Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another UK Excursion, 2013

Now that my wife Maria has retired from teaching, she was finally able to come along on my annual fall trek to  Birmingham, England, and we made quite a week of it!
             A first for me was driving in England. I felt a bit like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool, as we picked up the rental car after an overnight flight, feeling a bit fuzzy around the edges. It was a 5-speed Vauxhall Astra, so pretty much everything about the driving experience was new; driving on the left side of the road, driver’s seat on the right, shifting with the left hand, and negotiating traffic circles in urban Birmingham traffic.  After checking in with Garry Allcock and crew setting up for the UK Drum Fair, I delivered Maria to the train station and she was off to London to spend a couple days with an old friend from grad school. 
             The Gretsch Drum Book made it’s European debut at the UK Drum Fair, September 28th and 29th. Many thanks to show organizer Garry Allcock for his help with that!  As usual, the most vivid memories of the show involve all the people I was able to visit with. Many very good friends that I’ve known for years, and lots of new friends. The evening pub dinner for show staff and guests was particularly memorable.  Guinness draft, fish & chips, and fellowship with a couple dozen of my favorite people in the drum world- priceless!
               I sold most of the product that I took to the show, and left the remainder with Winnie Mensink, my longtime compatriate who distributes Rebeats products from his home base of Amsterdam. I left the drum show before it closed on the second day (Sunday Sep. 29th) in order to catch a train for London’s Wembley Arena. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley and the Vikings’ Communications Tech Gary Bosiacki had arranged for a sideline credential for me.  Since the American teams playing at Wembley do not take their usual coaches radio systems, all of the 10 coaches had 100-foot cables to keep straight.  Assigned to the offensive coordinator, I was   literally in the eye of the storm (sellout crowd of 90,000+ screaming fans) while I shadowed Coach Musgrave and kept his cables under control as he guided the Vikings offense to their first NFL victory of the season. 

            Maria and I took a train back to Birmingham the next day, retrieved the rental car, and set out for Liverpool.We did the usual tourist stuff there; ferry ride on the Mersey, The Beatles Story Museum visit, Cavern Club. I’d consulted with the The Beatles Story Museum on and off for a number of years on their exhibits that included Ringo kits. Although the museum is owned by a sizable corporation (Cunard) they have not been inclined to spend the dollars (pounds) to bring authenticity to the kits on display. They have at least made some major improvements in the last couple years by having Andy Dwyer (ADC Drums, Liverpool) recover the kits in era-correct Oyster Blue covering. There are still many problems to be corrected; metal-shell snare drums, incorrect hardware, and the ridiculous setup of the Cavern Club kit.  The unforgettable moments of The Beatles Story Museum visit were in the “Imagine” display at the end of the museum tour. There was a big group of waist-high schoolchildren who stood near the white grand piano and sang along as the display’s audio system played the Beatles’ classic. Maria and I were amazed that they all knew these lyrics, written when their parents (and some grandparents) were teenagers. Our Liverpool adventure culminated with another memorable pub dinner, this time with Andy Dwyer, his lovely wife Claire, and their daughter Ella.

           From Liverpool we took the scenic route through Wales, to a Bed and Breakfast near the Welsh town of Carmarthen. We spent a little time with Pete James who lives in Carmarthen. (Many Chicago Drum Show attendees know Pete, who has been coming to the Chicago show for years. His daughter Gail Louise was a featured clinician a few years ago and is now a very busy percussionist and teacher in London.)  The next destination was Swanage, a picturesque and historic village on England’s southern coast.  I had not visited Swanage since camping there as a teenager backpacking across England but it has changed very little.

           Our final stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon (near Birmingham) where we again did the usual tourist stuff; Shakespeare’s birthplace museum tour, boat trip on the Avon, etc.  All in all it was a wonderful trip with my only regrets being that I did not have time to hook up with longtime friends Nick & Mary Ormrod in London or Mike Kaskell in Poole (very near Swanage.)  Maybe next year! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Introducing The Gretsch Drum Book at Steve Maxwell's August 3, 2013

(L-R) Steve Maxwell, Fred W. Gretsch, Rob Cook, Logan Thomas (Fred's Grandson)) and John Sheridan

    I love going to New York; great place to visit, etc.  I guess that should read I love living in a small town in central Michigan and being able to go to New York now and then. There are a lot of great cities I love to visit; Chicago, L.A., Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Rio....  all with their own special beauty, charm, and sense of adventure. But New York is the one that makes you feel like you are in the city. The perfect setting for this particular adventure because it is the city most closely associated with Gretsch drums. The famous "Gretsch Building #4" in Brooklyn became such an icon that when it was recently given a complete remodeling, the big sign on top that you can clearly see from the Williamsburg bridge was restored although there are no Gretsch musical instrument activities there; it is now condominiums. And where better to have this little party than at "the great American drum shop," Steve Maxwell's in the heart of Manhattan? I'd like to thank Steve, KMC Music (distributor of Gretsch drums), and Fred W. Gretsch (Fred Gretsch Enterprises) for letting me share the stage they set to celebrate Gretsch's 130th Anniversary.
     Steve's shop is at the corner of 7th Avenue and 48th St; one of those corners that is fun to loiter on if you can stand the jostling because it's one of those places that does not let you forget you are in New York. It's only a few steps from Times Square, the theater district, Grand Central Station, and until recently was the center of musical instrument retailing with Manny's Music, Sam Ash, and all the smaller retailers elbowing for space on 48th Street. In the tradition of the great drum shops of Chicago like Frank's and Crowden's, you duck into a doorway off the crowded sidewalk and into an elevator. Steve's main showroom, offices, and outfit demo rooms are on the third floor. On special event days like this, all visitors are also allowed on the 4th floor which is really special; a Craviotto room, a Gretsch room, a room full of incredibly rare vintage kits, and more.  I arrived way early. Actually I was there an hour before the shop opened, but Steve's manager Jess also was way early and let me in to hang out while he got ready for the day.  Steve soon arrived and took me up to the 4th floor with him to open everything up. After a quick tour, Steve stepped behind the bar and made me an expresso and we chatted about the music business. That, for me, was one of the high points of my whole weekend. I grew up in a retail environment and have spent my whole adult life in the music business. I'm 62, so I have a lot of old-school sensibilities when it comes to retailing.  Franks Drum Shop in Chicago was, in my opinion, the closest you could ever get to perfection in a drum shop. It had a few peers that were close; Ippolito's in NYC, Mo's in Vegas, and Pro Drum in Hollywood. Steve Maxwell's reminded me a lot of those shops. Great location, great staff, great repair facility, incredible inventory. But actually what was memorable for me about visiting this time was the chat with Steve. We are on the same wavelength when it comes to views on the current state of the music industry; the box stores, Chinese manufacturing, corporate politics and misdeeds....   Steve spent a good part of his adult career in the corporate world, so he understands what is behind a lot of the smoke and mirrors of today's music retailing but he has chosen to do business the old fashioned way- very refreshing!  I don't mean for this to be a Maxwell commercial; certainly there are other shops such a Fork's Drum Closet in Nashville Memphis Drum Shop, and Pro Drum in Hollywood (and of course there are others) still doing it the right way. They have knowledgeable and honest people presenting quality gear at reasonable prices. They take trade-ins, have teaching studios, do rentals and repairs, present clinics. I also see shops trying to take shortcuts. One shop threw in a million-dollar inventory and brought in a huge roster of stars to draw in the public. That is backwards. When you have a world class operation word gets around and everyone, stars included, comes. I used to love hanging at Franks because I learned so much and always saw some famous people. Those famous people were not part of a marketing plan- they loved to hang there as much as I did. No name dropping necessary.
        The "event" was scheduled to start at 2, but by noon the place was happening. All the rest of the day it was shoulder-to-shoulder. In retrospect it reminds me a lot of a marathon....  there were lots and lots of little events, memorable vignettes that are still coming back to me. Bill Gretsch and Sally Gretsch, cousins of Fred W. showed up and were great fun to talk to. Bill's father had been a bookbinder in Manhattan, doing the kind of hand binding that is becoming increasing rare these days. There was a lot of book signing as people had John, Fred, and I sign their copies. Also a lot of picture taking, particularly after Fred and Logan arrived. I managed to have the photo above taken when I presented Steve, Fred, and John with their special copies of the book. I'd sent three copies to the small bindery in Mississippi where they were hand bound in leather covers. There was another flurry of photos when Sam Ulano was wheeled in. I was on Sam's mailing list in the 1960s, never dreamed I'd actually get to meet the guy. He is still gruff. Yelled at me for not being able to read. Softened a bit when I gave him a copy of The Gretsch Drum Book.  It was wonderful. I met a lot of new people, renewed some old acquaintances, told a lot of stories and picked up a few new ones. Before I knew it, the crowd had thinned and those of us left took advantage of the bottles of red wine Steve had broken out. This was when I had a chance to visit with the KMC crew. KMC was well-represented by people from corporate as well as manufacturing; John Palmer, Paul Cooper, Steve Nigohosian among them. Great bunch of people. These are the people who are building, marketing, and representing Gretsch in today's marketplace and their partnership with Fred seems to be working quite nicely.  
      After a couple hour break (during which I found my hotel- one of those "Pod" places ideal for my budget) the party resumed in the guitar version of Maxwell's, Rudy's Music in Soho. Fred presented nice certificates to Rudy and Steve between performances by the Kimberly Thompson Quartet (jazz) and the CAAS Cats (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society).  All in all, a very classy presentation. Congratulations to Gretsch, Steve, and Rudy! It was very gratifying to be allowed to play a part in all of this and to have the book so well received. Steve pretty much sold through the supply I'd sent him and the early reviews have been very good.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Regarding the last post about the end of the line for the 219 Prospect St building...  Doesn't look like that will be happening any time real soon.  After 5 months and $3500 in legal fees, the title has been cleared, but in the meantime I just could not come up with a alternative plan for all the stuff I have in that building.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

219 Prospect, Alma, Michigan

For the last couple months I've been negotiating with the credit union next door to me on Prospect St; they want to buy my building to demolish it as part of their expansion project this year.  The building has certainly gone through a lot of changes over the years!  The abstract documents that the property was deeded to Ralph Ely in 1855. At the time the settlement that would become known as Alma was called Elyton.  It is my understanding that the old wood frame house that is still part of the structure was built by the controller of the Republic Truck Plant. Republic built something like 80% of the trucks used by the US in WWI.  I bought the building in 1972 from Opal and Ed Waber. By the mid 1970s I took off the top of the house and covered the house and attached concrete block garage (the section with the large windows) with end-support trusses and one large roof.   The complex is currently about 4000 sq feet.  The photo here was taken shortly after the new roof was put on in the 1970s; that is my first brand new car, a Chevy Vega ($2,900 sticker price) and my loyal tri-color collie Stormy. We were still living in the house portion at this time.  The first business was Cook Christian Supplies, a Christian Bookstore that sold a few musical instruments. Out of that grew Cook's Music. Eventually the business grew until there were Cook's Music locations in Alma, Mt Pleasant, and Midland, and Cook Christian Supplies stores in Alma and Mt Pleasant.  Currently the building houses Rebeats.  Where will Rebeats go?  Probably the core operations will be moved to my residence, the "Bahlke House," a historic site mentioned in another blog entry. The third floor is currently unoccupied except when Will is home on vacation; I may have to reduce his living area from the entire third floor to one bedroom.  
The transaction has been delayed because the deed was never properly recorded in my name. Shortly after selling me the business, the Wabers moved to California.  The 15 year land contract was paid off in 1987. In 1993 both Opal and Ed Waber were killed in a car crash in California. Their only daughter, Janet, and her husband John Hopkins died in 2008 and 2004 respectively.  We have started a "Quiet Title Action" to straighten out the title.