horslips, taunted them right back with RRR backing him up when necessary.
   The next time Horslips came to town, Big Barry [Devlin] pulled a switcheroo on Polydor's promo woman. Polydor didn't appreciate RRR; they thought Horslips were "big time" now, and they set up an in-store at Tower. Barry told the promo lady that he would drive because he knew the area better than she did, and he promptly drove to RRR instead of Tower. "These are the guys that promote us," he told her. The store was full of Horslips' fans drinking Irish whiskey and champagne and asking for and receiving autographs. Meanwhile, Ray Farrell pulled me aside. He wondered if he should ask the band if they could or would play our 8th birthday party. But Barry had another surprise left. Just as Ray was starting to ask him, Barry dropped his big mitt on Ray’s shoulder and laughed: "I hope you’re going to let us play your birthday party." They drove straight from LA to Berkeley to headline our party near the end of their tour. And a good time was had by all!

Early RRR staff photo including Pup Pup & Ernie
Q: What was a typical day at the store like for you? Was there such a thing as a "typical day"?
Russ: Lots of school kids, a salesman or two, boys and girls flirting with one another. There were music rumors and bands dropping by with their pieces of eight and/or self-made goodies, like R. Stevie Moore, Negativland, Berlin, Elliott Murphy, Sir Doug [Sahm] with a Roky [Erickson] single called "Two Headed Dog," and so much more.

Q: How did you get any work done with all the noise and chaos?
Russ: Did you ever ski, snowboard or surf? [It was] a lot like that for all of us.

Q: I've heard that one rule of the store was that it was okay to be late if you got laid or if you were hungover. Is that true?
Russ: Like a lot of apocryphal stories, this is probably an urban legend with enough reality to make one laugh... or cry.

Q: Did you have any favorite regular customers? 
Russ: My faves were my metal fans. They were a trio of American Indians from the Tahoe area that hit me up for obscure artists from overseas, like this Aussie group AC/DC, who we glommed onto from knowing their cousin [Easybeats' vocalist] Stevie Wright. They were also into Tygers of Pan Tang and tons of Melody Maker small print guys 'n' gals that we imported, plus obscure US groups like the Good Rats and Stu Daye. Characters!

Q: Was there a "typical" Rather Ripped customer? 
Russ: Typical? Not so much.

Q: Was there any competition between Rather Ripped and Aquarius in San Francisco? 
Russ: There weren't enough cool stores per square inch! Chris [Knab], the owner of Aquarius, and I used to be in the Legendary Poodles, so we complemented each other more than anything else.

Q: Was there any competition between Rather Ripped and the other record stores in Berkeley?
Russ: Kind of like Aquarius, except for those who came before us and lit the candle.

Q: What are your memories of the first Patti Smith in-store? Tell me about the poetry reading from the loft.
Russ: I wasn't there. I was covering the Fremont store.

The Dwight Twilley band (flanked by their manager
and A&R rep) at a 1977 RRR in-store 
Photo: Shelley Pius
Q: What were some of your favorite in-stores? 
Russ: K.C. Douglas, the Dickies, Gasolin', Flamin' Groovies, Ash Ra Temple, Tangerine Dream, Henry Kaiser, the Jars, the Rubinoos... It became more punk rock as time went on. 

Q: Did the in-stores ever get out-of-control crowd wise? I've seen photos of the Police in-store, and it looks like people were squished! 
Russ: Squished but well-mannered. Ray has a great story about the Police in-store! [See Ray Farrell's interview above.]

Q: Did the store shift gears from space-rock to punk when Ray became the manager? 
Russ: It was what the younger fans wanted. It was a natural move. What separated RRR [from other record stores] was that we played everything if it was good. Bismillah Khan was as relevant as Johnny Lydon.

Q: Were you a fan of punk rock? Marc said you once came downstairs, broke a Lydia Lunch record they were playing, and calmly went back upstairs. 
Russ: While sexy and talented, Lydia was definitely an acquired taste. One that I never acquired.

Q: Were there conflicts between you and Ray? Did you actually try to fire Ray?
Russ: Ray is one of my fave people, so I'm not sure where this comes from. Did I do my best to impart knowledge to match his talent? I think so, but you'd have to ask him.

Q: By the end of the '70s, the music industry was going through some big changes. And according to some people, the viability of independent record stores was uncertain. What was the situation like at Rather Ripped?
Russ: About that time, the store was stabilizing with Ray, Paul, Jimmy, the Jars, Timmy, Reenee, Esther, et al. Meanwhile, Doug and I were looking to the future. I leaned into the growth of mail order. And near as I remember, Doug chose to [focus on] a background music service he and [music teacher] Brian McKibben had been working on. However, they found out that one company controlled all copyright licensing, and they wouldn't even talk to us. Fuckheads! And that effectively killed that.  

A Rather Ripped triptych
Photo: Richard McCaffrey 
Q: Was it harder to make a profit by 1980​​​​?​​​ 
Russ: It's always hard, isn't it? There was more competition, higher rent, and other record stores were now selling used records and doing in-stores. But copying is a compliment!

Q: How did your partnership end with Doug?
Russ: That's somewhat complicated and private. Suffice to say, we grew apart as we began to need new challenges. You’ve no doubt noticed that Doug and I didn’t stay in one place for too long. Change happened internally.

Q: Were there problems with the business at that point?
Russ: The mail order [side] had outgrown retail. Meanwhile, the background music service was unable to get past the legal monopoly set up by the record/publishing biz. Plus, our rent and/or purchase [option] was up, and our corner spot had become too expensive. That's where we'd kind of ended up when Doug gave his notice.    
   And we had different ideas about our futures. Doug's was more about finishing school and becoming a lawyer; I wanted to grow the mail order. Knowing that we were moving RRR to full-time mail order, we were both all right as we took our next steps in life. Most of the retail staff did OK, leaving with or around [the same time as] Doug. Most gravitated to other record stores/companies, where their RRR experience helped open doors.

Q: After Doug left, I understand you brought your wife and sister-in-law into the business, and shortly afterward, you moved the store to Oakland.
Russ: Yep, my wife, who helped her first husband, the co-founder of Nervo Stained Glass, resurrect a dying art form and turn it into a million-dollar business. And my sister-in-law, who was a teacher at Washington Children's Center in Oakland. Prog-master Tim Byrd went with us; he eventually ended up working with Bill Graham. And we had Jan, the lovely punk rocker and UK writer. David Levine, an original RRR partner, came to help with some building [projects] and stayed 'til we left the Bay Area. Oh yeah... and they kept me around, too!
   This is the crew that suffered an awful arson fire, a great in-store with Wendy O. and the Plasmatics, and a devastating flood — when we found out that the City of Oakland and the contractor had failed to find a clog in the sewer line and signed it off anyway. We had the worst rains in Oakland's history, a fucked up lawyer, a stubborn city, and the crappiest insurance company. Then, while working late one night to get the store open, I got a call that John Lennon had been murdered. By then, my vocabulary was full of, "OH FUCK!"   

Reprinted with permission of John Seabury
and with thanks to Alex Carlin
Q: When did the original store on Euclid and Hearst close?
Russ: I'm not sure.

Q: Where did the store move to after Oakland? 
Russ: Stockton, Sacramento, Livermore, back to Berkeley, Winston NC, Greenville NC, and Pittsburgh. But we kept the mail order alive and worked with young bands wherever we went. 

Q: Are you still listening to music? Who do you like these days?
Russ: I like a lot of local bands — the Cynics, Meeting of Important People, Zack Keim, Slim Forsythe, the Amazing Russ Quintet... (Watch Russ performing at the Pittsburgh store: The Amazing Russ Quintet/YouTube)

Q: With the Pittsburgh store now closed, how do you fill your time?
Russ: I write, record and produce — having been writing since my pre-teens, I have hundreds of songs or fragments. I sing backup, showcase young bands, and release stuff on my own label. But that's another blog! [Here's a link for more information about the closing of Pittsburgh store: Rather Ripped Records in Brookline closes |

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The Best Little Record Store You Ever Saw...Is Back!
Rather Ripped Records was a legendary shop on the north side of the U.C. Berkeley campus. It was archetypical in its tasteful selection of music, knowledgeable staff and its gravity as a gathering place. Its list of accomplishments – concerts hosted, bands launched – pales in comparison to the far-reaching impact it had on its customers. Ask anyone who shopped there regularly, and they’ll tell you about the records that a staff member pulled out from below the counter and handed over with a "I thought you might like this" recommendation. Records that more often than not became favorites and opened up entire new vistas of music. Rather Ripped wasn’t just a place to buy records, it was a place to hang out and indulge with like-minded fiends. The original shop closed in the early-80s and moved to a warehouse in Oakland, but it never had the lively vibe of the location right across the street from the University. The name lived on as a mail-order business, but there was no more dropping by or hanging out. But Rather Ripped has now returned - to founder Russ Ketter's home town of Pittsburgh, PA. The new RRR is located at 4314 Butler Street in the suburb of Lawrenceville, and it's well-stocked with vinyl, CDs, posters and collectibles. (

Who Booked Patti Smith?
Who in Berkeley knew to book Patti Smith? I don't know--but I'll bet I can guess. The hippest, most ultra-cool record store in Berkeley was Rather Ripped Records, on Hearst and Euclid. It was Northside, relatively far from the turmoil of Southside and Telegraph Avenue. Do you recall the kind of record store where everyone was too cool for words, they knew all the Kinks b-sides by heart, and could tell you the difference between the first and second pressing of Pink Floyd albums by reading the scratchings in the vinyl? Rather Ripped was the model for all of those stores. Part of the Rather Ripped thing was that all the other Berkeley stores--over on Telegraph and Southside--were into hippie stuff, and Rather Ripped was into the British invasion and weird progressive rock. It was a great store, and they would open any record and play it for you if you asked, but their whole thing was that they were wired into the underground mojo. A number of Berkeley musicians regularly worked at Rather Ripped, including some of the Beserkley Records crowd. Within a few years, Beserkley, a local independent label, would release albums by Earthquake, Greg Kihn, Johnathan Richman and others. So seeing that Patti Smith was opening for Earthquake at the Keystone is a hint of the Beserkley/Rather Ripped connection. Rather Ripped had at least enough favors to call in that they could get someone to open on a weeknight at the Keystone. (Rock Archaeology 101.blogspot)

Remembering Rather Ripped Records
I have fond memories of hanging out at Rather Ripped Records. I always gravitated to the Imports section, closest to the door, fascinated that the "shrink-wrap" was never shrunk-wrapped, and was loose, yet protecting those record albums, making them more precious. They had one bin of Folk music, where I first saw Richard and Linda Thompson, and the Morris On album. Beautiful 'bootlegs' too, such as Elvis Costello at the Mocambo and Four Songs from Renaldo And Clara. I also liked they had a 'Rock GODs' section, for those who wanted such things as the Carpenters and Neil Diamond. First place I ever saw and heard of the elusive art-rock legends The Residents, in various garb, not just the big eyeballs in top hat and tuxedo. That is, the first time I ever saw their albums, not themselves, at least that I knew of. Patti Smith gave a signing, maybe even a poetry reading there when she was becoming a household name. One thing for sure, the staff was knowledgeable and passionately loved Rock And Roll music, no matter how new and unusual it was. Someone auditioned a rollicking tune I recognized as an old Celtic march like Scotland The Brave, but for Electric Guitars, Bass and Drums. Right after they took it off, someone complemented "ROCK AND ROLL BAGPIPES!" (Kevin Vance-No Depression)