Jonny Benavidez was on the cusp of his teenage years when his grandparents gave him a record player for Christmas. Benavidez’s grandfather told the future singer to grab a box out of the garage filled with 45s, including a mix of Fats Domino, Motown and doo-wop. A 1962 song from Detroit band The Volumes, “I Love You,” that Benavidez found in that collection remains one of his favorites.
The 45 single, believe it or not, hasn’t disappeared. Much has been said about the resurgence of vinyl sales in recent years, but the format never went away. New seven-inch vinyl single releases remained on the market, particularly amongst indie artists and labels, even as streaming services were on the rise. Vintage 45s remained popular amongst collectors and DJs, especially those who focus on music made prior to the advent of the 12” single, like soul.
For Benavidez, releasing music on 45-rpm vinyl is a “thrill,” he says, because that’s the format that launched his own fascination with styles like doo-wop and soul that would go on to inform his own work.
“I still know that this music is very underground,” says Benavidez, who grew up primarily in San Diego and now lives in New York. “If we were talking about 1965, it would be the talk of the town, but obviously it’s changed a lot since then — music tastes, people listening to a song for 30 seconds and figuring out they don’t like the intro, so they’re not going to listen to the whole thing.”
And you can see the latest stars on 45 even now.
Benavidez, whose latest sides “Somebody Cares” and “Slow Down Girl,” are released via a collaboration between Finnish label Timmion Records and local imprint Penrose, is slated to make a guest appearance at The Observatory in Santa Ana on February 14. The occasion is Penrose’s Valentine’s Day Record Release Showcase, which will feature performances from the Riverside-based label’s recording artists The Altons, Los Yesterdays and Vicky Tafoya.
The event is also an opportunity for fans to pick up the latest 45s from the artists on the bill, as well as a new single from Thee Sacred Souls, prior to their February 24 street date.
Artists like Benavidez specialize in music that channels classic soul — some call it “souldies” — and releasing the music as 45s is an important component in reaching their audience. “It seems to be the most popular format in that scene right now,” says Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann of The Dap-Kings), who founded Penrose Records, which focuses on Southern California artists.
“People who love old Marvin Gaye records or something are probably going to play 45s,” says Roth. “It’s the preferred format.”
Although Penrose itself is only a few years old, it’s a subsidiary of long-running Daptone Records, which Roth co-founded, so the team has a lot of experience in the vinyl game.
“It’s getting easier and easier to sell,” says Roth of vinyl. “Manufacturing vinyl is the same challenge as manufacturing anything right now with inflation, shortages, shipping and stuff. Turnaround times tend to be long because the demand for vinyl is growing faster than the supply.”
There are plenty of reasons why fans prefer vinyl. “They like the physical aspect of having music in your hand,” says Adriana Flores of the Maywood-based The Altons via Zoom prior to a gig in Arizona. “It’s different than just streaming. You actually have the physical disc in your hand and that means something.”
Of course, the music isn’t just for people who own turntables. It’s available on digital platforms as well and has crossed over into social media. In fact, Los Yesterdays had success on TikTok with the previous single “Nobody’s Clown.” The song’s video, starring El Triste the Internet-famous “saddest puppet in Los Angeles,” has also racked up close to 8.5 million views on YouTube since its release two years ago.
While the music harkens back to the 1960s, its appeal is cross-generational. Gabriel Rowland of Los Yesterdays notes that both his band’s music and that from the scene, in general, have become popular with his teenage daughter’s social circle. “They’re finding the old school, lowrider rare stuff pretty easy these days,” he says.
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Los Yesterdays singer Vic Benavides noticed the popularity of vinyl amongst younger listeners while dropping off copies of “Nobody’s Clown” at record stores. “In discussions with all these record store owners, we noticed that there were a lot of young folks in there, I’m talking anywhere from 10 to 17 years old, in these record stores,” he recalls.
The cross-generational crowd is most visible at shows, says Roth. “You see old heads, but you also see now a lot of young cats, people in their 20s and younger,” he says. “I think it spans generations, which makes it kind of exciting. We have some great young artists and they’ve been coming out to the shows and young people buying vinyl now too, which is cool.”
And while the specifics of the popularity of 45s may vary from fan to fan, it really boils down to one thing. “People just dig what they dig,” says Roth. “You’re really not gonna find a better answer than people dig it.”