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Dave Kuzenko in his record store, X-Ray Records.Liam O'Connor/Handout

In 1971, 15-year-old Dave Kuzenko made his way from the pastoral Manitoba community of Niverville to see the nascent British metal band Black Sabbath at Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, some 43 kilometres north via Provincial Trunk Highway 59.

It was a common trip for the teen. In the summer of 1970, he had attended the Man-Pop Festival, headlined by Led Zeppelin, and the Festival Express concert, featuring the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Band and more.

“I would go to concerts in Winnipeg, and later I would find out Dave had been there as well,” said Debbie Colley, the archetypal cool older sister to a brother coming of age. “I had no idea how he got there. I suppose he hitchhiked.”

Attendance at the fabled Sabbath concert would later grant Mr. Kuzenko almost godlike status among his friends and customers who congregated at Regina’s X-Ray Records, a treasured, long-running hub for sounds and social interaction that he owned and operated.

“The store was the love of his life,” Ms. Colley said.

Mr. Kuzenko, a sociable Queen City icon and a champion of local music, died unexpectedly in Regina of natural causes on May 25, according to his family. He was 67.

In addition to running X-Ray Records, he co-founded the Regina community radio station CJTR-FM and was a regular on-air columnist for a time on CBC Radio Saskatchewan. The title of the CBC program, The Record Bin, was in align with his belief in the power of vinyl.

“They’re fun to look at, they’re fun to play, they have a different sound than we always hear from the CD sound,” Mr. Kuzenko told a CBC Radio interviewer in 2017. “You’re more involved when you’re listening to records than you are just kind of banging out stuff on your computer or your phone or whatever.”

He began what his family called his “dream career” in 1987, when he opened an outlet of the Records on Wheels chain at the Scarth Street Mall in downtown Regina. His first customer was 15-year-old Derek Petrovitch, who became an employee of the store as well as a lifelong friend of the owner.

“He was friendly and open, and made a point of finding records for people,” said Mr. Petrovitch, who even sports a tattoo of Mr. Kuzenko on his leg. “If you wanted something he would go the extra mile to get it.”

Or not get it, as the case might be. Todd Kowalski, bassist with the Canadian punk band Propagandhi, was 14 years old when he asked Mr. Kuzenko for an album by the British pop band the Smiths, only to be handed a record by the American hardcore punk band Minor Threat instead.

Mr. Kuzenko took a curatorial approach to selling records. Not only did he service the music nerds with rare imports, he groomed new fans by helping them find their next favourite artist. “He would guide us,” Mr. Kowalski said. “I had never heard of Minor Threat, but Dave knew us kids. That band turned out to be one of my favourites at the time.”

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Dave Kuzenko, left, and former employee and long-time friend Derek Petrovitch.Handout

Mr. Kuzenko went independent and changed the name of the store to X-Ray Records in the 1990s. In addition to selling music, he offered concert tickets, posters, T-shirts and hard-to-find British magazines such as Kerrang!, the bible of metal music. In the pre-Internet age, his storefront window was a message board full of flyers for local gigs. “If you wanted to know what was going on, you looked at that window,” Mr. Petrovitch said.

Mr. Kuzenko fostered a community, his store a safe harbour for underground music in particular. “It was pivotal to Regina ever having a punk rock scene or a metal scene,” said Skip Taylor, performing arts co-ordinator for the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils.

Mr. Kuzenko opened his store at the dawn of the digital age and had outlasted compact discs to take part in the current vinyl renaissance, all the while moving X-Ray Records to different Regina locations as required. He survived not by simply peddling records, but by recognizing that a local record shop was an escape and a needed hangout – a funky library for the music soul.

The future of X-Ray Records is now in limbo. The shop will be open on weekends in June to clear out existing stock.

“There is just no separating Dave and the store,” said Mr. Taylor, formerly a sales and promotion rep with Universal Music. “It was his and he was it.”

David Michael Kuzenko was born in Winnipeg on Feb. 25, 1956, one of three children to Canadian Pacific Rail station master William Kuzenko and homemaker Jean Kuzenko (née Laye). His father was a hi-fi aficionado who indulged in all the latest home-stereo innovations, from in-wall speakers to surround-sound systems to reel-to-reel tape decks.

“We were exposed to music from the get-go,” said Ms. Colley, who regularly turned her little brother on to the latest 45s. “We were forced to take piano lessons, but we were all terrible at it.”

Growing up in Niverville, he began collecting records at the age of 10. When not listening to music, he attended classes at Steinbach Regional Secondary School.

After high school, he moved to Saskatchewan for a technician job with the Amok Mining Company. His career in music began in Saskatoon in the early 1980s, first as a disc jockey at the University of Saskatchewan’s radio station and then as a nighttime jock with commercial station CFMC-FM. During the evening, DJs were freer to veer from the playlist hits in favour of programming their own music.

“Dave told me he didn’t care if he sold shoes during the day, just as long as he could play his records at night,” his friend and business partner Ron Spizziri said.

In his late 20s, Mr. Kuzenko opened the Regina franchise of the Ontario-based Record on Wheels with Mr. Spizziri (who owned the Record on Wheels shop in Saskatoon). The store emphasized alternative music and artists not always signed to major labels. “We will be playing a lot of this unique music in the store,” Mr. Kuzenko told the Regina Leader-Post in 1987. “We want to expose Reginans to this exciting type of music.”

The two partners eventually split amicably, with Mr. Kuzenko acquiring sole ownership of what was by that time X-Ray Records. “I continued to look after his books, though,” Mr. Spizziri said. “Dave had an aversion to paperwork.”

Mr. Kuzenko played a key role in the founding of the city’s CJTR-FM and was an on-air presence as well. The station went on air in 2001, but only after years of planning, raising money and dealing with one existential crisis after another. “Many of the early organizers got discouraged and walked away,” said Rick August, one of the station’s founders and a former host and programmer. “But Dave was one of a group of very dedicated volunteers who stuck with it.”

Mr. Kuzenko kept himself current on the new music of the day, even as he reached the age of being called “Grandpa with the ponytail” by his two tiny grandsons. Though he was winding down toward retirement this year, he was regularly behind the counter until his death.

According to his family, he still had the wallet he carried around as a teenager. In it was the Black Sabbath ticket stub from 52 years earlier.

He leaves his sister, Ms. Colley; his daughters, Ivy Kuzenko and Anastasia Kuzenko; niece, Shawna Hicks; and two grandsons.

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