Monday, November 30, 2015


IT'S TIME TO put up Christmas decorations in the store. We do have a tree at home, but because Genie likes to eat things like remotes, oven mitts and glasses, our living room might not be in the most Yuletide of spirits this year.

The store will get the usual treatment. We will string lights around the windows, bring the tree down from the third floor, and put up the stockings that Eva Marie, Cindy Haxel's dog, gave our three dogs a few seasons ago. Sheryl has also switched over the store music - I heard Angus howling on a song Saturday, so it must be Christmas! And the amazing Logan Kammerer brought over a fresh batch of his Christmas CDs Saturday.

In addition, Missy Myers of M2 Photography has been decorating and cleaning on the second floor of our building. Her business is part of this Friday's District Loft Tours, and wait until you see what she's done with our old elevator - way cool!

The District is also installing some lights outside our building on the fifth floor. Combined with the old Avenue of Lights displays going up across the street in Washington Park, it's definitely starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Come downtown to enjoy the Loft Tours, See the lighting of Washington Park Thursday at 6 p.m., and shop local small businesses!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Last minute gig

ONE OF THE many things I like about playing with Cori Lyssy in Hartlyss is the flexibility. We have two people, a small PA and a ton of songs. Oh, and Cori's husband, Benny, to drive us around in his new to him Escalade, and to set up and tear down.

On Thanksgiving night we are playing at a family house party, and Saturday night we just booked a show at One Restaurant. The One gig came about because they had a cancellation. Are you available? YES. We love to play.

It's a little harder to do with a band because when you have five or more members, life tends to get in the way. A lot. Arranging schedules is just as important as having practice and booking gigs.

So see you Saturday night at One. Hartlyss still has a few other weekend dates available in December ..... hint hint.

HartLyss is available on short notice. We don't lay down on the job, either. Ahem.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Banjos galore

FOR SOME REASON banjos are all the rage at Second String Music as we head into the meat of the Christmas season. Banjos are fun to play and unique instruments - not that hard to learn, but boy does it take a while to get good.

Consignment Banjo's in the store now!
We have new Dean and Deering banjos in stock and ready to roll. This morning one of our long-time customers brought in some amazing slightly used banjos to put on consignment - these are great instruments that are hardly used, with cases or bags. WOW.

I was never any good at the three-finger roll technique, but it's fun to pluck away at a banjo and make noise. Whether you are an experienced player looking for a high-end instrument or just wanting to learn, we have it here at Fifth and Maine. Plus you can take lessons from our own Steve Rees.

Pluck away!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Epic birthday anniversary

"He's 21 and he has a beer on his head," bellowed Tim Penning (right).
I WAS GOING to write a sappy missive about birthdays and age being a state of mind. But I just remembered today is not just a birthday - it's the 30th anniversary of an epic event.

Let's face it - you remember turning 21, or you don't remember, because it's a big deal. Thirty years ago I was a sophomore at Central Michigan University, and turning 21 was important because my two roommates were 21 or older, and now I "legally" could join the fun.

I did more partying in one year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids than I did in three years at CMU, but that's more about environment and state of mind. We didn't let minor inconveniences like the legal drinking age screw up a good time. Right. Still, turning 21 meant you were an adult. HAHAHAHAHA. Gosh, I love a good birthday morning laugh.

All I wanted for my 21st birthday was my Gilligan hat.
Anyway, I'm trying to recall the events of Nov. 23, 1985, which have been softened and blurred by time. And a lot of cheap beer. We had a gathering in our apartment and I believe there was a keg involved. Some of my buddies came up from Grand Rapids, and toward the end of the night there were stolen shopping kart races, I think. My high school buddy Mark Hendricks must have been there because I remember trying to watch the hockey game on our CBC feed, in the midst of blaring music and general chaos.

Tim (left) and Marty drop the ball. Marty is drinking apple juice.
But the best part was the night before. As the clock ticked toward midnight and me officially coming of (legal) age, my roommates took me out for my first legal beer. Tim Penning and Marty Horjus were proud to usher me into official debauchery. We went to the Cabin, which was just down the street from our apartment. I peeled the label off the beer and kept it in my wallet for a long time.

You don't forget about stuff like that. Thirty years? Really?

Really. And I'm still smiling when remembering.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Store Bash

IT'S TIME ONCE again for the annual Second String Music Weekend Before Thanksgiving/Pat Cornwell Toast/Rodney's Birthday party. We are gathering at Fifth and Maine tonight to have a jam session, toast our good friend Pat and celebrate the fact we have about a month to go before Christmas day.

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving!
The toast for Pat is at 6:30 pm. It's hard to believe it's been five years since he's passed. That also means SSM is almost five years old, also hard to believe.

We'll have beverages and goodies and music and lots of glass-raising. I'm hoping it doesn't quite reach the level of our party last year, but that was for my 50th birthday and such levels of celebration are rarely reached.

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and we have 10 percent off everything in the store, 12 percent if you pay cash. Sheryl loves offering cash options and people seem to love saving the extra moola. The Cheeseburgers play at the annual Elks Lodge Cash Bash Saturday night, so it's just another mayhem-filled rock and roll weekend.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stolen Gear Blues

OUR GOOD FRIENDS in the Rockin' Jake Band are on the road right now and were the victims of theft the other night. Jake and the boys are from Florida, and they were up in Topeka, Kansas, for a show. While the band stayed overnight at a hotel, their trailer was vandalized and several items were stolen.

The thugs took guitar player Mark DeDominicis' two guitars. Fortunately he has another one to play. The dirtballs also took pedals, microphones and gear belonging to Jake, who sings and plays harmonica.

There are few worse feelings in the world than being the victim of a theft. The thugs used bolt cutters to slice through the lock and grab the stuff. You have to wonder if they really know what they've stolen - all they probably see are dollar signs. Good luck trying to pawn that stuff off in the Midwest, jerkoffs, because the word is out and we are watching for the stolen items.

I had a gig bag stolen from my car last year. It had cords, microphones, tuners, strings, all the little stuff. It was probably worth $400 or more. But it's not just the net worth - instruments and gear are special. They become a part of what you do and who you are. We really hope the thieves get caught.

Not that lowlifes who steal stuff in Kansas will try to pawn it off in Quincy, but you never know.

The day after the thefts, Jake and the boys ran into bad weather heading to Colorado, and they had to wait it out for a night in a small hotel until the roads cleared. Here is to hoping they have better luck during the rest of the tour. There are good people out there who will help the band out, I'm sure.

Keep the faith, Jake.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ghosts and wind

IT'S VERY WINDY at the corner of Fifth and Maine. This is normal and we are used to the wind tunnel, as we like to call it, since our building and the WCU Building across the street form a perfect jet stream area.

The front doors at Fifth and Maine keep opening and shutting by themselves. It's annoying at best, and sucks the heat out of the first floor at the worst. So Sheryl has taken the pins back out of the doors and locked them, for now. That means you'll have to tug and wait for us to open them.

The more I think about it, the more I think it's not just the wind opening our doors. I think two people are responsible - Hattie Dodd and H. Schroeder.

Hattie Dodd was the woman who built and owned our wondrous five-story structure in 1897, and named it after her father. She only lived a few more years after the Dodd Building was constructed, and I wonder what she thinks of it today. For many years it was in decay. We are trying to bring it back. I hope she's proud, and I bet she's coming in and out just to see what we've been doing.

The other person is this mysterious H. Schroeder. I don't know much about him, only that he operated the original business on the corner where the door is located. When this building opened there were five businesses on the Maine Street side, including one operated by Schroeder, described by the newspapers of the day as the best-known and oldest druggist in the city.

It looks completely different now - Mercantile Bank bought this building in late 1905 and revamped the first-floor space. One of these days I'm going out to the Mercantile headquarters on 33rd Street, since there are supposedly photos of Fifth and Maine back in the day. I suppose a banker or two might be still trying to get into our building.

So if you are coming to visit today, tug the doors and give us a second to open them, and say hello to Ms. Dodd, Mr. Schroeder and various other dignitaries opening and closing our doors today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Every day is Black Friday

SHERYL AND I are rolling all four eyeballs between us at the insipid "Black Friday" deals as the Christmas season approaches. Can't our advertising geniuses come up with something better?

Then again, we are all sheep led to the slaughter when it comes to Black Friday. Sheryl calls us "Sheeple." We can bitch and moan about businesses being open on Thanksgiving Day and at 4 a.m. the next day, but guess what? We are all in line. Well, most of us. I refuse and I will never do an early morning Black Friday again, since I was scarred for life 16 years ago doing a story for The Whig.

I'm so glad a local auto dealership has Black Friday deals all month long. I'm so glad the big boxes on Broadway are doing the same thing. So glad.

Here at Fifth and Maine, we've come up with a brilliant advertising idea. Every day has always been Black Friday here. We have low prices and great deals all the time. Looking for an amazing Breedlove acoustic guitar or Ibanez electric? Hey! It's Black Friday every day, especially today! You won't have to line up at 4 a.m., either. And you get four free lessons at Vancil Performing Arts when you buy an instrument at Second String Music. All. Year. Long.

You can't beat that, or beat up the idiot next to you who just jostled you out of the way to get that amazing Christmas present.

Friday is just a day. Actually, this Saturday is Small Business Saturday. Just pretend it's Black Friday and skip ahead. Or back. What? Now I'm confused .... screw all this silly Black Friday business. We have great stuff every day, and that's all that matters.

If you take that attitude, you'll get to sleep in the day after Thanksgiving, too.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reading to a 6-year-old

SHERYL'S GREAT-NEPHEW was at the house the other night and bored. He's a hyper 6-year-old with a big imagination and it's not easy to keep him focused. Sheryl was reading "Dead Wrong (Blackmore Sisters Mystery Book 1)" on her Kindle, so he snuggled up on the couch to listen while she read out loud.

Here's a kid who'd rather play video games or watch a movie on the laptop, but he sat in rapt attention as Sheryl read to him. It was hilarious to hear her read about a family finding out they owed a huge property tax bill. Sheryl started laughing, and so did her great-nephew. Apparently he made her read the ending to him the night before so he would know who the killer was and just wanted to hear more of the book. They had a good time.

We read stories to Emily every night of her childhood. Every night. I could probably still recite "Goodnight Moon" to her by memory. I believe it helped her as she grew up. I believe parents get just as much out of it as the kids. We didn't have video games or cell phones to keep Emily occupied - Sesame Street was my "baby-sitter" in the middle of the afternoon, but only for an hour.

Sheryl is one of the sharpest people I've ever met and she's a voracious reader. It's not a coincidence. I'm trying to read more too, though I get sucked into watching football while dozing on the couch on my only day off (Sunday).

I am not telling you how to raise your children. But I urge you to read to your youngsters. You will both benefit.

There's no better way to bid good night to the moon, promise.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Donating, Benefitting and Polite society

SOMETIMES IN SMALL business, you can't win for losing.

Pepper Spray played in the Veterans Day parade last Saturday and had a blast. Check out the awesome video Adam Yates put together. We were part of the Six String Heroes parade entry.

There were some guys from our local Machinists Lodge 822 watching the parade. They liked what we were doing (goofing around and rocking out, I presume) and they came into Second String Music the other day and presented us with a $50 check for Six String Heroes.

We can't tell you how much it means for Six String Heroes, and the men and women it helps. The members of Pepper Spray gladly donated their time for the event, as did Frank Haxel, Tournear Roofing, Steve Stoner of Six String Heroes and many, many others.

Then, of course, somebody had to chime in with an insipid Facebook comment. Unfortunately, people that should be more sensitive are not always sensitive. There are some incredible ironies when you consider this person who made the remark.

As usual, no good deed goes unpunished.

The gist of the comment was, "Remember this the next time a veteran asks for a benefit donation." It has since been removed from the post, thank you. But, puh-lease. You are chiding us about donating to causes? Second String Music? Sheryl or me? You may not be paying attention to everything we do but at least give us credit for what you have benefited from personally.

Not a week goes by that we don't have somebody coming into the store asking for a donation - some weeks it is daily. We do the most we can. We are a family owned, small business and we simply don't have the resources to help everybody. So we pick our causes, benefits we have a link to, people we care about, like helping out the legendary Sonny Settles for his benefit this Sunday.

We've donated guitars, baskets, money and other items to many a benefit, and never asked for anything in return. I give free guitar lessons to veterans as part of the Six String Heroes program and it's not because I'm such a great guy. Far from it. It's just something we believe in and it's a very small way to show our appreciation.

So yes, I will remember. You are welcome to come into the store, shop a little, tell some friends about us, and ask us to donate to your cause. We will consider every request.

But not because someone bullied us into donating.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

SSM Chicago connection

FOR SOME REASON, Second String Music has developed a Chicago connection.

About a month ago a young man came in looking for a nice guitar. He played one of our new Breedlove acoustics and instantly fell in love. He also liked the Roland AC 33 acoustic amplifier, and we put together a good deal for him. He didn't even blink at the price and told us how much he appreciated our good service and our prices. He happened to be in town with buddies, camping at Siloam Springs. We thought it was a fluke and moved on with our day.

Last Saturday another young man from Chicago came in because he heard from one of our local customers that we had a beautiful Gibson Firebird on consignment. He took one look at the guitar and the price and was hooked. He would have never guessed that our store might have a gem like that and he was amazed that our price was lower than the internet. Again, it was nice to see our prices look better than the Chicago market, and we think our attention to customers does, too.

Today a man from south of Chicago is driving to Quincy to look at one of our Takamine acoustics. They are hard to get right now because of a distribution issue. We have one GD 93 acoustic left, and he's been looking all over the place for one. He can't find it in Chicago, Springfield, or Peoria so he called our little shop in Quincy as a last possibility.

We've had people from Columbia, Mo., St. Louis, even Ohio come into the store and find the right instrument. Quincy isn't small but it isn't big. We must be doing something right.

We appreciate and support our local musicians. They are the heart and soul of what we do, and we'll keep doing it. But it is nice to know we are attracting musicians from the big cities based on price and the quality of instruments we stock. It's like a scavenger hunt sometimes and we feel like a prize to these guys. It makes us proud of what we have been able to accomplish in our five short years in business.

It's a great big world out there, even from the eyes of a small business in Quincy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lofty goals at Fifth and Maine

SECOND STRING MUSIC is located inside the historic Dodd Building at Fifth and Maine. Sheryl and I are excited to be part of The District's Loft Tours on Dec. 4, and we are proud to show off our progress since we bought the building a few years ago.

Mercantile Bank
Hattie Dodd had it built in 1897. Mercantile Bank bought it in 1905 and it became known as the Mercantile Bank Building. The bank left in the early 1960s, the start of a serious decline for the grand old structure.

When Sheryl and I bought it in 2013, we were the only business and the four floors above us were vacant. Frank Haxel renovated the far east end of the first floor, where the original bank vault still stands, and it was home to Vancil Performing Arts' Dancer's Dream store for about a year. The space is open and up for lease again.

The second floor was renovated and is now home to Missy Myers M2 Photography and MO ILL Studios. Both tenants have done an outstanding job of renovating their spaces. Missy will be in her studio on Dec. 4 and will be proud to show it off during the tours. You'll also get a look at the amazing 1920 Hollister-Whitney birdcage
elevator just off the main entrance of 505 Maine St.

The third floor is still in decent shape, but there is no power or plumbing. The fourth and fifth floors are long gone, ruined when a previous owner failed to fix a leaky roof. You'd pretty much have to start over if you wanted to renovate up there.

The Loft Tours on Dec. 4 are from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. There are three lofts on North Sixth and one near Fourth and Hampshire on the tour. Here is a link to the FB event.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jamming and way outta my league

SHERYL AND I ended up at the Club Tavern Saturday night to "celebrate" her birthday. Actually, it was to celebrate the fact that the three-week "Vortex of Crazy" before her birthday has ended. It's a long story and let's just say we survive it every year, and we are ready for the Christmas season.

Anyway, there was a big old jam session going on and I ended up jumping into the fray. Tell me there is anything more fun than getting to play with guys like Paul Lester, Rick Parrish, Shawn Buckner, Mike Carter, Carson Gay and the incredible Matt Roberts - more about him in a minute.

Most of your basic blues songs are just three chords and the truth and the arrangements aren't that tough to follow. Of course Carson had to remind me on one song that I was completely out of key (it was a little hard to hear, normal for a jam session). I got asked when it was over if I'd ever played with those guys before, and the truth is, no, not really. It's just an ear thing, which is how I learned, and you just do it. There's nothing that hard about it.

All of the above-mentioned musicians are way out of my league. It's a hard thing to explain, but when I got done I felt honored and grateful they even let me plug in and play, and I hope I didn't screw them up too bad.

When we got done, Matt said to me, "Man, you gotta play more leads!" Well, I flunked Lead-Guitar 101 many years ago and could never pass the class, though I like to mess around. I'm just an old strummer and hummer, a rhythm player who tries not to mess it up.

Playing lead guitar means practice, knowledge of scales and the ability to both let it go and concentrate at the same time. That leads us to talking about Matt Roberts, who has come a million miles in a very short time.

Seven or eight years ago I saw Matt jamming in a backyard for a benefit, and I thought he was pretty good. He spent many an hour perfecting his craft, because how he's the premier blues guitar player in the area and his showmanship and singing are top-notch.

Some of the nationally-touring blues guys who have passed through town have said the same thing. Matt and his band are now playing in St. Louis and other places, trying to get noticed. They are that good. Shawn Buckner on drums and Mike Carter on bass make for a killer trio.

Great fun with great people, and we lived to tell about it yet again.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dirty Dogs, Life with Boys

ONE OF MY favorite things about having dogs is running them at a local out-of-the way spot. They sprint like the wind and have total freedom, yet they stay fairly close, behave if encountering other people and dogs, and terrorize the local squirrel and mole population.

This week, however, has not been good for our long walks. Tucker and Angus, the boy dogs, have engaged in the ancient canine ritual of Rolling In Death.

When we humans see roadkill or something dead, we shudder and walk away. Not Angus and Tucker. Their ears go up, eyes widen and their purposeful strides become urgent. "Hey. A dead raccoon. Sweet! Let's go roll in it!" Tucker says.

"I already rolled in it yesterday. But I'll join you because I don't want you to have all the fun," Angus says.

This morning we strolled and I watched them the whole time and didn't see them roll in anything. Yet when we got to the car to head home, Angus was coated in Death and Tucker had it all over his face and neck. Genie, our lovely girl dog, rolled her eyes and said, "Don't get any of that bleep on me, you sick bleeps."

After bath time in the fire pit. Thanks boys.
Tucker has had three baths this week. In the warmer months I can just hose him off in the backyard, but now that it's cooler, Sheryl grabs him and Angus and puts them in the tub. They look up with mournful eyes and say, "Sorry, mom. I'll never go Rolling In Death again." Then they go outside, shake off the bath water and say, "Can we go back for another walk now? I thought I saw a dead skunk!"

Tucker looks like a drowned rat. He tried the old "sad eyes gazing at my owner" trick this morning, but it didn't work. He's still nasty. Angus has shorter hair and right now he's on the couch next to me, oblivious to the world and dreaming of a great big park with huge Rolling In Death puddles. He is also licking himself like a cat.

Boys are disgusting in general. Boy dogs are just really, really gross. Tucker and Angus don't want to talk about it and seem to think it's no big deal. All I know is that I nearly threw up when they climbed back in the car for our ride home this morning.

Sheryl thinks it is just the time of year and level of decay fall brings. The boys are just wallowing in it a bit too much this year. And we'll wash it off again.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The dreaded "C" word and shopping early

LOOK. I KNOW it's still three weeks until Thanksgiving, but you still gotta start thinking about it.

Wait a second .... it's only three weeks until Thanksgiving?

Here at Second String Music, Sheryl and I have been thinking about, uh, it, for a long time. It is a word that starts with a C and ends with an S. It involves overcommercialization, a fat guy with a long beard and red suit, and reindeer.

I'm still not going to say or spell the word out loud. But it's coming. And you can't stop it. Ahhhh! I feel like the Knights Who Say NEE.

If you are thinking about a musical instrument or related item for Chr .... uh, it, do it now. We've done our best to get stocked up and have a lot of cool stuff at Fifth and Maine, but already we are seeing people coming in getting ready for it.

We have a room in the back that holds all the lay-a-ways for it.

Support your small local businesses, boost your local economy and get a leg up early for the season. Make this one a great one and memorable.

I'll wait until after Thanksgiving to say the word out loud.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jury trials and long waits

QUINCY HAD TWO high-profile murder trials in the past few weeks. Both defendants were found guilty. One jury took less than 90 minutes. The jury yesterday in the Gavin Masters murder trial took more than five hours.

I covered about half of each trial for the Quincy Journal. I would have predicted the jury times the other way around. But you can never tell what a jury will do, because they are made up of human beings. Jurors are supposed to check all prejudice and judge the case solely on the evidence .... but that doesn't always happen.

The Steson Crider murder trial dragged on for nearly two weeks. There was a lot of evidence and a lot of testimony from "profoundly imperfect people," as State's Attorney Jon Barnard put it. But the jury took a relatively short amount of time to find Crider guilty. I think jurors were tired and basically figured it out quickly. The victim was a completely innocent 12 year old boy waiting for a ride home and sitting on a front porch. I think the jury got it right.

The Masters trial took only four days. Again, there was testimony from rather challenged people, if you want to put it politely. The man shot to death was fleeing from a house after stealing a bag of weed, and defense attorneys Drew and Casey Schnack were brilliant. Their job is to throw up smoke and make the jury consider all kinds of possibilities, to muddy the waters. Nobody is better at it than Drew - if I ever got into trouble, he'd be among the first people I'd call.

I have not talked to anybody who served on either jury. But I suspect there were one or two jurors last night who were hung up on some issues and who were seriously considering a not guilty verdict. All 12 have to agree and it only takes one juror to halt the whole thing - I saw it happen in several major trials during my years at the Whig, including one case involving a man accused of beating an infant child. One juror refused to budge. The verdict came back not guilty. Many of the jurors were crying when the not guilty verdict was read, because they knew they got it wrong. But that's our system, flawed as it is.

I have a feeling attorneys, investigators and Judge Robert Adrian, who presided over both trials, will appreciate a few days off and time to reflect, and maybe to sleep.

There's always another big trial looming, and another jury to pick.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Veterans Day Parade and Pepper Spray

Not even Yoda messes with Pepper Spray
OUR NEVER-PRACTICES JAM band Pepper Spray is getting ready to play in the Quincy Veteran's Day Parade Saturday morning.

We will be teaming with Six String Heroes to get on the float and jam away as we head up Maine Street. It starts around 10 a.m. near 12th and Maine, and if the weather cooperates (right now it's supposed to be chilly but sunny), it will be a blast. Joining us will be Six String Heroes co-founder and guitar player Steve Stoner, and we promise to not practice but give him at least five seconds to get ready for each song.

Playing in parades is a lot of fun. This one is a great way to honor our veterans and to spread a little rock and roll cheer along Maine Street. Hope you can join us to salute those who served and continue to serve.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Shhhh .... don't tell anybody about Woodland

Law Library
AS USUAL, THE annual Woodland Cemetery tours were well-received Sunday. It was an incredible first day of November, the actors at the grave sites did excellent jobs and a lot of people came through the cemetery gates to get a first-hand look at Quincy history.

I enjoy giving tours and showing people just how amazing Woodland is, and the history behind it. It never ceases to amaze me how things get connected together, and how the giants of Quincy history repeatedly have their names brought up.

VERY heavy safe on the 5th Floor
The last grave on the tour was for Freidrich Wilhelm Schmiedeskamp, who came to the area around 1845 and was a stone cutter by trade. His grandson, Heinrich, became an attorney in Quincy, and the firm is still going strong. More than 100 years ago, Heinrich, or Henry, joined up with a man named Wilson in a building at Fifth and Maine in Quincy - the Dodd Building, now known as the home of Second String Music.

Up on the fifth floor, where the firm had offices until the early 1960s, there is still a safe with the letters "Wilson & Schmiedeskamp" visible.

See what I mean? You can't get away from the history around here. It's all about who we are and how we got here, and Woodland stands as a shining example.