Bill Plaster aka Doc
Label/Store: Dr. Strange Records
Dr Strange Records is a label that I have nothing but respect for. For years Dr Strange has been putting out some of the best bands around, including: Whatever (where did they go?), The Skulls, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, 999, Government Issue, Channel 3, Symbol Six, and many more.
Prior to interviewing Dr Strange, I reviewed a handful of Dr Strange releases, and believe me, Doc puts out a quality product. In addition to running a record label, Dr Strange also runs a great record shop, and a successful mail-order business. It was an honor to interview Doc (Bill), owner of Dr Strange Records, and I hope you consider taking the time to read this interview, and visit his shop.
On with the interview:
1. When did you start Dr. Strange Records, and what gave you the idea to start a punk label?
I started the mail-order part of Dr. Strange in 1988. I had been buying and trading with others, mostly in the U.K., and knew I get a lot of hard to get records for a fair price. I kept seeing all these records (in Hollywood etc…) that I could get for cheap going for a LOT. So I figured why not buy extras and sell them for a FAIR price.
2. Where’d you get the money to start Dr. Strange Records (the label)?
I was working as a food server, prep cook, etc… and every penny I made I put back into it. The first catalog only had about 30 items for sale. Just a one page typed (on a typewriter) catalog.
3. How old were you at the time?
I was 23.
4. Did you live on your own or with your parents at the time?
No, I’ve been on my own since I was 17.
5. When did you start your online/mail order business?
Actually I “tried” many years ago. WAY before most of the others. It just took several tries and many different people until I finally found the right people to make it work. Plus I had to wait for technology to catch up. Dial-up would NOT work! And most places didn’t have Cable internet at that time. I think it really got started (correctly) maybe 8 years ago? Hard to remember…
6. Do you remember when you realized that punk was going to be a part of your life forever?
Good question. Not sure but I’ve been into punk (started out with New Wave in ’79) since 1980. It took me a good couple years to finally “get it”. You know, what punk rock was and is. It’s been a part of my life since then and will always be.
7. Do you own the publishing rights for the Dr. Strange recordings?
No, I always thought that was kind of unfair to the bands. Hey, I’m not Epitaph! I actually care about my bands!
8. What is Dr. Strange Records’ biggest seller?
VooDoo Glow Skulls. It still sells after all these years. Why? I think it’s because it’s a great release; “Who Is, This Is?” and because they haven’t stopped playing since that record came out! They are amazing! I don’t know where they get the energy!
9. Are you amazed that over 20 years later, people are still buying these records?
Sometimes I am and others not really. I mean, good music is good music and will last forever. I especially like it, while working at the store, seeing a dad come in [my age] with his kid. They both are into the same music. That freaks me out! It’s good to see that Punk is still here and is not going away.
10. Where did you get the name Dr. Strange from anyway? Were you a comic book fan?
No. Actually just saw the comic book in a thrift store a couple years before I stared the mail-order and always thought, “that would be a cool name for a record store”.
11. How did you manage to get albums out by pioneers like 999, The Partisans, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, and Channel 3?
God, I don’t know! Luck? No, I think my reputation as an honest guy REALLY helps. My deal (the label deal) is simple and fair and I have nothing to hide from the bands. When it comes to signing new bands, I tell them “Don’t believe anything I say, ask around for yourself and if you want to talk with any of the other bands on my label just let me know.”
12. What was your first exposure to punk rock?
Well, like I said I was into New Wave before punk: Flying Lizards, XTC, Adam & the Ants, the Cars etc… I think the first real band that changed my thinking has to be Devo. I remember listening to them in my bedroom; cutting my hair myself so it would stand up at the top, etc. The first gig I went to was “almost” the Clash (my friend invited me, but I didn’t go!) and then Oingo Boingo (I really regret not going to that. That’s another story in itself). But finally made it to The Dickies at The Whiskey. Still just about my all time favorite band!
13. What’s the last item that came through your shop that blew your mind as a fan, the one item that you couldn’t believe you were looking at?
Good question. A Lot of “those” records come in actually. I mean the RARE ones but it’s hard to remember when one came in that I, personally, was drooling over. I pretty much stopped collecting records when the store opened. Why? Because if I didn’t I’d end up keeping all the good ones for myself and soon be out of business. But to answer your question whenever old Dischord or Dangerhouse stuff comes that gets me excited.
14. Aside from the G.I. DVD that just came out, do you have anything else in the works?
Sure. The next planned stuff is: The Billybones (Skulls singer) new LP/CD, The Freeze new LP/CD/DVD, Threats 7″, Government Issue 7″EP., “Make an Effort” (and then all their vinyl reissued) and a few more I’m working on.
15. What is the best selling (most consistent) seller in your shop/website?
Well, I’d have to say things we can never have enough of are: Adolescents, Operation Ivy, The Adicts, Cock Sparrer, Subhumans, Septic Death, Fucked Up, Sex Vid. You know, some old and some new.
16. If you could go back in time and release any one punk record, what would it be?
Easy. Either a Dickies LP (first two) or Still Little Fingers LP “Inflammable Material”. Both of those changed my life!
17. This isn’t so much of a question, but more of a request. Please tell us about your involvement with the Iraqi solider you interviewed last year for AMP.
Chris Dunn (the soldier) was/is a mail order customer that was stationed in Iraq. He would order about once a week (and order a lot!). Good old vinyl that he would have sent to his house in Texas. One day, we sent out something (a catalog maybe?) to a soldier. It was sent back. No explanation but it got me thinking, “I wonder if this guy is still alive”. That made me start thinking about Chris Dunn and what his life was like living in Iraq. That’s why I did the interview with him. By the way, Chris is back home in Texas. Not sure if he has to ship out again. I hope not!
18. Do you have any interesting stories you’d like to share?
Oh man, almost everyday working at the store is a story! From our local Alta Loma nut-job that we call “Shits everywhere man” (comes in, takes a shit and leaves. And I’ve seen him doing the same in other places!) to other kids that are prone to temper-tantrums to a homeless guy that “befriended” us and used to hang out all day.. Hey, never a dull day at Dr. Strange.
19. What/who are you listening to now?
Today I had on The Boys LP “Alternative Chartbusters” and have been listening a lot to The Ruts LP “The Crack” and still the new Subhumans LP “Internal Riot”. GREAT release!
20. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
Has to be the first; The Dickies at the Whiskey. I was just a kid surrounded by Mohawks, safety pins in cheeks, stage diving and more. Man, that was something! It’s a feeling you can have only ONCE.