While it’s true that Shangri-La opened its doors back in 1988, it might be forgotten that it was not initially a record store. The original founding owner, Sherman Willmott, billed the midtown hideout at 1916 Madison Avenue as a “vacation for the mind and body.” The restored house, originally built in 1900, featured sensory-deprivation flotation tanks as well as massages and “brain tune-ups” – brain-tuners were a set of goggles/headphones that played soothing music and flashed pulses of light around the eyes. Far out! Needless to stay, the concept was a bit ahead of its time. Luckily, the record store got started not long thereafter with a single crate of records. Since then, the store has added inventory of tens of thousands of hard-to-find LPs, 45s, CDs, DVDs, books, and other obscurities that truly make it a music lover’s paradise.
Looking back at the shop’s history, it becomes clear that Shangri-La has been more than just a quaint spot to come hunt for tunes. Around 1990, in addition to releasing the sporadic music and culture fanzine, Kreature Comforts, Shangri-La Records began carrying independent label albums in the store as well as any and all Memphis releases, independent and otherwise. Eric Friedl, of Oblivians and Goner Records fame, moved to Memphis at that time and immediately began to help build the record side of the store. As it took off, Sherman founded the Shangri-La Projects label as an outlet for the burgeoning Memphis music world of groups like 611 and A Band Called Bud (later known as the Grifters), and others who were recording at the newly expanded Easley-McCain space. Sherman still runs the label today and has added a number of albums, books and more to the catalog (available from us right here [link]).
Sherman eventually departed in 1999 to become curator of the Stax Museum – that’s when Jared McStay came on board as partner and to run the store, which he still does today. McStay was a member of the Simpletones (nee Simple Ones), a band on the Shangri-La label, and he continues to gig regularly with his wife Lori in “The McStays” as well as other acts. Jared and Lori co-own the store now with John Miller, who manages the store and is one half of the Misspent Records singles label. One constant of the shop has been the great employees work here through the years, and a list reads like a who’s-who of the music scene here: Andria Lisle, Scott Bomar, Eric Friedl and Andrew Earles all got their start here. Following them came Andrew McCalla, Eric Hermeyer, Mike Brown, JD Reager, Miles Herndon, Lacey Fitzgerald Dotson, Casey Minatrea, James Godwin and Jameson Sweiger to name a few.
Shangri-La has also hosted hundreds of live shows over the years and continues to host a spring, summer and fall sale and music festival every year. Among the countless artists to have performed, a (somewhat) brief list would include up-and-comers, stalwarts, and legends alike such as Otha Turner & Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, Jim Dickinson, Ike Turner, Charlie Feathers, Sam the Sham, Howard Tate, The Grifters, Reigning Sound, Greg Cartwright, Eric Friedl, the Oblivians, Jack Yarber, Tearjerkers, Charlie Louvin, Sir Mack Rice, Little Milton, Guided By Voices, Pavement, The Black Lips, Tony Joe White, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, the Fieldstones, Terry Manning, Calvin Newborn, Will Roy Sanders, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, North Mississippi Allstars, Sharde Thomas, Lucero, Jay Reatard, Alicja Trout, the Lost Sounds, Tav Falco, The Sons of Mudboy, John Paul Keith, Snowglobe, James & the Ultrasounds, Bloodthirsty Lovers, Impala, Harlan T. Bobo, Eighty Katie, Viva L’American Death Ray Music, Marcella & Her Lovers, Cory Branan, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Nathaniel Mayer, Big Lucky Carter, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Calexico, Cordell Jackson, Jello Biafra, Laddie Hutcherson Lorette Velvette, Alex Greene, Dead Soldiers, Memphis Dawls, The Sheiks, Phantom Surfers, Beat Happening, Simpletones, Young Fresh Fellows, Ross Johnson, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, Jim Duckworth, Chickasaw Mound, Those Darlins, Rocket from the Crypt, Rosco Gordon, Megan Reilly, Glorie, Satyrs, Mark Edgar Stuart, Pezz, Suzy Hendrix, Swearing At Motorists, Thinking Fellers Union, the Rachels, Porch Ghouls, Warble, Perfect Vessels, Chopper Girl, Shelby Bryant, Ultracats, Chase One and Redeye Jedi (Memphix), Modern Convenience, Charles Walker & the Dynamites, Neckbones, Dirty Streets, Roy Head, Hombres featuring BB Cunningham, the Castels, Memphis Blazers, Changin’ Tymes, Poor Little Rich Kids, Harvey Scales, Checkmates, Mekons, Arch Rivals, Wallendas, Perfect Fits, Memphis Goons, Hot Monkey, Citizens Utilities, Daddy Mack Blues Band, Manatees, Magic Kids, Strapping Fieldhands, Mouserocket, Walker Family Singers, Southern Avenue, Dave Cousar…the list goes on and on…stay tuned for more!