For an entire generation of Louisvillians, a record store called ear X-tacy, founded by John Timmons in 1985, was more than a record store. Ten years after ear X-tacy closed on Halloween 2011, people still talk about it like a beloved friend. It’s not uncommon to see the iconic ear X-tacy bumper stickers around Louisville, even now.


This is the story of ear X-tacy as told through the voices of the people who made it happen, of the people whose rise was helped by it and of the people who discovered music because of it.


As late as September 2010, Rolling Stone magazine listed ear X-tacy as one of the top three record stores in the United States, calling it “arguably Louisville’s second-greatest tourist attraction after the Kentucky Derby.” Little more than a year after that ranking, the store was gone for good.


What follows has been lightly edited for clarity.

By Eric Burnette

Part I:


“This Place Is So Cool.”

John Timmons (founder and erstwhile owner of ear X-tacy): I remember the first time I actually went into a real record store, like: “Wowww, this is all they do?” And ever since that point, I always thought about working in a record store. After high school, I was working at a record store. Going to college, I was working at a record store.


Benny Clark (musician, including lead singer of Graffiti and guitarist of Elliott; ear X-tacy employee from 1996 to 2011): I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Phoenix Records. That’s where John worked. I think they sold waterbeds. A record store with a waterbed [laughs].


Timmons: They had a store on Dixie Highway and one on Preston Highway. I worked on Preston Highway for, oh, it was at least three years until they went out of business. For a couple of years, I was selling records out of my apartment and started a mail-order catalog. On weekends I was traveling around the Midwest doing record-collector shows every weekend. There was a circuit I would do. I sold bootlegs for a while. 

After a couple of years of having people come over to my apartment at all hours of the day and night, I decided that I was going to move all my records out of my living room and put ’em in a store somewhere. 


Timmons grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, with an AM radio under his pillow. In grade school, he began buying 45s and 12-inch vinyl records, starting with the Monkees’ first album. When he was in high school, his family moved back to Evansville, Indiana. He spent most of his money at Karma Records, which was based out of Indianapolis. Timmons, unhappily trying to finish college in Arizona, received a job offer from Karma to open the company’s first store in Louisville, bringing him to town in 1976. Then came Vine Records, followed by Phoenix, until it went out of business. “And so here I was without a job in a record store and (there) wasn’t any place I really wanted to work,” he says. 


Timmons opened his first brick-and-mortar location on Poplar Level Road in 1985. The store was only there for six months. The building was later demolished to make way for an on-ramp to the Watterson Expressway.


Mike Bucayu (musician, including bassist of the band Kinghorse; ear X-tacy employee from 1985 to 1993): I started going to his shop when it was on Poplar Level. He had a tiny shop there. And he had so many cool records there. Plus, he had records that weren’t readily available to most people. 


Timmons: I tell people a lot of times that I named (the store) after the (British new wave) band XTC, which is partially true. 


Bucayu: I knew he was a big XTC fan. And I was a huge XTC fan. 


Timmons: The original name of the store was going to be “ear XTC,” but I was afraid the band was going to sue me. Every idea I had, I stole from somewhere. (Including the “Keep Louisville Weird” slogan, a version of which he saw in Austin, Texas.) The band Cheap Trick used the typewriter font for their logo, so I typed out “ear X-tacy” with my typewritermy trusty Royal typewriter. Went to the post officethere were no Kinko’s — and used the copy machine and enlarged that logo over and over and over to where it got a little bit distorted. 


Bucayu: If you were a record-collector geek, that’d be the place to go.


ear X-tacy moved to its first Highlands location, next to the Great Escape, in 1986. Timmons kept an ear X-tacy store on Bardstown Road for the next 25 years.


John Timmons: I opened up on Bardstown Road, Derby Day 1986. I took the best parts of every record store I worked in and kinda put it into one store. 


Melanie Pell (employee from 1993 to 1998; indie music buyer): Tiny location.


Timmons: But three times the size of what I had before.


Clark: I was going to buy comic books (at the Great Escape) ’cause I was a huge comic-book collector in elementary school, and then I wandered in next door and was just kind of blown away. Like whoa, seeing a real record store.


Pell: I remember feeling like it was very sensory. Like there was stuff everywhere you looked.


Timmons: We sold posters and anything that had a profit margin to it.


Bucayu: T-shirts, books…


Pell: A wall of cassettes. I don’t know if they had CDs yet in that one. So, it was vinyl and cassettes. And just like stuff all over the walls. I think I went in to buy a Ramones End of the Century cassette.


Frances Zopp (employee from 1992 to 1995): I would spend all my babysitting money there.


Sean Bailey (employee from 2003 to 2011): ear X-tacy was the only place in town where I could find picture discs. You don’t see them a whole lot anymore, but it’s basically a record that has a photo-quality image as sort of the — well, as the record itself; you actually play the record as you’re watching the band members spin around on the turntable.


Zopp: My sister was in college, so she’d bring home all these bands that I had never heard of and didn’t hear on the radio, like R.E.M. or XTC. 


Pell: I remember thinking: This place is so cool.

Part II:


“It just felt like everything was right in the world at that time.”

Timmons in his living room at home in July 2020Photo by Eric Burnette.

In 1990, ear X-tacy opened its third incarnation in the space that would eventually become Highland Coffee (which recently closed), next to a Blockbuster Video.


Scott Carney (lead singer of Wax Fang): It was very warm and welcoming and inviting and just kind of felt like you’re in someone’s living room. 


Timmons: That store was just jam-packed. There was as much merchandise below the bins as in the bins. 


Bailey: Record labels had pretty big marketing budgets, so ear X-tacy would get all kinds of posters or T-shirts.


Carney: Covered with music and posters, all these crazy bands I’d never heard of, stuff plastered everywhere. 


Bailey: Sensory overload.


Timmons: There was hardly enough room to get through the aisles. If two people were trying to, it was impossible. 


Pell: If you were standing in the back room and the door swung open, you were looking straight down one of the aisles. And so whoever was standing there browsing was right in the line of sight of the people in the back room. One of the other employees and I would look for cute boys, and we would call this “The Runway.”


JK McKnight (founder of Forecastle): I remember vividly my dad taking me to midnight releases, which was super exciting. We’d get there at midnight, and there’d be this line.


Carney: They had all this cool new music that was coming out at the time, with the Seattle grunge movement.


McKnight: Pearl Jam Vitalogy actually came out on vinyl two weeks before the CD. I remember having (my dad) take me up there at midnight.


Pell: When the first Weezer album came out, we wrote a letter to the guys in the band, and we said, “We’re this record store in Kentucky, and if we can be helpful promoting your record, we think it’s really great. Let us know.” And I still have this somewhere — a handwritten letter from (frontman) Rivers Cuomo: “We can’t believe someone in Kentucky has heard of us!” 

We had this weird friendship with Weezer back in their very early days, where ear X-tacy was their sort of distribution house for their fan club and for people who were looking for their import singles that they couldn’t get anywhere. So in their little handmade Weezer fanzine it would say: “Call Melanie from ear X-tacy if you’re looking for this import single.” 


Dwight Johnson (DJ; ear X-tacy employee from 1991 to 1997 and 2000 to 2008; hip-hop, funk, and soul buyer): We all had our own special specialty.


Pell: I was the indie buyer, so I dealt with the independent record labels, all the independent distributors. I got to be like the indie-rock tastemaker. It was the coolest job I’ve ever had in my life. 


Johnson: The selection was always good — heavy on the indie rock side of things.


Pell: We had people who were jazz experts or classical music experts or hip-hop experts. 


Johnson: I mean, we had a world music buyer back then, and that’s just unheard of anymore.


Pell: Everything was interesting. It was all more interesting than whatever was playing on the radio.


Johnson: John gave me my first-ever buying position. And I was a new kid on the block. He said, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to build up your hip-hop, and I want to build up your funk and soul selections.” And he allowed me to do that.


Timmons: I was able to get some serious music junkies working there. 


Pell: I spent most of my paycheck most weeks on music. If you wanted to buy a record, you would write on the back of your timecard the record and how much it cost. And we got things more or less at cost, maybe cost plus 10 percent — whatever it was. There would be weeks where I would get like a $5 paycheck because I had spent it all on records. Or there would be weeks where I would owe John money.


Bucayu: Yeah, I was able to sometimes get a paycheck by thinking, “Well, I can get it next week.” Or, “I can hold off.” Or, “Do I really need it?” 


Pell: Like, I had to control myself.


Bucayu: I still needed to kind of try to pay my rent.


Pell: I would write on the little stickers that would go on the CDs. I wrote on (one): “This is going to be really good. Buy it, so I don’t have to. Because I can’t afford it.” And yet I still ended up with it. 


Rebecca Mercer (employee from 2001 to 2011; final store manager): It was just a staff of soooooo many different personalities. 


Pell: It’s a group of people who are there because they absolutely love music, and they think about it and talk about it all the time.


Timmons: A lot of musicians.


Bailey: I was deep into the local indie-rock and punk-rock and hardcore scenes. I always loved that some of the members from my favorite bands were often the ones working the registers at the store. People like Jason Noble (longtime ear X-tacy employee, guitarist and singer for Louisville’s influential post-hardcore 1990s band Rodan).


Timmons: They knew they could go on tour and come back and have a job.


Bucayu: John was always really good about us as employees going out on the road or playing shows. I mean, it also brought people to the shop. 


Mercer: They were constantly touring and kind of a pain in the butt to schedule around, but it worked because that’s who we also needed to sell records.


Bailey: There’s just a whole laundry list of talent that ear X-tacy kind of helped harvest.


Bucayu: I think it was a heyday for a lot of people.


Clark: It was a whole identity. 


Johnson: We did a lot of stuff outside work together.


Zopp: We didn’t drink on the job, but the second we left we started drinking.


Bucayu: Deddens was a dive bar (on Bardstown Road, where La Chasse is today) we liked to go to. 


Johnson: That was a big hangout for us.


Pell: Deddens Highland Fling. 


Johnson: It was the smokiest bar that Louisville has ever had.


Pell: You could be about five feet away from the door and just stand there and your clothes would smell like smoke just from being in proximity to the door. So being inside it was completely disgusting. The floor was disgusting. It was like 95-cent draft beer. There were two pinball machines. One was high-speed and it was five balls for a quarter. 


Johnson: It was dark.


Zopp: Like, super dark.


Pell: It was run by this little old woman named Lois Deddens. She’d had polio as a child; it was hard for her to walk, and she probably weighed 75 pounds. She was just this tiny, frail woman. She drank Falls City beer in a can. She was a retired French teacher. She was a passionate Democrat and loved to talk politics. And she was tough. She would kick people out of the bar if they were being rowdy. She would come over and yell at us if we were being too stupid. And we loved her. Loved her. And she loved us. (Lois Deddens died in 2010 at 77.)


Zopp: She was awesome. It was probably the only bar in town with a female proprietor that we would go to. She protected us. She was somebody you could talk to. She was super smart.


Bucayu: Somehow (we were) able to get some music on the jukebox there. I got a bunch of stuff — a bunch of different old country, bluegrass — on there. 


Pell: A really great jukebox that was all 45s. She eventually replaced it with a CD jukebox. We would bring in a bunch of used CDs and Lois would put them on the jukebox.


Brigid Kaelin (songwriter, musician): All my older indie-rock guy friends, that’s where they hung out. 


Pell: It wasn’t a particularly punk-rock-looking group. We weren’t trying to make statements with our hair or clothes. There were a lot of concert T-shirts. There were a lot of frayed cutoffs. It was very much a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of crew. The coolness came from the T-shirt. It wasn’t like faux-hawks or green hair. 


Kaelin: Typical grunge get-up. Shaggy. Baggy jeans, flannel shirt. 


Pell: “Nerdy casual,” I would say.


Zopp: We were probably a little exclusive. We didn’t like when people we didn’t know came to Deddens, and we’d give them the side-eye, which wasn’t very nice of us but that’s what we did.


Pell: I think it closed at 2, and then on the extra-crazy nights we would end up at the Back Door, which closed at 4. 


Bucayu: Outlook Inn would close at 4. We didn’t live on much sleep.


Zopp: I think of all of us as having been part of the music scene, whether or not we played. We went to all the shows. As employees of ear X-tacy, we could usually get into all of the shows. We were always on the guest list, which was very cool. 


Pell: Tewligans (later Cahoots, now Nirvana) was definitely the most memorable and the most classic venue. That was the place for local bands. Kinghorse. Endpoint. Undermine. All of the Louisville punk bands and hardcore bands. And it would get packed. I remember when Fugazi played (I was) standing on a chair and the feeling of sweat dripping down my body. It was so hot in there and disgusting but awesome.


Zopp: What comes out of (Louisville) is built on a kind of community where everybody knows each other. So, on some level, I think that did breed a type of family and community that creative people found each other and were able to make some really cool stuff. 


Johnson: During that time, that’s when ear X-tacy really got its feet under it and started really gaining a lot of popularity. 


Carney: I was always apprehensive to talk to the workers there. Incredible, encyclopedic knowledge of music.


Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket drummer): Part of the charm is sometimes there was the High Fidelity, stereotypical, music-snob aspect to some of the employees that worked there, where you were terrified to ask them questions. 


Jim James (songwriter, lead singer of My Morning Jacket): I was scared shitless I wasn’t cool enough. Very intimidating place at that time.


Timmons: I was always telling the staff, “You gotta realize I’m not paying your check every week — it’s the people coming in the door. So, you want to insult them? I would suggest you not do that.”


Carney: Any time I talked to them, they were always super friendly, super helpful. They never really rubbed it in my face if I didn’t know what something was. When you would bring something up to the counter, and you would get the nod of approval from the clerk — you picked up some obscure record, and he’d be like, “Yeah, man that’s a cool record.” You’d be like, “Yes!”


Timmons: Business was really good then. 


Bailey: It just felt like everything was right in the world at that time.


Johnson: We were selling a fuck-ton of music, which was a blast. 


Timmons: Business was so good that I had to move after (four) years. We moved the store overnight.

Part III:



In 1993, ear X-tacy moved to its most iconic location on Bardstown Road, a building that had most recently been a Pier 1 Imports. ear X-tacy was there for 16 years and is what many people remember as the only ear X-tacy. 


Carney: It’s kind of a weird building. It’s got this weird parking lot at a weird angle.


According to University of Louisville regional history archivist Tom Owen, the building at 1534 Bardstown Road was constructed in the mid-1920s for the Laib Company, a local distributor of mill, mine and plumbing supplies. There was a warehouse in the rear and a display room up front. The building’s history was marked by sometimes years-long vacancies, including in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was next the home for the JuceRich Beverage Co. and then the Cushman Motor Scooter Co., before being subdivided for offices in the 1950s. The building housed insurance offices until it became a Pier 1 in 1988. 


Timmons: It was massive. That space was 10,000 square feet.


Carney: The sheer volume of records that they had at that location was just staggering. 


Matt Anthony (employee from 1999 to 2011, local music consignment manager): It’s hard to even fathom it now. Like, I’ve got a picture; you see it now, your jaw drops. To see that much product in one space just doesn’t happen anymore.


Mercer: Just rows upon rows of music. 


Anthony: Obscure stuff, all over the place.


Mercer: It just felt like its own world in there. 


Timmons: I had more than a few artists tell me that the store had a soul.


Pell: A lot of it was that it came with these really crazy, cool red floors. It would have been cool anyway, but the fact that it had these red floors — I always thought that was just great. Red floors, black (record) bins. 


Carney: I think part of it was architectural, just the design of the building.


Pell: It was almost warehouse-y — exposed pipes, very open, high ceilings. 


McKnight: For someone who loves music, it was like being in Disneyland.


Kaelin: Magic. It had those high ceilings and that staircase that went up to that secret room up top. 


Pell: It had an upstairs, where first it was all T-shirts and…then it became the hip-hop area. You could stand upstairs and see around the store.


Bailey: The windows up front where you could peer out to Bardstown Road while looking at the jazz section.


McKnight: Such a big piece of real estate, Bardstown Road being the main cultural artery.


Zopp: That kind of weirdly intellectual creative spirit of the Highlands. That’s where that came from.


Timmons: We were at the right place at the right time. The industry was in pretty good shape.


Carney: When I went from the stoner crowd to the punk-rock crowd, that’s when we would just start hanging out on Bardstown Road a lot because there wasn’t shit else to do — and so we would go to ear X-tacy. 


Shadwick Wilde (songwriter, lead singer of Quiet Hollers): It gave the sense of being a place that was inviting the music community to come and be in that space. 


Mercer: It just looked like a place you’d want to hang out. 


Bailey: The people who worked there, that was their religion — music was their religion.


Mercer: It looked like people had made it their home over the years. 


McKnight: Stickers all over the place.


Pell: John gave me a little bit of artistic license to make the bins look cool. I went and bought a bunch of different paints — and confetti and googly eyes — and I handmade all of the cards that went in the back of each bin, each row where it said “Pop Rock” or “Oldies” or “Indie Rock.” I made all of those by hand. I got Christmas lights, and we ended up stringing Christmas lights and then hanging big pieces of different colored posterboard, where I spray-painted “Pop Rock” or “Rap” or whatever and hung them from Christmas lights over these big exposed beams and pipes. 


Carney: It definitely was not this clean-cut organized way of decorating that you would associate with the record stores I was familiar with — these corporate, chain-y kinds of places that you would go to in the mall. Essentially like Camelot Music.


Wilde: One of the more exciting things to me about it was the bulletin board where all the local shows would be listed. 


McKnight: It was the honeycomb. 


Anthony: It was a hub like that. Like bands formed there, you know — multiple, multiple bands.


McKnight: I can’t tell you how many times I posted on that damn board. All the time. “Need drummer.”


Kaelin: “Looking for a bass player” ads. So many people found each other through ear X-tacy. 


Anthony: There were rave flyers everywhere and sometimes you’d just use them for decoration because they were so artistic. Everyone was trying to get everyone’s eye because that’s what got people to the party. 


McKnight: As a producer, you always wanted the prime window space. 


Anthony: Before Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — before any of that, your flyer got people to your party. They were little works of art, man.


Kaelin: Those bumper stickers were like, “I’m cool. I’ve been to ear X-tacy.”


Timmons: I hated bumper stickers. 


Kaelin: You got a free bumper sticker when you bought a CD.


Timmons: I had a sales guy that kept coming into the store wanting to sell personalized stuff like pens with your name on ’em or calendars with your name on ’em. He kept coming in, would not take no for an answer. I said, “What’s the cheapest thing you got?” and he goes, “We got these bumper stickers.” So we did a small run of bumper stickers just to get him off my back. 


Bucayu: Accidental marketing — accidental successful marketing.


Kaelin: I remember going to New Zealand when I was in 11th grade maybe, and we saw ear X-tacy bumper stickers there.


Bucayu: I don’t know who started it, but I guess somebody had cut up a sticker — I don’t know if it was “ax yer cat” or something — and put it on their bumper, and all of sudden everybody started doing it. 


Kaelin: People would go in there and collect them, and at school everyone would be making their [drops voice] “show posters.” I went to Atherton at the height of the indie-rock stuff; everybody would be like [drops voice] I’ve got a show this weekend. I do that dumb voice ’cause I’m bitter at the boys who wouldn’t let me into their Cool Club.


Mercer: There were genres that at the time I didn’t even really know existed. 


Clark: Man, (employee) Michael Steiger used to get the longest rockabilly CDs and play them. These like 80-minute CDs [laughs].


Bailey: When I walked in to ask if they were hiring and to get an application, they happened to be playing one of my brother’s bands at the time — Second Story Man.


Clark: The first day I ever worked at ear X-tacy, (then-manager) Billy Sims — I’ll never forget this. He was playing this group called Panasonic — experimental electronic music. And it’s like a bass trip, like DU-DU-DU-DU-DU. It’s crazy insane. I could even hear the music through the front door. I ended up buying that.


Bailey: I just remember going in there (for an interview), not feeling super confident, and just wondering if it was going to turn into like a Q&A session of what section Billie Holiday belongs in and what section Kinghorse belongs in — and there were those questions. It was like a pop quiz.

There was a learning curve big time with working at ear X-tacy, because not only were there artists that had been around for decades that people are coming in asking for on a daily basis, but you also have to be hip to the latest releases and the trends and what people are listening to.


Kaelin: I was always a little nervous and felt a little uncool going to the checkout and getting my jazz CDs. It was always like, “Oh, god, who’s going to be at the counter. I hope it’s a girl.”


Mercer: There weren’t, quite frankly, a lot of women. I think there were maybe four or five total the entire time I worked there. 


Kaelin: The first girl I remember working there was Rebecca Mercer.


Mercer: It wasn’t that we didn’t hire women or that we didn’t try, but people just didn’t apply. Most of the people, at least in my time frame, were in bands that didn’t have female leads or didn’t have women in them. And so you’d hire so-and-so’s friend because they were in the band together. I don’t know, we just never had a lot of females apply. Usually when we did, as long as they interviewed well and knew music and could handle our crazy hours, we’d hire ’em. But we didn’t get too many.


Bailey: It was just a melting pot of all these different fans of various genres. So if you didn’t know the answer to a question, you could go check with our indie-rock guy or you could check with our jazz guy or you could check with our hip-hop guy.


Jaxon Swain (musician, including lead singer of the band Jaxon Swain; ear X-tacy employee from 2008 to 2011): Closing the store down was always a blast. 


Clark: Saturday night it could get kind of wild.


Swain: We’d be turning on whatever music we wanted, no matter how weird or challenging it would have been for everybody. 


Clark: Christmastime was always my favorite because it was so busy and you’re helping people.


Swain: When Michael Jackson died, everybody in the city who had a copy of Thriller on vinyl came in with it, thinking they were going to get a million dollars for it — when really, it’s one of the best-selling records of all time, so really, it’s worth nothing.


Pell: One time, one of the employees stuck his head in the back room and said, “Hey, does anyone know anything about the band Smog? There’s some guy in here who wants to talk about Smog.” I’m like, “Yeah, I love Smog.” It’s this British guy, and I said, “Here’s the Smog album.” And then we started talking and I got him to buy Slint and I got him to buy Built to Spill — he was one of those great customers. I loved when people bought what I was recommending. He ended up buying a big stack of records. Somebody told me it was Gavin (Rossdale) from Bush.


Mercer: (John) spoiled any artist that came in town. If they had a stack of stuff they wanted to buy, he just gave it to them. That was kind of always his thing.


Bailey: I remember Ryan Adams coming in and thinking to myself, Is that really Ryan Adams? Or is that just some dude with dirty hair and a jean jacket that looks like Ryan Adams? And no, I mean, it was him.


Anthony: White Stripes coming to shop there. I mean, Jack and Meg in their red and white outfits coming in digging for records.


Clark: (Rock journalist) David Fricke — that was pretty awesome. He wrote for Rolling Stone. To me that’s a huge deal. 


Anthony: No one anticipated the draw for Tenacious D. 


Timmons: Two fat guys sitting at a table signing autographs and being smartasses. 


Anthony: Jack Black was not Kung Fu Panda, you know? But they had a crazy cult following even back then, and the line went around the parking lot. And people were going CRAZY to get in the store to see Tenacious D.


Timmons: Jack Black was the character in High Fidelity. People were coming, bringing up stuff to the table to have them sign. And this girl brought up a burned CD. He goes, “I’m not going to sign a fucking burned CD!” and he throws it across the store. I felt sorry for the girl, but it was classic. He should’ve worked at the store.


Clark: The singer for the Black Crowes is really tall.


Anthony: Black Keys on their first record. 


Bailey: That was a special moment.


Anthony: I’ve got the very first Black Keys CD signed by the Black Keys at ear X-tacy. It was like half full. 


Bailey: A schoolteacher that was a great customer at ear X-tacy actually brought his class to see the Black Keys. I mean, if I remember correctly, they came in and set up their own equipment and spent a lot of time out in the parking lot smoking cigarettes. 


Anthony: Rob Zombie, super cool. Definitely a nerd.


Bailey: We had such a robust schedule with our in-store performances.


Anthony: Nightly there would be some performance, at least an acoustic guitar. 


Anthony: This is the way to really get to know, interact with the artist. They were very low-key. They might not play any hits. They’re going to do it acoustic. You’re going to get something totally different from the show later that night. This isn’t a rock show with big lights and smoke machines and footage behind you. That’s what you get later on that night. When you came to see a band at ear X-tacy, you were also with people who were way into the band. 


Mercer: We had Del McCoury, a bluegrass musician with a gigantic bus that they would bring and try to park across the street. And I remember just standing in the middle of Bardstown Road trying to direct traffic to get this bus somewhere where it wouldn’t get hit. 


Anthony: I remember people getting pictures of John Mayer.


Timmons: He was selling records out of his car in indie stores before he got signed to Columbia.


Mercer: The thing I remember most, because he signed our wall in the bathroom, is that he fixed our toilet because it was broken.


Clark: The one that stands out is the Foo Fighters.


Mercer: I think that was potentially, with the exception of My Morning Jacket, the biggest.


Clark: The night before, somehow, I got in charge of moving a ton of the CD bins. Oh, I was so tired. We had to move all the CD bins either upstairs or in the back. They came in, they built a stage. It was insane.


Carney: I didn’t get in the building because it was like mayhem trying to get a foot in the door. There were just so many people lined around the block to get in there.


Timmons: Dave Grohl signed off that he cleaned the bathroom, but he did not clean the bathroom.


Clark: This kid just comes up out of the audience, man, and starts like grabbin’ the microphone and just starts rapping, and the drummer starts kicking in. It was insane. 


Timmons: I wish we’d had the foresight to document every in-store performance — a few thousand.


Pell: That was just a beautiful record store. I remember every time I walked into that space, even all the years I worked there, just being like, “Mannnnn, this is such a cool job.”

Anthony: It was Empire Records for real, man.

Part IV:


“I don’t think Jim James looked that much different than he looks now.”

The rise of the biggest rock band to come out of Louisville in recent decades paralleled and, to some extent, was interconnected with the peak of ear X-tacy.


Anthony: Local people would bring me their CDs and most of them sat forever. And no one ever sold anything. But every once in a while, you’ve got Jim James coming to you — some kid, early 20s. 


Swain: I don’t think (Jim) looked that much different than he looks now. 


Anthony: He always looks the same — the mustache and beard. 


Carney: Jim and I went to the same high school (St. X). Probably far back as sophomore year, he was playing, and he had his bands up and running. I had a band at the time. And we would play the St. X battle of the bands.


James: It was amazing. (Carney’s) band Maggie’s Wart did a killer version of “18 and Life” by Skid Row. 


Carney: Neither of our bands (won). 


Hallahan: I believe it was a band called Hedge that won that year.

I could always tell Jim had a natural knack for songwriting — at a young age, you know? I definitely could sense that there was a shift happening in his approach. Whereas I think a lot of the earlier stuff he was writing with other people was a lot heavier. I think after he fell in love with Neil Young, he went down a more singer/songwriter path.


James: I took copies of our first record, The Tennessee Fire, (to ear X-tacy) in person.


Anthony: I put it on and was just floored. I thought it was so original. It was still part of the Louisville scene. The folk, the high lonesome sound of Kentucky. 


Hallahan: He was just excited to be able to put records in a record store, and he was just like, “The owner is super nice.”


James: We would do a little consignment trade — they hand me a little note that I gave them 20 copies to sell, and they would call me when they sold and pay me, and I would bring them more copies to sell.


Bailey: I remember going through receipts — consignment receipts — and seeing James Olliges or Jim Olliges, his real name, on the receipts and just thinking to myself how cool it was he got his start consigning CDs at ear X-tacy. 


James: I handmade and painted a poster that I asked them to hang up to promote the album in the store. I don’t think they ever did. 

Oh, my god, I bought so much music there — so many things that shaped the course of my entire life. Rodan’s Rusty — I saw how extreme volume and power could be wrapped up with delicate beauty and sadness in this new abstract way. The Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass turned me on to new ways of thinking about song structure and how to make things feel organic and timeless even if they were recorded with modern equipment. Björk’s Post — how weird things could get. Outkast’s Aquemini — I still listen to the same exact copy I bought there all the time. 


Anthony: I really championed the CD to other staff members and put it in the listening station. 


Timmons: My staff was definitely tuned into that band before they did anything outside of town. They kept saying, “You gotta go see this band, you gotta go see this band.”


McKnight: The first thing I remember about them compared to the rest of Louisville bands was the reverb. The heavy, heavy reverb. It literally sounded like Jim was singing in a silo out in the country, which I guess he was. 


Hallahan: We did that several times. We’d run an ethernet cable all the way out to a grain silo, put it in the back of an amp, and shoot the amp up the silo. Danny Cash, the keyboardist at the time, would climb up the terribly scary ladder on the side of the silo, and hang a microphone down in the middle of it. 


James: Reverb made me feel supernatural and made life and singing more fun and strange and freeing.


Anthony: They would play these really interesting shows in town. 


James: We played Cherokee Blue Club, Twice Told, different parties or events, Sparks, Headliners, of course. Rudyard Kipling. Phoenix Hill Tavern. I feel like we have pretty much played everywhere you can play in Louisville.


Timmons: The first time I saw ’em it was upstairs at Phoenix Hill, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t think they were very good. It just didn’t click. Maybe they were having a good night, and I just didn’t feel it. Coulda been the environment, too. Upstairs in the garden room at Phoenix Hill — it was not the best room. I was not impressed. But at some point, they totally blew my mind.


Anthony: They started to chart on ear X-tacy’s chart. (Timmons sent out a weekly email called Gaba Gaba Hey — a Ramones reference — to record-industry insiders. It included a list of the top-selling albums at ear X-tacy. The best-selling record in ear X-tacy’s history, Timmons says, is either one by MMJ or, believe it or not, the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.) All the labels start going, “Who’s that band?” They think if a band can conquer the local market, they can conquer the national market. Which is the truth.


Bailey: We were considered what they called at the time a weighted store. For every album we sold, Nielsen SoundScan had some sort of metric or some sort of algorithm in place that it would actually sometimes look as if more albums had sold than the actual physical copies. These are the numbers that Billboard looks at and Rolling Stone looks at. 


Timmons: How they got hooked up with their manager is, he had come to the store with some other band. This is before My Morning Jacket was signed. 


Mike Martinovich (My Morning Jacket’s first big-label manager): My first-ever trip to Louisville.


Timmons: And he asked one of the employees to turn him on to something he might not have heard.


Martinovich: She asked me who some of my favorite bands were, and I said, “The Band, Bob Dylan, Stax, Galaxie 500, the Clash, Elvis Costello, Pavement, Guided By Voices, Flaming Lips, Stereolab …” 


Timmons: The employee went out and got the two My Morning Jacket records and sold him those. 


Martinovich: Two copies of At Dawn. I had never heard of My Morning Jacket and asked her why she handed me two copies. She said something like, “I know you’re going to love this, and you strike me as someone who will want to give someone a copy and you may not find it in New York when you get home.”


Timmons: I saw them play at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and they came out and just killed it. It was like a runaway train. 


Hallahan: That’s so great that John remembers that because I remember seeing him after the show, and he was always just so kind.


Clark: Their in-store (performance at ear X-tacy in 2008 Evil Urges) was awesome.


Mercer: With My Morning Jacket, because (Evil Urges) was such a big release and they were local, I remember we did it after-hours.


Hallahan: There were people out in the streets banging on the windows.


Mercer: I was a notary at the time. We notarized every ticket because that way we knew they couldn’t duplicate them.


Timmons: We had maybe 800 people in the store. Which was about 750 over (what) the fire marshal would allow us to have.


Mercer: Amazingly enough, I don’t think we ever got cited.


James: Jason Noble was there to help us, and he was so sweet and kind, and I was in awe of him ’cause he was one of my first heroes. Growing up as a kid, I loved Rodan so much and he and (Rodan singer and bassist) Tara Jane were like gods to me at that time. So, to come full circle and have him be so nice to us and treat us as equals really made me feel special. 

Hallahan: I just remember being proud. It was just a proud moment for both entities. We were happy to be touring and getting positive reinforcement from our fans. (John) was pumped and happy to be in that location and doing well.

Part V:



In 2010, amid a nationwide crash in CD sales, Timmons made several moves to try to keep the store afloat, starting with a press conference in February and ending with a move to a new location in July.


Mercer: People talked all the time about how much they loved the shows and how much they did for the community. But people would come in, go to the shows and not buy anything. 


Bailey: If we had 300 people in the store, maybe 20 of them buy the CD.


Mercer: They’d go to Target because it was cheaper. Or they’d buy it online.


Timmons: Best Buy and Circuit City — they were using music as loss leaders, so they were selling at cost or below. Couldn’t compete with that.


Mercer: Walmart and Target started having all these gigantic releases. They would sell them — because they wanted to bring you into the store — for $7.99 or whatever the price would be, and our cost on the album was like $10 or $11. So even to put it on sale at like $12 or $13.99, we were only making a dollar a pop. There were times we would go buy out chain stores just so we could have them cheaper. Which was crazy.


Timmons: Whenever the downloading and Amazon really took off, that was the turning point.


Mercer: People stopped buying music. Between that and iTunes, it was just this vicious cycle we couldn’t get ahead of.


Anthony: The heyday would be when we would do the midnight releases, and we’d have people lined up around the block, around the store. And then we just kinda stopped doing midnight releases, ’cause the superfans had already heard leaked things over the internet.


Swain: The times were changing. Right in front of us.


Bailey: We tried to get into the digital music game with a platform that several of the other independent record stores in the nation were also trying to get a part of. It was just like the smallest fish in the biggest sea possible, and it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so we pulled the plug on that before too long.


Mercer: The store made it 26 years, so it was so hard at that point for everybody — John especially — to wrap our heads around how to change it to meet the times, based on the store we had.


Timmons: I never really, truly saw it. Just because I knew that the store was going to be around forever — couldn’t go away. There’s no way the store could go away. 


McKnight: I don’t think any of us really thought there would be a day when we wouldn’t have ear X-Tacy. I think we were just young and idealistic and optimistic enough to think something would happen, something would save it.


Timmons: I was wrong, but I firmly believed that.


Mercer: We were known for the fact that you could come into the store and essentially find anything you needed. And if you couldn’t find it, we would find it for you. We were forever getting one-off import pieces or just super-hard-to-find titles. 


Bailey: A lot of especially independent record labels saw that record stores were hurting, so they would make limited-edition records like picture discs or colored vinyl that would exclusively be available at indie stores. That really helped kind of keep ear X-tacy afloat for a while. 


Mercer: We were so far in debt for so long because we kept ordering things to make sure we did have what we needed. 


Timmons: That was my goal: have a store where anybody who’s into music can find something they like.


Mercer: But people just weren’t buying it, so then you’d sit on this inventory, and we were spending more than we were making.

“How are we going to pay our staff?” That was a constant issue all the time. I just feel like I had an ulcer, worried that we wouldn’t be able to pay the staff. 


Timmons: I made the announcement that we really needed help (or) we were going to go out of business.


Mercer: He did that press conference. I vividly remember that day. 


Facing a bank of microphones and several reporters, surrounded by fans and staff, a visibly emotional Timmons said, “The only thing that will truly save this business is your continued support and your business. Off the top of my head, if every one of the 19,000 people on our ‘Save ear X-tacy’ Facebook page came in here and spent a dollar a day for a month, the store could live for a few more years. It’s that simple. I’m not asking for a bailout; I’m not asking for a handout. I’m asking for that proverbial hand up.” 


Swain: The press conference day was really hectic. 


Kaelin: There was media and Jim James was there and a ton of other local musicians showed up to it.


Swain: I hated the store being in trouble. It sucked. It totally sucked.


Timmons: People really rallied around for a while. 


Mercer: For, I don’t know, a month or two the sales started pouring in. I mean, everybody that could come to buy anything, they would. Because they wanted to save it and they wanted to help.


Kaelin: I remember buying a bunch of stuff because I felt guilty.


Hallahan: When John started communicating that the business was struggling, I was making a point to go there and buy as much as I could as often as I could.


Timmons: That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — asking for help.


Kaelin: I hadn’t owned a CD player in years, so I was buying T-shirts and anything to make sure they had some sort of profit. 


Mercer: And that lasted for a little bit but then it stopped again. And you can’t really ask for help again, you know? 


Timmons: I was pretty naive. People are going to do what they’re going to do.


Mercer: Heine Bros.’, we had talked to them about creating this hybrid coffee shop/record store to combine forces. Panera was actually looking at that spot well before we left and I think had approached John to have some sort of hybrid bagel/music shop, which had its benefits because we’d have corporate backing, and they didn’t have anything like that. But that wasn’t who we were or what we wanted to do. 


Timmons: After that, it was apparent we had to downsize.


Swain: It was a time of helplessness. 


Mercer: We had been looking for a while under the radar, just to see if there was any other space we could get that was cheaper. 


Timmons: I’d signed multiple five-year leases (at 1534 Bardstown) with a graduated increase in rent. 


Mercer: The rent at that place was absurd, and I’m amazed he paid it as long as he did.


Timmons: Over the years my rent went like this (upward gesture) and business kind of went like that (gradual downward motion). 


Mercer: We were asking for help from the community while also trying to change our business model and figure out what was what. (John) and I had looked at a handful of places in trying to stay close to where we were but make sense and kind of give it a separate indie feel. Where we ended up really didn’t have that, but we were running out of options. 


Swain: I think he maybe even took some of us over to the Douglass Loop store to look at it one time before he pulled the trigger. 


Timmons: I was not happy about downsizing.


Hallahan: When the news was released that that place was closing, I had to go try to make my peace to it. I just remember it feeling like a vigil of sorts. Could see a lot of ghosts there in the parking lot of friends I’ve lost on this crazy journey. 


Swain: We weren’t even closed very long, I don’t think.


Timmons: A day or two.


Swain: I can remember wrapping up some bins — putting shrink wrap on whole bins of CDs and LPs. I think we had some moving people who were taking care of stuff, but we did a lot of work, too.


Mercer: The store we moved into, I think, was one third the size of the other one.


Swain: I was excited about it. Because…if we can keep going and not have to close the store, then I’m all for it. 


Bailey: There was a part of me that was just happy to not only still have a job but for ear X-tacy, more importantly, to still have a chance at surviving.


Mercer: I still don’t think (after) all these years that that was the right spot, but that wasn’t my decision. 


Swain: Obviously the location wasn’t as cool. And I knew that was going to be an issue. But at the time I was hopeful that it could still work out.


Bailey: It was just so different from the 1534 Bardstown location that I was concerned. It didn’t have much personality.


Mercer: As silly as it sounds, we wanted it to look very much like the other store as much as we could. It certainly didn’t have that curb appeal, because it was a strip mall, for lack of a better term. But we looked and looked to see if we could find that red tile, the speckled red tile on the floor. And so we did that.


Bailey: We started hanging posters on the walls and posters from the ceilings and getting our merchandising hung. And that’s when it started to feel more and more like a record store.


Mercer: We also specifically had a stage built, which was really nice. It was a built-in stage, rather than having to move the record bins every time.


Bailey: We got a lot of good use out of that stage. And we tried to rebrand it as “ear X-tacy Live.”


Swain: We had a couple really big in-stores there. Like Hanson was there. The Hanson fans — I don’t know if you’re familiar with the world of Hanson fandom? Yeah. It’s wild, dude. It’s wild.


Mercer: It was fun to create a new place, but if you ask me, the writing was on the wall at that point. 


Timmons: That was a nice attempt, but it just couldn’t compete with what the big store was at its prime.


McKnight: It didn’t feel like the old store or the store before that.


Bailey: We could sense the ship was sinking.


Swain: I started to get worried. Just from the decrease in traffic coming in. That was kind of all you really need to know to know we were in trouble.


Mercer: I would get invoices in, of the stuff we bought that day, and we didn’t sell nearly — I mean, you could see the totals. It used to be a million-dollar store per year (in ’05 or ’06), and it was nowhere near that.

(Just a little over a year after opening in the new location) I was taking a few days off, went to Chicago to visit a friend of mine who used to work at the store. And I actually got the call at that point that we had to close that weekend. And so I came home.


Anthony: Panic.


Mercer: People were just devastated. 


Anthony: What are we going to do now? 


Mercer: There’s no way to sugarcoat it.


Anthony: We had a vigil in the parking lot with just the diehards, just to have something kind of symbolic. We took votive candles and made a music note. It was still kind of tongue-in-cheek; we knew it was silly. But you know, a lot of us were losing our jobs. And it was our life for a long time. There’s always that party aspect of it too — kind of a last hurrah. 


Timmons: That’s a black period, man. 


Mercer: You could see it on John. Even just his demeanor. I mean, it was eating him alive. 


Hallahan: I hated seeing John so broken up about it because it was a dream of his to have a store like that, and for years and years he made that dream happen. And I just hated that the dream had to come to an end for him.


Mercer: (John) had to step away for a little bit because he couldn’t deal with it. It was just too much.


Timmons: The last few days I don’t remember. I was not there the day the store actually closed. Physically, I could not be there.


Mercer: I had to call the staff. I remember sitting on my couch and going through the numbers one-by-one to call and be like, “Hey. I’m really sorry.”


Swain: She basically told me not to come in.


Mercer: It was just a weird few days. Because…we just didn’t open the next day. But we didn’t really say anything yet. And so there was so much speculation.

We basically had to file for bankruptcy. We had a team come in and tell us what we needed to do and how we needed to liquidate to be able to close out as many accounts as we could. 


Swain: At that point, also, I was the local music person. I actually had to come in several more times to sort of deal with local artists and labels who still had accounts open.


Mercer: We owed, at that point, so much money to local artists.


Swain: I would have known we owed people money and how much we owed them, but I wouldn’t have known how much money the store had to be able to pay them. That sucked. For a lot of people. 


Mercer: It felt like in those two weeks our name was getting tarnished a little bit. And I took personal offense to that, too. Because I didn’t want to be the one to close the store.


Swain: The employees had an opportunity to come in and get our stuff. And if we wanted to grab any memorabilia or anything, we could do that. I took a velvet Elvis.


Mercer: We ended up having a liquidation sale. We were closed for a few weeks while we got some stuff ready. And then we got to see our customers again. 


James: I bought one of my favorite records of all time there, Where Dreams Come True by Eddie Dunstedter.


Wilde: One of the last times that I went to ear X-tacy was to purchase the last CD that I think I (ever) purchased, which was the Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue collection.


Pell: They closed on Halloween 2011. I knew it was coming, and John posted on Facebook. 


Wilde: It’s one of those things — you never know when the last time you’re gonna be somewhere or see someone is. It doesn’t necessarily occur to you at the time.


Kaelin: I was living in Scotland. I couldn’t say goodbye. 


Pell: My husband and I were giving out Halloween candy, and we were sitting outside, and I saw the post on Facebook. I had to go inside and cry, and pull myself together, then go back out and give out more candy.


Bailey: In those weeks after the store finally shut down to the public, John and I were in there cleaning up, having appointments with 1-800-GOT-JUNK to come pick up old fixtures, donating things to other record stores that are still in Louisville.


Anthony: End of an era, 100 percent. 

Part VI:


“I lived for that place.”

Mercer (now co-owner of Bluegrass Doulas): It was all I talked about for a solid year.


Clark (now manufacturing worker, guitarist for the band Jaxon Lee Swain, frontman of the band Graffiti): It was weird. Just kinda interviewed for different jobs. 


Mercer: Finding an actual decent-paying job with benefits didn’t happen for a long time. 


Swain (now frontman of the band Jaxon Lee Swain, vice president of SonaBLAST! Records): I had a couple of small under-the-table jobs for a bit.


Bailey (now vendor liaison for the Flea Off Market, marketing coordinator for SonaBLAST! Records and founder of the blog LouisvilleMusicCulture): I ended up going back to college and finishing my degree (in anthropology).


Clark: I finished my associate (degree) in arts and my associate (degree) in science.


Mercer: A lot of the staff had that problem. Part of the reason they worked there, separate from the fact they loved the store, was because it was so flexible, so they could go on tour for a few months, or they could go work another job or they could come back. To find something with those hours that would work around them as much as humanly possible was really hard to do. 


McKnight: It was just magical. This magical place. For somebody where music was kind of the main driver in your lives, that was your mecca.


Mercer: I lived for that place. I had planned to raise my babies in the back room.


Zopp (now district manager and training and operations manager for Half Price Books in Austin, Texas): That portion of my life was very technicolor. It was very real and in-the-moment, and I lived every second of it.


Mercer: There’s a piece of me that, if John called tomorrow and was like, “Let’s do this again,” I’d do it in a heartbeat.


Timmons (now WFPK’s weekday 9 a.m.-to-noon host): I have people ask me all the time, “Are you going to open up a store?” It’s like, “Um, hell no?”


Hallahan: John and that staff and those buildings had given me such a beautiful backdrop to my early teens and 20s. 


Mercer: We heard stories all the time about “I met my husband there” or “This was my moment where I fell in love with this band” or “This store saved my life.” Everybody had a story about the store.


Timmons: I still don’t fully grasp that. I really appreciate the fact that people have so many great memories.


Anthony (DJ, owner of Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, host of WFPK’s ‘Friday Night Sound Clash’ and ‘The Jazz Pulse’): Everything’s different now. I mean, there’s a bunch of shops. They’re all owner-run. That’s the only way to do it.


As of October 2021, there are five stores that sell records along the same Bardstown Road corridor where ear X-tacy used to be — Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, Surface Noise, Book & Music Exchange, the Great Escape and Cardinal Record Co. Another called Highland Records closed at the end of 2019, and Funhouse Records closed in 2020. Better Days Records East moved from Bardstown Road to Barret Avenue at the end of 2020, just down the street from Underground Sounds and now Fat Rabbit. Meanwhile, Guestroom Records rules the roost on Frankfort Avenue.


Bailey: They’re all relatively small and have a really well-curated selection.


Anthony: There’s no mega-shops anymore because you can’t. You just can’t stock that much.


Thanks to pandemic-depressed commercial real estate prices, Better Days was recently able to move his Highlands location to a 5,500-square-foot space on Barret Avenue. Owner Ben Jones  estimates it houses up to 30,000 records and 20,000 CDs — a size and scale practically unheard of for a record store in 2021.


Ben Jones (owner of Better Days Records): “Thank God I found a place — fair, beautiful, and I can show my wares again. One of the best decisions I think I ever made. But it could only happen with the world stopped. I will never get that chance again, so I had to pounce on it.”


Bailey: Maybe if we had switched our focus moreso to vinyl at an earlier stage than we did, that might have helped keep ear X-tacy afloat.


Johnson (now DJ, owner of online record store Dinks Records since 2019): If John had been able to hold on just a little bit longer in that location, there’s a good chance ear X-tacy could still be around. 


Timmons: Since the resurgence of vinyl, people ask me all the time, “Now’s a good time?” It’s not a good time. The industry still sucks.


Carney: The vinyl resurgence is nice and all, but no artist can make a living based on their vinyl record sales alone.


Timmons: You could never duplicate what that store was, what it had. It would just be a disappointment to people. No matter what we did. Even going back into that space. Couldn’t get the staff that we had. 


Johnson: Look, stores open and stores close all the time. I think that year John closed, I want to say there were 100-plus mom-and-pop stores across the nation that went under.


Timmons: Profit margin has never been good in music. It’s tough staying in business.


Jones: If I want to give my secret away, I’ll give it away. If you’re not selling used products of any kind, you should not stay in business. Because the industry does not allow you to make enough profit off of a new piece of anything.


Carney: It’s just a decline of the value of music in our culture, in our society. I think that is what killed that record store.


Anthony: There’s a bunch of us that could never quit it.


Mercer: That was kind of an identity for us. 


Anthony: They’ve moved on to record shows, online pages, online retail shops. There’s a bunch of the record hustlers that continued in that similar vein. 


Bailey: I started up a music blog around that same time, just trying to stay in touch with the local and regional artists I’d had the privilege of working with over the years.


Johnson: The good thing is, look, Matt started his own thing. You got Guestroom. Yes, we lost ear X-tacy, a Louisville institution, but you know what? There’s some other people out there that want to sell music that are just as passionate as John was, too, who are doing their own thing as well. That’s the best thing I see that came out of that situation. 


Jones: I wanted for me, for Louisville, and my community to have a great new and used record store, and we are still standing for that reason. It has nothing to do with price wars or who was cool and who was not.


Timmons: The store closing actually made it easier for a lot of stores to open up. 


Anthony: My thought process with opening my own shop (about a year after ear X-tacy closed), was, “I’m going to continue what I’m doing at ear X-tacy. Just not with everybody else.” Like, I’m still going to sell books and records. I was buying the vinyl — buying a bunch of jazz, buying a bunch of hip-hop. Getting graphic novels, comics. This is what I did at ear X-tacy; I’m that guy. I’m obsessed with records and vinyl. Always. I was so excited to crack a record yesterday. I got two new records. I got to open them and put them on. 

The skeleton of my store continues to be ear X-tacy. It’s the bones of ear X-tacy. My poster rack, my vinyl rack, my book racks. It’s all ear X-tacy. 


Johnson: If I could do the overhead and have a storefront? That’s a dream. But it’s just not in the cards. It’s too expensive. I make money now (selling records online); I don’t lose any money. If I had overhead, I’d either break even or I’d be losing money.


Timmons: Unless you shopped there, unless you experienced it, you don’t really know.


Hallahan: I look back on that stuff and just think about how important places like ear X-tacy were for human interaction. 


James: I miss ear X-tacy so much and connecting with people in person.


Kaelin: I miss ear X-tacy, but I also totally love Spotify. And you can quote me on that. I get bitter at (Spotify) all the time, because I make shit money on there and I get a lot of streams, and it’s very annoying. At the same time, the level of convenience and the new stuff I discover and the fact that I can just tell Alexa to just put on an obscure record from whatever is so awesome. So as a consumer, I totally love it. As a musician, I hate it.


Hallahan: There’s something about the tangible connection to those albums — to be able to touch them, to be able to flip through like it’s a library. It’s a sense of discovery, it’s a sense of wonder. It’s something that you don’t quite get flipping through a screen. There’s something about the smell, and it pleases all the senses. That’s so important.


McKnight: ear X-tacy was the gateway drug to so much culture and so much music.


Bucayu (now owner of Self Destruct Records): I think with the way that a lot of bands broke out of Louisville, I think ear X-tacy had a huge part. Because most everybody hung out there and bought music there. 


Jones: Everybody wants to feel like ear X-tacy was the greatest, and I want to be like, “No, it wasn’t — it’s not going; it can’t be the greatest.” It was a great one but not the greatest. You can’t keep wanting things that are not around.


Hallahan: That was a nationally acclaimed store. Everywhere we went on tour, people were just like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re from the town that has ear X-tacy in it.” It was talked about in the same breath as the Kentucky Derby.


Pell: I feel so lucky to have been the age I was at the time I was. I feel like I hit the jackpot with being here and being part of it of it and getting to work at ear X-tacy. 


Kaelin: Getting somebody there to approve your record? Went so long for local sales. And to put your record on the listening rack was huge for all the local artists. That’s the one thing I guess it’s hard to do online now. It’s hard to know that a person actually listened to this and said, “Yes, it’s good.”


Carney: Unwrapping your own record out of the cellophane? It’s like, “Oh, my god, I made a real record.” And then you put it on, it’s like, “Holy shit.” So getting it into the record store was kind of similar. Just the feeling of accomplishment.


Hallahan: (John’s) kindness played such a role in how Louisville bands were recognized in that era. He was so good to local bands. He always had a local-band section that he’d sign on consignment. He was constantly talking you up when he was at conventions. 


Kaelin: I made thousands of dollars selling CDs at ear X-tacy. 


McKnight: John had this massive piece of real estate across the street — this big, big billboard. John gave that to me, every single year, for not just a month but two months. He would give me the whole thing for Forecastle. That was such a huge, huge, huge vehicle for us. At the time we had no money, no resources, no anything. 


Timmons: To me (the store) feels like a failure. It had its success. I wish it could still be here. But it can’t. I miss it. I miss shopping in a place like that.


Clark: I owe a lot to John. That’s all I have to say, dude. Just everything.


Hallahan: He just did so many good things for people. He was more than — way more than — a record store owner. Just like that store was more than a record store. 


Bucayu: There’s ear X-tacy in everybody for the past 30-some-odd years. It was a part of everybody’s growing up or their evolution or whatever.


Timmons: The fact that it has affected as many people as it has — that still hasn’t quite sunk in.


Hallahan: There’s a reason why people still sneak in and paint “ear X-tacy.” I’m telling you, if that’s not a measure of love for that institution, I don’t know what is.


Timmons: The real story behind (the name ear X-tacy): There’s an artist by the name of Ry Cooder. He had an album called Chicken Skin Music. What that is is when you hear something, and it affects you to where your hair stands up on your arm — it’s a feeling.


Kaelin: I remember the first time that the words to (John Prine’s) “Hello in There” actually resonated with me. I must have been around five and my grandmother had just died. “She sits and stares through the back door screen.” I was worried that other people were going to ignore my grandpa because he was old. I still start sobbing when that song comes on.


James: The first song I ever heard in my life was “Leader of the Band” (by Dan Fogelberg). It made me cry, and my mom took me out and bought me the 45.


McKnight: My dad had one of the first McIntosh amplifiers in the U.S. I remember buying Nirvana’s Nevermind at ear X-tacy and then taking it back to my parents’ house and just cranking up this massive subwoofer that my dad had — this huge surround sound. I’ll never forget cranking that up, to this day, and hearing Dave Grohl’s drums. I’d never heard power like that in music ever. And it just blew my mind.


Timmons: The big turning point for me was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That’s kind of a touchstone for folks of my generation. That just kind of directed me. It’s like, “I want to have something to do with music; I don’t know what it is.”


Wilde: “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. — undeniable vulnerability.


Timmons: I still love music and always will. 


Hallahan: The first album my daughter ever heard as an infant was Velvet Underground’s Loaded. I bought that there, and I pulled it out to play it for her, and there’s the ear X-tacy sticker on it. Whether John knew it or not, he set my daughter on a path of loving music.


Timmons: The power of music. 


Hallahan: The power of that place — it had a purpose at the beginning, and it ended up being just so much more. 


Timmons: I call that ear ecstasy. 

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What closed Louisville business do you miss the most? I’d love to hear from you. Send me a note: — Josh Moss, editor, Louisville Magazine