Friday, July 29, 2016

The patriot

I HATE POLITICS. So I rarely delve into the fray. I hide people on Facebook and turn the channel when it comes to idiots and blowhards telling me how to vote.

Sheryl and I watched two weeks of conventions. Ick. Double ick. Yet this is our political system, the way we are governed, so we owe it to ourselves to watch and decide.

Trump is a moron and bully. Hillary is a product of the political machine. Why doesn't Al Franken run for president? Now there is a guy I could get behind.

I grew up a devout Christian. I still believe. But more and more, I'm expanding my views. What if we aren't the only ones who are right and just? Radical is radical, no matter what you believe.

And be very careful at judging upon first glance.You might be surprised at who the real patriots are.
The very best of this video starts at....  6 minutes. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lew, hockey and Fast Eddie

WE WERE SADDENED to hear of the passing of Lew Portnoy, a Second String Music customer and colorful character. He loved coming into the store with his partner, Lois, and they both loved to play with Fast Eddie. Click here for his obituary. He was from St. Louis and later moved with Lois to Canton, Mo.

One of the best things about owning a small business is all the interesting people you get to meet, and Lew was one of the best. He was a pioneer in hockey photography in St. Louis, and I always enjoyed talking about his days shooting photos during the NHL expansion era of the late 1960s. Lew was in the Boston Garden the night Bobby Orr scored his famous flying in the air goal to beat the Blues and win the Stanley Cup. "Well, I was on the other end of the ice," he said. "But I saw it."

He regaled me with stories of the old rinks, like the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and of taking photos of legendary hockey figures. His photos are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Lew liked to come in, plop down in the chair behind the counter, and make himself available to Fast Eddie, who wasted no time climbing into his lap for love. Eddie won't do that for many people, but there was something about Lew he just liked - maybe it was their shared love of hockey. Or cat nip.

Lew was a good guitar player and was a member of a band in St. Louis. He was into vintage instruments and he bought a nice 12-string Aria guitar from us. He was quite proud of his graphite guitar, too.

We saw him a month or so ago. He was too weak to get out of the car, so we went out to say hello. I think he knew his days were numbered due to lung issues, but he seemed accepting and content. He certainly packed more into life than most.

Farewell, Lew. Fast Eddie, Sheryl and I will really miss you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cindy starts the NASCAR engines

CINDY VANCIL-HAXEL is a huge auto racing fan. A few weeks ago, the owner of Quincy's Vancil Performing Arts went to Kentucky and drove around a track really fast. She wore the big crash helmet and everything.

I asked her if she was scared. Then I thought, "She is married to Frank. Going 200 miles an hour and barreling through really steep corners is no big deal to her, considering her daily challenges in life."

Cindy in her happy place - Indy!
Last weekend Cindy went to the Brickyard in Indianapolis for the NASCAR races. On Friday morning, she was in the corporate sponsor tent of Xfinity, which sponsors the Xfinity Series. When Cindy told them she was an Xfinity customer, they said, "Wait a second. We have some gifts for you."

Cindy thought she was getting a T shirt or something. Instead, the head PR guy came back and said, "How would you like to be the race grand marshal tomorrow?"

Cindy was stunned. She is a huge race fan and considers going to Indy a pilgrimage. What? Race marshal? "Well, you will have to issue the start command for the second race, hang out in the pits, talk to the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," she was told. "You OK with all that?"

Not sure she got much sleep Friday. On Saturday, there she was, standing on the stage during the driver introductions, issuing the famous "Gentlemen start your engines!" command, soaking it all in from pit row.

One of her dance dads, Scott Heiden, was at the race and got in on the front-row fun, too. You can check out Cindy's Facebook page for video of both Saturday and Sunday at the track.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she says.

I'd say Xfinity was lucky to have a class act as the race marshal!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lots of business cards

APPARENTLY WE ARE going to stay in business forever.

Sheryl ordered Second String Music business cards and they arrived this morning. Something got mixed up because we have about three times as many as she ordered.

This is both good and good. It's good because we have sharp new cards, and it's good because we can hand them out at will and never run out.

It's all how you look at it, and we look at it as a good omen. We are here to stay.

And don't be surprised if I hand you a new business card when you are here at Fifth and Maine!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Don't Use Our Songs

THERE'S BEEN AN outcry about the Republican National Convention using certain songs when introducing people. It is illegal to use a song without permission if the song has been copyrighted, but it's a complicated issue.

Click here for a detailed explanation of the law. I'm sure Trump isn't remotely scared or gives two bleeps about his campaign using songs without permission. For the author and copyright holders, it is a big deal, and there are pros and cons.

I wouldn't want anything to do with a political candidate using an song. It's art, and a part of you, and for somebody to use it without permission is a violation of character and intent. Nobody is going to use an old Funions song from a decade a ago, but I did get copyrights for three CDs worth of original material, and other recorded demo songs.

On the other hand, publicity is publicity, and it gets people you might not have heard from in a long time back in the news, and creates interest.

I hope the artists suing Trump get every dime they deserve.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

THE music store in town

IN LESS THAN 10 days, Second String Music will be one of two music stores in Quincy. It's been a wild five-year ride and we continue to make plans for a bigger and better retail music store.

It's never good to see another business shut down, we want businesses to succeed. Certainly we have to be ready, especially when it comes to school music supplies. Fortunately our partnership with Boyd Music in Jacksonville has really paid off and we are working together to make this coming up band instrument season a success.

Sheryl and I don't talk about the competition. We do what we do, and the rest follows. We'd like to think if you come to Fifth and Maine, you'll be greeted when you walk in the door and we'll help you find what you are looking for, or just let your browse. Buying a guitar is a big thing, and there's no pressure from us, but we'll give you the info to make the right choice. There might not be a better feeling than seeing a happy musician walk out of here with a beautiful new guitar, banjo or amplifier.

We are expanding our guitar line this year - we will be placing our first Gretsch guitar order soon. Our Breedlove, Takamine, Dean, Luna and Ibanez guitars continue to do well. We've had a run on harmonicas lately - the Hohner Marine Bands are popular.

A few rules we live by for our customers....

- Always greet the customer when they come in. Tucker and Angus do a good job for us!
- Post store hours and keep them. Never close early, never, or just take a random day off.
- Go the extra mile for loyal customers. If somebody calls us five minutes before we close and says they will be here in 10 minutes, we stay open and we'll wait.
- Be consistent. We do have sales and deals, but we live by offering low everyday prices and getting as close to the Internet price as possible. And we follow up with service and advice after the sale, something the Internet will never do easily.
- We listen to our customers. You learn a lot that way. We want to hear what you have to say or what you need to be successful.
- Be involved. I volunteer a lot of hours planning downtown Quincy music events. Our Six String Heroes program continues to be popular. We support as many worthy endeavors as possible.

So let the adventure continues at Fifth and Maine!
Support local musicians, local music stores and local music venues.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Nothing fazes the doctor in lessons

A QUINCY PHYSICIAN is one of my guitar students. We have a blast and share a lot of common musical interests. He's already a good player so we do a lot of picking out songs and approaches to playing them.

Yesterday we were going through a beautiful Beatles song, "Something," when a massive thunderstorm hit Quincy. We were in the middle of figuring out how to go from an A minor major to an A minor seventh when the power went out and my lesson room went dark.

Power outages downtown are rare because the cables are underground. Fortunately this one lasted about 10 seconds, and the lights came right back on.

This didn't faze the good doctor one bit. He said, "Well, I get the transition. Do we go right back into the opening part again?" And off we went to learn the rest of the song.

Doctors must have focus and a determination to not let stuff get in the way of learning. This doctor, obviously, gets it.

And now we know how to play a Beatles song - in the dark, even.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

No convention for me

My family moved to the United States when I was 15 years old. It was the summer of 1980. We had to stay in a hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a few days until our house was ready. On the television at night was coverage of the Republican National Convention. I remember thinking, "Who are these goofballs?"

Not much has changed in 36 years.

I tried watching some of the convention last night. I really did. Now, lest you think I'm anti-Republican, I'm not. I'm an equal opportunity political basher - I despise national politics, no matter if they involve donkeys or elephants. I don't like most career politicians, either. I respect the process, however flawed it is, but it just doesn't appeal to me.

Angus the Young for President!
Sheryl had the PBS station on, and the talking heads all nodded and repeated exactly what had just happened. Then Chachi got up there and told us how great Trump is, and it got really weird.

Chachi? CHACHI?

So I gave up and went outside and listened to the Cubs game on the radio and threw the stick (incessantly) with my handsome Cowboy Corgi Angus. Peace.

This morning I'm hearing words like chaos and robotic and plagiarism, coming in one ear and going out the other.

So don't tell me to vote for Trump or Hillary or any candidate. Don't. You are wasting your time. I will make up my own mind somehow.

And, at this point, I'm wondering if I will vote for the Library candidate, or Liberty party, or whatever the heck it's called. Maybe I will just write in Angus the Young.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Appreciating Quincy

I WENT OUT of town to work for Gus Macker this past weekend. As always, it's interesting to see how other cities organize tournaments, and how successfully (or not) the best-laid plans are carried out.

I came back to Quincy last night about 7:30, rolling into the city via Ill. 57, and it struck me how much I missed it and how many good things we have going here. And I was only gone two and a half days.

It was a hot summer night and there were still people out and about. South Park shimmered in the July evening heat. The Hy-Vee gas station was packed. So was the Dairy Queen across the street. I almost ran over a Pokey Man player at 12th and Jackson. Ahhh ... normalcy!

Angus and Tucker were overjoyed to see me. Sheryl seemed content after a weekend to herself - I am a lucky man. "Go work for Gus. You are always in a better mood when you come back and it's a good gig. Go! Go!" she always says.

My appreciation for Quincy grows. I've been here 20 years. I love the Mississippi River's slow and muddy crawl. I love bitching about going "all the way across town" to get to Sam's Club or Lowe's. Heaven forbid I get stuck behind four cars at 24th and Harrison (we DON'T need a light there). There are cookie cutter restaurants and threats of more coming, but it's comforting to know Drake's, Tiramisu, Chicks, One, Thyme Square and others are right downtown.

Business is good. The bridge closing has hurt our store traffic (a little), but we are getting more and more loyal customers and familiar faces are a comfort in the wild and wacky world of retail. More and more we are becoming THE music store in Quincy. I will have much more about that later in the week.

This is not a perfect place, and never will be. There are still things we need to improve, and we have to be more forward-thinking and open-minded about the years to come. But this isn't a gray and drab place, with no hope and a peeling facade.

This weekend, people asked me where I'm from. I proudly said, "Quincy!" And it felt good.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I'm not chasing Pokey Man

AS I'M LEAVING Second String Music last night, a young man I know rolled up beside me. He was on his bike. He had his cell phone placed in a holder right in front of him and had headphones on.

"Hi! I'm chasing Pokey Man!" he said. "It's awesome! Admit it! You've never seen so many people in Quincy's parks!"

"What?" I said.

"I'm chasing Pokey Man!" he said. And off he went.

Washington Park hasn't been any busier than usual - the Outside People still stake their claims to picnic tables, and lots of young families with kids playing in the fountain chase away hot summer afternoons. And people are always glued to their cell phones, no matter where they are. When we traveled to Colorado, everybody in the airports, and I mean everybody, was on their phone. I got so irritated I almost didn't play my Spider Solitaire game.

I could say something about how dangerous it is to be looking at your phone instead of the guy walking in front of you or the cars running the stop signs as you approach the intersection, but I don't want to be a prude. So I won't.

Watch the street, not the Pokey Man on your phone.
Apparently Pokey Man is some sort of video game, which automatically means I'm ignorant about it because I don't play video games. As my ever-patient wife explained to me, a new version called Pokey Man Go was just introduced, and the idea is to track it on your cell phone and capture the Pokeys, or the Mans, or the Avatars, or whatever the bleep they are.

"Who knows?" she said. "We might have one in the store. People can come in and try to find and capture some."

"I think Fast Eddie has eaten all the Pokey Mans," I said.

Look. If you want to waste your time chasing little things on your phone, more power to you. I am worried because skin cancer could rise with all these pale gamers suddenly exposed to sunlight, but they'll have to deal with it.

So come on in to the store and capture a Pokey, a man, whatever. If you buy a guitar, I'll give you a free Pokey Man - assuming Fast Eddie or the dogs haven't already nabbed them all.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Guitar rigs - less is more

STUDABAKER JOHN PUT on a great show Friday for Blues In The District. It's always interesting to see what gear the bands bring to Quincy, and John's guitar and harmonica rig blew me away.

John hooked up his guitar through a Behringer modeler and a small Roland amp. It was a 60-watt solid state job, looking good despite 30-plus years of use. Rollo Carder and Mark Mester put a nice microphone in front of the amp and it sounded incredible.

Right next to his guitar setup was another Roland 60-watt amp. This one was for his harp, and he ran it direct into the PA. Again, the tone and sound were amazing.

It's great to see a touring and legendary musician using gear we sell at Second String Music - we've sold a lot of Roland Cube amps. And it helps fight the notion you need a huge stack of speakers, amps and cabinets to put on a good show.

Part of the problem is that rock and roll was built on excess and in your face loudness. But with today's technology, you really don't need a massive head and cab if you want to sound good. Get yourself a decent PA system and somebody who knows how to run it, and you are good to go.

Thank you Studabaker John and The District for another great Friday night!

Friday, July 8, 2016

All lives matter

TODAY I AM hanging out with my friend, Adam Yates. He is also known as Sgt. Adam Yates of the Quincy Police Department. I respect the hell out of him for what he does - I could never do it, dealing with all these people and keeping the peace in places where you are not welcome.

I don't hang out with him because he's a cop. I hang out with him because he's my friend. He's an excellent musician and he gets it, what musicians do and why we play. He's funny and opinionated and cares a lot about what he does. When he's off duty, he's off duty.

But we are defined by what we do, and Adam is a police officer, through and through. So is his wife, Stefanie. Don't be fooled by her size and easy smile. I've seen her cuff and stuff dirtballs into the back of a squad car before you can even blink.

I can't even watch the news this morning, knowing five of their colleagues were senselessly gunned down last night in Dallas. You can live in a small Midwestern town by the Mississippi River and pretend the world doesn't spin around you, but sometimes it just hits home and makes the ground shake.

Think about this for a second - what if what you did defined you, and people who were also in your profession were killed because of it? Does it happen to bankers, lawyers, bricklayers, music store owners, guitar players?

I don't know if we will talk about Dallas today. Adam and Tim Smith are playing for our noon Blues In The Park acoustic concert. Then we are setting up at One Restaurant for a Pepper Spray show tonight. Then we are hanging out on the sidewalk during Blues In The District, and eventually we'll be back at One to bid farewell to Avenue Beat.

It will be a good day. Yet Dallas lingers in the background. I want to say something to make it all go away and make everybody feel better, but it doesn't work like that.

All. Lives. Matter. Hate and ignorance cannot win or define us.

And to Adam and Stefanie and my friends in law enforcement, I Back The Blue.

Check out our friend Cindy Haxel's local program to support law enforcement. We in Quincy Illinois Back the Blue. They are taking donations and using them to show appreciation to our law enforcement officers.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Coffee, local food and a great new location

WE ARE EXCITED about Grown N Gathered moving to Sixth and Maine, and joining with Quincy musician Cheeks McGee to open the Electric Fountain coffee shop.

You can read all about it here on Cheek's blog. Michele Wilkerson is moving her store from 729 Hampshire to the former Everything & The Kitchen Sink building one block up from us at Second String Music. 

Hmmmm .... a coffee shop, locally grown food and cool people as neighbors a block up? It's getting better and better in downtown Quincy.

Cheeks, of course, has some ideas for music in his new coffee shop, and I can't wait to see what it looks like. They are tearing the building apart right now and hopefully will be open later this summer.

Maine Street is the place to be!

We are excited about our new neighbors to the east!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Flying is the way to go

SHERYL AND I spent the weekend in suburban Denver, Colorado, with my sister and her awesome family. We had a great time doing very little of anything. I played some bad golf and made sure to support the local cigar shop. Sheryl bought some chocolate and two very pretty glass art pieces.

Chilling with EY and Castle in CO!
It was nice to get away while Steve Rees manned Second String Music (and sold some stuff!). The only stress came from traveling, but even that was minimal.

We hear horror stories about long TSA lines and flights being delayed. Our trip was smooth and the security lines weren't very long. Sheryl wasn't happy about her toothpaste being confiscated in Denver, but not in St. Louis. Maybe Missouri feels more strongly about taking care of your teeth.

On Sunday night we chilled and I watched several episodes of "Castle" with Erin, my sister's daughter. No big deal to me, but to Erin, apparently it was. "You might be surprised. She'll remember watching Castle with her big dorky Uncle RotKnee," my sister said.

So here is to making memories, stress-free travel and spending time with family. Now it's back to the shop, not working for a living and rocking the rest of the summer away.

Friday, July 1, 2016

REO? No.

I WAS FLIPPING through channels last night and came upon REO Speedwagon singing a song. Joining them was a "singer," and I'm being polite. I have no idea who he is. I will call him Bald Guy. Bald Guy was in a leather jacket and was jumping up and down and basically just repeating every phrase sung by by Kevin Cronin of REO. Apparently Bald Guy is named after a dog. Ruff, ruff.

I watched, horrified, for about 30 seconds. And you know what the best part about TV is?

You guessed it. CLICK.

No Bald Guys named after dogs on this album.
The problem is the image is burned in my head, and I can't get it out. Sheryl and I are taking a break this weekend and I will need the therapy, that's for sure.

I love REO Speedwagon. They have great songs. They are soundtracks to my youth. I sing and play their songs. They rock. I might pay $30 at a state fair to see them, really.

There's nothing wrong with cross-pollinating, either. You can have a rap and rock guy play together, or a country and folk guy/gal. Whatever. Music knows no boundaries and it's fun no matter what style you play.

I guess you can't blame REO Speedwagon. They have to make a living, too. "Hi. I'm Joe Blow from The Network. We are doing a show about the 1980s. We want you to play with a current artist who can't sing or play any instrument, uses autotune and looks tough, so people love him We will pay you five quadrillion dollars. You in?"

Of course you are in.

Unfortunately, the next time I hear an REO song, I will think of Bald Guy. Maybe my weekend therapy will help erase the image.