Crate Diggers Montreal Vendor Spotlight: Ralph Alfonso of BBAM! Gallery
With the third event of its fourth season, Discogs-sponsored record fair and after party, Crate Diggers makes its Canadian debut on June 10th, 2017 in Montreal at Phi Centre! Crate Diggers is the ultimate event for record collectors, vinyl junkies, and music fans. The day begins with a record fair featuring 30+ vendors and 5 of the best Montreal-area DJs, then moves into an all-night after-party, featuring 3 headlining DJs: Egyptian Lover, Rich Medina, and Montreal’s own Lexis!
In anticipation of the initial Crate Diggers Montreal, we chatted with Ralph Alfonso of BBAM! Gallery, who will be selling vinyl during the record fair.
First, please tell us a bit about yourself and BBAM! Gallery.
I’m one of those guys with a long history in Canadian pop culture. In 1977, I ran Canada’s first Punk club, The Crash’n’Burn (Toronto), along with The Diodes (whom I still manage to this day), and I also wrote and took photographs for various magazines such as Bomp!, NY Rocker, Cheap Thrills, Shades and lots more (my photo of The Ramones all smiling was just recently used on a Norton Records Ramones single; prints of my Punk photos are for sale in the gallery).
After Punk, I worked for various labels such as Attic Records (where I signed up Katrina & The Waves), Warner Canada, Capitol Canada, and when I moved from Toronto to Vancouver, I was at Nettwerk Records. While in Vancouver, I started a beatnik Garage Rock Jazz group called Ralph and we had some success and I got to tour and play places like The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Oh yeah, I also started a label, Bongo Beat Records, that featured a lot of cult heroes like Johnny Dowd, Paul Hyde (Payolas), Kevin Kane (Grapes of Wrath), Dave Rave (Teenage Head) and lots more.
I also did a lot of LP cover design.
In 2008, I moved back to Montreal (where I’m from) and started selling at record shows. At first, just CDs from my label and eventually it was all used vinyl. A lot of people were asking if I had a store and eventually my wife, Alison Rogers, and I decided we should open a retail space that would combine everything we love; music, art, books, live performance, etc.
So BBAM! Gallery (A Rock’n’Roll art gallery) opened in 2012 and it is a Pop Art gallery that sells used vinyl, has a big stage for live bands (mostly Funk/Folk/Jazz/some Rock) and even a giant 9 foot by 12 foot screen for movie nights. And we serve coffee (we tried some food in the beginning but it was bringing in the wrong crowd wanting Starbucks type stuff).
In five years, we have grown to being voted #3 Best Art Gallery in Montreal and Top Ten Used Record Store in various online polls.
What was your inspiration for opening BBAM!?
When we lived in Vancouver, we would always drive down to Seattle and hang out. I used to really love the Sub Pop store in the Moore Hotel. It was this funky little space that carried Sub Pop records and also posters and other labels, etc. And we loved the Roq La Rue Gallery there; so those were our inspirations.
We went from looking for a cozy little storefront to a 1200 square foot space in a funky old building in St Henri, which is a cool old neighbourhood where I went to high school, so I kind of came all the way back full circle.
What sets BBAM! apart and makes it unique?
Again, we are an acclaimed art gallery that is bringing in exciting artists from Montreal, New York, Toronto, Florida, and elsewhere (funny enough, it has been 90% female painters thus far). At the same time, we are one of the nicest rooms for acoustic music in the city and in terms of vinyl, we can’t and don’t really compete with the big boys so we’re known more as the place where you could find the hard-to-find; especially for Jazz and Reggae. DJs love the store cause everything is curated and has notes wherever possible, plus we are super anal about condition. Everything is in a plastic sleeve and there are no price stickers on the jacket itself. I am always going to shows and always on the lookout for cool and obscure stuff. Singles have started to really sell for us, so I’m starting to curate that section to make things easier to find (I even have a WTF section). We also dedicate space to local comics publishers and local artisans and even original B-movie posters from the Cinepix archives (defunct 60s movie distributor).
What do you enjoy most about running your store?
You just never know what’s going to happen; who’s going to walk in, what crazy stuff our gallery cat, Vinnie, is gonna do. When someone digs and finds a great record or when someone falls in love with a painting; we share in the joy cause we’re collectors ourselves and we know that thrill.
Do you use Discogs? If so, which site features do you use?
What’s in your personal record collection?
I am all over the map. It grew as I grew; from 60s British Rock to Garage Rock to 70s Punk, Reggae, and Power Pop to Jazz and then I really got into Lounge as an offshoot, mostly because of the covers (I am also a graphic designer). If it’s cool, I’m on it.
What type of stuff will you have on offer at Crate Diggers? Is there anything you’ll be digging for for yourself?
I will be heavy on Jazz, Reggae, International, Punk, New Wave, and lots of newish sealed stuff plus a good selection of singles (I am having a lot of success with themed bags of singles i.e. 10 “crooner” singles for a buck). I’m always looking for Chris Connor LPs on Bethlehem, Françoise Hardy, Cal Tjader on Fantasy, neat international stuff, and stuff I can use in the store.
Crate Diggers Montreal 2017, presented by Discogs, takes place on June 10th, 2017 at Phi Centre. The epic FREE event begins with a record fair at noon, featuring 30+ vendors and 5 local DJs. The After Party goes from 10 PM until 3 AM and features live DJ sets by Egyptian Lover, Rich Medina, and Lexis. See you there!
Want to be a vendor at Crate Diggers Montreal? There’s still a few slots left! Sign up here