"If crowd appeal is any measure, then Randy is doing just fine because this place is hoppin'. The crowd in vintage '50s costume knows it, and if you don't believe it, then come on by and watch Randy slap down and spin around his stacks of hot wax—but don't expect to find a seat."
That was Tim Weiler of Channel 4 Action News reporting on Randy Stinson at the Bongo Lounge in 1976. With muttonchops that meet his handlebar mustache and a slick silk shirt to match, Stinson is just as funky as the music he plays. Back then, two years before his record store, Randy's Records, opened, he was one of Salt Lake City's grooviest DJs.
Today, Stinson stays mostly behind the scenes of his famous record shop, but after the long-lost video clip was discovered and posted to RandysRecords.com, he agreed to let City Weekly pull back the curtain on a side of Stinson that few have seen.
Of course, a laptop played no part in the DJing of Stinson's heyday, but it was no simple matter of turntables, either. Except on rare occasions when he'd bring a collection of vinyl to the Bongo Lounge, he would typically take requests over the phone from his house, find the song in his mountains of records, and send the music across town to the Bongo through phone lines, using transformers hooked up to his turntables and amplifier. And the crowds would flock to hear that "hot wax."
"The music just wasn't available, that's why the Bongo was packing them in," Stinson says. "If I were to do that now, it would flop; there's no way it would work. Music's just so accessible, but in the old days, you had to search and search and search."
Stinson did this every Thursday and Sunday for eight years. With a record collection larger than any Utah radio station's, he made a name for himself for having almost everything, from Hank Williams to The Temptations.
Although Stinson was stumped from time to time with requested songs, his fans had unwavering faith in his powers. He recalls that a Bongo Lounge bartender once made a $10 bet with a patron that Stinson could play any request. "A guy came in and said, 'I wanna hear "Cement Mixer Putti Putti" by Slim Gaillard,'" he says. "That record came out in the '30s, and I shouldn't have had it." But Stinson had just bought the record a few weeks before, and when he put it on, "it about blew the guy away, and he lost his 10 bucks."
DJing from his house to the Bongo twice a week made it difficult for Stinson to see exactly how popular he was and get out and dance. "I'd kick my fanny sometimes," he says. "I'd think, 'Gosh, I could have been out dancing and having fun.' But I loved entertaining people."
Once, Stinson recorded the show beforehand and played the recording instead of taking live requests so he could sneak down to the Bongo to see exactly how popular it was when he would DJ. "I always wanted to see what it was like up at the Bongo when I was doing a show from home," he says. "I think I put a wig on; I didn't want them to see who I was. I couldn't even get in there was so many people at the back waiting to get in."
Even the long-lost video reporting on the "hoppin'" crowd doesn't do justice to how popular the Bongo was at the time, Stinson says. "There was another little room with people playing pool or just standing, but it was packed full."
Stinson's days as the Bongo DJ came to an end in 1980 as musical taste was changing and his record store began taking off. "Once I opened up the store, I had to devote all my time to trying to find records to buy," he says.
Stinson has passed the family DJ torch to his son Sam, known as DJ Feral Cat, who performs in Salt Lake City and is also the primary record buyer for Randy's Records. "I definitely picked up my love for music from being around him," Sam says.
Like Randy, Sam prefers to use vinyl when he DJs, although he does use a computer from time to time. "There's something different about flipping through a stack of 45s trying to find what you want rather than a computer," he says. "It's more organic."