L'il Wally & The Harmony Boys - A Polka Christmas
Earlier this year, I travelled solo to Chicago and raided every thrift store, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and vinyl record store in search of new and exciting Christmas albums. The trip yielded quite a harvest and this little nugget was one of my finds.
The Beverly neighborhood in the southwest corner of Chicago is a blue-collar, middle-class neighborhood that has flourished over the years. While other parts of Chicago look like Baghdad, this part of the city prides itself on its work ethic, family principles, and an urban sense of community that never went out of style back in the late 1960s like it did throughout the entire country.
Back in 1967, John Dreznes decided to buy a record store on South Western Avenue for his wife Christine. Christine wanted a positive place for neighborhood kids to visit, get after-school jobs, and a place where "Mrs. Dee" could keep an eye on her friends' kids. Her choice of name for this place? Beverly Records.
As the business took off, Christine expanded her horizons and soon the Dreznes family had four stores of their own scattered across the Chicago area, despite the fact she didn't know a "Beatle" from a "Monkee" to a "Rolling Stone". Beverly Records soon became known not just around Chicago but around the nation as THE place to find those amazing, rare, and otherwise forgotten albums that no one wanted anymore.
My brother took me to the main Beverly Records on Western Avenue for the first time in the early 1980s. I expected neatly organized racks and racks of albums, still in the wrap, well-lit, posters on the wall, young kids behind the counter, and a simple five minute visit.
When we entered, we nearly knocked over several dozen stacks of discounted 45s right at the door (10 cents each and if you took a stack on the way out, they probably wouldn't have cared). We entered and saw Mr. and Mrs. Dee behind the counter, cigarette smoke and a must smell was in the air, a soft Benny Goodman tune on the overheard speakers, records stacked up the walls, records under racks, records as far as the eye could see.
I remember squeezing through the aisles that were at least 2 feet in width. You shuffled sideways to get to your location and spent 15-20 minutes going through one rack. I asked for help in locating a Stan Freberg album (which was located in the other room) and Mr. Dee pointed the way.
They indeed had the album I wanted - the ORIGINAL album from 1954! I didn't want to pay the $30 price tag however. Mr. Dee then showed me a budget box underneath and found a "best of" Freberg album that was $9 and asked "Anything else?"
I asked about Christmas 45s and he gruffed "Christmas in June, eh?". He led me to a front closet that had their Christmas music in and I remember getting a 45 copy of "White Christmas" by The Drifters for $2. I still have that 45 and it was purchased in the same year I began my annual Christmas tapes - 1985.
Over the years, my family and I would trek to Beverly Records (always the main location) to find fabulous stuff. During my last visit to the store before I moved away from Illinois in summer of 1996, I purchased several Dr. Demento cassettes and two Christmas CDs. By this time, the Christmas section was in the back in a section of racks. I told myself it would never get bigger than this.
Flash forward to earlier this year. What was four stores in the 1980s were consolidated into the main location. When I entered, I had about 14 inches of space to move from the entrance to the main aisle which wasn't any larger. The store hadn't changed much - a few more CDs that I remembered but the stacks of stacks remained.
I slid around the aisles and looked for a Christmas section - there didn't seem to be one. Many "record" stores and "thrift" stores (including some Goodwill and Salvation Army stores) don't carry vinyl anymore. I hoped this wasn't the case. I approached the counter and asked. The employee led me to a back door and opened the padlock. I expected another closet of records.
Instead, the door opened to several back room additions and he led me to the wall of Christmas. That's right. A WALL approximately 8 foot high by 12 foot in length, completely crammed with Christmas albums. This was the mother lode, Shangri-La, and, well, Christmas all wrapped into one place.
During my two hours there, I found many rare and exciting titles (that I hope to share at Christmas). Among the budget albums was this simple polka Christmas album - no cardboard sleeve, no paper sleeve. It was in good shape and the price ($1) was satisfactory for me.
This is the type of music you'd hear at Christmastime in the Beverly neighborhood at taverns, VFW halls, or at family gatherings where the food and booze overflowed, kids ran rampant, and a great time was had by all. Many a Chicago Christmas was spent listening to music like this:
L'il Wally & The Harmony Boys - A Polka Christmas
L'il Wally & The Harmony Boys - A Polka Christmas (Artwork)
Late next month, Beverly Records will celebrate its 40th anniversary in business. The celebration will be a little bittersweet - Christine Dreznes died last month due to complications of pneumonia at the age of 87.
The Dreznes family continue to own and operate the store on 11612 South Western Avenue and if you get a chance, swing by the store - you'll spend over two hours there minimum.
If you can't visit the store in Chicago, stop by their website and search their catalog. Either way, they'll help you find what you're looking for.
Sadly, Mr. D passed away yesterday in his sleep at age 91, exactly four months following Mrs. D. They never were apart for very long.
Their oldest son Jack continues to manage the store.
Thanks for letting people know about the store. Please do swing by when you feel like adding a few more things to your collection.
We look forward to seeing you!
Mr. and Mrs. D's granddaughter
check out "The Chicago Boys Polka" by the Polka Country Musicians, it is an awesome song!
I'll always stop in at Beverly Records if I'm within 50 miles!
Anon - Thanks for the info on L'il Wally's passing - there aren't too many polka kings left!