On any given day, first-time visitors to Imagine Books & Records can walk in and view publications ranging from “Curious George” and William Shakespeare to Stephen King and vulgar comics. They can purchase cassettes and vinyl albums of ‘80s hair bands stationed next to Motown and Spanish artists, or Tina Turner breathing the same air as The Misfits.
Thanks to Don Hurd and his son Ezra, patrons can walk out on Friday and Saturday nights with ears ringing from live music that culminates their trip to the self-proclaimed “Loudest Bookstore in Texas.”
A five-band gathering of relatively young metalcore musicians plus instrumental and local trio Dojo were the latest example Friday night. The program, which also featured local acts Send Help, Lonestar Massacre, Ammo For My Arsenal and Kingsville natives Horus Ascending beginning the festivities, was made possible by the Hurds, who are about to celebrate eight years of their store in October.
“Back in the ‘80s, I was involved in the San Antonio metal scene,” Don Hurd, 58, says. “We’d go to venues, and a lot of them closed. Most of them were not friendly. Some were assholes. And I thought, ‘It shouldn’t be like that.’ I wanted a welcoming place.”
Imagine Books & Records, located at 8373 Culebra Road in a strip mall, used to be four doors down. The Hurds moved it to the corner, giving and accepting along the way. “Our capacity used to be 260,” Don says. “Now I don’t know what it is. Maybe 120. But we didn’t have this stage at the other place. We had to give up the wall that everyone signed. But the TV (above the stage) was left by the previous tenant.”
The Hurds take pride in their array of books, cassettes, albums, “45” records and posters - selections that are vast and furious.
“As a bookstore owner, you can’t just suit your own tastes,” Don says. “Dolly’s Mustache was our first show. Then we started to have shows every other weekend. By the end of 2012, we were full in with shows. We’ve had bands from Japan, Australia, Italy — you name it.”
As expected in a bookstore setting, Friday’s crowd was intimate. Most were family members and friends of the bands. In that respect, it wasn’t different from what you find at bars around town. Send Help, for instance, was selling merch outside along with a crockpot of $5 meatball sub sandwiiches.
Don Hurd cited Send Help’s trio of bassist/vocalist Camron Maldonado, lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Vitela and drummer Tyler Rosser as “living up to their name” by frequently helping the family relocate as well as playing live at the store many times. The same could’ve been said for the group’s generosity. As Lonestar Massacre ended its set and prepared to give way to Send Help, Lonestar vocalist Hondo Hernandez Jr. recalled how he recently broke the neck of his first Les Paul guitar. Maldonado draped his arm around Hernandez as Vitela and Rosser presented a guitar case to their touring mate, and an unsuspecting Hernandez proudly opened and held aloft his birthday present in the feel-good moment of the evening (see 55-photo slideshow below).
Dojo played instrumentals in cat-adorned pajamas (ATM Facebook Live footage here). Vitela growled deathcore vocals while wearing a hot-dog get-up (watch) and a pair of masked marauders moshed, wrestled and shook their rears attempting to distract their friends on stage. Lonestar Massacre tore it up in the dark (watch). Ammo For My Arsenal sang deathcore style songs about “Star Wars” (watch). Horus Ascending had its regular drummer play guitar, overcoming the fact its regular guitarist did not want to drive from Kingsville to play in a bookstore (watch). All in a night’s work for the Hurds.
One minute between bands, Ezra would spin Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind on vinyl throughout the store. The next intermission, he opted for what he said was his favorite album of all-time: Jr. Walker & The All-Stars.
Something for everyone. It could be the Hurds’ second slogan.
“Most bookstores only do acoustic shows,” the elder, gray-bearded Hurd says. “But we’re not trying to appeal to seniors.”
There is one senior Don Hurd doesn’t mind catering to, however.
“Please mention my wife,” he says of Irma. “She’s just as much a part of this.”
Imagine Books & Records is the Hurds’ way of giving back to the community they call home. A rare gem born out of the heavy metal capital that has spread its wings to a diversified audience focusing on those that are the future.
“I love this generation,” Don Hurd says. “They have a lot of faults, but I love ‘em. If they mosh and I walk through, they take care of me.”
They’re just returning the favor for what Don, Ezra and Irma Hurd have been doing for them for several years. And, if they have anything to say about it, for a long time to come.