Postcards from summer camp

If you’re wondering, yes, the dry spell continues deep into summer.

Christmas with the Mexicali Brass LP cover

That this cheesecake Christmas record, found last weekend among the cheesecake records at the mighty Stardust Records in Thiensville, Wisconsin, is perhaps the highlight of the summer’s record digging, well, there you go.

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Nor have I found a great summer song this summer, one you play over and over and blast from the car speakers. (No, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” doesn’t count.) Have you?

Heard this one on WXPN on Saturday morning. It’s in the running.

“Don’t Bother Me,” by The Suffers out of Houston. Been digging them for several years now. Kam Franklin is the lead singer. They played the always delightful Thrasher Opera House in Green Lake, Wisconsin, in early June. We’d have been there, but we were in Ohio at the time.

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We did, however, have a wonderful evening of music at the Thrasher three weeks ago. We traveled an hour or so south by southwest — appropriate — to see Texas-Louisiana piano pounder and singer Marcia Ball.

Pizza, Marcia Ball and fireworks

Although, when I posted it to Facebook, most folks were most wowed — and rightly so — by our sausage-and-mushroom pizza from Christiano’s Pizza.

As we left the show, Green Lake’s Fourth of July fireworks — postponed five days because of weather — had just started. What you don’t see of the fireworks is the spectacular view as we drove along the lake, not only of what was in the sky above but also of hundreds of boats on the lake, their running lights sparkling on the water like so many stars in the sky.

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For those who appreciate Gone in Threes, the long-running annual year-end roundup of noteworthy deaths that appears here each January, this year seems like one of the busiest. I’m constantly adding to my running list or sending notes to myself to remember this one or that one.

Today, especially, has been a day. Bill Russell. Nichelle Nichols. Pat Carroll, too.

That’s Sam Gazdziak, one of my regular reads at RIP Baseball, wishing only the best for baseball great Willie Mays, who is 91.

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Which brings us here. Though the record digging hasn’t been great lately, the baseball card finds have been spectacular. (Yes, I’m still seeing someone else.)

Willie Mays baseball cards, 1963 and 1964

In just the last week, I’ve found these Willie Mays cards, all reasonably priced. You never see Willie Mays cards reasonably priced. It’s a bit like finding the butcher cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” LP in the wild.

The first two are from 1964, the first year I ever collected baseball cards. (I suspect they were thrown out as we moved from Missouri to Wisconsin the next summer.) The third one is from 1963.

∗ ∗ ∗

Finally, if all this seems a bit disjointed, please consider that I spent much of this weekend moving everything from our basement rec room into our laundry room in preparation for carpet cleaning next week.

Part of that entailed unearthing two sets of speakers — yes, speakers from THAT stereo — the compact Bose speakers and the desktop Cambridge SoundWorks speakers, both with speaker wires intact, both 30-plus years old.

Part of that entailed removing the old but solid bar in the corner of the rec room. The previous owners left it for us 31 years ago. They probably built it in the late ’60s or early ’70s. That thing was put together. Knocking it apart and hauling it up the stairs and outside in pieces was quite a workout.

That’s right, Senator Blutarsky …


Filed under July 2022

Last call at The Exclusive Company

The sky was crying when I left work earlier today.

It was raining lightly as I headed out to go record digging at The Exclusive Company in Green Bay for the last time. But the sky was the only thing crying.

Today was a day for smiling and celebrating what’s been so great for so long.

It wasn’t so much that everything was 80% off. It was more about spending part of one more afternoon digging through records, savoring the vibe of the place and shooting the breeze with my friend Tom, who’s worked there since 1988 and who richly deserves all the love coming his way in these final days.

Almost empty record bins at The Exclusive Company record store in Green Bay, WI, June 30, 2022

As you’d expect, the bins are pretty well picked over after two months of a liquidation sale. The vinyl is almost gone. There’s one small row of new vinyl, probably fewer than 100 records. When someone grabs an LP off the new release wall — as I did today for the last time — Tom restocks it by grabbing a new LP at random from that small row and putting it up there.

Garland Records Pacific Northwest Pandora's Box LP cover

The last LP I grabbed off the new release wall is “Garland Records: Pacific Northwest Pandora’s Box,” a comp of mostly unreleased rock cuts from 1967 to the mid-’70s on Garland Records, a small label out of Salem, Oregon. Looks like fun, and it’s on royal blue vinyl! Here’s a sample.

As I dug through the CDs, I came across a bunch of familiar sights.

Hey, there’s Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” one of the first records I ever bought 50 or so years ago. Hey, there’s “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the first new Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings record I ever bought. Hey, there’s one from a California group my friend Derek See played in 10 years ago (and I have that one on red vinyl.)

There are still a bunch of CDs left, but not so many that I can’t look through them all, and I found these.

Neal Francis In Plain Sight LP cover

Neal Francis is a Chicago singer-songwriter and keyboard player. He’s managed by Brendan O’Connell, whom I met a couple of times when he played keyboards and sang and wrote songs for The Right Now, a solid pop-soul group also from Chicago. My friend Bruce Warren at the mighty WXPN radio out of Philadelphia tipped me to this one.

“Can’t Stop The Rain,” Neal Francis, from “In Plain Sight,” 2021. Derek Trucks plays slide guitar on this one.

Inexplicably, there also were a bunch of Tony Joe White CDs. However, I already have a bunch of Tony Joe White records. Except this one.

Tony Joe White That On The Road Look Live LP cover

It’s a scorching, blistering, steaming, smoking live show from 1971, not released until 2010 and not seen by me until today. No one knows for sure where this show was. White thought maybe it was one of their opening gigs for Creedence Clearwater Revival in Europe, maybe at Royal Albert Hall in London. If so, then that was Sept. 27-28, 1971.

“Polk Salad Annie.” Tony Joe White, from “That On The Road Look ‘Live,'” recorded 1971, released 2010.

Yeah, I figured you wanted the 10-minute jam. “I had Mike Utley, Duck Dunn and Sammy Creason with me, and them boys was into it,” White said.

I left the rest of the cool Tony Joe White CDs for someone else to grab at 90% off. There’s still a day and a half left before that Exclusive Company groove runs out.

Exclusive Company record store closing signs, Green Bay, WI, June 30, 2022

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Filed under June 2022, Sounds

About that stereo …

“Dad, could I write a blog post for Father’s Day?”

Sure, Evan. So with that, please enjoy the first guest post in the 15 years this blog has been hanging out in this corner of the web.

Evan Ash at 3Hey there. You might remember me as the kid that used to be in the header image to this blog. Or, if you’re a really seasoned follower of the Pen of Jeff Ash (older than dirt, as dad would say), you followed my adventures in the “Green Bay Update” column that dad wrote for South End Zone from 1998 to 2006. If the website (which is still going strong!) is to be believed, my adventures were “a popular part of each update.” Dad made sure in these columns to note that I “dissolved into tears” when my Pinewood Derby car lost in the double elimination tournament (hey, I was 8 and more concerned with a cool-looking car rather than aerodynamics) and that I was one of the “less talented” kids on the local SAY recreational soccer teams. Thanks for that, Pops. I’m sorry in advance to greatly date anyone who knew me from the above-mentioned references, but I’m 27 now, living in Maryland and coming up on year four of my Ph.D. program in history.

You might be wondering why I’m invading the pages of AM, then FM. No, I’m not guest writing a piece about vinyl. I lost the ability to enjoy my vinyl collection, assembled from new discs, music store finds, and, of course, pilfered from mom and dad’s vinyl collection, when mom and dad insisted that we donate dad’s venerable old Sony stereo system (which I’d taken to college, then grad school) when I moved into the tiny bedroom in my first house in Maryland back in 2019. More on that later.

Father’s Day is around the corner (I’m off to Rocky Gap State Park to go camping with my girlfriend this weekend, so I’m writing this on Friday afternoon), and I thought that this would be a nice present for dad and a chance for those who’ve followed my exploits since the dawn of the internet to see how I turned out. Jury’s still out on that one.

Moving to Maryland was the first time that I’d really felt far away from my parents. I didn’t go far for college, as you probably know. Just across town. Mom and dad never missed a show of mine, but I didn’t really spend much time at home outside of breaks until my senior year, when it was nice to get away from campus drama and the shitty coin-operated laundry machines at my apartment. Grad school was more of a challenge, but we all adapted nicely to it. Mom and dad came down for Thanksgiving in 2017 and managed to throw together a respectable feast in my tiny garden apartment kitchen. Then, once I joined Glee Club and Collegiate Chorale, they had a routine vacation down to Oxford that they made twice a semester, still making it to all my concerts. Mom was in Vegas for one, but that’s okay. It was a lousy concert. For a family that doesn’t take a lot of vacations, our trips to Southwest Ohio are the closest thing we get. Mom and dad get to enjoy the scenic 8-hour drive, stop at their favorite roadside restaurants, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of Cincinnati, Ohio, the greatest city in the world.

But moving to Maryland, and the subsequent world global health crisis that ensued, made things difficult. I was no longer a quick 8-hour drive away, and with the planet grinding to a halt in March 2020, planning to see each other became more difficult. However, we did start a new quasi-tradition of calling weekly-ish on Google Hangouts. I, in glorious HD on my wide-angled webcam, and mom and dad in what must be 480p, crammed into dad’s office. Mom and dad have made it out here a couple times, including a Christmas concert of mine. I give them a pass on concert attendance nowadays since the livestreaming infrastructure at Maryland is quite sophisticated.

Various events in the last couple of years inspired me to write this piece, which I originally brainstormed as a reflection on how dad contributed to the man that I developed into. As you know, and as my mother has become fond of saying, you don’t need a DNA test to figure out the relation there. As mom, dad, Joanna and I convened on scenic Burlington, Wisconsin, a few weeks ago for my cousin Beau’s wedding, we all took a picture together where dad and I are making the exact same face. As mom says. No DNA required. I’m shorter and my hair is longer, but otherwise, identical.

Evan Ash photo at the University of Maryland

I also made a conscious choice a couple of years ago to start going to the bar that dad used to drink at, the venerable Pump Room, our local tavern. When I first moved, I would invite my friends in the area out to Titletown Brewing for some farewell drinks the night before I was due to leave, but this has since evolved to going out with just a few of my closest friends to the Pump Room. It’s quieter, the beer is cheaper, and the cheeseburgers are out of this world (Joanna, you’ll come around to them eventually). The last time I was there with a longtime pal of mine, Collin, Kathy was tending bar (if you know, you know). I gave her my card to pay for our drinks, and she comes back and goes “You’re Jeff’s son, aren’t you? Well, tell him that Dale O’Brien and Jim Zima are back in town on Wednesday.” That gives you a sense of how long it’s been since dad drank at the Pump Room regularly. As we walked out, Collin remarked to me “That’s the nicest I’ve ever seen her be to someone.” That, dear readers, is the Jeff Ash Effect.

Another moment of inspiration occurred when we were in Cincinnati last weekend exploring town before my Glee Club Reunion Concert. Whenever we’re in town, dad loves to hit up Shake-It Records, a long-running Northside record store. We each look for our own thing. Dad hunts for the classic funk and soul records, I look for movies and underground comics. I’ve always tagged along, with varying degrees of interest, to the record stores that dad pokes around in wherever we travel. I vividly recall, around the age of 9 or 10, staring incredulously at all the bongs and other weed paraphernalia that were behind the counter at the Electric Fetus in Duluth, MN, our family’s longtime vacation destination. Less fun were the trips in middle school to Mad City Music Exchange in Madison, where I couldn’t bear to be in the store for any time at all. But now, I happily go along, though, as I mentioned above, I’m not buying vinyl. Just CDs and movies.

I also started reading dad’s blog more, taking in dad as a writer, and not just dad as dad. My favorite things to read are always his meticulously researched end of year They Always Go In Threes. I don’t know how he does it. Most recently, his blogs on the shuttering of the Exclusive Company (another “Hey, you’re Jeff’s kid” place), and his recent dry spell in record hunting. I feel that. The comics I’ve bought are few and far between these days as well. As the years pass, I feel more and more like dad. And that’s okay. Dad’s a great writer, I hope to be one too. Dad’s a great historian, I hope to be one too. And one day when I’m ready, I hope I can be a great dad like dad’s been to me.

So, dad, thanks for all the morning motivation texts. I promise I read and appreciate them, even if I don’t text you back. Thanks for all the “FYI” or “Perhaps of interest” stuff you send my way on Twitter. Sometimes it is, in fact, of interest. Thanks for the virtual green handshakes (where dad will, without warning, send me an odd small sum of approximately 26 dollars). Thanks for
the predilection for all things old. Thanks for passing on your lack of athletic talent, which I funneled into other pursuits. Thanks for saving my bacon when I would have moved into an apartment that would have made me broke. Thanks for taking over my gig as East High basketball announcer, still connecting us to East almost ten years later. Thanks for making Joanna happy by talking about my boneheadedness when I’m not around. Thanks for being my #1 fan across the years and across the states.

Thanks for being my dad. I love you.


Dad has given me so much good advice that it’s hard to remember. But in the spirit of dad embarrassing younger me, I’m going to list the few times that dad has been wrong in his life.

  1. Despite your claims otherwise, I did not grow into those large and XL shirts while I was still in high school.
  2. Sorry to report, dad, but it’s not the ’70s anymore. People wear all kinds of high school clothing at college.
  3. Dad, we did not need to get rid of that stereo.

Dad's old stereo

(This is the stereo in question, seen as it was being moved from dorm room to apartment in 2016.)


Filed under June 2022

Dry spell

You’d think that over the course of a couple of months that have seen our local record show, a couple of pop-up record sales and Green Bay’s oldest record store having its long goodbye, I’d be hip deep in records.

Nope. Been going through a dry spell when it comes to record digging. A few finds here and there. That’s it.

That, in turn, has dampened my enthusiasm for the hunt. Just not digging record digging at the moment.

I’ve been through stretches like that before, but this one feels like it’s going to last a while.

Group photo of 4 record covers: "Mambo," Xavier Cugat, 1953; "Based on the ABC-TV show Shindig!" 1964; "Inner City Beat" theme compilation, 2014; "Laurel Canyon," Jackie DeShannon, 1968.

That said, some things I found at those recent digs:

  • “Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets Highlights,” a cool comp of L.A. pop, circa 1965 to 1968.
  • “Mambo,” a Xavier Cugat 10-inch record from 1953.
  • A couple of 45s from Baby Grand and Truc, two early ’70s Wisconsin bands.
  • “The Many Moods of Willie Mitchell” from 1969.
  • A Hanna-Barbera Organ and Chimes Christmas record from 1966.
  • A “Shindig!”-inspired comp from 1964.
  • “Inner City Beat,” a comp of British spy, detective and thriller themes from 2014.
  • Another 45, this one “2+2=?/Ivory” by the Bob Seger System, a 2017 reissue.
  • “Laurel Canyon” by Jackie DeShannon from 1969.
  • “Call Me Man!” by the Jules Blattner Group from 1971.
  • Area Code 615’s first LP from 1969.
  • A reissue of the Dennis Coffey Trio’s first record, “Hair and Thangs” from 1969.

Yes, that is a nice stack of records. Some nice cover art, too.

But that’s three months of record digging. If that constitutes a dry spell, maybe I’ve been buying too many records. That is entirely possible.

Then again, when the folks from Strictly Discs in Madison picked up a collection near Milwaukee earlier this month, there were thousands of records in that basement. They showed some on an Instagram reel. “This is less than half of the 24,000 records,” they said as they walked between the floor-the-ceiling shelves.

Wonder whether that collector ever went through a dry spell.

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Filed under May 2022

The long goodbye

A bunch of the record stores I once loved visiting are long gone. So it goes when you’ve been record digging for 50 years.

Prange’s basement and Evans in Sheboygan, Prange’s loft and Bob’s Musical Isle in Wausau, Freedom Records and Earthly Goods in Green Bay, Resale Records in Madison, all closed after I’d moved away. Truckers Union is still there on Water Street in Eau Claire, but it got out of the record business in the ’80s, again after I’d moved away.

But in all that time, only one regular stop closed as I watched it go.

Amazing Records, at the time the only used record store in Green Bay, closed in slow motion in the spring of 2010. Jim packed it up and took it back home to northern California.

Now another regular stop is closing as I watch it go.

James Giombetti — Mr. G — was the owner and voice of The Exclusive Company, a small chain of indie record stores in Wisconsin. He died last November. His family didn’t want to continue the business.

The Exclusive Company, Green Bay, April 15, 2022

The liquidation sale at the Green Bay store started on April 12. With up to 50% off everything, the first few days were a zoo. At the end of the second day, this is what the vinyl aisle looked like.

My friend Tom has worked at the Green Bay store since 1988. (I never knew those were called header cards.)

On the fourth day, April 15, I finally made it down there, more curious than anything. The new vinyl bins you see above on the right looked more like this.

Exclusive Company Green Bay store bins during liquidation sale, April 15, 2022

Someone had put that new Beatles release among the used records. With the Beatles header card long gone, I repatriated it to the front of the “B” bin.

On the fourth day, as I dug through the bins, Tom announced a milestone: “That’s the last Hellacopters CD I’ll ever sell in Green Bay.”

Bob Seger System 2+2=?/Ivory 45 jacket

On the fourth day, I found only a 45 — “2+2=?/Ivory” by the Bob Seger System, a 2017 release on Jack White’s Third Man Records label. Here’s the title cut from the original 45 on Capitol from 1968.

It’s fitting. The Exclusive Company bins have yielded a couple of records with the cool vintage cuts Bob Seger disavows, the LPs mentioned in this 2018 blog post.

I stopped in again yesterday, on the 18th day. Still plenty of records, still new releases on the new release wall, but the bins are clearly emptying out. The liquidation sale goes on through May and June. Still plenty of records, but none for me on the 18th day.

There will be other days for digging at The Exclusive Company in Green Bay, but they’re dwindling to a precious few.


Filed under April 2022