I didn’t get to the UK until 2005, so I missed a great era in Anglo-American relations . . . not Roosevelt and Churchill, but the opportunity to go record-shopping at Dobells, 77 Charing Cross Road.  I knew about it, however, through the “77” record label — with issues featuring Dick Wellstood, Don Ewell, Pete Brown, Bernard Addison, Sonny Greer, and more.

A new gallery exhibition, lovingly assembled, celebrates that great place and time — and the music that Dobells nurtured.  The exhibition runs from April 10 – May 18, 2013 at CHELSEA space.

CHELSEA space presents a rare opportunity to view previously unseen material from the Museum of London and British Record Shop Archive collections, concerning one of the world’s greatest record shops.

Dobells (1946-1992) was a significant meeting place for fans of jazz, folk and blues. This exhibition explores Dobells position as a retail environment, information network, cultural landmark and social hub through archive artefacts, ephemera, photographs (many by the celebrated jazz-blues photographer Val Wilmer), and graphics.


Doug Dobell began selling collectable and imported jazz records in 1946 at his family’s rare books shop at 77 Charing Cross Road. In 1957 he started up the 77 record label and was instrumental in developing, recording and marketing jazz, blues, folk and world music in the UK. At a later point 75 Charing Cross Road next door to the original store, was used to house Dobells Folk Record shop section.

Prominent US musicians could be found dropping into Dobells including Muddy Waters, BB King, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Red Allen and members of the Ellington band. A young Bob Dylan recorded in the small basement studio there in 1963 and Janis Joplin would visit with a bottle of Southern Comfort as a gift for the staff of the store.


Dobells stocked American blues 78s, 45s and LPs and many British music fans got their first ever taste of Mamie Smith, Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy there. The imported US records purchased at the record shop inspired such pioneers of British jazz and blues as Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies and Chris Barber (amongst many others). All the bands of the British Blues explosion: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Fleetwood Mac shopped there. Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick, Mac McGann, Bert Jansch, The Vipers Skiffle Group, Lonnie Donegan and other folk musicians raided the shop’s racks of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston records. David Bowie was also a regular customer during the early 1960s.

Dobells provided a network for British Jazz musicians including Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Vic Lewis, Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, Mike Westbrook and many others who would meet there to check out the new imports in the listening booths and chat about the latest sounds. Such was the standing of Dobells, that it found its way into literature with New immigrants to London from former colonies and war torn nations would also visit as Dobells as it was the only shop in London to stock African, Irish, Yiddish and music from other parts of the world.

This exhibition recalls an era when a specialist record shop helped shape the nation’s underground cultural scene.  The exhibition takes place to coincide with Record Store Day UK, which occurs on Saturday 20th April 2013.  Exhibition curated by Donald Smith with Leon Parker.  For more information, email info@chelseaspace.org or telephone 020 7514 6983.  Admission is free and the exhibition is open Tue – Fri: 11:00 – 5:00, Sat: 10:00 – 4:00.  CHELSEA space is located at 16, John Islip Street, London SW1P 4JU – behind the Tate Gallery.

Those of us who spent happy hours (and dollars or pounds or the prevailing currency) in specialist record shops — where one could converse or debate with an educated, impassioned salesperson about the course of Bud Powell’s career — will find this exhibition powerfully evocative.  The generation that has no idea of what came before invisible digital sound should be gently escorted there . . . for a greater historical awareness.

Here’s a postscript and a photograph from my UK friend Robin Aitken, someone who knows:

This exhibition is only a precursor for a more long term project which is in the preparation stage at present. This will be a book on Dobell’s Jazz Record Shop edited by myself and Brian Peerless who worked part time in Dobell’s from 1962 until its final closure in 1992. It is intended that the book will be in the same format as Nat Hentoff’s wonderful “Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya” with sections on the history of the shop, the staff, the customers, the stories , the music and of course the musicians. We are assiduously collecting material and welcome any contributions from anyone who has visited the shop over the years. In 1972 a contingent of staff and customers, myself included, made to trip to New York for the First Newport Jazz Festival there. There were ten of us on that trip – sadly only four of us survive. The Dobell’s exhibition has prompted me to finally put down my memories and those of my surviving companions of a wonderful 2 weeks in the Big Apple. I took several photographs which I hope to include in the article and I have attached one of my favourites. This was taken outside Jim & Andy’s at West 55th Street in late June 1972 just before Jim closed for the month of July. It shows from left to right the drummer Richie Goldberg, John Kendall, Manager of Dobell’s Second-hand Shop, Ray Bolden, Manager of the Blues and Folk Shop, Scoville Brown who played with Louis in 1932 and nearly everyone else thereafter – some great records with Buck Clayton on HRS in 1946, and Doug Dobell himself, the owner of Dobell’s Jazz, Blues and Folk Record shops.

(Notice the record bag Richie Goldberg is holding — the thing in itself!)


May your happiness increase.


  1. So many memories here! I remember wandering into Dobells and, in my teenage years being daunted by the choice. Also, the atmosphere of the place, although wonderful, was equally daunting to my young self; rarely did I find myself there without seeing a musician to whom I felt in awe or had recently seen at Ronnie’s a night or so previously. Thanks for jogging some memories! Keep up the good work!

  2. We spent so many hours with Doug & Gladys at Nice festival-super couple.

  3. When Timme Rosenkrantz and I shared a basement apartment at 272 West 84th Street, Doug Dobell came to the U.S. on a visit and said that he wanted to have a record session to take back to London for his 77 label. We ended up doing the album in our apartment. That’s how Bernard Addison’s “High in a Basement” album came about. I haven’t heard it in many years, because my copy of it broke and I can’t find any of the tracks. However, I think it had some good music. You can’t go wrong with Johnny Letman, Pete Brown, Hayes Alvis and Sonny Greer.

  4. You are correct about that session. I found a copy of the 77 lp called PETE’S LAST DATE in California, which has some alternate takes.

  5. Having known Johnny Kendall in pre-Dobell days before we emigrated to Australia and lost touch, we would appreciate news of his later life. Terry played trumpet with Johnny on trombone in Walthamstow from the late 1940s – schoolfriends exploring the world of jazz together. Went to the 1954 “Humph at the Conway” (first outside recording of a full live concert)
    and well remember sitting on the floor in his London flat listening to records while he animated every riff, break and prolonged high note with exuberance, yet in his usual self-effacing manner he would describe himself as “Dobell’s second-hand manager”.

  6. I met Doug Dobell informally, as I worked in the OPTICIAN’s premises right next door, on the left hand side of the entrance to the record shop ( number 75) – It was called ‘CAPLAN’s ‘ and was owned by the wonderful Barry PRESTON. Doug would often wander in and chat to both Barry and Myself…and I would often slip next door into the record shop in quieter moments or after work. The guy in the yellow Jersey in the centre of the photo shown above, was my good friend RAY, who indulged me with his knowledge of music at every opportunity. Another good friend who occasionally joined us, was LOU HART, the owner of BUNJIE’s folk Club in Lichfield Street, just round the corner. Lou was also the most generous of friends. I was almost 20 years old at the time, and it was living at the hub of the world to a music fanatic like me: something which I still am today ! It was a magical time, and is an awesome recollection.

  7. My Dad (Peter Huntley) knew John Kendall from the RAF. I vaguely remember Dobells but have fond memories of John and his record shop on Great Windmill Street.

  8. Octavia May

    I remember and dated Richie/Richard Goldberg from our high school days at Jack yates High School, Houston, Texas. Our paths crossed again in 1952 when he was performing at the El Dorado Ballroom in Houston. We dated again, then we parted ways when I sailed to Germany to join my husband. A mutual friend and classmate told me that he passed away in Houston, but at my current age, I don’t recall the date … but it was between 1998 and 2000.

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