Vinyl spins its way back into the heart of San Clemente, California

Meet the man behind the turntable at Moldy Toes Records

Tom Rule, Owner of Moldy Toes Records (Brandon Drey/ Lariat)

Tom Rule drills T-shirt racks into a 4-foot divider in the middle of his new shop as  “Seven Year Ache” by Rosanne Cash spins in the background, blaring out the intermittent noise of the electric tool.

Off of the main drag in downtown San Clemente, California, one post unsympathetically sticks out just before the row of establishments comes to an end. Moldy Toes Records displays a logo of a disheveled man with a look of anguish and an electrocuted hair-do. The figure strikingly resembles Rule, the owner of the establishment.

“Black Sabbath or Tom Waits?” asks colleague Greg McCaughey. Tom Waits (of course). Changing the mood, he turns on “The Heart of Saturday Night.”

Rule finishes drilling as the record begins to spin. The first track starts and he moves toward the counter. He points out a flyer with information on a record show at a local high.

“I started doing them at San Clemente High School about three years ago to help out the music department,” Rule says. “We do two a year.”

The idea of the record show is for collectors and vendors to sell their lot in a common space while the entrance fee at the door goes to a good cause. For Rule, his motivation to start this fundraiser at San Clemente High School was personal.

“My son was in band and they were always struggling for money,” Rule says. “I remember asking him one night how come he wasn’t at the football game that night. He told me it was an away game and they didn’t have money for the bus. I just couldn’t comprehend that they had to pay to get taken to an event for their school. So, I started doing fundraisers with the school’s music director. It helped them out a lot.”

He participated in record shows for a long time. Then he hosted them in the 1980s.

“When my wife was going to school at UC Davis, I was involved with the college radio station,” he says. “Another station that I had worked at in the bay area did these quarterly shows and I introduced it to Davis. They loved it because they were cleaning out all their cupboards.”

Music lovers built their collection while Tom grew his own.

“My collection is close to 3,000,” he says. “I have kept almost every record I’ve ever bought since I was about 12.”

Rule doesn’t have a favorite album, “that just depends on what time of day it is and what I’ve been drinkin’,” he says.

He walks from behind the counter to the back of the shop where the vinyl is located.

“The atmosphere of the show is completely different then the record store,” he says. “It’s a whole different entity. It’s a lot more laid back, you know. I’d like to get live music going there. I’m thinking we could have DJ’s. The possibilities seem unlimited. It’s just more relaxed, you know? Except for my wife who has to be at the shop. She is not relaxed when she’s here.”

Rule has been selling records for the last three decades. Twenty of those years were working for Tower Records after meeting “some really cool people” at Condor Records in San Juan Capistrano, California in the 1970’s. For the last four years he has run his own record shop which he says he’s been ”thinking about doing for a long, long time.”

The stores name, Moldy Toes derived from a song called “Smelly Tongues” by an avant-garde band called The Residents.

“I just wanted something that people would laugh at and remember,” Rule says.

Rule grew up in Orange County, California. Resided in places like Nashville, Tennessee, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. He chose to open up his shop in San Clemente, California “because they have a cool happenin’ vibe.”

The last track comes to an end from Waits record and the crackles and pops resurface as the main sound. Rule is already walking back toward the turntable to put on another album.

“I think one thing that makes Moldy Toes unique is we don’t use one dollar bills. We use 50 cent pieces, $1 coins and $2 bills,” he says.  “It’s semi-political. We don’t need a one dollar bill. It goes out of circulation on average about 26 months or something. You know, that one dollar coin will last until you lose it or gets chopped up by the lawn mower.”

Roxy Music’s album “For Your Pleasure” is up next. He lowers the needle until it gently begins to produce the sound of old vinyl pressed decades before this moment.