George Garrett was quite a character in the record business in the 1960s. Radio repairman, record store owner, and record producer – George was in the middle of the music scene.
Perhaps the first we hear of Garrett is in August 1954, when he partnered with Fred Rothman of the T-V Trader Co. (1807 E. Lake Street) to form the T-V Exchange at 524 W. Lake Street. It is unclear how long Garrett was involved here; after January 1961 it kinds of drops off the map.
NIC-O-LAKE RECORD STORE
By December 1963 Garrett had established the Nic-O-Lake Record Store at 2 West Lake Street, as attested in a feature about the Trashmen in the Sunday Tribune Picture magazine (December 8, 1963). The building had been the home of TV and Radio Technicians during 1963, which could have also been Garrett. The first ad I found for Nic-O-Lake was dated April 21, 1964. A new expansion was announced in April 1965. It was still in operation in 1971.
- George was identified as the owner of Music City Record Store, 700 Hennepin Ave., in an article dated August 7, 1970.
UNCLE GEORGE AND THE WOLFMAN
Garrett became internationally known in the ’60s thanks to none other than Wolfman Jack. At first the Wolfman recorded his radio show, to be broadcast on station XERF in Mexico, out of radio station KUXL, which was located in Golden Valley. Wolfman (Bob Smith) was the manager there, and almost never on the air. When he moved down to Mexico, he was free of FCC regulations, and hawked products like baby chicks. He also promoted collections of Golden Oldies, that you could buy through the mail from “Uncle George’s Record Shop in Minneapolis.” That was George Garrett.
The Nic-O-Lake Recording Studio was in the basement of George’s record store. The first version of “Surfin’ Bird” was recorded there, but re-recorded at Kay Bank, and the second recording is the one that was pressed.
George would give all manner of artists (rock, country, polka) the opportunity to record in his studio. Whether those artists got the royalties they should have became a point of contention by many.
Rod Eaton of the Underbeats has shared the photo below, with these observations:
Here’s George Garrett (left) with Kay Bank Studios engineer Tom Jung. George was a Twin Cities record producer – he worked with the Underbeats and several other local bands. Some people say nasty things about George Garrett: he was a crook who exploited local bands and didn’t pay them the royalties they earned. Perhaps they’re right. But say what you will about him – George helped many of us get on the radio. He paid for the Underbeats’ recording sessions and record pressings. He worked through Heilicher Brothers for distribution and radio play. Airplay grew our popularity, got us more jobs, and allowed us to increase our performance fees. That was worth more than any royalties we might have earned. Jim Johnson thanks George Garrett for giving us our start. “Where would I be otherwise?” he asks. I agree with Jim.
JESSE J AND THE BANDITS
George’s house band at Nic-O-Lake was Jesse J and the Bandits. The band included:
- Doug Spartz (Jesse), bass and vocals
- Tony Caire, guitar and vocals
- Ray Peters, drums
The group put out its own LP, “Top Teen Hits,” on Re-Car in 1965, and some singles on Re-Car and Studio City. Tony Andraeson, guitar player extraordinaire and vocalist from the Trashmen, also contributed some vocals on the album.
RECORD LABEL OWNER
A survey of websites would lead one to believe that Garrett owned up to eight different record labels, as listed below. Although I’m not sure about the ownership of these labels (except for the first two), the records that George produced were issued on some or all of them:
- Garrett: Owned by Garrett, obviously. Recorded mostly the Trashmen
- Bangar: Owned by Vern Bank and George Garrett; Recorded rock and country
- Twin Town: One site says owned by Tony Caire? Address 10 West Lake. Recorded Rock and Country
- Studio City: Recorded Rock, Polka, Country
- Smigar: Discogs says it was one of George’s labels. Recorded Carroll Bateman and the Untouchables
- Re-Car: Owned by Russell Holland; Recorded polka, easy listening
- Bread: Recorded Wolfman Jack
- Brave: Owned by Marvin Rainwater; mostly his recordings, although he was mainly on MGM
The last word in the papers about George was that he was in the record business in Fargo, according to an article dated October 13, 1974.