The main reason that I diverted the vehicle through Salina, Kansas, was to visit my friend Chad Kassem. Chad owns several businesses here: Acoustic Sounds mail-order Audiophile records, the Analogue Productions high-end record label, the Quality Sound vinyl record pressing plant, and the Blue Heaven Recording Studio.
I met Chad at the Ponderosa Stomp festival in New Orleans several times, but had never seen his operation in Kansas until today. Chad is a Louisiana guy, relocated to the middle of Kansas. Most folks I know would say that Chad is a nut. But he’s my favorite kind of nut—a guy who has devoted his entire life to his passion for music and made some huge and great things along the way. Chad is loud and boisterous, like he’s trying to make himself heard in a bar on Bourbon Street at 2:30 am. He gets real excited and starts gesticulating, wildly. He comes up with crazy ideas and then he makes them happen. Whatever he does, he seems to go overboard by a factor of 100. He reminds me of why I love people from Louisiana so much. They are f***ing crazy, but they bring a lot of excitement and personality to everything they do.
Chad started selling Audiophile vinyl here in Salina many years ago and built the business up to a full-time operation. Chad is all about the blues, and he started his own blues record label to put out records by his heroes. (To Chad’s credit—he likes the REAL stuff. The walls of all of his buildings are covered with photos and posters, many autographed, of performers like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Honeyboy Edwards, Clifton Chenier, and a million more. I saw nary a lame white blues performer anywhere on the walls of his many buildings.)
With all of his vinyl distribution and his own record label successes, he invested in a bunch of record presses and started his own vinyl pressing plant right here in Salina. He then bought an old church and fixed it up into a concert venue and recording studio, where he did a blues festival for twenty-one years and still does recording projects.
I knew that Chad had a pretty big operation, but what I saw today was absolutely mind-boggling. It’s a mini-empire. It’s freakin’ HUGE. We went from one building to another building to another building. Every time I thought I had seen the last of it, we’d go to yet another building and he’d show me more. We’d pass by nondescript brick buildings and he’d say “I just bought these four buildings to house album covers.” It blew my mind.
Chad’s record pressing plant has its own metal plating facility, which is a bit like saying “I built my own nuclear reactor.” The pressing plant has sixteen presses running constantly, turning out high-end audiophile vinyl pressings for major labels. I saw records being pressed by the Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and many, many others. These are HUGE, HUGE numbers, bigger than anything I’ve ever been involved in. All of his businesses employ over 150 people, which in the vinyl record business is a hell of a payroll.
On top of all that, Chad took me around and showed me all the “fun” stuff—turntables, amplifiers, preamps, cutting lathes, warehouses of old stuff, a fireproof room filled with mint copies of some of the world’s rarest records. It was complete sensory overload.
Chad was generous to offer up over four hours of his valuable time just showing me around. I wanted to pick his brain about how difficult it might be to start a small record pressing operation with one or two presses. I also wanted to see his lathe and all the mastering amplifiers and EQs that he had bought from the legendary Doug Sax Mastering Lab in Los Angeles. I was there to listen to him tell me about boilers and extruders and trimmers and stampers and presses. I wasn’t there to put money in his pocket. But he knew that I had “the fever” about making vinyl records. He had also seen me back up many of the great blues and rockabilly and soul musicians at the Ponderosa Stomp. So he gave me his time. That’s a valuable thing.
You can pay a lot of money to attend college, but there’s also a hell of a lot of things you can learn for free just by watching and listening and paying attention. Chad Kassem has an incredible empire going here in Salina. I really appreciate his time today. Thanks Chad, you blew my mind! Absolutely incredible!
Oh, and hey Chuck Mead—yes, I went to the Cozy Inn after I left there. Hasn’t changed a bit since 1922!
The metal plating room inside the record pressing plant:
The record presses, hard at work:
Find many, many more photos with captions at the original FB post!
A good article on Chad: https://www.psaudio.com/copper/article/chad-kassem/