• Yasmeen Khalifa

Going with the beat of friendship

The sweet scent of impeccably aged paper wafts through the air, enveloping anyone who steps through the creaky wood doorstep in a warm, comforting embrace. Posters featuring a vast array of musicians plaster the walls and even some parts of the ceiling. Neighboring art pieces hang between every few posters, marked with the names of local artists who created them along with their prices. A lone, ornate sombrero hangs high above a massive speaker. Its pale pink and maroon felt fabric and gold embellishments stand out comparative to the worn record covers just a few feet below. Large, black displays neatly teem with old (and some new) records, filling the small, quaint shop with that wonderfully familiar antique smell and a sense of being in a different time period.

“Whenever I stepped inside of the building, I felt like I stepped into a portal of comfort and artistic expression, and I left East Texas in that moment,” UT Tyler student and vintage enthusiast Aaron Cortinas says. “I just settled in and my surroundings were very comfortable and very inviting … I just had a big ole smile the whole time I was in there. Every single one of my senses were stimulated, and it was just really nice.”

This is El Guapo Records. While it seems to merely be a record shop on the surface, it is heralded as much more than that: a solace for the young and old alike; a sanctuary for diversity, love and acceptance of all; a unifying beacon for students, professors, children, grandpas and the list goes on.

Standing in the midst of it all is a tall man who would seem imposing if it weren’t for his beaming smile that stretches from ear to ear and instantly welcomes visitors. Or it could be the proud look on his face that never dissipates. A web of intricate ink intertwines and traverses up his brawny arms, a traditional Mexican sugar skull here, the word “LOVE” there and beautiful artwork in between. This is Aristeo Rodriguez, former owner of El Guapo Records, but he would rather just be titled as “human.”

Due to his family’s exceptional appreciation for music, Rodriguez has been immersed in the world of music ever since he was old enough to understand what music was.

“I’ve always been around music … life revolves around it,” Rodriguez says. “In our house, it was always on.” Throughout his childhood, he spent summers in Mexico where he would follow his brother around to music stores to buy cassettes. As he got older, his love for music persisted as he discovered new genres and forms of music. Ten years ago, he began collecting records, and he quickly realized that his love for vinyl was unparalleled.

Record after record, his collection grew. Stacked against a wall in his living room, the amount of records accumulated until he had about 5,000 records. That’s enough weight to break through the floor of a house. And that’s exactly what happened.

Something had to be done. Rodriguez decided to begin selling his records at various markets. One hot morning three years ago, he set up his first booth at a friend’s outdoor market called Music Makers and Moss. It was a gathering for local artisans.

To Rodriguez’s delight, people purchased a significant amount of his records. But he couldn’t focus on how quickly the vinyl records were selling, for something far more alluring was in his presence. The hustle and bustle of selling record after record and the buzz of people laughing and conversing was drowned out by a captivating melody. Rodriguez’s attention was diverted to the intoxicating sound of guitar. Drunk on dynamic notes and invigorating melodies, Rodriguez walked over to the guitarist at the end of the night and offered him a record as a tip. His name was Ian Power.

That market was the seedling that started it all.

One year later, a close friend who was doing the electrical wiring for True Vine, a local business, introduced Rodriguez to the property manager of the space. They hit it off, and in two short months, El Guapo Records was born.

By this point, Rodriguez and Power had developed an everlasting friendship. After Power lost his job, Rodriguez offered Power a part time position at El Guapo Records.

Like Rodriguez, music has always been an integral part of Power’s life. His father always emphasized the importance of music. Power began pursuing guitar after a soccer injury when he was 16. As a member of five different bands, he jumped at the opportunity to work at the record shop.

Together, Rodriguez and Power embarked on a journey of unifying the community through music and expression. They hosted block parties, spoken word nights, coffee and jazz Mondays and DJ sessions.

“You had all these youngsters that would come in and, like, all the talks of suicide, and they were able to get this stuff off of their chest,” Rodriguez says, reflecting on the spoken word nights. “There wasn’t anywhere they felt safe to do that [before]. Judgment free. Anything goes. That’s how it was.”

He says that their goal was to create a space for people to “hang around with like-minded people,” and for individuals to be able to freely express themselves and explore different ideas and music. The sizable turnouts at all of their events was a clear indication that people were starving for such a place in Tyler.

“I think there is a need for building a community in that sense of, like, being able to look around while music is happening in front of you and seeing people loving that with you,” UT Tyler music theory professor Dr. Kyle Gullings says. “That is a great thing that you can’t really get at home on your Hi-Fi stereo system … it doesn’t replicate the experience of making music or watching other people make music in real time.”

Rodriguez and Power’s progress within the past two years is truly impressive. And now, they are on to bigger and better projects.

Recently, Rodriguez gave the record shop to his protégé. Power is the new owner of El Guapo Records.

“That dude is incredible... Incredible artist. A good person. The whole deal. That dude there - special character,” Rodriguez says with a radiant smile. “I owe him half my life. He’s pretty much saved my life. There was some real bad things I was going through, and I gotta be there for him. A bit of that transitional phase is to keep his thing alive and his thing going.”

Rodriguez is taking on a new project: ownership of Elite Bicycles. The bike shop is located behind Fresh, mere feet away from the new Legacy Trail.

In his transition into ownership, Rodriguez is pushing for community and family driven events. In mid-Spring, he plans on starting Ally Cats, scavenger hunts done via bicycle, that will span the entire city. There will even be a monitored kid’s scavenger hunt on the trails next to the shop. He also hopes to start Goldsprint races, stationary bike competitions, in the shop later on.

In the meantime, Elite Bicycles is hosting the El Camino bike race on Sept. 28. The 35, 65 and 105-mile races are set to start in Palestine, where there will be a market, art, food, music, bounce houses for kids, etc. set up in the Old Town Hallow.

“I will not let that city down, so it’s going to be bad to the bone,” Rodriguez says.

As for Power, he envisions a bright future for El Guapo Records, one in which the shop will house a greater sum of Indie records due to his desire “to build a fan base off of bringing records into the store and then bringing the bands in.” His passion for music is what brought him to El Guapo Records, and he hopes to draw other musicians to this sanctuary.

“I really just wanna throw shows and acquire good music for people to listen to,” Power says with a glimmer in his eyes, the corners of his mouth turning upward.

Power plans on throwing small kickbacks with acoustic acts and shopping vendors in the backyard of El Guapo Records starting in late Spring. He hopes to throw these laid-back events one Saturday out of every month. Power is also playing bass at the El Camino preparty with his band Gorgeous Jetsen and providing audio equipment for the event.

“Basically, anything Aristeo needs because I’d do anything for him,” Power says about providing his services at the El Camino race.

In addition to the kickbacks and the race, Power will be playing a show with Gorgeous Jetsen at a music festival in Eustace on May 17. They are also opening for The Toadies at Stanley’s on April 12.

While Power envisions a bright future full of exciting additions, some things will never change. The heart and soul of El Guapo Records will forever remain. Displays will always brim with a vast array of vinyl records. The sound of electrifying music will eternally permeate through the store. And above all, the evocative scent of weathered record covers will continue to warmly embrace those who enter.

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