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Darren Blase didn’t set out to be a music historian.

But that’s essentially what he’s become. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows more about Cincinnati’s musical history than Darren and his brother Jim. And it’s not just knowledge. ShakeIt also has one of the largest collections of Cincinnati and American roots, blues, soul, R&B and funk music you’ll find anywhere. Darren is constantly researching, investigating, and archiving historic recordings. He intends to create a searchable online database of the collection. Right after he does the other fifty thousand things on his list.

The Blase brothers re-opened the iconic ShakeIt Records in 1999. They’d purchased the ShakeIt recording label from original owner Jess Hirbe in 1992, reportedly trading it for a copy of the Jack Dupree album “Blues in the Gutter.” Blase says opening an independent record store at the height of the Napster era didn’t seem like a great idea to some of their friends. Original feedback was that he was either a trust-fund baby looking for a tax write-off, or an idiot.

ShakeIt Records & Melt Revival Links & Information

Saving, and making, Cincinnati’s musical history

These days ShakeIt Records has (depending on who you ask) about 20,000 CDs and somewhere close to 50,000 vinyl albums in stock. The bins stretch across two floors of their Northside, Cincinnati location. And ShakeIt has remained an active record label, putting out Cincinnati music throughout the past 25 years from bands like the Cowslingers, the Ass Ponys, The Heartless Bastards, and Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs. Their most recent release is the amazing 2018 release “What Heaven Is Like” from indie darlings Wussy. ShakeIt’s in-store performances still pack the place out, and the store is a true cultural hub in one of Cincinnati’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods.

Not bad for a couple of Teamster’s sons. It may have seemed a fool’s errand, opening a record store in middle-America just as physical music seemed to be dying. These days it looks a lot more like a brave act of claiming and celebrating a key part of our history. Public figures may wring their hands about monuments and statements of recognition. People like Darren Blase, and his brother Jim, do the quiet work of actually caring for this legacy. History will show what a debt of gratitude we owe them. But that’s not why they do it. They just want to make sure it’s around to listen to…and to share it with the rest of us.

ShakeIt Records’ Darren Blase on The Distiller Podcast

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