Say it with me!

Say It With Me neon sign in the window of The Exclusive Company record store in Green Bay, Wisconsin

There was a time when men with loud, colorful, outsized personalities were the voices of record stores, stereo stores, car dealers, race tracks and drag strips in radio and TV ads across the land.

Mr. G was one, but there was no one like Mr. G, and now Mr. G — a Wisconsin original — is gone.

James Giombetti — Mr. G — was the owner and voice of The Exclusive Company, a small chain of indie record stores in Wisconsin. He opened his first store in West Bend in 1956. The next one opened in 1957 in Oshkosh and became the flagship store.

Today, The Exclusive Company is still going strong, with seven stores over here on the Lake Michigan side of the state.

Mr. G got revved up in every commercial he did, ending each one by shouting “Say it with me! The Exclusive … COMPANY!” Here’s one from 1992. 

My friend Mark, who worked at WKAU radio in Kaukauna, shares another memorable ad:

“The Exclusive Company had a special sale prior to moving to a different location in Appleton. In the spot, Mr. Giombetti says, ‘Ahh, let’s cut the crap! We’re evicted!'”

I most often heard Mr. G on WAPL, long the FM rock powerhouse/dinosaur in northeastern Wisconsin. It put together this Mr. G highlight tape.

If Mr. G’s enthusiasm ever was annoying, it long ago became endearing.

That’s why there was a huge wave of fond remembrances of Mr. G when word started spreading that he’d died over the weekend in Florida. His stores have always been places to hang out, meet people, talk music, discover music, explore music and become immersed in the vibe of the moment.

My friend Tom, who runs the Green Bay store, said this:

“I consider myself very lucky and privileged to have worked for a music legend like Mr. G since August of 1988. … This loss is on the magnitude of losing a parent.”

I never met Mr. G, but by all accounts that was an experience on par with his radio and TV ads. “Mr. G — dapper in in a white suit — (was) a cross between Leon Redbone and Rocky Rococo,” Blaine Schultz wrote in the Shepherd Express, a Milwaukee weekly.

My friend Mike lived near Mr. G’s office in Oshkosh. He remembers:

“We would regularly see him hurrying in and out, wearing a black satin cape with burgundy-colored interior. He always seemed to be in a rush.”

My friend Mark, again, remembers encountering Mr. G while shopping:

“If you were in the store browsing some albums, on occasion, he’d walk up to you and say, ‘Do you like that band? Then you really should buy that album. You’ll really like it! It might be their best album yet!’ The guy had a lot of enthusiasm.”

Mr. G was a tremendous businessman. He figured his managers knew their towns and their clientele better than anyone. Again, my friend Tom, speaking to the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

“He was loyal to employees who worked their butts off for him. And he gave us a lot of autonomy at the stores. He let the individual store managers do their own thing.”

True. Each Exclusive Company store is a little different from the others. I know I’ll find things at the Green Bay store that I won’t find at the Appleton store a half-hour away, and vice versa.

The Exclusive Company opened in Green Bay in 1985, replacing another record store, Pipe Dreams. It’s in an old building that was a grocery store and a paint store before that.

I’ve been record digging at The Exclusive Company since I moved back to town in 1990, though it’s really been only in the last 15 or so years that I’ve been a regular. Tom has become a good friend — the best part of being a record store regular — and has been a willing co-conspirator with my wife and son when they seek birthday or Christmas gifts.

Though I’ve bought many records at The Exclusive Company, I don’t think I ever bought one because I heard Mr. G hyping it on the radio.

But Mr. G’s voice is seared into my memory, and that will always be a good thing.

Say it with me! The Exclusive … COMPANY!

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Filed under November 2021, Sounds

Shaft and me, 50 years on

50 years ago, at about this time of year, Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” blew my 14-year-old mind.

As the first week of November 1971 came to a close, “Theme From Shaft” sat atop the Top 10 on WOKY, The Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee, one of the last great AM Top 40 stations. I listened to it every night. That Top 10:

  1. Theme From Shaft – Isaac Hayes                              
  2. Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves – Cher                            
  3. Imagine – John Lennon                                       
  4. Yo-Yo – Osmonds                                             
  5. Superstar – Carpenters                                      
  6. Easy Lovin’ – Freddie Hart                                   
  7. Two Divided By Love – Grass Roots                           
  8. Baby I’m-a Want You – Bread                                
  9. What Are You Doing Sunday – Dawn                           
  10. Never My Love – 5th Dimension      

“Theme From Shaft” was in its second week at No. 1 on WOKY, so you know it was in heavy rotation, getting spun every three hours or so. No complaints here.

Shaft soundtrack LP

The “Shaft” soundtrack was perhaps only the third album I ever bought. At the time, late 1971, it had the feel of being my first really sophisticated record. I wonder what my parents thought. I never asked. They never said.

Yes, I still have it.

I also have a bunch of “Shaft” covers, “Shaft” knockoffs and “Shaft” oddities.

The Man From Shaft LP by Richard Roundtree

My favorite Shaft-adjacent collectible is “The Man From Shaft,” by “Shaft” star Richard Roundtree. I found it maybe 15 years ago at one of the first record shows I ever went to. I grabbed it and I haven’t seen it in the wild since.

“Man From Shaft,” Richard Roundtree, from “The Man From Shaft,” 1972.

Eugene McDaniels produced and arranged this LP and wrote or co-wrote all eight of the nine cuts. There’s a tremendous group of jazz session musicians on it, too.

Shaft LPs, Soul Mann/Mack Browne and The Brothers

Then there are selections from the “Shaft” soundtrack performed by Soul Mann and The Brothers and Mack Browne and The Brothers. They’re the same group. The Soul Mann LP was released on Pickwick, an American budget label; the Mack Browne LP was released on Hallmark, a UK budget label, both in 1971. I have both for no apparent reason.

I have a bunch of covers of “Theme From Shaft.” Among those artists: El Michels Affair, Jimmy McGriff, Joe Bataan, Maynard Ferguson, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ike and Tina Turner. Still looking for the LPs with “Shaft” covers by Bernard Purdie and the Love Unlimited Orchestra.

You know what that sounds like, but here’s one of my favorite covers. It’s by Kashmere Stage Band from Kashmere High School in Houston. They don’t sound like high school kids.

Kashmere Stage Band Texas Thunder Soul CD cover, 2006

“Theme From Shaft,” Kashmere Stage Band, from “Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-1974,” 2006.

Finally, there is this. Did you know Isaac Hayes recorded a follow-up to “Theme From Shaft?” Well, of course he did, and of course it’s a long jam.

For The Sake Of Love LP, Isaac Hayes, 1978

“Shaft II,” Isaac Hayes, from “For The Sake Of Love,” 1978.

All that, and we still haven’t gotten to the film. More to come.

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Filed under November 2021, Sounds

Have you ever watched a moonbeam?

“Nilsson Schmilsson,” the wonderful Harry Nilsson album released 50 years ago yesterday, was not on the list of 10 all-time greatest albums I submitted to WXPN radio in Philadelphia for its consideration the other day.

If I had it to do over, I might add it to my list and leave off something certain to be on hundreds of other listeners’ lists.

Nilsson Schmilsson LP jacket, Harry Nilsson, 1971

XPN will be counting down the top 2,021 albums of all time as determined by the poll beginning at 6 a.m. ET on Thursday, Dec. 2. That’s 5 a.m. my time …

“Early In The Morning”

“Nilsson Schmilsson” was one of the first few albums I ever owned. I was 14, maybe 15. Loved it then and have loved it ever since. As with all of my earliest LPs, every track and every side is seared into memory from having played them so often.

Side A has always struck me as a bit of a travelogue, starting with “Gotta Get Up” (which everyone now knows from “Russian Doll” on Netflix). It’s followed by “Driving Along” and “Early In The Morning.” You drive from early morning to late night, and then along comes …

“The Moonbeam Song”

This has long been my favorite cut on the record, leisurely reflections and gentle musings about watching the world passing by. Mostly acoustic, that’s Klaus Voormann and John Uribe on acoustic guitar, Herbie Flowers on bass and Nilsson himself on the wee bit of Mellotron.

The trip through Side A doesn’t end well, though, going …

“Down”

Side B is less interesting, if only because most of its songs are so well known — “Without You,” “Coconut,” “Let The Good Times Roll” and “Jump Into The Fire.”

Listening to it again, I’m reminded that I often picked up the needle after the exciting “Jump Into The Fire” and passed on the last cut, “I’ll Never Leave You,” a slow, poignant love song lost on a kid who was 14, maybe 15.

All rips from my copy of “Nilsson Schmilsson,” which I’ve had for almost 50 years, since not all that long after it was released on Monday, Nov. 1, 1971.

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Filed under November 2021, Sounds

They say it’s your birthday

An old friend has a birthday today, turning 39.

We were both new to town back in the second week of October 1982.

I’d moved to Madison in June, starting a new job at the Wisconsin State Journal. It was my first job at a morning paper. I worked nights, so I listened to WORT-FM, a local indie radio station, for a couple of hours each afternoon.

WORT had a highly eclectic music show on weekday afternoons, hosted by a different volunteer DJ every day. Mostly rock, but all genres, really. It was mind-blowing to a kid — I was 25, but really still a kid — who’d listened mostly to AM and FM Top 40 radio since the ’70s dawned. Sure, I’d heard late-night free-form FM radio, but this went far beyond deep album cuts. I heard things that would never make commercial radio, would never make MTV.

I wanted to explore some of that music, but where to find it? Who’d have records I’d never heard of? I’d been in town for barely three months. I certainly didn’t know all the record stores. 

B-Side Records exterior, Madison, Wisconsin, 2020

Then, 39 years ago today, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 1982, B-Side Records opened at 436 State Street, roughly halfway between the state Capitol and the University of Wisconsin campus. It remains there to this day.

B-Side was and is long and narrow, with bins on three sides of the store and some free-standing bins in the middle. It can be tight quarters.

B-Side Records interior, Madison, Wisconsin, 2017

B-Side had some of the records I wanted to explore, so that was cool. It didn’t take long for B-Side to become one of my regular stops. (My other regular stops: Madcity Music Exchange near Camp Randall Stadium, run back then by my friend Dave Benton and still going as Madcity Music; and the late, great Resale Records near the Oscar Mayer plant, run by Eric Teisberg, a most quirky gent.)

I still have 100 or so albums released during the time I lived in Madison, 1982 to 1990. Time has blurred which I bought new at B-Side, which I bought new or used at Madcity Music Exchange and which I bought used at Resale Records.

I’m certain of one record, though. WORT introduced me to Los Lobos. When “How Will The Wolf Survive?” was released in the fall of 1984, I bought it at B-Side. Took it home, put it on the turntable … and it didn’t track properly. I took it back. I got puzzled looks at B-Side, but they exchanged it for another copy … which didn’t track properly, either. I took it back. Now they’re really skeptical, and understandably so, but they graciously exchanged it for another copy … which played perfectly.

Other records I know I bought at B-Side: All my Prince, Eurythmics, Bananarama and Rainmakers records from that time. Records by Rank and File, the Del-Lords and Brave Combo, all heard on WORT. Message records from that time, including “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Special AKA and “Sun City” by Artists United Against Apartheid. Records from oldies acts that enjoyed new-found popularity back then, including “Reconsider Baby” by Elvis Presley (a blues comp on blue vinyl, a record I love), “Milestones,” a Jerry Lee Lewis comp, and “Little Richard’s Grooviest 17 Original Hits.”

I’m headed to Madison next week for a day of digging. I’m sure I’ll stop by again.

Photo credits: Exterior photo is from B-Side Records Facebook page, May 31, 2020. Interior photo is by David Drexler, taken in the fall of 2017, pinned to B-Side’s Facebook page and shared by B-Side owner Steve Manley to the Badger Herald student newspaper, February 2020.

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Filed under October 2021, Sounds

The Record Event Of The Year!

Rare Earth record ad, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Sept. 1, 197150 years ago today, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 1971, this long, tall ad in the Green Bay Press-Gazette proclaimed that “The Record Event Of The Year” was happening at Woolworth’s.

For just $3.68, you could get any one of these three record albums by Rare Earth. (That’s $24.62 in 2021 dollars, and some new records go for that these days, so not much has changed for record buyers in 50 years.)

In the newspaper business, this was known as a co-op ad. In this case, the record company — the Rare Earth label — ponied up the money to hype its records via an ad from Woolworth’s. The label may have paid for part of the ad or all of the ad. Fairly common stuff.

Even though Rare Earth was mostly a singles band as September 1971 began, and even though free-form FM radio was in its infancy, the ad hyped some of Rare Earth’s popular long jams.

Let’s listen!

“#1 One World contains the hit single ‘I Just Want To Celebrate’ and a seven-minute version of the incredibly funky ‘What’d I Say.'”

This was the newest Rare Earth album featured in the ad. “One World” had come out three months earlier, at the beginning of the summer of 1971. It eventually went gold, but didn’t chart as high as the other two albums hyped here, peaking at No. 28 on the Billboard 200.

“#2 Get Ready contains the full 21 minute version of the hit ‘GET READY.'”

“Get Ready” had been released two years earlier, in July 1969, went platinum and reached No. 12 on the Billboard 200. “What’d I Say,” of course, was a Ray Charles cover.

“Get Ready,” the single, also appeared in slightly different form on “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s obscure debut album from 1968. I wrote about that record last year. Rarest Earth, you might say.

“#3 Ecology contains the complete 10 minute version of the hit ‘(I Know) I’M LOSING YOU.'”

“Ecology” had been released in the winter of 1970, so it was a year and a half old. It went gold and reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200. “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” of course, is a Temptations cover.

Rare Earth’s next record? The mighty “Rare Earth In Concert,” a double LP released in December 1971. It features LONGER versions of everything here except “What’d I Say.” Whether the studio version or the live version, all were free-form FM radio staples in the ’70s. I dug them then and I dig them now.

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Filed under September 2021