Perhaps this is the end for “The One Stop Mom and Pop Guitar Shop” blog. My semester is coming to an end and my full time job as a welder starts again. It’s been an absolute blast talking to so many unique and interesting people! Perhaps in coming months I’ll make posts, few and far between, regarding my adventures in guitar this summer. Perhaps I’ll start another blog just talking the about gear and equipment (or toys).
I’ve learned so much these past few months about blogging, since this was my first blog, and about local guitar shops and their struggles to keep their heads above water. Each and every interview, gallery, video, or audio post taught me more about journalism than I could ever get in a class room.
Survival seems to be the heaviest weight on the shoulders of each guitar store owner featured here. In their own ways, they’ve adapted to survive in today’s world, and with some, in ways one might not expect! Let’s analyze each shop for their individual adaptations.
We began with Woodstown Music, my own hometown guitar shop. The owner, Larry Kulp, perhaps put it best:
Is it a way to make my fortune? No. Is it a way to stay a little more fluid, to make a little more money for my retirement? Yeah. And it serves a purpose. It serves a real need I think. Because people that buy those guitars from a box store’s mail order, bring them to me to make them play right. I have a niche there.
Larry found his niche to survival in his repairs and person-to-person interactions. He’s now gone on to expand his shop to its new locations, about 50 feet down the street. While he’s gained some more retail space, it was the lesson rooms that were most important to his survival in Woodstown. There had been no shortage of students, but only a shortage of space and teachers. At his new location, Larry has taken on now more students and teachers than before! And he’s continued to maintain the old-fashioned guitar store feeling, or as Larry would put it, “It was a gathering place for people to talk about their guitars, swap parts, guys would talk to each other and maybe start a band every once in a while.”
Following my visit to Woodstown music I spoke to the owner of the Laboratory, formerly located in Deptford, New Jersey. The owner, Aaron Barbarics, encountered his own struggles, he found that over the years, marketing music lessons for less and less students was not lucrative for his store. They had also found great success in their online store rather than their brick-and-mortar establishment. Aaron’s decision was to close his physical store and pursue a more lucrative business online. When Asked if he would be losing out on profits from repairs and lessons, he had this to say, “Not really in my experience, which I’m sure is different from others. I’ve been selling online since we’ve opened ten years ago, and basically every year our online business has grown and our walk-in business has become a little less.” It appears to be working for them!
Next I sat down with Jay Milley, the owner for SJ Music. He had a very unique way of adapting to the changing times! He’d already moved location several times to follow better floor spaces and rent prices. However, to bring a little more cash in, Jay rented the space next door to his existing store and build a small music venue and Café, called the Volume Café. Jay said, “this is a new challenge for me, this Café thing. I didn’t know anything about it. When the idea for this came up, this was empty, completely bare, just a hole in the wall. So, Brian, my buddy, come up, we were standing outside, it was cold I remember, he was looking in the window and he’s like, “Why don’t you open up your own venue, like a café or something?” Jay’s ability to stay fluid and his willingness to take risks has paid off for him.
Each of these small-town shops have two things in common; They’re still here, and they’ve made enormous changes in recent years. Each have found their own niche and market in their respective towns. It seems in today’s market, if a “Mom and Pop Guitar Shop” is going to survive, it’s going to need to be able to adapt and change with the times.
Speaking as a guitarist and fan of small guitar stores, I sincerely hope other stores realize this so that there can be hometown, niche shops for generations to come.
On Friday the 7th I took a day trip to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. While you might think that this post is a detour from my usual topics, consider that Nazareth is a fairly small town, set in the countryside of north-eastern Pennsylvania, and that the C. F. Martin Guitar Co. has been family owned for over 180 years! I had gotten in contact with Jason Ahner at C. F. Martin Guitars. He was kind enough to sit for an interview and give me a one on one tour of the Martin Guitar Museum. He provided some remarkable insight on what it’s like to work for the Martins. Following our museum tour I joined a small group that was being shown around the factory floor. Anyways, here’s what Jason and I talked about.
Another post that’s a bit different from my usual, but well worth my time. Through my previous interviewee, Birgitta Haller, I was able to get in contact with the lead guitarist for Billy Momo, Oscar Harryson. His responses were very interesting, and as a guitarist myself, especially intriguing. Here’s what we talked about.
After founding Billy Momo in 2007 how did the band grow from just being Tomas Juto and Oskar Hovell, to the seven piece it is today?
Barba (Tomas) and Orren (Oskar) had been playing drums and bass in various bands that I was working with. And during that time, they started to get an urge to put together their own thing, where they got the chance to try out different ideas and run the ship, so to speak. So, for the first album they wanted to play as much of the instruments as possible themselves. However, some things needed somewhat of a different flavor so that´s when they brought in various newfound, and old friends to help-out. Like Hot Lips. We knew him from a bar that Barba and Preacher Man used to run in central Stockholm. Hot Lips had played harmonica there with another band, and used to come by every so often. And every time he forgot his hat so he had to come back again. In that same bar, Barba one day overheard Preacher Man singing from the kitchen, and knew that he had to have that low gnarly voice on the record. After we had finished recording the album, Barba and Orren soon realised they needed a band to be able to play live. That’s how I ended up playing guitar in Billy Momo. Then there’s Gramps, who happens to be Barbas older brother and a great drummer so that was an easy decision. We then tried out different bass players, but it wasn’t until we were recording the song “Weekend” on the second album (Drunktalk) that we came across the Coffa. He came in and blew us away and after that, he really didn’t have a choice. He was now in the band.
What artists and genres of music are your inspirations or models for the music you create?
Actually, that’s hard to give a straight answer to. We have lots of different sources of musical inspiration. I guess that’s one of the reasons why we sound the way we do. But off course, there are the more obvious ones, like The Band, Tom Waits, Mavis Staples, Nick Drake, and also a lot of the old blues guys. And of course, timeless acts, like Eagles, Fleetwod Mac, David Bowie, Tom Petty, George Harrison and such. But then there’s also more contemporary bands, like Queens of the Stone Age, and Arctic Monkeys. And believe it or not, but a big foundation in Barbas and Orrens writing actually comes from Hip Hop and R n’ B. Acts like Method Man & Redman, Dungeon Familly, D’Angelo, and naturally, the Roots. Then we all love Alison Krauss & Union Station, Buddy Miller, and let’s not forget T Bone Burnett, he’s been a huge influence not only musically, but also when it comes to production.
As I am the mixer of all we do, I have a couple of outsiders that I come back to for inspiration of my own. For example, Daniel Lanois, Jeff Lynne, Foo Fighters, James Bay, and John Mayer. But mainly I check out the latest work of my favorite mixers. Guys like Manny Marroquin, Tom Elmhirst, Tchad Blake, Andrew Scheps, and, last but not least, a man I’m proud to call my mentor: Michael Brauer.
Tell me about your rig and the instruments you own. Any ones you are particularly attached to?
As a guitar player, I always change stuff around, as I assume you all can relate to. But lately I have been using my –98 Clapton “Blackie” strat a lot. It still has the mid boost but I have changed the pickups to Custom Shop Fat 50’s. It’s a killer guitar that I bought new in 1999 at Manny’s guitars in New York City. On our latest album (Seven Rivers Wild) I ended up using my 2008 PRS DGT Goldtop a lot. That and a red 2012 custom shop ES-335 that I later sold. Another workhorse of mine is my “Billy Mojo”, or my Mojocaster as I also call it. It’s a custom build made by Mojo Relic, a luthier here in Stockholm. It’s basically a heavy relic Telecaster in Sherwood Green with a Bigsby. What’s special is the pickup config. It has a hand wound Lundgren bridge pickup, and a Seymour Duncan P-Rails neck pickup. It’s a humbucker made out of a Vintage P-90 and a Hot Rail which gives you a lot of different variations. It looks standard but with a push-pull on the volume knob and a 5-way switch I can get 9 different sounds from it. It’s a great guitar! Normally I run through a Vox AC-30, but I will probably get one of the newer Fender 68 – deluxe reverb. Since I use a lot of tremolo I really like the chime and the pulse of the Fender. Pedal wise I almost always have the first stage of my RC “Scott Henderson”- Booster engaged. After that, I run through an Analog Man Peppermint Fuzz, a Dunlop Mini-Wah, a Mad professor Forest Green Compressor that I mostly uses when I play my Bass VI. Then I have the BB plus from Xotic pedals for various overdrives and that all runs into my Alter Ego x4 delay pedal. Normally I have that one set up for a slapback but I also have a very modulated “leslie-esque” sound for our song “All we were” and a longer Binson-type delay for soloing and such. Reverb and tremolo, I like to use what’s in the amp. When it comes to acoustics, I have taken over my dad’s old -74 Martin D-18 and then I have a 2008 Fall Series Coccobolo Taylor GC that is absolutely fantastic! I also used different lap steels and dobros and such, recording. I like to record my amps with either a 57 or an Audix i-5, paired with either a Sennheiser 421 or a SE-ribbon.
Do you like to go to a particular “small-town” guitar shop to buy gear? If so do you have any unique stories or experiences from there?
I normally buy anything that is of importance from Deluxe Music here in Stockholm. They are the best and also privately owned, so yes, I would guess we can call them our “small-town” guitar shop. I do however have a unique story from another one of our great “small town” shops, Hellstones. It was a couple of years ago, I was bummed out that I had missed the Brad Paisley concert the night before, so I went to the nearest guitar shop to take care of my GAS. When I came down the stairs, I could hear some amazing guitar playing from the back of the shop. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was Brad Paisley, trying out various vintage guitars. So even though I had missed his concert I had a private show for like 20 minutes or so. I didn’t want to bother him so after a while I just walked back to the studio, with a big smile on my face. He was the nicest guy and wicked good!
Describe your experience touring and playing with Billy Momo? Where is your favorite place/town/venue/bar to gig at? Why?
Since we are a bunch of old guys that just like to hang out anyway, we normally take care of each other, come what may. Most of the guys have day jobs so touring and playing is more or less an excuse to go hang out with your friends, playing music and perhaps try out the local assortment of beverages. We get a chance to pretend we are a bit younger for a while, which is great fun. There is this one place in Tranås, called Plan B, that we love playing at. You can see it in our live videos and also there’s plenty of footage from there in our latest documentary.
What are your feelings about buying guitars online vs. in store?
Since I’m quite good at setting up my guitars and adjusting them and such, I have no problem buying something cheap or simple online, but when it comes to quality instruments and studio equipment I prefer to go to Deluxe music. Both as sort of an insurance, but also to support your local dealer. I do prefer to shop in a store but sometimes it’s more convenient and so much cheaper to buy online that you just can’t help yourself.
What was your first guitar? When did you start playing?
I started out kinda late. I was 17 years old and started out on my dad’s nylon. But after a while my dad got me a Candy Apple Red MIJ Fender Stratocaster. That one I will never sell. It actually had a lot of issues and I think my dad got a bit screwed buying it but I’ve fixed it up since and it will stay with me forever.
If you could have a drink with any musician, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
That would have to be Mr. Dave Grohl. He’s just the most bad-ass guy alive! And also, one of the most talented songwriters I can think of. And he seems to be great fun to hang out with!
I really like it. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but I’ve really enjoyed all of your posts, and try to follow it continuously. What can I say, we’re guitar players and we like to read about other guitar players and their stuff 😉
Last question. Could you tell a unique or interesting story from your time with Billy Momo?
Wow. Since we always look out for one another, we don’t have that many crazy stories as one would imagine, being seven grown men and all. But we have that time that we realized our song was being used in the “Better call Saul”-trailer. We actually had no idea. It was a friend of Orren who called him up and said: “Isn’t that your song on the trailer for Better Call Saul?”
We got online and started checking You Tube and surely there it was, “Wishing ain’t no sin” from Drunktalk had been picked up as the trailer music without our knowledge. We’re all big fans of Breaking Bad, off course, so it was such an honor!
Thank you Oscar for taking the time to answer my questions, and in such detail! I know many of my G.A.S.ing readers will love it. Best wishes to him and Billy Momo in all their future endeavors.
This week’s post will be a little different from some of my previous works. I had the opportunity to contact Birgitta Haller, the Artist Manager for Billy Momo, an up- and-coming Swedish band, and founder of Big Is Promotion. She was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions, and put me in contact with Oscar Harryson, the lead guitarist of Billy Momo. I will posy my interview with Oscar later this week. Here’s what we talked about.
Me: Tell me about your experiences as an employee at CBS/Sony Music. What was your position?
Birgitta: At that time, I was working as a temporary office assistant. I got tipped off by a colleague that CBS Records was looking for a marketing assistant. She happened to know the newly employed Marketing Manager who was looking for this assistant, so she told him about me and said I would be perfect for the job. I started to work there in 1987, at the Promotion/Marketing Department. My main duties were producing sales sheets and other material for the Sales and Marketing Department, I produced ads and also the weekly release sheets and a newsletter called Off The Record that was distributed to record retailers all across Sweden. I also assisted during promotion visits and concerts.
Me: What was your interest in the music industry?
Birgitta: I started working in the music industry for the love of music. Working at the source, so to speak, gave me a chance to really marinate in music, widen my horizon, listening and learning about all sorts of music that I never would have discovered on my own. I had the opportunity to be part of discovering and developing several Swedish artists and bands – from signing to breakthrough. A truly inspiring and creative thing to be part of.
Looking in the rearview mirror I was fortunate enough to experience the rise and fall (and rise) of the music industry. I was there when the CD was introduced, when the marketing and promotion budgets almost had no limits and if you didn’t ship 50.000 units of a new Mariah Carey album in Sweden, it was considered a flop.
Me: How did you find yourself as a medical secretary? Describe your time there.
Birgitta: My time in medical service were a few years before the music. I took two terms of studying shortly after my high school studies. These studies had me ending up as medical secretary at a university hospital, Huddinge sjukhus, just outside Stockholm. I was quite young and I thought it was really interesting and exciting to see the world of medicine, to work with people who really made a difference, curing and caretaking. I assisted many PhD’s in writing their theses on different medical topics. My boss was a Greek well known and respected orthopaedic professor, specializing in scoliosis. When I left, he wrote the finest recommendation letter I’ve ever received.
Me: Where are you from?
Birgitta: I was born in Uppsala, Sweden but I grew up in the countryside, in a very small village called Fjellskäfte, in the middle of nowhere, mid Sweden. When I was 11 we moved to Stockholm and I have lived here since then.
Me: What made you decide to become a self employed Artist Manager?
Birgitta: The self employment actually came before the Management part. I made the decision to get self employed when I became a mother. I’ve been told to start my own company ever since I left CBS/Sony Music, but never found out what I would do. when I became pregnant, I was working with V2 Records in Stockholm. During the end of my maternity leave I was dismissed from the record company. This was 2004, the first time the music business really took a serious dive so I was actually not that disappointed. This gave me time to really land in being a parent, and also to think about what I should do next. After some time I started to work for a record distributor doing promotion, and this is when I really found ’my thing’. I helped two of the distributed artists with promotion, and they pushed me into starting my own business and became my first clients. I thought: “If I dared to have children, I dare to start my own company!”
Me: Was that before or after you met the individuals of Billy Momo? How did you get involved with the band specifically?
Birgitta: This was 8 years before Billy Momo. I started my business in 2006, doing PR and promotion. I was contacted by Tomas and Oskar from Billy Momo October 2014, regarding a promotion campaign in Sweden. The person who was supposed to do the promo work in Sweden suddenly backed out and they had to find a substitute. It just took a quick listen to hear that they really had a good thing going, and I said that I gladly would like to do it. A couple of weeks into the campaign they had a release gig for their first single and I was totally blown away by seeing them live. They have a really unique and visual presence on stage. The guys told they were looking for management, and to my own surprise, I found myself saying I would consider doing it. Two months later, January 2015, we signed the deal.
Me: Tell me about the trials and tribulations of assisting in the band’s success? Any unique stories of your time with Billy Momo?
Birgitta: Everything with this band is a unique story, since they are my first management signing.
First of all: getting to really know a band consisting of seven individuals takes time, see how they function together and as individuals and how they create and compose.
And, the toughest part of any promotion or management mission is to transfer the total excitement and enthusiasm you feel for a band over to someone else. I truly see that this band have huge international potential and I am truly convinced that this band will make it. You just have to reach through the chorus of every man and woman in the business saying the exact same thing about their project. Billy Momo is not really for the mainstream radio, they make music that has to be discovered through other channels. I know that both the US and the whole of Europe will love this band, they just have to get a chance to see them. We’re constantly looking for openings to perform and find new audiences and co-op partners. The guys are very open minded and curious.
One of my very finest memories (so far) with Billy Momo was the trip we made to Napa, California in March 2015. Half of the band was invited to perform at the publishers’ evening at the food and wine festival Live In The Vineyard. We had two very intense and socializing and great days and nights in the town of Napa. We made friends there who still begs for the band to come back again and perform. Here’s a little mini documentary from the trip:
Me: What is your inspiration for the posts on the Billy Momo blog?
Birgitta: The blog was my suggestion to start with but they master the posts with their own inspiration. I truly believe in being web visible and the guys love to tell stories about their music and the band. This is a chance for the audience to really get to know the band, their inner feelings and fears, and the joy of being Billy Momo.
Me: What are your favorite artists to listen to? If you could have a drink with any artists, alive or dead, who would it be?
Birgitta: I listen to music almost every waking hour. Sometimes it’s music that I chose myself, and sometimes I find myself humming tracks that my 14 year old daughter loves. She discovered My Chemical Romance and Panic At The Disco some time ago, and I’ve listened to their music a lot through her. We also share the love for the soundtrack to La La Land. My own two house gods unfortunately both died last year. Ever since I was young I have loved David Bowie. Some years later I discovered Prince. Both these artists mean very much to me and has formed my taste in music for a very long time.
Me: Last question. Do you have any opinions about my blog? Any critiques or criticisms?
Birgitta: I like your blog. I think blogging about truly specific things, things you love and care about, will get you followers. For me personally, I like to read blogs with smaller fonts (like a magazine type of font size).
Again, thank you, Birgitta, so much for taking time out of you busy schedule to answer my questions. I can’t wait to show you all the next part of my interview with Billy Momo’s Oscar Harryson.
Took a little longer to get this post ready, but here it is. Close to the end of the interview my audio recording device stopped recording because storage was full. I lost the final 8 minutes of dialogue. I’ll abbreviate what Jay had to say. Here’s what we talked about.
Me: So you’re not interested in recording anymore?
Jay: Nah, I haven’t recorded in a decade.
Me: Did you do any recordings with your cover band?
Jay: My original band. Yeah we recorded the cover band. There’s all kinds of stuff out there.
Me: Did you do any albums?
Jay: No, it’s covers music, so we didn’t write it. But with my original bands we did two demos. But I gave up on that. There’s just no money in that kind of stuff. You can try and have the dream and try to go out and become rich and famous. But, I mean my band was GOOD. But that doesn’t matter. Good or not, it’s a popularity contest. Not it might be different with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Maybe it’s easier for the younger guys to get their music out there. But back then you had to find “The deal”, and when I finally was presented my first original “Deal”, it was from Dave Iber Productions. He basically said “I’m interested in you”, meaning me, because I wrote all the stuff, I was the singer, and it was all my songs. But he didn’t want my band. I was loyal to the bone, and so I told the guy to go screw himself, and probably one of the biggest regrets of my life was doing that. Who knows where I’d be now? I’d be a different person probably. I just couldn’t do that to my friends that helped me write all that music. We were all at the time, best friends. Now the bass player actually cooks here (at the Volume Café), the guitar player is in upper Pennsylvania. We just split up and went our own ways.
Me: Is owning a guitar store still relevant these days? Is it a lucrative business?
Jay: No. That’s why I’m doing this over here (The Volume Café). The café is my future because everybody has gotta eat. I’d like to keep the venue alive, however it’s very difficult and it’s stacked against me, that’s for sure. But that place is still doing what it’s doing (SJ Music). The Nice thing about moving back to this location, there’s really pros and cons. The pros are; my rent is low, which means I don’t need to make tons of money although it’s still difficult to even make that because the con is that I’m stuck behind the Arby’s and nobody even knows I’m here. But, most people hunt out music stores. It’d be nice to have a corner lot right out on the pike or something, or BE at Arby’s or something like that. But if we move there our rent goes through the roof.
Me: I found you here by posting on The Gear Page what I’m trying to do with my blog. And someonerecommended I stop by.
Jay: Good! I try to be a nice guy. I try and treat people the way they wanna be treated and the way I would wanna be treated, not like an idiot or an imbecile. Whenever I go to a music store, even the big box stores, I never let on what I know. I went to a pawn shop one time, the guy had a red Fender with gold hardware, Mexican Fender. Tops $400 is what it’s worth, tops. And they were asking, I can’t remember but it was a ridiculous amount. So, I was like “Mind if I look at that?” and the guy said “Well that’s a FENDER!”. I said “Yeah, I mean, it’s a Mexican Fender.” So, I strum on it and it’s all screwed up, not set up right, but it’s all things that can be fixed. So, I asked what he wanted for it. And he told me! And I said “Oh my god!” He said they were real solid gold tuners on it. I was like, “Really? Really? Solid gold huh? Is that what that is? Solid gold?” And he said “Yeah, ya know, Fender, they make the best guitars.” And, finally, I said, “Yeah? So, let me tell you a little bit about your solid gold guitar!”. But anyways, you always play dumb at first so you can get the honest reaction from people.
Me: Like you said, you’re not really relevant these days. But, you’re still here! What are you doing right?
Jay: Well, I’m changing with the times, hence this place over here (The Volume Café). This has been an eye-opener. The potential business that this place can do is awesome. The money that this place can make in a night is very impressive. But, it’s difficult to get people to come to this one place all the time. There’s so much competition out there. The same can be said about the music industry. There’s me, there’s Old Town Music right up the Pike, there’s that guy in Pitman (The Music Museum).
Me: Yeah, I talked to Larry about Phil in Pitman. Larry used to work for him back in ’76.
Jay: Larry’s a good guy, I talked to him a few times when he first started down there. I lived in Woodstown.
Me: Same, I went to Woodstown High school.
Jay: So did I [laughs], so did he! But I was thinking about opening a satellite down there. The problem is, Woodstown has money, but it’s old money. It’s not young, there’s not much there.
Me: In the past few years several small businesses opened up on North-Main St. there and closed a year later.
Jay: Yeah, I know. When I first went there [Woodstown Music], I was just shootin’ the shit, ya know, owner to owner. It’s nice to talk to your own kind. And I was like “Who are you using for your distributors?” And he says he’s using Musician’s Friend and Amazon. So, I was like “You’re buying your strings at retail?” Larry says,” Well I buy them bulk so I get them a little off, I can’t afford to do a dealer.” And I said “Larry, you can do it, all you need to do is commit. It takes $1,000 a year.” And some of his prices were high because he was buying high. And he can keep his prices the same! He’s the only game in town down there! But, shouldn’t you want to get them as cheap as you possibly can?
Me: He focuses on a lot of used stuff. Lots of cool vintage gear.
Jay: Yeah, I’ve seen a couple things there, he’s got some old vintage stuff, and things like that. But, so do we. And I’ve got the new stuff too, but not much. It’s mostly used. That’s where the market is right now. So, new stuff you can get it online, on Amazon and order it, and it’ll be here the next day. I’d say %70 of the guitars out there are used factory seconds. I deal with a company that deals with refurbished guitars. And they take guitars that have never been sold, or were sold and returned by the company. And I found one that was 70 bucks off because it had a little over-spray in the white binding. Like a little black smudge, and you could never get it out because it was underneath the clear-coat. So, I was like, “Okay, I’ll take $70 off for that.” And I mean, of course the factory warranty doesn’t apply anymore, but the factory warranties don’t apply ever anyway. The thing has to be a pretzel coming out of the box before they’ll cover anything. It’s funny how a lot of people get real stuck on that warranty thing. On a car, I understand that. There are a whole bunch of little machines to make that one big machine work. But a guitar, it’s a block of wood. Yeah, there are things that can go wrong, but it’s not often that it’s so traumatic that a tech couldn’t fix it for $60 or under.
Me: How do you feel about buying guitars online?
Jay: Well, I did. It’s very difficult to buy online, at least for me. I have to hold the guitar. I have to play it when it comes to guitars and stuff. But, if I know it’s a good reputable brand and like, ya know, I bought a 1978 Gibson Black Beauty. It came from a guy in California. It was a long time ago I did this, when eBay just started, and I was nervous because, eBay, that was the wild west.
Me: Was it the three-humbucker model?
Jay: No, it was two. It was one of the “fret-less-wonders”, so you got those little tiny frets. They were really flat on top.
Me: I had one [a fretless wonder] for a little while. Personally, couldn’t stand it.
Jay: Yeah, me neither. Quick story. When I was working at Music Go Round, I never liked Les Pauls, I was a Strat’ guy, always was. And then this guy came in a 1977 Black Beauty, mint condition, original case, for $100. When you grabbed that thing your hands were burning it was so hot, I knew it was stolen. But, jeez, $100, ya know! So, I bought it, didn’t tell the owner at the time. I gave him $100 out of my pocket and I kept it. So, next day, his Dad comes in and he’s looking for his guitar. Now, I can’t get caught in this lie because Don didn’t know I bought it since I bought it out from under him. So, as he was leaving I was like, “Yo, I got your guitar, just come back at 9:00 when we’re closed. I bought it for 100 bucks, give me $100 back and you got your guitar back. I’m not gonna do that to ya.” I could’ve just said “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”. It was actually the next week not the next day. Sold it on a Friday, guy came in on that Monday. But, that Saturday I had a gig, and I played that guitar and I fell in love with Les Pauls from that point. Because the switch is up there, and the two volumes, ya know, it just sits right when you’re playing, and then I understood why everybody loves playing Les Pauls so much. And I’ve been playing them ever since. But I gave that one back, so I bought a ’78, eBay, California, and I insisted I call and talk to him. And turned out he’s a happy old guy, the thing got too heavy for him, so he said it plays great. He says, “It’s a player’s guitar. It’s got all sorts of nicks and dings in it. That’s why I’m selling it so cheap.” It was $1,300. And even back then, 15 years ago, they were going for like $1,800. So, I bought it, I got it. He said the bridge was changed, and I opened up the case and the original bridge was sitting there, so, I swapped that out. The thing was nowhere near as bad as he said. It had a little buckle rash on the back, but the top was clean. And it played like a dream! The action was slammed! But, I played it for a while, and I was young, but after the second set, third set, fourth set, you’re like [makes heavy groaning noise]. And sometime I was playing Atlantic City, we’d do four one hour sets. Four hours of holding that freakin’ tree trunk on my back. So, I got rid of it. But, now I got a 1960 Reissue Goldtop, and I got a couple Michael Kelly Patriots, which are their Les Pauls. I got two of those. They’re really nice guitars.
Me: I’ve seen some of those. The tops on them are beautiful.
Jay: Those guitars are built well. They’re build out of the South Korean factory that Schechter, when Schechter was awesome, like back in the 90’s and 2000’s, they were out of that same factory. And then Schechter moved their stuff. I was a Schechter dealer, the Laboratory got them out from under me because they bought more of them than I could at the time. And I got swindled on that. But I got the last laugh because I ended up getting all the lines that I thought were better because Schechter switched their company and the new factory they were using just was making crap guitars. And they fixed it after a while. But, it took a couple years to get that worked out.
Me: What do you like the most about owning the Café and the store?
Jay: Being your own boss is always number one. Not having to talk through anyone else, ya know, the buck stops here. Him and I, we’re partners, and we get along great, and we have a third partner for over here [the Café]. He’s never around anyway. Now, this is a new challenge for me, this Café thing. I didn’t know anything about it. When the idea for this came up, this was empty, completely bare, just a hole in the wall. So, Brian, my buddy, come up, we were standing outside, it was cold I remember, he was looking in the window and he’s like, “Why don’t you open up your own venue, like a café or something?” (At this point a prospective artist was at the door of the Café. They came to check out where they’d be playing) Mark, somebody’s trying to get in. Anyway, I was thinking if I was gonna do that it’d be more like a bar, ya know? Hang on a second.
Me: You need to talk to a client?
Jay: Nah, he’s just checking out the space. So, anyway, I started thinking about it, and I didn’t know anything about this, so we had to figure out exactly how we’re gonna do this. And so, he said, “I would go in with you.” We started with the floor, it was all carpeted, so, we ripped it all out, stripped the walls down, we painted with this special paint. It’s not two different tones, it’s this new fancy paint they have. And you take a card or something and swish it around and it makes it look like stucco. Put the hardwood floor in. And I thought if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this right, we’re gonna build a real stage. And that’s what we did. So, we built that, we got floor monitors and mixers all the way around, we got a 32-channel board that has the ability to record, and we can record videos, we can do audio, video, put together promo packs. All live recordings.
Me: Is there any place you post that stuff?
Jay: It’s all on the website mostly. That just came up to be a newer thing now. We just started doing that and got the kinks worked out about a month ago. So, yeah, that’s that.
Me: How would it affect your business if you moved the Café and your store to perhaps a betterlocation?
Jay: We’ve been discussing that. I’m always looking. We found a place in Pitman that we went and looked at. And it was nice. It was a great location, but it just needed to be completely gutted and completely redone. Let alone, even if I could afford to do that, it was a corner lot, an art studio I’d be taking over, and there were nine or 12 dorm rooms on top. It was weird, you walk up there and most of them didn’t have bathrooms or kitchens. They had a central kitchen and one bathroom that reminded me of “Porky’s”, like shower heads all over in this big room, and I was like, “Who does this?”
It was at this point that the device stopped recording the interview. Jay went on to explain that this location he was looking at was were Bob’s Hobby Shop in Pitman is. He briefly stopped to discuss the venue with the artists that walked in during the interview. They discussed the alcohol policy there at the Cafe. They serve wine, however if they want to bring in beer it’s BYOB. Next they talked about floor space, since the artist planned to bring in a crown of about 100 people. After the artist left Jay would continue to explain his thoughts about moving his store and/or the venue to what he thought was a better location. Jay ended by recounting stories about his days in his cover band and the people he met along the way.
I’d like to thank Jay Milley and Mark at SJ Music for allowing me to sit and chat for awhile and take photos of their establishment.