When we first mentioned to local friends that we were thinking about setting up some kind of web-based tribute to Chicago record stores of the past, we got a lot of obvious (though entirely worthy) suggestions. But our friend Joe Bryl threw us a curveball: Yardbird Records. Joe has been one of Chicago’s most prolific DJs and keenest collectors for many years, and he remembers Yardbird as one of the first stores in the city to carry punk rock in the 1970s. If that’s even CLOSE to true, then Yardbird is a hell of a pivotal place, and it’s borderline criminal that it should be nearly forgotten nowadays. So we were intrigued to say the least.
We tracked down a fellow named Rob (and blogs as Robbiecube) who worked at Yardbird back in the day, and he was kind enough write back to us with some memories.
I'd spied the tiny neon sign in the front window of 3332 W. 63rd in early 1973, while heading home from my new job in Clearing. Already being a record store guy, it just looked like typical run down hole in the wall hippie owned shop.
Indeed it was! Nothing glitzy, just LP's lining the walls, and chock-full floor LP racks. Perfect! I was a total stranger but Arnie and the gang welcomed me like a friend. We all talked music & baseball & TV for a couple hours, ate greasy, (but still killer-bee. Just lay paper towels on it to sop up the grease before diving in) pizza from Sam's, one door east, later adjourning to Ray's bar, one door west. I felt at home immediately and spent the next several years with the Yardbird gang, hanging out, listening to new releases, seeing scads of bands, often with promo tickets from the label reps who'd stop in regularly. That's how we saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, touring on their just-released 1st LP, opening for saxist Tom Scott & The L.A. Express at The Ivanhoe (and quickly clearing the room of most of Scott's jazzbo fans!).
I'd been in a ton of record stores, but only Yardbird was cool enough to spin import stuff like Stray, Ivor Cutler & Warhorse in store.
The selection was excellent for such a small shop, and it seemed they could track down just about any title, import or domestic. If a customer bought an interesting LP we hadn't heard, they'd be offered a beer and a slice of Sam's finest if they'd let us play it before they left the store. Arnie encouraged us to put our recommended LP's on the wall with an index card describing the music. Customer input, opinions, and suggestions were always welcome. Unless that customer was a basket case, of course.
Yardbird hopped on the punk thing early on, especially UK 7"s. I don't recall Kroozin' Music, Tempo, Hegewisch, or any other south side shop getting into early punk as deeply as Yardbird did. When punk LP's were released, they made sure to stock them, and weren't shy about spinning them while the typical Marquette Park record buyer perused the meat 'n potatoes stuff like Zep, BTO, and Styx. As punk grew, more people began asking about the LP's being played, ending up buying copies. Yardbird Records was quite proud to have done more than their share to spread punk rock's corrupting influence around the SW side!
Yardbird was opened circa 1972 by Arnie Rubin & George Paulus. I'm not sure how they met up, but Arnie ran the shop most of the time. Paulus was (I believe) the money man, even having his very own blues/rockabilly label, St. George Records.
Jack Dopke was the 3rd employee. The man had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially 50's doo-wop & vocal groups. He'd memorize matrix #'s from the runoff grooves, he'd hit the flea markets weekly (usually successfully) in search of rare singles. Yardbird would never have lasted as long as it did if not for Jack. A couple of part-timers, Laurie, followed by Karen, filled the gaps, and made the place a lot less testosterone-heavy. And smell better, too.
But Arnie was the guy the entire Yardbird Records scene revolved around. I learned so much about music, saw and heard hundreds of acts I'd never have known about, had so many memorable experiences, and have scads of great stories I still tell to this day, all thanks to Arnie. If it wasn't for him, I'd likely have drifted into a smooth jazz / Celine Dion /Eagles musical fog for the rest of my days. I owe him a debt of gratitude, he was a big influence on me then, and still is today. I'm proud to have been one of his huge circle of friends.
Arnie worked so hard to keep Yardbird going (as well as being the leader of our gang of record store n'er-do-wells), it finally took a toll on his already fragile health. His business partner rarely stepped up and pitched in, but Jack was always there for Arnie.
When Yardbird finally shut it's doors, most of our group had already moved on. Spouses, kids, jobs, school, drugs, petty disagreements, adulthood finally got in the way.
Please note these are Rob’s own thoughts & memories and they’re his alone, Dusty Groove hasn’t reached out to other Yardbird players. (Yet?) Thanks, Rob!
Edit, March 22, 2019: A close friend of Yardbird runner Arnie Rubin found our blog and reached out with some thoughts. Thanks so much to Sharon in Brooklyn for this:
Do YOU remember Chicago's Yardbird Records? Reach out and let us know!