A few weeks ago, Terry Cole brought a cooler full of records into Missoula’s Ear Candy Music. He had driven all the way from Middletown, Ohio, in his Honda hatchback to peddle his wares: 2,000 45s produced through his record label, Colemine Records, which deals mostly in soul music. The door-to-door sales tactic led him to Nashville and Memphis, down into Texas, through the Southwest desert and up the West Coast before he arrived in Missoula. He bought dry ice at each stop along the way to keep the two 120-quart coolers at a temperature that almost guaranteed the records wouldn’t warp. “Phoenix was scary,” he says. “I woke up at night sure that my records were melting, thinking, ‘Shit! Shit!’
Colemine Records started as a ruse. In the late 1990s, when Cole was an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, he joined a funk-jam-hip-hop group called Soundscape. (“Terrible name for a band,” he concedes.) The group put out a record and Cole slapped the made-up label “Colemine” on it. “I wanted people to think that we were signed,” he says. A Tokyo record label licensed the album and Cole recalls being surprised that he could actually make money off a record this way. He started another band called the Jive Turkeys, who cut Colemine’s first official 45. Producer Tommy Brenneck, who once played as the guitarist for Sharon Jones and the Daptones, connected Cole with the afro-funk group Ikebe Shakedown and Los Sospechos for whom Colemine released a soundtrack for the indie film Postales. Since the label’s official inception in 2007, Cole’s put out 28 45s and a few full-length records from independent soul and funk bands like the Monophonics and the Dojo Cuts.
“I don’t want to recreate Motown,” Cole says. “We definitely emulate it, though. Every record we release has that old-school production style to it, but we’re still trying to be progressive and push that sound forward.”
Even before Colemine, Cole was no stranger to records and especially not to 45s. His father has been a collector of R&B and doo-wop recordings since Cole was a little kid. As the youngest of three children in a working class family, Cole didn’t have the means to get into college. So he and his dad decided to hock records—78s, not the 45s—on Ebay to get the funds.
“I didn’t give a shit about 78s, my dad didn’t give a a shit about 78s, so we started buying 78s and selling them from when I was a freshman in high school through my sophomore year in college.”
Meanwhile, Cole pawed through the records and got hooked on R&B, soul and blue note jazz. It wasn’t hard to find the music living so close to Cincinnati, the home of King Records, which launched James Brown.
“You can’t throw your fist around at a garage sale and not hit some King Record 45s,” he says.
Cole admits that until his cross-country quest, he wasn’t very good at promoting Colemine’s records. But as a botany and zoology high school teacher, he has time in the summer to spare. Before his trip, he produced a Colemine compilation featuring songs from all of the label’s albums and hit the road in early June. He called up some shops to let them know he was coming, and he stopped by others on a whim.
For the most part, he says, he has had great success—though he did have to backtrack from Spokane to Walla Walla when he left one of his coolers at a record store called Hot Poop. He says the stores, including Ear Candy, have been receptive and he has gotten all of them—with the exception of one Texas shop—to commit to carrying his records for a trial run. Some store owners have befriended him, taking him out for breakfast or a beer. Mostly, he’s just met other record nerds like himself interested in talking about music.
“Nobody goes 9,000 miles in a car and talks to 50 or 60 shops individually and gets to know them,” he says. “For the [Colemine] artists, I’ll get that fucking bottom line. Your record will be in the shop and they will probably like it. And for the record stores, if nothing else, they’ll remember the dirty long-haired teacher who came in and talked with them about soul music.”