With each passing year, the indie record store scene in Milwaukee seems to grow leaner and leaner.
There are still die-hard record store fans, like The Decembrists' Colin Meloy, who says, "I don't know what I would do without indie record stores. Having grown up in a town without them, I can tell you that it's no fun to shop for indie records at chain box stores. Independent record stores like Sonic Boom in Seattle, Rockin Rudys in Missoula and 2nd Avenue in Portland were holy golden shrines to me growing up. Actually, they still are."
And a certain Sir Paul McCartney, who enthuses, "There's nothing as glamorous to me as a record store. When I recently played Amoeba in L.A., I realised what fantastic memories such a collection of music brings back when you see it all in one place."
The advent of Record Store Day, an annual, international event celebrating independent record shops, hasn't really helped stem the tide in Milwaukee and other cities, but putting the spotlight on indie record shops is a big deal.
One business that really glimmers in the limelight of Record Store Day each year is The Exclusive Company, which again celebrates with a full line-up of bands performing in the store on Saturday, April 17.
The Exclusive claims to be America's oldest full-line record store, having opened 54 years ago. Back then, the Exclusive carried 78s (ask your grandpa). Currently, there are locations in Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, West Bend, Milwaukee, Madison, Janesville and some suburbs of those places.
As always, participating shops will have Record Store Day exclusives -- 7"s, 12"s, CDs and DVDs -- by the likes of Bruce Spingsteen, Flaming Lips, Wisconsin native Cory Chisel, Hold Steady, Tom Waits, Mountain Goats, Black Keys, Beach House, Bon Iver, John Lennon, Queens of the Stone Age, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Weezer.
"It creates an awareness that we still exist for the people that we maybe fell out of favor because of downloading and the economy and for the people that didn't grow up knowing what a CD or a record is," says Terry Hackbarth, a local musician who also works at The Exclusive Company. "Also the fact that certain artists who are releasing vinyl and CDs that specifically for indie stores means a lot to us."
The indie chain's Farwell Avenue and Brady Street location hosts a range of live music starting at 2 p.m. On the bill are The Exotics, The Lackloves, Surgeons in Heat, Conrad Plymouth, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, Sugar Stems, The Sleazybeats and Slug Shell. Some DJs from 91.7 WMSE will also be on hand to spin at the free event.
As an added bonus this year, The Exclusive Company is sponsoring an evening gig, too.
"A Tribute to Alex Chilton and Big Star" takes place Saturday at 9 p.m. at Linneman's Riverwest Inn.
Among the bands on hand to pay tribute to Chilton, who died of a heart attack on March 17 at age 59, are Aimless Blades, Quinn Scharber, Juniper Tar, Matt Beckler, Certain Stars, John Peacock, Surgeons in Heat, Tom Vollman and Hackbarth.
All proceeds from the show benefit 91.7 WMSE.
Hackbarth says that despite the threats to local indies, The Exclusive Company has been adept at navigating the tides.
"We've had to adapt to survive and will continue to do so to survive, which has meant carrying more DVDs and expanding our new and used vinyl, but without sacrificing our deep selection CDs," he says. "We currently have a very dedicated customer base that isn't going anywhere."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.