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!