Al Farleigh at Big Al's Record Barn last year. Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly
Longtime record store owner Al Farleigh, owner of Big Al’s Record Barn, passed away this week due to complications from tonsil cancer.
Farleigh, who would have turned 81 on May 2, passed away Wednesday at Santa Clara’s O’connor Hospital, according to his only son, Will Farleigh. He leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Diane Farleigh.
Big Al’s Record Barn (profiled in a Metro cover story last year) was a staple for collectors and music fans across the Bay Area and a fixture on Bascom Avenue.
“He loved music, my dad loved to dance and he loved to talk,” Will Farleigh says.
For music fans who prefer vinyl over other formats, the shop is hallowed ground—a place to spend an afternoon digging through stacks of records for hard-to-find recordings.
“It’s certainly the single largest room of vinyl in San Jose,” local collector Allen “Overflo” Johnson, founder of Birthwrite Records, told us in 2013. “There’s something special within those walls that shields me from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and encapsulates me within the days of old.”
“Al’s shop is decked out in LPs, 45’s, vintage album covers, retro concert posters, dusty bins, dated price tags, grumpy old men and a parrot. My most rewarding moments there are when I’ve scoured dozens of bins, spent a few hours, and suddenly I place my needle on some obscure soul 45 I had never encountered. Score!”
In addition to being a regular stop for collectors, Al’s Record Barn played host to a number of noteworthy customers, including Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, family friend Neil Young, Peggy Lee, and 80s hardcore band Black Flack, who played the store’s parking lot with Henry Rollins.
“My dad, because he was into construction, built a stage and Black Flag played there,” he said.
Even as the music industry evolved, Big Al’s never strayed from vinyl and survived widespread format changes to tape, CDs and now digital files, only to face the threat of closure last year when the building’s owners put it on the market.
Somehow the Big Al’s stayed open while others failed, even now as Al’s best friend and assistant Joe temporarily runs the shop while the family looks for a buyer.
“There are no more stores like this in the country, and now I’m kind of struggling with what to do with it,” says Will Farleigh. He says he would prefer to sell the store’s inventory of several hundred thousand records in bulk to another record stores or private collectors but he’s also considering other options.
“We would love for someone who owns a record store or a private collector to come in and give my mom a price,” he says. Interested parties can email Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dates for a service are pending, but Will says it will include at least one Al Farleigh favorite: “‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra was his song and he told me forever he wanted that at his funeral.”
Big Al’s Record Barn on online show Vinyl Rewind in 2012: