Tag Archives: record digging

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

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

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

Scenes from the record convention

On the first gloriously sunny 50-degree day of spring in our corner of Wisconsin, a bunch of us stayed inside and went record digging.

More than 300 people turned out for the spring Green Bay Record Convention. I helped set up, then helped my friends run their table. Some of the things seen, heard and thought during all the digging …

— Anyone who tells you men aren’t high maintenance hasn’t met a couple of our record dealers.

One of them had a small bank of recessed spotlights over his crates. It hadn’t been turned on. “I can’t sell records in the dark!” this gent whined. Never mind that all the other lights in the room were on, including the white party bulbs strung from one side of the room to the other. Never mind also that no one else complained about the lighting.

Another one wanted a deal on a $25 record. He asked me whether we would go $20. Said it wasn’t my call and pointed him to my friends. He walked over to them. They were maybe 10 feet away. So of course the first thing out of his mouth is would they go $18. Oh, come on, sir.

— This was easily the strangest record we sold: “Factual Eyewitness Testimony of UFO Encounters.” The gent who bought it had no problem with it being $25.

— This was easily the second strangest record we sold. The guy who bought it — another of my friends — conceded that he may have been buying it for the cover alone.

— My friend Dave and I go back to the ’80s, when he ran a record store near the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, and I bought records from him. Fast forward to recent years. Dave no longer has the store but sells records at shows and online. I still am buying records from Dave. Today, while digging through his crates, I held up a copy of “Shake and Push,” a 1982 record by the Morells, a roots-rock group from Missouri.

“I bought this from you at the store on Regent Street back in the ’80s,” I said.

“Yeah,” Dave said, “I used to get those directly from the band.”

Dave isn’t high-maintenance. He’s one of our respected elders, a longtime musician in addition to being a veteran record seller. When Dave talks, I listen.

Dave and another guy were digging through my friends’ crates while I was running the table. One of them mentioned Bob Seger’s great but hard-to-find “Back In ’72” LP, which I have. That got Dave to thinking out loud that maybe he ought to get a copy of “Heavy Music,” the compilation of early Bob Seger and the Last Heard singles released last year. Dave thought it might be a limited edition and seemed to doubt there would be a second pressing.

When the record show was over, I went across town and bought it. When Dave talks, I listen.

— Finally, one last thought: Does anyone buy Linda Ronstadt records anymore? Didn’t see anyone who bought one today. Haven’t seen anyone buy one in a long, long time.

Had someone been seeking the Linda Ronstadt record with that song on it, it would be this one from 1970, which I believe I saw in someone’s crates today.

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Filed under March 2019, Sounds

Downstairs at Prange’s

Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.

So it is with this photo, posted earlier this month by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center to its Facebook page. It carried this four-word caption: “Record department. H.C. Prange.”

When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.

The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was where you came to ponder the mighty LP.

This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.

I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.

— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.

Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in November 1970. I also was 13 and had been listening to AM Top 40 radio almost non-stop all that year.

— Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack, released in July 1971.

Wings’ “Wild Life,” released in December 1971.

Then there’s this.

When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.

So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.

Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.

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Filed under November 2018, Sounds