Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.
But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.
Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.
And she opened her heart to us.
Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.
So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.
She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.
I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.
She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.
She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.
I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”
She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.
I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)
Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.
At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”
I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!
And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.
With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.
We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).
We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.
I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!
After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:
Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.
But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.
(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)