Some people keep their record collections in crates or cardboard boxes. Rod Branham needs an entire garage to house his vinyl catalog.
Branham, a longtime resident of Chelsea, has been collecting records since the 1970s. When he's not fulfilling his duties to Sylvan Township as township treasurer, he travels around the state "picking" through estate sales and personal collections, on the prowl for rare discs by obscure bands like The Kegs and The Phantom 5.
"I've always been into music," he said. "As a kid, I spent every nickel of my allowance on records. I would go to bed with Pink Floyd blasting in my ears."
In 1970s, a friend of Branham introduced him to the world of record collecting.
"My first record show was in 1978 in Ann Arbor. The hall was packed with dealers displaying stacks of records to buy or sell," he said. "I took one look and thought, 'I can do this.'"
Branham took over the show along with Dan Mulholland, Ann Arbor's ubiquitous frontman for the rock band, The Watusies, in 1986. Two years later he was flying solo, attending shows in Austin, New York, and Chicago, acquiring more and more vintage records.
"By the time I sold my collection, I had more than 700,000 records," he said.
Profits from the sale helped Branham raise enough capital to finance his second dream of owning a bar.
"In hindsight, it was the single worst decision I ever made," he said.
Getting back in the game
Eight years ago Branham decided to sell the bar in favor of returning to his lifelong passion of collecting.
"It didn't take me long to start building up my inventory again," he said. "I'm known for paying a fair price for rare records."
The result is a garage and basement full of vinyl, including one of Michigan artist Bob Seger's first recordings, "The Battle of the Yellow Beret." The record was banned on radio station's for inciting protest against the Vietnam War.
"My idea of rare is different from other people's ideas," he said. "A lot of times someone will call me up to look through their collection, and they are surprised when I tell them that most of it is junk — it's just not worth anything."
While some people might think "picking" is easy due to the popularity of realty TV shows, Branham said 90 percent of what he finds is often donated to Goodwill.
"It takes years and years of skill. You have to go in knowing what your looking for and armed with the knowledge of what its worth," he said.
"Just because you can't find an album doesn't make it rare. Also, there surely is a difference between an album that has a pressing limited to 100 and one limited to 2,000," he said.
Every so often Branham stumbles onto a gem. While attending a record show at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, an album by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Boys, the precursor to The Beatles, sold for $3,500.
"I sold the album and paid for my vacation in Hawaii," he laughed.
Selling vinyl in a digital world
While vinyl records still make up less than one percent of total album sales, Branham insists the market for collectors is growing.
"I don't have any plans to stop collecting," he said. "I might not drive as far as I used to unless I know I can get a return on the investment, but I don't foresee giving up the hobby completely."
Branham even revitalized his record shows in Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids, and sells albums via his online company Rerun Records.
"The Ann Arbor show is by far the best attended," he said. "There's something neat about walking into a room full of people who share a common interest and stumbling on some of music's greatest treasures."