|During the seventies and early eighties, Aquarius was the place in San Francisco that consistently filled the demand for the new punk records. Local bands like the Offs and the Nuns would bring by their new singles, the Dead Kennedys met through an ad at the store, and bands like Blondie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Dead Boys, and Elvis Costello would play instore appearances, often with only a 7" under their belts. Later, the B52's, Captain Beefheart, Husker Du, the Minutemen, and the Meat Puppets would also grace the store with appearances. The Residents lived in the neighborhood and would not only play instores, but also create window displays (and one Resident even married Aquarius' first female manager!). Aquarius is mentioned in books such as Escapees, California Hardcore, and The History of San Francisco Rock.
Buying the store in 1975 when it was only a few years old, Butch Bridges and Chris Knab set about creating an entity which would involve itself in much more than just the retail aspect of music appreciation. Butch describes Chris Knab as both "a good catholic boy from Seattle who loved rock & roll" and "the heart and soul of Aquarius". Not only did he and Butch publish a newsletter called the Record Rag, but they sponsored music-themed "Midnight Movies" at the Strand, and Chris had a KSAN radio show called "The Outcast Hour".
It was about this time that Butch was christened "Punkwood Bridges".
It was also at this time that Howie Klein, now president of Sire Records (we think), joined forces with Chris and Butch to form 415 Records. The label's first releases were singles by Pearl Harbour, SVT, the Mutants, and the Readymades, and its first full length vinyl was a compilation of these and other acts.
In 1979, Butch bought Chris' portion of the store, while Chris and Howie continued working on the label. Butch says it was a matter of life and death! "If I hadn't bought the store, it would have died. I couldn't let that happen." He is still the sole proprieter of Aquarius Records and, indeed, vinyl can still and will always be found here. As Butch stated in one memorable radio commercial, "Aquarius Records, where we have all the groovy records in the world."
Since assuming full ownership, Butch has allowed his managers and staff to remain true to the values for which Aquarius has always stood. 3961 24th Street is a small, cozy space staffed with some of the most knowledgeable and friendly music people in SF. There's a lot of product out there, and what we do is sift through everything in order to present our loyal customers with the best in music, be it punk, indierock, experimental, world, jazz, etc., in the forms of recordings, zines, books and instores. Recent artists who have played at the store include: Tall Dwarfs, Mountain Goats, Franklin Bruno, Nothing Painted Blue, Dirty Three, Kathy MacCarty, Refrigerator, Alastair Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, Stinky Puffs, Jad Fair, Bugskull, Sone, the Verlaines, God is My CoPilot, Harvey Sid Fisher, Boredoms-offshoot Omoide Hatoba, Bill Direen, John Davis, Pork Queen, Noggin, and Chris Knox.
Despite the commitment displayed by our loyal and valued customers and by our longterm employees who do it for the love of the place and the music, Aquarius is basically a nonprofit organization. It makes only enough to pay its employees and maintain its stock of today's best records. Due to thousands of dollars in back taxes incurred during the eighties (please note that all taxes incurred during the present manager's stay have been paid promptly), we have organized the first-ever Aquarius benefit. We and the artists who have offered to perform, hope to shed light on the history of Aquarius Records and its continuing role as an unusual, pioneering, smart and wonderful place.
* Reminiscences supplied by Butch Bridges and Bruce Ackley.
Upon taking the helm in
July of 1996, Windy Chien
moved Aquarius Records to the
Mission District and issued the
following press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
STOP THE PRESSES!
AQUARIUS RECORDS IS MOVING!
August 28, 1996
Aquarius Records, the "store
thats old enough to drink,"
is moving during the first week in
September from its college dorm
room in Noe Valley to a far more
palatial location at 1055 Valencia
Street between 21st & 22nd
Streets. The new Mission district
spot is the store's fourth address
in its twenty- six year history,
following 13 years in Noe Valley
and another 13 years at two
separate Castro locations (one of
which was beside Harvey Milk's
The move comes hot on the
heels of another significant
milestone for the store -- its
recent acquisition by former
Aquarius employee Windy Chien.
Ms. Chien has worked at the store
for the last six years, managing
it for the last two and a half.
"We've always 'brought the
music to the people,'" says
Chien earnestly, "so, since
the bulk of our customers live in
the Mission, we decided to move a
little closer." The Valencia
Street store is twice the size of
its 24th Street predecessor,
enjoying higher ceilings and more
light, but still maintaining the
"come by and kibitz"-type cozy
atmosphere shared with the old spot.
The new store also features a
listening station, where customers
can listen to Aquarius favorites,
a stage for in-store performances,
and completely expanded stock
selection, with quality releases
spanning such genres as black
international, and Americana, not
to mention the store's longtime
specialties: indie rock, noise and
punk, underground music from Japan
and New Zealand, and lots of good
ol' fashioned vinyl records.
Aquarius Records has achieved
first world renown, with recent
appearances in Rolling Stone,
Spin, and The Wire, and an email/
mail-order list started one year
ago that now boasts over 600
subscribers (email email@example.com
to subscribe). A website, designed
and programmed by Chien herself
(DIY, baby!) will be launched
sometime in October.
Aquarius has made a commitment
for well over two decades in
providing the community with
quality music outside of
conventional realms, having
nurtured the punk scene from day
one with singles from local punk
bands the Nuns and the Offs and
in-stores from such at-the-time
fledgling artists as Elvis
Costello, Blondie, Talking Heads,
the Ramones, and the Dead Boys.
Jello Biafra and Klaus Flouride
met and formed the Dead Kennedys
from the Aquarius bulletin board.
The Residents were not only
neighbors and in-store faves with
Aquarius, but they'd also create
window displays! Other in-stores
have included Husker Du, Captain
Beefheart, the B-52's and, in
recent years, Neutral Milk Hotel,
New Zealand legends Tall Dwarfs,
and The Dirty Three (from
Australia). Acoustic phenomena
the Mountain Goats will play an
in-store performance on September
20, 1996. Come by, say hello and
warm the house a little.