For people that remember Melrose Avenue in the 1980s and 1990s, Headline Records is a capture of that time when mohawked punkers with spiked wristbands were the in-crowd. For those that don’t remember, the shop is easily the best place in Los Angeles to find punk, garage, ska, and hardcore music and gear. But everyone knows the French guy that is holding the torch for old-school music retail in his legendary Melrose Avenue record store.
Jean-Luc (John) Gaudry was a young man managing a grocery store in France, and approaching his 30s with a mission. “I started to work at 15 years old, and around 30 I wanted to do something very extreme. Music was my passion for a long time, so I decided why not try to live my passion, a record store, and why not in L.A., the capital of punk rock?” he recalls. “I have only one life, let’s do it!”
From years of ordering vinyl, tapes, and ‘zines through the mail from all over the world (yes kids, that’s how we did it back then), John had forged relationships with players in the scene. He also vacationed in Los Angeles in the ‘80s almost every year. “I came out with the guy who introduced me to punk rock. Every day was the same: go to the beach, shower, eat, buy vinyl, see shows. We would sleep in the car around Melrose.” At the time, body piercing, tattoos, blue hair, and Black Flag were the focus of an Afterschool Special, and Melrose was the destination for those fringe lifestyles. “It was a vibrant street. I was told, ‘If you cannot find it in L.A., it doesn’t exist. Especially on Melrose.’”
After a year of planning and paperwork while still in France and without the convenience of the internet, John moved to Los Angeles and opened his first record store in 1995. Sadly, it was in a less-than-viable location on Westwood and Pico. By 1999, he was about to cash out when his friend Dan Clements (from Brooklyn Projects on Melrose) suggested selling records from the back room of the skate shop. “He told me I have to come to Melrose. It’s the only place for this type of store to survive.” There was a sign outside and people had to walk through BP to get to Headline, but in three months, he was making money.
Soon after, Headline moved into a bigger space next door, and John
partnered with another friend, Dave Naze of Chaser Merchandising, a t-shirt printer who was servicing the biggest names in punk like Black Flag, SST, and Face to Face. Headline was now stocking the Chaser tees and fulfilling orders for music and merch all over the world.
Headline, by virtue of John’s love of the music and connections in what is a truly relationship-driven business, became a valuable resource to the music community in Southern California. John is in-the-know, and if you want it, he can get it. “With punk rock, you’re still not necessarily working with big record companies; it’s often with people living their passion out of the basement. It can be difficult to get stock, so you have to know who you’re working with.”
The space was big enough to host concerts, and as a dedicated supporter of local acts, John was providing a stage for up-and-comers. “I’m transferring the VHS tapes to DVD-R. People were crazy at those shows! Diving, bloody noses…” In nine years, Headline produced nearly 500 shows.
Though the space Headline moved to in 2007 can’t double as a live music venue, nothing much else has changed. “You have to be good at what you do,” said John, so while some retail finds itself having to broadly diversify, Headline remains genre-specific. “I know a lot about hardcore. I find out about bands every day, and it’s great! I like other genres, like rockabilly and black metal, but I don’t know it so it’s really hard for me to order stuff.” His deep knowledge of the genre also keeps Headline a place of discovery for customers.
In addition to CDs and DVDs, you can find the requisite patches, buttons, posters, stickers, and other collectibles. Vinyl still has its special place (“You have to take care of it; it’s not like a disposable product.”). In its continued support of indie bands, Headline sells tickets to local punk and hardcore shows at the store.
John is also dedicated to giving back. In addition to collecting donations for the Red Cross, he raised funds for a child with cancer through The Young & Brave. For this, and many other reasons, Headline Records earned the 2015 Best Businesses of Los Angeles Award for Music and DVDs.
On November 13, 2015, Lethal Amounts gallery (1226 W. 7th Street) will host an exhibit of Headline Records concert flyers to celebrate the store’s 20th anniversary.
Shop hours: Every day, 12pm – 8pm
By Deborah Brosseau