It's easy to miss Left of The Dial Records in downtown Santa Ana. The shop is tucked away on French Street, indicated by a sidewalk sign and mini-mural. Walking up to the store, live music wafts down from band lockouts located on the second story of the building. Inside, owner Geoff Leamon sits behind a counter and fiddles with a turntable. Leamon is soft spoken, but once he starts pulling out rare releases his eyes light up and his stoic persona gives way to youthful giddiness.
He's currently fascinated with a private press from an elderly gentleman named Bob Pratt, that features song titles like "Young Chicks Look Good To This Old Man." Leamon admires the album and says with a chuckle, "It's so funny and incredibly interesting to me that somebody said, ok, this guy needs to make a record."
In addition to random pieces like Pratt's, Left of The Dial also carries an extensive prog section along with pop culture gems like a 1959 original press of Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace." Given his Slowdive t-shirt, it's not surprising he keeps well-stocked '80s alternative and post-punk sections as well. Leamon takes pride in his eclectic inventory, which is refreshing in Orange County's punk rock terrain. He also shares that owning and operating Left of The Dial is his dream gig, yet the store owner nearly called it quits in early 2014.
"Last year was a big struggle, things came up that were beyond my control. I got to the point where I had to ask myself if I really wanted to do this," Leamon says. "I did some soul searching and realized how lucky I am to be doing what I love. If I wanted to succeed, I needed to work harder at it."
For Leamon, working harder meant overcoming his health issues. In 2013 he was diagnosed with Ulcerated Colitis, and after beginning a regiment of medications, his condition failed to improve. With his meds came side effects, and Leamon began to entertain the idea of closing his doors for good. He considered his illness taboo, but his perception of the disease was altered when Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready found his way into the store.
Not only did McCready become a fan of Left of The Dial, he became a source of encouragement to Leamon due to his own experience with Crohn's disease, which is similar to UC. Despite Leamon's initial apprehension to discuss his health and the subsequent affect it had on his store, he forged a friendship and found support with the Pearl Jam axeman.
"Mike's been a huge supporter of the shop. He's one of the nicest, most genuine people," Leamon says. "Before, I didn't really like talking about it. Knowing Mike and seeing what he's done to raise awareness inspired me to talk about it. Since then I've become an advocate for Crohn's and Colitis awareness."
Leamon's health has taken a positive turn, and he shares that he's feeling better than he has in months. His improved health coupled with heavier foot traffic in downtown has led him to consider 2015 his second wind. He's expecting the upcoming vinyl lover's holiday, Record Store Day, to bring in an even a larger crowd than last year, and is already pulling various merchandise and autographed memorabilia to use for giveaways during the festivities. The funky little shop also hosts mixtape swaps, trivia nights, and performances from local artists.
Shuffling through his collection, Leamon's giddiness returns as he points out Thin Lizzy re-issues and a Pip Proud press that he likens to the work of Syd Barrett. "We want people to know you're gonna find [records] that aren't super common," Leamon says of his tucked away record store. "I'm ready for people to see what we have here."
Left of The Dial Records is located at 320 French St., Santa Ana. (657) 900-2275. For more information visit www.facebook.com/leftofthedialrecords