VP Records was a Latin soul, jazz and salsa record emporium at the heart of Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood in the 1970s, owned by soon-to-be Chicago radio legend Victor Parra. Born in Chicago to a huge family -- Victor was the youngest of 15 children --he told The Chicago Tribune in 1999 that he lived a dual life in early adulthood, salesman by day and conga player by night. His passion for Afro-Cuban jazz eventually lead to decades hosting The Mambo Express until retiring on a high note in early 2018.
Victor's role as a Latin music performer and record distributor began in the late 60s, when like-minded players would gather in the backroom of the Pilsen neighborhood's Gold Palace bar for jam sessions -- which would go on until the mid 70s -- sometimes attracting touring legends like Tito Rodriguez, Mongo Santamaria, and Eddie Palmieri to sit in. Victor knew good and well there was a hungry audience for this music and soon began selling records wholesale to stores in Chicago from the trunk of his car. Business was good. When a cigar shop vacated a storefront on the gritty at the time intersection of Damen/Milwaukee/North Avenues, VP Records was born.
VP Records may not have been the first Latin record shop in Chicago's Wicker Park (more on that in a future post), but it was a hugely important local hub that helped spread the legacy of some of the most important music of the time. Victor owned the store from 1972 to 1977. By the early 80s his Mambo Express radio show had debuted on WBEZ, where it ran for many years before ending its run at that station and beginning anew on WDCB. Victor's group of the same name gigged around town all the while.