Feature Stories

Cloud 8 is Dallas' Secret, By-Appointment-Only Record Shop

It doesn't have employees, a posted address or even a sign or storefront. It doesn't have regular hours — in fact, it's almost never open. And you certainly won't find its name mentioned in any advertisements. Dallas has a secret record shop.

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Owned and operated by James "Bucks" Burnett — formerly of long-defunct Fourteen Records, and proprietor of the soon-to-close Deep Ellum 8-Track Museum — Cloud 8 Records is the least-discussed and least-frequented record store in North Texas. As Burnett himself will proudly tell you: "I have the smallest record store in Dallas, the least popular and least known about store, too, and that's fine by me."

That situation might sound dire, but that's kind of the point. Having worked at over 20 record stores since 1976, including two in-operation local outlets apart from Cloud 8 — one retail station located inside Greenville Avenue headshop Retro Revolution, the other at famed vintage shop Dolly Python — Burnett wanted to create something different.

Largely inspired by Burnett's early experiences with underground dance clubs and headshops, Cloud 8 is meant as something of an homage to these intentionally below-board, members-only establishments. "I wanted to pay tribute to that format of business, the super-underground and the secret," Burnett admits. "Cloud 8 is my treehouse ... more than any kind of business."

Cloud 8 unofficially began as a small bin of records located at the front desk of Deep Ellum Postal and Grocer. It was there that Burnett's latest venture stirred to life before opening as a stand-alone shop at its current location in November 2013. Run like a private collection open to purchase, Cloud 8 functions as something of a quiet escape from daily life for Burnett. Some people meditate or do yoga to fend off the grind; Burnett runs a semi-private record shop.

The location, however, is strictly top secret, and visits are limited to pre-arranged appointments. (Arrangements can be made at 469-867-4074.)

This underground approach differs from Burnett's primary retail space at Dolly Python. Growing from 300 to 3,000 LPs over the course of the last seven years, his collection there is subject to regular public hours and freely open for browsing. In fact, it was during that selection's maturation process that Burnett met a young collector and aficionado by the name of Jordan Galiano, a man with whom Burnett now shares Cloud 8's 2,500-plus LP inventory.

"Overall, the stock is half Jordan's. I specialize in absolute mint with full guarantee — A-list and B-list classic rock, new-wave and punk, along with some country, blues and folk," Burnett says. "So, basically, I do all the classic rock and Jordan does everything else. He's a great complement to what I offer at the shop."

And he's right. Cloud 8's stock is split almost directly in half, with one side of the store dominated by canonized names like Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, and the other representing a variegated pool of styles and forms, everything from the very popular to the obscure, both used and sealed. This dichotomy makes for an interesting setup, wherein avant-garde, modern classical (think John Cage, Steve Reich, Terry Riley), hip-hop, free jazz and art-rock all rub shoulders. It wouldn't be surprising to find a Lil' Kim 12-inch sitting just across from a Ryuichi Sakamoto LP, or a first pressing of Aphrodite's Child's 666 positioned near a stack of sealed 180-gram reissues of Blue Note classics.

On Burnett's side of things, completism is an essential element to properly stocking a record store, and he takes great care to offer the most exhaustive selection with respect to those artists he considers most historically important: "I want to offer the public a complete selection for all the most important rock artists. I try to have every record that the artist ever made if they're a band that I feel really matters."

The reality of doing so, however, is not so easy, and often comes at the expense of Burnett's own pocketbook. It's not unheard of for the man to willingly purchase records at the very same price point he plans to sell them at later, strictly out of a sense of obligation to offer an ever-accumulating stock.

"The way I see it, my job is the buying, not the selling," Burnett explains. "I spend more time out in the world looking for inventory than I do in my store trying to turn around and sell it. If you don't aggressively buy as many great records as you can, and then some, your stock is going to suffer."

As a result of this philosophy, his offerings often clock in at noticeably expensive sums. "I price things high, actually — the highest in Dallas. It's not really about its market value for me, but about how long it's been since I've seen that record for sale," Burnett explains. In other words, the prices at Cloud 8, much like Burnett's stock at Dolly Python and Retro Revolution, are determined with regard to other local outlets' selection — how long it's been since he's seen a certain record in any other location around, and sometimes outside of, DFW.

Though he never said so, what seems to drive Burnett is an insatiable urge to archive and preserve. Perhaps as a means of keeping alive the music he feels matters most, or even as a way to make the anachronistic — rose-tinted on account of nostalgia and that unmistakable echo of youth — relevant again: the past made tangible through the embodiment of a physical object, in this case, the vinyl record. Which, if we're honest, is essentially what drives all vintage industries, from antique stores to record shops and everything in between.

There are a few more caveats: Cloud 8 is cash only. And Burnett insists that if you make an appointment, you also buy at least one record; he seems to draw quite a hard line on that issue. (However, he's quick to point out that all prices at Cloud 8 are negotiable.) To that end, Burnett has no problem "curating customers," as he calls it: asking non-buying, or for whatever reason displeasing, customers not to return. "I fire customers every year," he boasts.

Of course, there's a whiff of that oh-so-famous elitist record store miasma in his words, the same air that's undoubtedly diminished the glory and financial viability of owning a record store over the last few decades. But Burnett doesn't seem to care. In fact, this seems to be the very sort of privatized experience he's aiming to cultivate — it's his "treehouse," after all — and whether that's objectively good or bad doesn't really matter. What matters, to Burnett at least, is that he's successful in offering a high-quality selection of music to a customer base that's as fully committed to purchasing that music as he is to stocking it.

Judgment aside, the idea to create a highly specified and assiduously manicured environment, namely the idyll of a "secret record shop," is a provocative one. In a way it's charming to think that there's an easter-egg record store lurking somewhere about town. Whether Burnett's vision is ridiculous, pompous, foolhardy or ingenious, only time will tell.


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Jonathan Patrick