Ask my 12-year-old son: albums are big these days. The vinyl community, or VC to the cognoscenti, is doing brisk business. New 180-gram records are being released by virtually every band, old and new. In fact, Saturday April 19 is International Record Store Day. Look for new releases and re-releases by a host of artists including REM, the Doors, Nirvana, the Flaming Lips, and Public Enemy. And, be sure to check out the Vinyl Junkies Record Swap Meet held regularly at San Diego’s Casbah; the next one happens on April 5th (see April calendar).
Used vinyl is also a hot commodity. Discs, which range from $1 to $10, put record collecting within the reach of those running on either lunch money or the vapors of the Great Recession. Records also tap into that uber-cool retro craze that always raises its swords against electronic gadgetry. Records today seem quaint, cool, and kitchy all at the same time.
That’s why it’s finally time to honor Mike Millsap, San Diego’s longest-running record slinger, who entered the family business while still a kid in the 1950s. Today, Tasha’s Music City is San Diego’s oldest record store, making the Millsap family an integral part of San Diego’s rock ‘n’ roll history.
Mike’s parents, Danny and Alta Millsap, settled in San Diego at the close of World War II and quickly applied their entrepreneurial spirit and indefatigable work ethic. In the 1940s, they bought acreage on Mount Helix while running a flower shop at 1853 5th Avenue, the current location of the Tasha’s Music City. The entire family lived in a flat behind the shop. And, that’s where Mike was raised although the family often stayed at their East County property on weekends.
Then, in the late ’50s, Mike’s parents became partners in Lloyd’s Music City, located at the foot of West Broadway. This was prime real estate because the tourists and sailors virtually walked off the ships and into the store. “If a Greek ship was coming in, Dad would stock up on Paul Anka. He was always aware what the customer was going to want.”
Lloyd’s was more than just a record store. There was also a dance studio and a gym, giving it an atmosphere of a post-war department store, with people going in and out all day long. “I swept the floors, polished the dance floor, and catalogued the records,” Mike reminisces. By the 1960s, the Millsaps bought out Lloyd Baker, became full owners, and changed the store’s name to Tasha’s, in remembrance of the family dog. The store was also forced to move east up Broadway as downtown development consumed the waterfront. From the mid-’60s through the ’80s, Tasha’s Music City would be located across the street from Horton Plaza.
In addition to running the record store, the Millsaps continued to own the old flower shop as well as promote local boxing and professional wrestling at the old downtown Coliseum. They also promoted some local musical acts. When local promoters were approached about putting on a concert by an obscure band from Liverpool, England, “Dad was one of the first to say ‘no’ to the Beatles before their first American tour,” Mike says.
If the Millsaps missed the chance to promote the Beatles, they didn’t pass up the next opportunity. “Mom always loved music,” Mike remembers. Soon, Alta Millsap was managing teenager Rosie Hamlin, who wrote and recorded “Angel Baby” a couple of years before. “Mom would fly with her to shows like the ones hosted by Alan Freed. I even drove her up to a show in East L.A.” The Millsaps went so far as to start Cal-Globe Records in order to promote Rosie & the Originals as well as another act, Angie Kay & the Keys.
At this same time, Mike began his own musical career, joining a couple of bands from Golden Hill: The Change Links and the B Street Train Blues Band. Playing a rocking mix of James Brown, the Yardbirds, and BB King, these two bands played house parties throughout 1966 while booking occasional gigs at the Palace off Pacific Highway and El Cajon’s Hi Ho Club. “Dad was distributing records to the Palace’s record shop. So, I had an in.” Mike soon made friends with Greg Willis, Iron Butterfly’s first bass player. Through Greg, Mike met Jerry Raney, Jack Butler, and Mike Berneathy and the quintet formed San Diego’s legendary band Glory.
By the mid-’70s, Mike’s musical aspirations faded. So, he turned back to the family business. Now, it was his turn to run Tasha’s. The new location across from Horton Plaza was turning into prime real estate. As a result, Tasha’s was humming non-stop from morning till night. To handle the brimming business, Mike hired local music stalwart Gary Ràchac to co-manage the store throughout the ’80s.
Unfortunately the LP record’s heyday was giving way to CDs and walkman radios. By the 1990s, the record industry went flat. Coupled by further redevelopment downtown, the Millsaps were forced to move again. This time, the family retreated to where they began, at 1853 5th Avenue.
It’s here that Tasha’s survived vinyl’s Dark Ages. With today’s vinyl Renaissance, Tasha’s is poised to return to its glory years. While other stores specialize in used records with a wall of new 180-gram albums, Tasha’s carries mostly new old stock from the store’s heyday of 1960 to 1990. “Once someone came in and bought a ton of ’80s metal. Then, someone else will buy up the classic country.” It’s a time-capsule moment to walk into a store to see first pressings from 50 years ago still in the cellophane.
Tasha’s Music City
1853 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101