William Sutphin owned the kind of record stores that are hard to find in a streaming world.
“He was one of those rare, unique record shop individuals,” said Joe Shanahan, founder of Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. “He knew every liner note, he knew every producer; who wrote the liner notes. He knew all the real important musical history — some would say minutiae.”
Mr. Sutphin, who also deejayed at North Side clubs under the name “Wilbur,” sold used and new CDs, vinyl LPs, 45s and posters at his shops.
“It was kind of like the book and the [2000 John Cusack-Jack Black] movie ‘High Fidelity,’ but without the snootiness,” Shanahan said.
“He was just a smiling, soft-spoken guy,” said his former boss at the Record Exchange, Gary Horwitz.
From 1977 to 2000, Mr. Sutphin worked at the Record Exchange stores in Lake View. He supervised an employee who resembled a fresh-faced Colin Farrell. The man went on to fame as Al Jourgensen, multi-pierced founder of proto-industrial band Ministry.
William “Wilbur” Sutphin (left) and record store co-worker Al Jourgensen (R), who founded the band Ministry. | Provided photo
In 2001, William Sutphin opened his own music store at 3819 N. Lincoln, called Deadwax, for the silent strip of vinyl that follows the last song on an A or B side.
But “when they moved the Lincoln Avenue bus, that hurt him,” said fellow Record Exchange alum Ric Addy, founder of Shake Rattle & Read book and record store, 4812 N. Broadway.
A decade later, Mr. Sutphin started Village Records at 2010 W. Roscoe. He re-named it Wilbilly’s before it closed earlier this year.
Mr. Sutphin, 60, died on Nov. 3 from lung cancer at the North Side home of his former wife, Kathleen Sutphin.
His encyclopedic love of music may have started with his mother’s job at Mercury Records. She often brought home LPs and 45’s.
He went to Amundsen High School and worked at one of the old Metro Music stores on the South Side. Sometimes, patrons bypassed him to ask the African-American employees questions about obscure jazz and soul music, according to Kathleen Sutphin. “Ask William,” the employees told patrons. “He knows more.”
William Sutphin | Provided photo
In the 1980s, he spun records at North Side spots including Exit, Smart Bar and Club 950 Lucky Number, 950 W. Wrightwood, which recently dedicated its annual reunion to him.
Mr. Sutphin also hosted parties at Chicago’s top Rush Street disco, Faces. In a 1995 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, he remembered disco initially didn’t get any respect.
“We were putting on a party at Faces for Donna Summer, and all these people were saying how bad she was,’’ he said. “Twenty years later, everybody’s buying [disco artists’] albums at used record stores.”
He seemed to have tickets to every concert. Often, bands made personal appearances at his stores. He met Sonic Youth, the Waterboys and the Black Crowes.
“I called him the Mayor of Belmont, because everyone knew him,” his former wife said.
He loved Motown, the Cure, punk and New Wave. He preferred the Rolling Stones to the Beatles. And he had a special love for The Smiths. In 1991, when he married Kathleen Sutphin, his wedding ring was engraved with the title of a Smiths’ song, “William, It Was Really Nothing.”
“He knew everything, from the ’40s to contemporary music,” said his cousin, Jim Keck.
William “Wilbur” Sutphin, record shop owner and DJ. | Provided photo
“People enjoyed coming in to talk music” with him, said Marla Wigutow, who reconnected with Mr. Sutphin a few years ago after dating him in high school. “He was generous to a fault. He would just say, ‘Take it — if you don’t like it, bring it back.’ ”
“You couldn’t ask for a sweeter man,” Shanahan said. “If I bought five records, he’d say, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta get this one, too — I’ll throw in it at the house price.’ ”
“He helped me out, every week, for about 30 to 40 years,” Addy said. “If I got a bunch of House Music in or dance music from the ’80s and ’90s — my forte is ’50s, v60s, ’70s. I would call him and say, ‘Hey, can I read you some titles?’ And he would take time out of his day and help me price them.”
Mr. Sutphin owned a number of cats at one time or another, including Cream, Meringue, Miles, Minnie, Pearl and Buster. The night before he passed, Kathleen Sutphin said, he listened to a Smiths’ song he loved, “Asleep,” which goes:
Don’t try to wake me in the morning
‘Cause I will be gone
Don’t feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go. . . .
There is another world
There is a better world
Mr. Sutphin also is survived by his sister, Roberta Sacrison. A memorial is planned at 10 a.m. Dec. 7 in the chapel at Graceland Cemetery at Irving and Clark.