MYSTIC — It’s no wonder Mystic Disc, the hole-in-the-wall record shop tucked away in an alleyway on Steamboat Wharf, was recently voted “the best record store in Connecticut.”
Fans come from all over the Nutmeg State, from New York, from Hawaii, from Europe and from next door, to pore through the bins of records and to listen to owner Dan Curland talk — talk about music and records, of course, but also to listen to him talk about the importance of listening to young people, the importance of community and the importance of a lively downtown.
Part father figure, part music man, part pied piper, and full-time storyteller, Curland has influenced the lives of music lovers from three generations, according to those who know him best.
“He’s the most unique individual I’ve ever met,” said Rich Freitas, who works for Curland one day a week and has known him for much of his life. “And he’s one of the best people I know.”
“It’s a great place,” said Norm Boulanger of Mystic, a regular customer of the record shop.
Curland, he said, is “very friendly and very knowledgeable.”
When Curland, 67, who has owned Mystic Disc since 1983, learned that his shop was voted “The Best Record Store in Connecticut,” and “One of the 50 Best Record Stores in America,” by the website Vinyl Me Please, he was quick to thank his customers for the honor.
“I am humbled,” said Curland one morning last week after he finished his morning routine: lugging his “Dollar Bins” — wooden crates full of records being sold for $1 apiece — out to the front of the store. “But without my customers, I am nothing.”
Vinyl Me Please, according to its website, “has curated a community of like-minded vinyl record collectors since 2013.”
“The 50 Best Record Stores in America is an essay series where we attempt to find the best record store in every state,” writes Stonington native Brenna Ehrlich, who nominated Mystic Disc for the honor. “These aren’t necessarily the record stores with the best prices or the deepest selection; you can use Yelp for that. Each record store featured has a story that goes beyond what’s on its shelves; these stores have history, foster a sense of community and mean something to the people who frequent them.”
“It’s a labor of love,” said Curland as he placed Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” on his turntable and turned up the sound. “I feel blessed ... blessed and lucky. I am very lucky.”
A Norwich native and Norwich Free Academy graduate, Curland is a a musician who thoroughly enjoyed his high school experience, once played bass with Dan Fogelberg, and is a chum of Graham Nash. He is about to begin his 37th year in business.
An animated speaker who uses his hands for emphasis, Curland recalled his journey from Norwich to Mystic, and from musician to businessman. His love of music may have begun with the first record he ever owned, he said, “an Elvis 45.”
“It was ‘Hound Dog,’” he said, “and you know what was on the B-side? ‘Don’t be Cruel.’”
“Elvis changed my life,” he said. “I was obsessed.”
Later came “the greatest weekend of my life,” when he found himself sitting front and center at a music festival called “Woodstock.”
“I saw every note of every band,” said Curland.
His ticket to the legendary festival is framed and hanging on the wall of Mystic Disc, along with posters and album covers and Jimi Hendrix’ autograph.
After living in Nashville and Colorado in the 1970s, Curland moved back to Connecticut and was working at Caruso music in New London when he bumped into fellow musician Wall Matthews.
“We hit it off and started talking,” Curland recalled. Before long the two men — who are also baseball fans — decided to open a record store.
“We had about three thousand dollars and about a thousand records,” he said. “A friend built bins and we started selling records.”
“It was really by the seat of my pants,” said Curland with a laugh.
“I love what I do,” he added. “I work every day and I love coming to work. I have no retirement and no IRA but I love what I do. I’ve lived a great life.”
“It’s all about community,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Curland, who regularly stresses the importance of engaging young people in conversation, said his daughter, Lena, taught him about hip hop, for instance.
“Hip hop is my daughter’s Motown,” he said, “my daughter’s Marvin Gaye.”
“I always say there’s two kinds of music,” he added. “Music I understand, and music I don’t understand.”
“I’m sure in Mozart’s day there were people who thought his music was awful,” he said with a laugh.
Ehrlich, who lives in New York and is now the director of Indie and Rock content and culture for TIDAL, a streaming service, said she’s been a customer of Curland’s since she was a 13-year-old.
“I lived up the street,” said Ehrlich in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon. “And I’d always get to go down [to the record shop.]
Curland was always helpful, she said, and always willing to help young people find the music they were looking for.
“All kids are lucky to have him and have the store,” she said.
“We can learn a lot from the kids,” said Curland.
A few doors away, in Mystic Army Navy Store, Freitas and store owner Michelle Gemma spoke of Curland and the influence he’s had on their lives.
“Danny was the only person around who played vinyl,” said Freitas, who remembers buying his first album, “Synchronicity,” by the Police at Mystic Disc.
“He was a father figure and now he’s my best friend,” added Freitas, who is also a musician.
Curland also reminds young people of their civic duty, Freitas said, relating a story about Curland helping him to register to vote.
“He really did guide the political awareness of [kids from] Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z,” added Gemma.
And he doesn’t only teach and talk about music and civics, both Gemma and Freitas agreed.
“But about how to be a good person,” Freitas said.