Vinyl Talk: A Conversation with Bluestreak Records’ Tim Haines

Since 1989 Tim Haines has been running Bluestreak Records in downtown Peterborough, ON. (photograph by Samantha Moss)

In 1989 Bobby McFerrin won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year with Don’t Worry, Be Happy and George Michael took the statue home for best album for Faith.  Madonna was raising eyebrows with her controversial Like a Prayer video, Prince was doing the Batdance, Public Enemy told you to Fight the Power and The B-52’s were going on down to the Love Shack.  Guns n’ Roses and The New Kids on the Block were riding high as the biggest bands in North America, and Millie Vanilli was climbing to the top of the charts and they didn’t even have to sing a note. 

With this as the musical backdrop a local institution was born when Tim Haines opened the doors to Bluestreak Records in Peterborough, Ontario.  It was a risky move.  Competing against three larger established record stores in the downtown core, Bluestreak was conceived in a small hole of a space which could barely fit six customers comfortably, located in a back alley off of Hunter Street. Meanwhile, with technology continuing to change, the once mighty record was being replaced by the sleeker and cheaper to make CD.  But to a fourteen year old Sam Tweedle, with the money he earned from his after school job at McDonalds tightly held in his fist, there was an authentic rock n’ roll coolness to Bluestreak Records.  Down a rickety set of stairs with the sounds of rockabilly or blues music coming from the speakers, it was  a secret place far away from the malls and off of the beaten path where I could find cheap used Doors and Jimi Hendrix tapes, and discover something far beyond what the mainstream radio station was broadcasting. 

“I was twenty three, and I spent most of my time going into record stores,” tells Tim about opening the shop.  “Almost immediately, the first moment I went into one as a kid, I thought owning a record store would be the coolest thing.  Of course, for years and years CDs were my biggest seller but I opened a record store to have a record store.  I don’t know if anyone who ever opened a record store really loved CDs.  I remember the accountant I used for a while said ‘You sell more CDs than records, but all your marketing is for the records.  You put your CD’s up on the walls, but your records get everything.’  I said, ‘Yeah.  I opened a record store.  I didn’t open a CD store that has some records.’  It wasn’t about making money on records.  I mean, I opened it in 1989 which was the last year they made records.”

Tim Haines opened Bluestreak Record over thirty years ago, and Sam Tweedle has been shopping there nearly as long. (photograph by Samantha Moss)

Now, over three decades later, much has changed but some things remain the same.  Bluestreak Records is still alive, having outlasted all of its larger downtown competitors.  Gone is the back alley hovel, replaced by its large and spacious current home at 394 George St North.  Tim is still sorting records behind the counter, and every pay day I’m still walking through the door with my paycheck in my hand, with the same flutter of excitement in my heart for albums that must be discovered and music that must be bought.  But gone are the days of cassette tapes and compact discs.  Today it’s all about vinyl.  Sweet sweet vinyl.  There is no denying it that I am a vinyl addict, and Tim is my main supplier. Every record store has its own reputation and energy, and the personality of each shop is a reflection on the seller behind the counter.

“I have the reputation of being the easy going record store guy,” Tim admits.  “I remember being younger – I guess this was in the 80’s – and going into the Record Peddler, which was a really cool store in Toronto. This guy comes in and asks the person working if they had the new Depeche Mode twelve inch single, and the employee just looks at him and goes “Fuck off!”  I guess you could do that there.  But I like listening to people talk about their records. Not so much them telling me the entire list of what they own, but more of there is a story that goes along with them.”

Most record collectors can speak fondly of the first record they ever had, but even then the conversation falls into different criteria.  There is the first one you were ever gifted or had handed down to you as a kid, but the really special ones are the albums you went out and bought with your own money.  Growing up as a teen in Northern Ontario, Tim’s record buying options were limited, but he made the most of it.  “My family was American,” Tim reveals.  “I was born in New York City, and then we lived in India, and then moved to Northern Ontario when I was ten or eleven.  I bought my first record at a Bay outlet store.  I’m not sure if it was a physical store, or if it was a portable one.  But they had a record section that was mostly deleted stuff.  Well, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein by Parliament was in there.  I remember looking at it and going ‘Oh man!  A black KISS!’  I bought it because it was on the same label as KISS.  It’s still one of my favorite records of all time.  Now, I would have known what KISS was, so did I have a KISS record before I had a Parliament record?  I can do revisionist history, but I know I’d feel cooler if I said I had a Parliament record first.”

“But when I was a kid, you could read about a bunch of great music, but that doesn’t mean you could listen to them,” Tim continues.  “For anybody growing up in the internet era this is inconceivable.  Today you can check out every single band, plus live recordings and unreleased things on the internet immediately.  But when I was growing up, the only thing that saved me is that I could find old Cream magazines, that had the greatest rock reviews ever, and my parents were pretty hip and they had a Village Voice subscription.  I was reading about Black Flag for years before I ever heard them.  I knew enough of what it was to write their name on my school book, but that doesn’t mean I could find their albums.  You could go to a record store and there would be no Black Flag records.  I had Lou Reed records long before I ever even heard the Velvet Underground.  It’s not like you could go to a record store in any town and you could look at the stack alphabetically and there would be a Velvet Underground album.  Even then, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was not a given.  I guess if you went to Toronto I guess you could.”

With thousands of records coming through his front door every year, you’d assume Tim would be able to curate massive collection.  However, when asked about what he collects Tim reveals that his personal collection is made up of only a few crates.  “I don’t have a collection,” he tells.  “It’s a bit like if you work at a bar you might not drink a lot.  It’s kind of a version of that.  I have five crates of records, and if I get something new I need to find something to get rid of.  Everybody has their own criteria, but for me if I have to look at the back of the record to see what’s on it, I don’t care enough about it to actually own it.  I only keep the records that are deep to me.”

“When I was a kid I met this guy who was a prominent musician who had ten thousand records, but didn’t have them anymore,” Tim continues.  “I said ‘How could you get rid of that many records?’  He said ‘If you think you can’t get it down to five thousand, you can.  If you don’t think you can get it down to two thousand, you can.  If you think you can’t get it down to five hundred, you know what?  You can.’  That always stuck with me.”

So what are the records that Tim does keep?  “You ever notice those record store guys that are asked this question always say the same eight rock records, but then throw in two jazz albums like Coltrane’s Love Supreme or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue to try to look relevant?  For me I’d say Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On and Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power and Fun House.  Those are the three albums that immediately come to mind when I’m asked.”

“Everybody has their own criteria, but for me if I have to look at the back of the record to see what’s on it, I don’t care enough about it to actually own it..” (photograph by Samantha Moss)

Of course, watching what people buy, as well as bring into sell, says a lot about a person and where they are in life.  “Sometimes people sell me stuff, and I know they’re selling it because they’ve had a break up,” Tim says. “For instance, one time this woman came in with every Tom Waits CD and record.  In this city Tom Waits is like the patron saint.  Well, I don’t know why she didn’t throw them out because she was so finished with Tom Waits because I know it was association with a recent ex.”

“The most pessimistic person I ever knew, who had a record store for a very short period of time, said ‘The music you love turns out to be the soundtrack to the nightmare your life turns out to be.’  He didn’t say it dramatically.  He didn’t say it with a drink.  He just said it flat and that that was the fact of life.  I thought that it was the craziest thing.”

Through three decades of continuous changing musical formats and a constant fluctuating music market, Tim has managed to keep Bluestreak running as one of Peterborough’s mains sources for music.  Just as I was looking for something new as a teenager, the kids today are still doing the same with some unexpected results.  “Kids have a wider range of musical taste than they used to,” Tim observes.  “I remember people used to come in and say ‘I like everything except Rap and Country.’  But now they’ll have a Post Malone album, along with a Dolly Parton one.”

“Also, kids love Phil Collins,” Tim states. “They go crazy for him.  They pull out Phil Collins records and say to me ‘Is this really only ten dollars?’  There are some rappers that are out there saying ‘Phil Collins is the sickest shit ever.’ I’ve even heard some kid recently say ‘Hall and Oates is the sickest thing ever.’ You never know.”

In our lives there are some people you just need to trust – your doctor, your lawyer, your mechanic and your record store guy.  That’s why Peterborough has made Bluestreak Records their go to spot for music for two generations.  I know when I wake up in the morning one of my first thoughts is “Where can I buy vinyl today?”  That’s why I’m thankful that Tim, and Bluestreak Records, is always, just a few blocks away. 


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