Dallas, TX 75206
By City of Ate
By Robert Wilonsky
By Pete Freedman
By Richie Whitt
By City of Ate
By Patrick Michels
By Robert Wilonsky
By Dallas Observer Staff
They found what they were looking for in eight-tracks, a format they admit they viewed as a relic until 1998. That's when Dan, while restoring a 1968 AMC Javelin—the same car he had as a teenager—came up with the idea to seek out an eight-track player to install in the dashboard. The next step was finding cartridges to listen to in the player—which wasn't nearly as difficult a task as they'd expected. Friends would come across eight-tracks at garage sales and send them the Gibsons' way. The rest of their collection, they bought over the Internet.
But they noticed something while seeking out tapes: Eight-tracks were surprisingly expensive to purchase online, even though, in the real world, they could be found dirt cheap if you knew where to look. So they launched an online store of their own, called it Kate's Track Shack, and significantly reduced the market cost of eight-tracks. They bought collections in bulk—including, at one point, a collection of Burnett's excess tapes—at cost, and started selling them, individually, for 75 cents a cartridge. It didn't take long for their store to become a major player in the Internet-centric eight-track scene. Almost immediately, they started selling around 150 tapes per week—which, in this world, is a significant amount.
And yet that's only the start of their story. These days, theirs is a business that can handle pretty much every concern an eight-track collector might have. They buy cartridges, they sell cartridges, they repair cartridges, they sell cartridge repair kits, they sell customized cartridge sleeves, and, most recently, they launched KTS Productions, the banner under which they also produce new eight-track tapes. They've even trademarked their own piece of eight-track equipment, The Win-Gib Eight-Track Revitalizer, which, in essence, is simply a foam pad that can be used to replace the old, worn-out pieces of foam that exist within cartridges, enabling the actual tape inside to be read by a player.
The Gibsons have sold, by their estimate, a quarter million of these pads.
"Kathy doesn't just sell the eight-tracks," Dan boasts of his wife's business. "She's basically recreated everything you need to keep your eight-track going. And nobody else is doing that."
In 2009, when Cheap Trick wanted to produce eight-track copies of their album The Latest, if only as a bit, they came to the Gibsons to get that done. That deal further turned the Gibsons into stars of the eight-track world. When Cheap Trick went on the blitz to promote their album, they pushed the fact that they were also releasing it on eight-track—and the media ate it up. Among the places the band found themselves promoting their new album was Comedy Central's Colbert Report—whose host Stephen Colbert employed the same mocking tone so many others take these days when discussing the format. But when Cheap Trick passed through the region to tour on the new release, they appreciatively invited the Gibsons to come see them play, and, afterward, they met them backstage.
Says Dan, "There's nothing about this that isn't fun."
But the Gibsons are quite clear about their motives—they're running a business, they say. And they're proud to report, their eight-track business is paying for their daughters' college educations. Yet, even with eight-tracks strewn throughout their home, the Gibsons downplay the medium's role in their lives. In their defense, they seem more retro-obsessed than eight-track-obsessed. Two restored 1970s AMC Pacers sit out in their driveway. A number of the landline telephones in their home are rotaries.
"Don't get me wrong," Dan says while tinkering with a few damaged eight-tracks from his perch at his kitchen table. "I like the new stuff, too. I have an iPhone. I just like to take the best of each era."
And they're not the only ones appreciative of the eight-track era. Perhaps the most notable of the Gibsons' accomplishments is the fact that they were behind the first eight-track cartridge going into space—which only happened recently, in 2010. NASA astronaut Doug Wheeler, a massive REO Speedwagon fan, reached out to the Gibsons through a friend to see if they might be able to provide him with an eight-track to bring on the space shuttle. The Gibsons were happy to comply, not only providing Wheeler with a copy of REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity, but also a copy, fittingly, of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.
"We were hoping they'd actually throw them out into space and that they could just float around up there," Kathy says. "But then we'd probably get in trouble for space trash."
Indeed, one astronaut's space trash is another man's treasure.
"I really think that, aside from reel-to-reel tape, the eight-track format is the best-sounding thing," says Nathan Brown, who runs the Dead Media eight-track label out of Fort Worth. "With a good player, and high-quality speakers, it just sounds awesome. Better than CD. Better than vinyl."
Unlike Burnett or the Gibsons, Brown was too young in the '70s to recall the grasp eight-tracks had over the market. Yet, at 37, he truly believes in the format as a proper means for listening, even if folks like Burnett scoff at the notion. Brown's stance is that, with modern-day technology to pair with them, eight-tracks can be a more viable option for sound quality in the future than they ever were in the past.
I've still got an 8-track of Burl Ive's "Jimmy Crack Corn ... and I don't care". Wonder what it's worth?
Everyone always waxes nostalgic over the 8 track tape. No one seems to remember the front runner to it, the 4 track tape. Was introduced a year or two sooner. Same technology but monaural. Both sucked. No way to search...listening to your favorite song meant listening to an entire track...and then, when you least needed it...the tape would start the dreaded squeaking, the harbinger of death!!