Where should I sign?

Autographed Taylor Swift folklore CDs at the Exclusive Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

This is quite a story if you haven’t already heard it.

Delivery guy drops a box of 30 autographed Taylor Swift “folklore” CDs at a record store 15 minutes before it opens. A young woman signs for it. She’s sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for the store to open. She realizes what the package likely contains and protects it as if it were gold. She hands it over to the record store manager when he arrives to open for the day.

Well, that happened right here in Green Bay a week ago. The record store is The Exclusive Company, one of my regular stops. The store manager is my friend Tom Smith. The Taylor Swift fan is Brandy Baenen, who’s 26.

“‘Taylor would not have wanted me to walk off with this,” she told Tom, who later that day told the story on social media and watched it go viral.

Which got me to thinking about autographs. I’ve never been a big autograph guy. Not athletes, not celebrities and not musicians. I’d rather chat briefly with them, say I enjoyed their performance, and leave it at that.

That said, I do have a few signed records and CDs.

The late, great Steve Goodman signed his “Artistic Hair” record for me after I saw him play at the old Madison Civic Center in the spring of 1983. I vividly remember Goodman sitting at the table, looking up and asking my name for the inscription. Either I mumbled or he misheard me. As you see, he signed mine “JOE / Hello / Steve Goodman.” I was vaguely disappointed at first, but have long since enjoyed it as another delightful gift from Goodman.

Colin Hay Man @ Work autographed CD

After Colin Hay played a solo one-nighter at our local casino lounge in the summer of 2005, I queued up for his autograph on his “Man @ Work” CD. Our son Evan was 10 at the time. He was just getting into music. One of the songs on that 2003 record, “Beautiful World,” was one of his favorites.

Sleepy LaBeef Nothin' But the Truth autographed LP

Sleepy LaBeef, the human jukebox, was one of my all-time favorites. I pulled out “Nothin’ But the Truth,” his 1986 live record, for Sleepy to sign when he played a rockabilly festival at our local casino in 2007. At some point, I managed to crease a corner of the album jacket, and that bugs me to this day.

Carlene Carter autograph on Stronger CD

Carlene Carter autograph on Carter Girl CD

Though we saw Carlene Carter live in 2009, my autographed CDs came by mail. She has the best penmanship and nicest signature of any of my autographs. Fun fact: Ray Nitschke was a close second.

(I also have a CD signed by all the members of The Ides of March, circa 2011, but that was a post-show assembly-line deal rather than a face-to-face meetup. The Ides’ Jim Peterik signed his book for me three years later. I have a 12-inch single signed by all three ladies in The Three Degrees, circa 1978. Bought that for fun.)

(Found while rounding up those autographs: Autographed CDs by blues guitarists John Cephas and Phil Wiggins — a birthday gift in 1993 after we saw them earlier that year — and by country singer Danni Leigh from after a 2004 show at our local casino lounge.)

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Filed under August 2020, Sounds

Greetings from Maryland

One of the great things about record digging is where it takes you while traveling. You often get down to the neighborhood level, where many tourists don’t go. You find other cool places along the way.

That was our trip to Maryland a couple of weeks ago. Knowing we’d have time for record digging, I did some research, googling record stores in the area and checking the great record store app from The Vinyl District blog, which is run by my friend Jon.

Sonidos! record store card and receipt

First stop: Sonidos! in Beltsville, a tiny but lovely shop not far from our son’s apartment. In these pandemic times, Claudia and Gabe ask customers to book appointments for record digging. We touched base via Facebook message, and I took the first hour on a Thursday afternoon. New day!

It’s nice to dig through a great bunch of records that are well organized, often in perfect alphabetical order, and priced right. Records that should cost more did cost more. More common records were priced to move.

Another great thing about digging while traveling is that you sometimes see records you never see, or rarely see, in the Midwest. My Sonidos! finds were those kinds of records: Solomon Burke’s “Proud Mary” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing,” both from 1969.

Turns out Sonidos! is less than a mile up the road from Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa, where we got Peruvian chicken takeout the night before. Ain’t no Peruvian chicken takeout in Green Bay!

Spin Groove Records van

Second stop: Spin Groove Records in Easton, in eastern Maryland. It’s much like Rock n’ Roll Land, one of my regular stops in Green Bay, well stocked with lots of used vinyl and used CDs, all reasonably priced.

Spin Groove’s ramshackle charm starts at the street, where you see the van. There’s a hippie Jesus figurine and a cooler next to the driver’s seat. Bill’s shop is upstairs in a two-story building it shares with a pizza place, a Pakistani-Indian restaurant and store, and some other businesses and offices. You walk up past what look like some small apartments to get there.

Went through the regular-priced vinyl. Found the Mongo Santamaria record I’d found the day before. Kept digging. Went through some $5 vinyl. Nothing. Kept digging. Went through some $2 vinyl. Boom! My Spin Groove Records finds among that $2 vinyl: Count Basie and His Orchestra with “Basie’s Beatle Bag” from 1966 and the “Soul Christmas” comp on Atco from 1968.

Turns out Spin Groove is in Easton’s East End, an older neighborhood that’s being revived. So is Rude Burger, a nice local place where we had lunch that Friday afternoon. Rude BBQ, run by the same folks, is across the street.

Red Onion Records interior

Third stop: Red Onion Records in Hyattsville, another tiny shop not far from our son’s apartment. In these pandemic times, the proprietor slid a table in front of the door when we reached the limit of five people.

This was another place with a bunch of records rarely or never seen in the Midwest. My Red Onion Records find: Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mouse in “Super Spy,” more Hanna-Barbera cartoon spy music from 1966.

Turns out Red Onion Records was four blocks from where we met our son and his friend for lunch that Sunday afternoon. That was handy because we were killing time before lunch.

Left behind in Maryland: Can’t buy everything, even more stuff I never see in Wisconsin. Saw some Bohannon records. Saw some Trombones Unlimited records with presumably groovy covers of ’60s pop and rock songs. Saw “The Plastic Cow Goes Moooooog,” a Mike Melvoin record from 1969 with Moog covers of ’60s pop and rock songs. OhhhhhhhhK.

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Filed under August 2020

The Green Hornet rides again

When I got back into record digging more than a decade ago, this was one of the first records I bought.

I had no idea it existed, but was delighted to find it. I’ve loved “The Green Hornet” since I was in fourth grade, 1966-67, the only season it aired on ABC.

Likewise, I had no idea a YouTube playlist of all 26 episodes of “The Green Hornet” existed. I was delighted to find that, too. So, over the course of a month’s time during the pandemic, I watched all 26 episodes in the order they aired, one each night. (With the exception of two-part cliffhangers watched in a single night.)

Some takeaways from that lone season of “The Green Hornet,” seen by eyes that are more than 50 years older now:

— I didn’t expect it to be relevant from the first episode. One of the bad guys in “The Silent Gun” was …

— Van Williams, as The Green Hornet and Daily Sentinel publisher Britt Reid, gets the job done. The guys like the action. The ladies like the eye candy. How no one ever figured out that Britt Reid was the Green Hornet is beyond me. That mask isn’t much of a disguise.

— Bruce Lee, as Kato, never gets quite enough to do. He gets more lines and screen time as the series goes along, but there’s never enough of what everyone came to see — martial arts fights. The best one: Kato vs. Mako in “The Preying Mantis.” (Keye Luke, who played Kato in “The Green Hornet” movie serials in 1940, also appears in that episode.)

— Wende Wagner, as Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s secretary, never gets to do much more than answer the phone and be eye candy. In real life, Wagner was a tremendous athlete, a surfer and scuba diver. We get to see her run for her life in the season-ending cliffhanger, but that’s about it.

— Lloyd Gough, as Daily Sentinel reporter Mike Axford, who’s convinced that The Green Hornet is a bad guy, shamelessly blusters over the top for much of the series. Not exactly comic relief, but Britt Reid and Miss Case enjoy yanking his chain at the end of many episodes. He’s much more effective in the last handful of episodes, going low-key and playing it straight. (“The Green Hornet” was Gough’s first regular gig after being on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade. He has no IMDb listings from 1952 to 1964.)

 Walter Brooke, as District Attorney Frank Scanlon, is the show’s anchor, delivering gravitas every time he speaks. He also gets to ride in that cool lift behind the fake fireplace at Britt Reid’s home. That, of course, was activated by tipping books out of the bookshelves, which every kid did at home, at school and at the library, myself included. (Brooke is best known for tipping Benjamin Braddock to “plastics” in “The Graduate,” which was filmed after “The Green Hornet” had wrapped in 1967.)

— The Black Beauty is the least cool superhero car ever, built by Dean Jeffries from a 1966 Chrysler Imperial. They made two of them, and both showed up in “Corpse of the Year,” a two-part cliffhanger.

— There seemingly wasn’t much of a budget. The same footage of The Green Hornet and Kato flipping Britt’s white convertible for the Black Beauty in the garage, then hopping into the Black Beauty and driving it through dark, rain-soaked streets is used over and over. The same warehouse appears in multiple episodes. One sharp-eyed YouTube commenter saw the same boxes in that warehouse in back-to-back episodes.

— The day-for-night film technique, which created night scenes by underexposing film shot during daylight, is maddening. Per Wikipedia, “it is often employed when it is too difficult or expensive to actually shoot during nighttime.” Much of “The Green Hornet” is way too dark, with many of the fight scenes lost in the shadows. I’d love to see it shot with today’s film techniques.

— Lots of familiar faces show up as the series goes along … John Carradine, “Alias The Scarf,” the killer in a fog-shrouded wax museum? Imagine that. In the same episode, character actor Paul Gleason shows up briefly in only his third TV appearance and there’s Ian Wolfe, dressed much as he would be two years later as Mr. Atoz on “Star Trek.” … Barbara Babcock, later seen on “Hill Street Blues,” shows up twice as Britt Reid’s girlfriend. … Jeffrey Hunter — Capt. Christopher Pike on “Star Trek” — as a corrupt contractor in “Freeway To Death.” … Gary Owens as the Daily Sentinel TV news reader. … A gorgeous 21-year-old Lynda Day (before she was Lynda Day George) as a good girl mixed up with bad guys and James Best — yep, old Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane — as the baddest of the bad guys in “Deadline for Death.” … Michael Strong — “I am Roger Korby!” from “Star Trek” a year earlier — as the bad guy who tries to frame Britt Reid for murder in “Hornet Save Thyself.”

— The most fun episode is “Ace in the Hole,” in which The Green Hornet pits two gangsters against each other. It’s the only episode even close to being played for laughs. The bad guys are the always unflappable Richard Anderson and the always blustery Richard X. Slattery. Character actor Percy Helton shows up as Gus, the guy living across the hall from reporter Mike Axford. The weirdest part of this starts at the 19:43 mark. Billy May drops about 30 seconds of Tijuana Brass-style music into a fight scene involving some of the bad guys as The Green Hornet and Kato stand by and watch. It’s the only time that the series departs from May’s more muscular scores. It’s also one of two episodes in which “Batman” is shown on a TV during a scene.

After watching all the episodes, I can say this:

— I vividly remembered the fights, the gadgets and the costumes. I remembered none of the plots.

— I love that it was set at a newspaper.

— It’s a little sad to think that all five of the show’s stars are no longer with us.

— Let’s cue up that great opening and that great narration by executive producer William Dozier.

— Let’s cue up my record.

“Green Hornet Theme,” Al Hirt, from “The Horn Meets The Hornet,” 1966.

Here’s some more themes from that record.

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Filed under July 2020, Sounds

Riding with Records on Wheels

It is the early summer of 1965. School’s out in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

You’re cruising Main Street, your car radio blasting away. You’re plopped down on the bed, listening to the tinny sound from your tiny transistor radio.

Then you hear a certain song.

But which stores have that 45? Stiller’s? Shopko? Prange’s? Woolworth’s? Snyder Drug? It’s a hassle to run downtown on the spur of the moment.

Still, you really dig it that song. You gotta have it. Like right now, man.

So you pick up the phone and dial 432-2333. You call Records on Wheels.

Records on Wheels ad, June 17, 1965

A Chevy panel truck pulls up outside the house. Someone gets out, comes up to your door, collects your money and hands you the 45 you just gotta have.

You paid a premium for that service, of course. That record you so urgently needed cost $1 — 97 cents plus 3 cents sales tax.

Depending on which store you shopped, and which sale you shopped, 45s sold for three for $1 … or two for 49 cents … or a bag of five for 39 cents … or 88 cents each … or 77 cents each … or 50 cents each … or 29 cents each … or 10 cents each.

Records on Wheels was ahead of its time. Decades ahead of a time with next-day delivery from Amazon.

The only evidence of its existence are 11 days of newspaper want ads touting the service in February 1965 and the ad above, which was curiously dropped into the paper four months later, on Thursday, June 17, 1965 — 55 years ago today.

And, of course, the records that were wheeled to homes all over Green Bay.

What was Green Bay listening to this week in 1965? The Beatles are between singles — it’ll be another month before “Help!” is released in the States.

That week’s Top 10 at WDUZ radio isn’t all that adventurous. It’s topped by Dino, Desi and Billy, who are followed by the Byrds, Herman’s Hermits, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, the Dupries (a local group), the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Vibratones (another local group), the Beach Boys, Gene Pitney and the Yardbirds.

It won’t be long, though, before the Green Bay kids are digging this:

Four Tops I Can't Help Myself 45

“I Can’t Help Myself,” the Four Tops, 1965.

It just takes two months to make it to Green Bay after its release.

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Filed under June 2020, Sounds

Stiller’s final closeout

Our story so far: In February 1970, the Stiller’s Top Ten singles chart suddenly disappeared from the Green Bay Press-Gazette after running in the paper every Friday for almost five years.

The Stiller Co. had sold records in downtown Green Bay for years. It was the place to go digging for 45s and LPs, a place where performers made in-store appearances, a place from which local radio stations did shows and remotes.

But the Stiller family, which had run the store since the turn of the century, was retiring. New owners were taking over. New owners with new ideas.

May 21, 1970 — a week shy of five years since the first appearance of the Stiller’s Top Ten chart — saw this offer from “Green Bay’s moving and grooving house of music!”

Stiller Co. record ad, May 21, 1970

July 14, 1970 — The Stiller Co. was blowing out “really bad” 45s — a grab bag of 10 for a dime — at the summer sidewalk bazaar in downtown Green Bay.

Stiller Co. record ad, July 14, 1970

Sept. 8, 1970 — “Every record must be sold.” The closeout begins.

Stiller Co. record ad, Sept. 8, 1970

Oct. 11, 1970 — The final closeout, slashing prices on LPs to $2.

Stiller Music record ad, Oct. 11, 1970

A month later, as the store marked its 72nd anniversary, the records were gone.

“A new sound department has opened, replacing the former record department,” the Press-Gazette reported on Nov. 8, 1970. “The department will feature sound equipment and components for stereos, radios and tape recorders.”

Two years later to the day — Nov. 8, 1972 — the new owners of The Stiller Co. filed for bankruptcy.

They blamed their predicament on having lost business to suburban shopping centers, on having too many people on the payroll, on high overhead and on “creditors that were too easy on the firm.”

Before the year was out, in the days just before and after Christmas 1972, everything in the store was sold at a bankruptcy auction.

If you want it, here it is, come and get it
But you’d better hurry ’cause it’s goin’ fast

Which, fittingly, was the last song on the last Stiller’s Top Ten chart.

“Come And Get It,” Badfinger, from “Magic Christian Music,” 1970.

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Filed under June 2020, Sounds