We sit down with the music-obsessed owner of Horizon Records to dish on his collection.
Gene Berger leans back in his chair behind a worn wooden desk, stacks of LPs littering the floor around him. The cramped space passes for his “corporate office” at Horizon Records, the music shop he moved to Stone Avenue in 2003. Walls and file cabinets around him are plastered with vintage concert posters, music company promotional photos, bumper stickers, and other mementos that chronicle his passion for music.
The founder of Horizon Records admits he loves pawing through the cut-out section of LPs that didn’t sell well and racks of remaindered CDs in thrift shops, looking for that vintage gem, perhaps something by bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice or jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Part of what he mines there fills the bins at Horizon Records. The other part crowds floor-to-ceiling shelves in his “music room” and an upstairs bedroom of the 1920’s-era Greenville home he shares with his wife, Barbara.
When did your obsession with music start?
I began listening to music on my little transistor radio before I ever had a record player. In high school, I fell in with some rock-and-roller types and was drawn to the whole counterculture ‘60s antiwar movement. We bought all the records when they came out, followed the bands, and went to concerts as much as we could. And I just went downhill from there.
What makes you say that?
In some ways music has ruined my life and in other ways it’s been the greatest. Besides my wife and my son, music is everything to me. It’s turned me on to so many fascinating people and allowed me to meet people that I collect records by, which is really an extraordinary experience.
You dropped out of college to work in a record store.
I left a good school to take a job [in a music store] for $2.25/hour. Then, knowing everything as I did at the time, I decided the world needed me to open up a record store. I opened the first Horizons [at Cleveland St. and South Pleasantburg Dr.] in December 1975. I was 20 years old and pretty well clueless—I had more passion than knowledge of business. If you’re a crazy collector, the next step is to open up a shop. It’s a cautionary tale.
What’s the focus of your collection?
I’ve always been an LP guy . . . and CDs, too, since that era kicked in in the ‘80s. I have a couple thousand LPs, everything from classic rock to avant-garde jazz to obscure folk music. That’s been downsized over the years as I moved and married and raised a son—back in the day, I had 5,000-6,000 LPs. I must have 6,000 to 8,000 CDs now. Of those, about 80 percent are classical.
You’re still actively collecting. Will you ever consider your collection complete?
An old guy who used to come into the store taught me the punch line to that question: ‘When I get that one more [fill in the blank], my collection will be complete.’ We all know that’s a total joke because telling yourself that when you get that last one or two recordings is never gonna happen. My long-suffering wife knows there’s no hope for this.
At the end of the day, what does music mean to you?
It’s the space I live in. I hear the background music at the grocery store, I listen to movies and hear the romance theme where the strings swell. I always told my wife, when she would suggest I take some of the CDs back to the shop, “When I stop worrying about where’s the next $3 CD or the next thrift shop . . . you know it’s time to call hospice.”
2-A W. Stone Ave, Greenville
(864) 235-7922, horizonrecords.net