The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records
Paul Mawhinney, a former music-store owner in Pittsburgh, spent more than 40 years amassing a collection of some three million LPs and 45s, many of them bargain-bin rejects that had been thoroughly forgotten.
Mawhinney spent about two decades trying to find someone who agreed. Then last year, a friend of Mawhinney’s pointed him toward a classified ad in the back of Billboard magazine:
That fall, eight empty semitrailers, each 53 feet long, arrived outside Mawhinney’s warehouse in Pittsburgh. The convoy left, heavy with vinyl. Mawhinney never met the buyer.
Just weeks before, Murray Gershenz, one of the most celebrated collectors on the West Coast and owner of the Music Man Murray record store in Los Angeles, died at 91. For years, he, too, had been shopping his collection around. In his final months, Gershenz agreed to sell his entire collection to an anonymous buyer. Those records, too, were shipped to Brazil.
In an office near the back of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo, Zero Freitas who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. “I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself,” he said.
Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records. Many of the records come from a team of international scouts Freitas employs to negotiate his deals.
Allan Bastos, who for years has served as Freitas’s New York buyer, was visiting São Paulo and joined us that afternoon in the warehouse office. Bastos, a Brazilian who studied business at the University of Michigan, used to collect records himself, often posting them for sale on eBay. In 2006, he noticed that a single buyer — Freitas — was snapping up virtually every record he listed. He has been buying records for him ever since, focusing on U.S. collections. He has purchased stockpiles from aging record executives and retired music critics, as well as from the occasional celebrity (he bought the record collection of Bob Hope from his daughter about 10 years after Hope died). This summer Bastos moved to Paris, where he’ll buy European records for Freitas.
Some of those records are highly valuable. In Freitas’s living room, a coffee table was covered with recently acquired rarities. On top of a stack of 45s sat “Barbie,” a 1962 single by Kenny and the Cadets, a short-lived group featuring the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on lead vocals and, as backup singers, Wilson’s brother Carl and their mother, Audree. In the same stack was another single — “Heartache Souvenirs”/”Chicken Shack,” by William Powell — that has fetched as much as $5,000 on eBay.