Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A boy, a dog and the river

YOU MEET THE most interesting people in a music store. This morning our first customer was Randy McGuire of Des Moines, Iowa. He is rowing down the Mississippi River in a 20-foot Wherry boat with his handsome Aussie mix dog, Dusty. You can read all about his adventures here.

He is calling it "a boy, a dog and the river." He is camping on sandbars or wherever he can find hospitality. The river is way up from all the rain and Dusty has had issues with the biting black flies, so it's been quite a trip so far.

Randy is attempting to row all the way to Cairo, which is about another 180 miles. He is stuck in Quincy for the day because there is work going on at our lock and dam, and it isn't open until 5 this afternoon. He has been on his journey since Aug. 1, and he bought a guitar a few months before so he's had time to learn.

Dusty got to play with our three dogs in the store this morning, and he happily trotted down the block with Randy to get some breakfast at Thyme Square.

Good luck, Randy! Be safe keep writing your excellent blog. And tell Dusty he is welcome to hang out in Quincy, specifically at Second String Music, any time!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Best Music Store and Best Downtown Business Awards

SHERYL AND I are honored and humbled to learn Second String Music has been chosen Best Music Store in Quincy and Best Downtown Business in a recent Herald-Whig Reader's Choice poll.

To be honest, we forgot there was a poll. Sheryl had it included in our Whig advertising package but that was months ago. We read the paper, but mostly online. While times are tough in the newspaper industry, The Whig is still the media leader around here, and we still spend money on newspaper advertising - our sales rep, Joe Middendorf, is awesome. Why didn't he win the Best Maulers Drummer award? Jim Smith rocks!

There were more than 21,000 online votes and 15,000 paper votes cast. Voting took place in July, when there were still three music stores in town. The fact we won that category is gratifying but not surprising. The fact we won the Best Downtown Business is somewhat of a shock to us - there are all kinds of great businesses down here, and a lot of them took home awards from this poll.

I know what some people will say about this, but the votes were cast way before I came back on a very limited basis to help out in sports at the paper. We don't even get an employee discount on advertising and never did when I worked at the paper fulltime. Really, it's just a nice honor and a plaque to hang on the wall. And we'll use it for promotions and other things.

Business has been rocking in Second String Music. We thank you, our loyal customers, for supporting us in our wild five-year journey. We aren't here to win awards or get recognized - we are here to serve you and make sure you get the most for your dollar when you support a small and local music store. We also encourage you to support local musician, local music teachers and Vancil Performing Arts Music Department. We would be nothing without our local partners in musical crime.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Monday, August 29, 2016

Keep your shirt on

APPARENTLY THERE IS such a thing as "National Go Topless Day." It happened Sunday in, of all places, San Francisco. No. Really?

Thirteen women showed up at a park not wearing anything above the waist. And men were wearing bikini tops. If men can go topless, so should women, right?

Put your shirt on, Phil. Or don't. Pour some sugar on you.
In a world of flaunting sexuality, why can't we all just get along and put a top on it? The last thing I want is our Outside People not wearing shirts. Wait. Some of them don't, at least the men. I almost crashed again near Sixth and Washington.

I am not standing up during the national anthem until this is fixed.

I am going to sit on a Lake Michigan beach very soon. I will sit in the sun with my shirt off for a few minutes, but only a few, because I don't want to get burned. Then I will spare family and friends my buff chest and sculpted abs. Because, really, who wants to be like Def Leppard guitar player Phil Collen? I'll work on my shredding and biceps.

And I'll keep my shirt on.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Just looking at new Gretsch guitars

SECOND STRING MUSIC received the new Gretsch order Wednesday. I'm always like the kid in the candy store when new guitars arrive. We also got ukuleles and mandolins from Gretsch. You have to see these instruments to appreciate them. We got even more guitars and ukes in this morning.

Speaking of seeing, we get a lot of people who come in and say "Just looking" when asked if we can help them. That's fine. We understand renting a band instrument or buying a guitar is not a spur of the moment thing, though we encourage that, too. And coming in for picks or cables or tuners - the small stuff - is just as important.

Yesterday a young man came in just after the Gretsch order arrived. When he said "Just looking," Sheryl politely said, "Well, if this was an ice cream shop, what flavor would you be looking for?"

The young man got it, and we pointed him over to our ever-expanding selection of acoustic guitars, where he happily plucked away for a few minutes. He complimented us on the store and said, "It must be nice to just play all the guitars all the time."

Well ... sure. Not all the time. And me more than Sheryl, which is why this whole retail music store thing is still alive after five-plus years.

We have all kinds of flavors here - Gretsch, Breedlove, Takamine, Dean, Ibanez, Luna and more. Come on in and lick on them all!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back in sports

I WENT BACK in time last night. Actually, I will do it once or twice a week this fall. And I love it.

A few weeks ago David Adam, sports editor of The Herald-Whig, called and asked if I'd be interested in working a night or two a week in sports. Sure, why not? I was a sports guy for 10 years. I covered a few basketball games for The Whig in the past couple of years. Last fall I worked for the online Quincy Journal writing about high profile murder trials (the Journal has since folded). Keeping the toes in the water is not a bad thing.

I was in the Whig office last Friday and last night, taking a few calls and helping some of the younger guys. I'm looking forward to covering a few high school football games this fall. I have the time, it's fun and it's like going back to simpler times.

Staff Writer Matt Hopf was working his evening shift last night, so I wandered over to his corner of the newsroom, where I sat for probably a decade. We pulled open a drawer and it had a bunch of my old crime and courts stuff - police reports, victim impact statements, a Court TV video from the 1993 levee break, old political stickers, etc. There was even a full box of my old business cards. I left the Whig four years ago and the drawer hasn't been touched.

I don't miss my old job, but I did miss some of the people I used to work with, so it's fun being back. David has hired some college kids to take calls and write up short stories, and they really bust their butts - it's fun to watch them get the hang of it. Last night I took a call from Quincy Notre Dame soccer coach Greg Reis and "it was just like falling off a bike," as former Quincy University legend Jay Driscoll used to say.

Once a sports guy, always a sports guy, and I'm proud of it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Spontaneous Jam

ONE OF THE things we don't do quite as much anymore is break out into a jam session. These are often the best times for a musician. For those of us who are lucky to play music for a living, it's especially a treat.

Last Sunday Cori Lyssy and I played at the Mark Twain Brewery in Hannibal. It was a beautiful afternoon on the deck and we had a blast. After we got done, we walked up the street to La Azotea Lounge. They were having a "Lip Synch Battle," which I think is just karaoke, and our friend Mike Moore was at the helm with his son on percussion.

Before I knew it, I had a guitar in my hand, Cori was singing Johnny Cash songs, Mike's son was keeping perfect tempo on the cajon, and the place was coming unglued. I attribute our good fortune to Fat Tire, Mike being nice to us and just being in the right place at the right time.

Sheryl said I was "all over the place" and something else about dollar bills being shoved into the, uh, girl singer's pockets. Right. We will go with that. Like I always say, if you can find a girl who can sing, strum your guitar and stay out of her way.

It was only for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but geesh, it was more fun than you should be allowed to have, as usual.

Thanks to Cori's husband, the ever-patient Benny Lyssy, we made it home. I do believe Cori and Benny ventured out to The Club and jammed even more with the Matt Roberts Blues Band. But when you are in your early 30s, well, you have more stamina and sustainability.

Sheryl and I passed out as soon as we got home.

So here's to Sunday Fun Day and playing music in the spur of the moment. It's the perfect combination.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Gretsch guitars on the way

SECOND STRING MUSIC is proud to announce we have officially become Gretsch Guitar dealers, and our first shipment will be here soon.

Gretsch has a long and storied history. Yes, we are getting into the amazing hollow body electrics, but we also will stock very cool acoustics, and even a bass. The Gretsch hollow body electric obviously has a bigger body, but they are still light and easy to play. And you might be surprised at how affordable they are.

When you think of Gretsch, you think of Chet Atkins and the Country Gentleman guitar. George Harrison made the Duo Jet famous with the Beatles. Brian Setzer is a Gretsch guy, as is Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Even Malcolm Young of AC/DC plays a Gretsch. When you look at the artists playing Gretsch guitars, it's striking how many younger and heavier bands play Gretsch. That's the sign of a good guitar company - versatile instruments capable of playing any style. Gretsch is also famous for drums - just ask Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stone.

We have also placed another Breedlove acoustic guitar order, and we'll be bulking up our Takamine acoustics before Christmas.

Got our new stickers today!
It's been busy here with the start of school band rental season - we again are partnering with Boyd Music out of Jacksonville. They are great to work with and we want to make sure you have the best possible instrument at the best price.

As soon as the Gretsch order gets here, we'll let you know on Second String Music Facebook page. As always, thanks for your help in making us Quincy's music store!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Meeting the students, Berrian style

SCHOOL IS STARTING again and we are all wondering where the summer went. For parents, it's a welcome time of getting back into a daily routine. For teachers and administrators, it's often the most intense time of the year before things calm down.

Students? That varies. There are kids who love school, but I bet most would like a few more weeks of summer.

Emily, my daughter, is starting her job at Western Illinois as Professor of Oboe. This is her first real job using her degree. She is super excited and we are so proud. As she steps into the world of academia, I'm going back to 1999, when she attended third grade at Berrian School.

Berrian had been shuttered as a grade school and used for other purposes for many years. Then Quincy Public Schools decided to reopen it, and spent a lot of money fixing it up. We lived in Southern View, and we could have continued to send Emily to Adams, also an excellent school.

But the small class sizes were appealing. And she had the best teacher, Jill Schinderling Reis. Emily had a fantastic year at Berrian.

There were some parents who didn't want their kids to attend Berrian. I'm afraid it was bigotry and small-mindedness that drove it. They didn't want their precious little gems to be in the same room with "poor" students, or kids of a different color. One mom said, "I don't want my daughter in the same school with those kids from the Hills."

"The Hills" is Indian Hills, part of the Quincy Housing Authority. Sure, it has issues. So does my neighborhood. So does every neighborhood. People are defined by culture and upbringing. But good people come from all walks of life and deserve a chance.

The teachers of Berrian School went knocking on doors the other day to meet students and get ready for the first day of classes. God bless 'em. Seventeen years after Emily began a life-enriching experience at Eighth and Jackson streets, Berrian is still rocking.

Here's to a good school year, and I'm proud to say my daughter was, and always will be, a Berrian Bear.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gathering in downtown

SHERYL AND I are big supporters of downtown Quincy. This is where we work and play. This morning we did some shopping at a couple of our nearby businesses and it was very pleasant.

Congrats to Michele and her Grown & Gathered crew. They have moved the grocery store to the Sixth and Maine location and it is awesome. Yes, it's a work in progress and there is a lot of stuff to do, but they've done a tremendous job tearing out the interior and getting the store moved. Sheryl got some cool stuff for her low-carb diet, and I would not recommend the chocolate covered carob almonds, unless you have self-control - I've eaten half the large container already.

As always, a huge thanks to Michael Mitchell and his Bittersweet Confections crew. Sheryl is hooked up with cheese and we had more excellent coffee.

They are doing tacos for lunch - I dare you to eat just one.

These are just a few of the places we like to support. Downtown has been good to us at Second String Music, so we return the favor. Come down and see us!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lew's stash is for sale

IN HONOR OF our friend Lew Portnoy, who passed away last month, Second String Music is having a huge sale on odds and ends for musicians.

Lew's better half, Lois, came to Second String Music yesterday with boxes of stuff. Some of it will be donated to Six String Heroes. But we are selling most of it for Lois, and at super low prices.

Capos, picks (thousands of picks), shakers, pick holders, bridge pins, slides, finger exercisers, string winders, all kinds of stuff has been priced to sell. Capos are just $3 to $7. Some of the guitar picks you have to see to believe and most of them are just a quarter. And a lot of items never came out of the box.

Lew had a ton of stuff, but he knew where it all was. "He'd just say, 'It's in that bin on the left,'" Lois says, and she would go there and find what he wanted. Genius.

I was going through a box and found some set lists from his bands - it brought a tear to my eye. And Sheryl found an old Second String Music business card from our Eighth and Washington store. Lew had written "Sheryl and Lucky," our first store cat, on the card. He only REALLY came in to see Luckycat but always said hi to the humans too.

We also found tons of Second String Music picks, every version we have ever had. Lew was a frequent guest at the store and obvious music stuff hoarder, and he'd grab a few every time he was here. It added up after a while and finding an old pick from our first location five years later is a thrill.

This stuff will go to good homes. Lew wouldn't have it any other way. Come by and pick up a bargain thank to LewGuns!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New places to play

Gittin Cheesey in Keokuk!
AFTER A LONG layoff, The Cheeseburgers got back at it Saturday night up at the Keokuk Yacht Club. We had a blast and it was good to play again with the boys. We are busy next month with some private parties, and have Oct. 8 scheduled at One Restaurant, with other gigs in the works.

While it's great to play at the familiar places, it's also fun to try out a new venue. Cori Lyssy and I (HartLyss) head up to Mount Sterling Saturday night to play at Hagel 1891, the Dot Foods restaurant, starting at 7 p.m. The next day we play 4 to 6 p.m. at the Mark Twain Brewery in Hannibal, another fun venue.

As always, we encourage you to check out the local music scene and to support our local establishments. We can't do it without them, and we appreciate everybody who comes out and has fun with us, no matter what kind of music you are into.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Genie comes home, and mice

WE'VE HAD TWO things return to the Calftown Manor recently - Genie, our beloved Aussie dog, and mice.

Genie went to live on a farm in March. She had become a little too much to handle and we felt horrible about her being in a kennel all day. The four-plus months were very good to her, but Genie and chickens don't mix. Neither do ducks. She is a sweet girl with a gentle disposition, but she is a hunter and the feathers flew a few too many times.

So, reluctantly, her owners brought her back this week with tears in their eyes. She is such a sweet dog. Genie has a new name (Lady) and a new outlook on life. She used to be a bit mischevious and anything chewable was fair game. Now she is much more calm and she still gets along famously with Angus and Tucker. She's even good in the store and with the cat, which was a huge issue.

We are still getting used to calling her by her new name. Lady Genie took a day or two to get reacquainted, but she loves our long cemetery walks and she doesn't run off anymore, either.

Dead Maus?
So it's all good. One good thing that has returned to Hart Manor means one bad thing must return, right?

We've had mice in the house and for some reason, Tucker and Angus haven't been able to track them down. Or they don't care, or maybe they like the mice.... We found one drowned in a water bowl a week ago, and over the weekend Sheryl put up some glue traps.

Sure enough, this morning I heard Sheryl scream and went into the kitchen to find a mouse wriggling and squeaking on the trap. Guess whose job it is to dispose of the mouse? I'll spare you the details. But it's Hart House 1, Mice 0.

Three dogs and one less mouse. Life is good!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Swimmers and tomatoes

I KEEP TRACK of some high school buddies via Facebook. The other day, Mark VanderKlipp was watching the Olympics and bemoaned the fact he didn't have a swimmer's body.

Really, who does? Swimming is one of those grueling sports where it takes years of training and dedication. My niece, Natalie, is doing quite well in Arizona and is one of the top swimmers in the state. She spends hours and hours in the pool and obviously has to love it.

Swimmers are great and I respect what they can do, but I bet they never did tomatoes off a speeding boat in Lake Michigan. I say we should make an Olympic sport of it.

This happened one summer in the mid-1980s. I was hanging out with my buddy, David Wilkins, and we headed to a campground near the shores of Lake Michigan somewhere. I distinctly remember Mark and his twin brother, Mike, being there. We piled onto a boat and headed into the water, and somebody said, "TOMATOES!"

I'd never heard of this. The boat got up to speed and you simply jumped out, hopefully hitting the water at the right angle so you didn't break your neck. Why it was called doing a tomato I will never know - it might have something to do with the whole Dutch repressed Christian Reformed Calvinism thing. That's what I use to pretty much blame everything that happened in the 1980s.

I remember doing it and nearly breaking my neck. You had to jump sideways and enter with your legs straight so you'd plunge directly into the water, not at an angle. I was sore for days after.

Really, this wasn't the smartest thing to do, but hey, we were Dutch and CRC, and some things you just can't help.

Imagine if this was an Olympic sport. "Michael Phelps is going after his seventh medal at the Rio games!" the announcers breathlessly announce. "There he goes! The boat is going 55 miles an hour! He's straight up! He's straight down! No ripple in the water and boom he's at least 30 feet into the water! He's done it! I can't believe I just used another exclamation point!"

Yes, Olympic swimmers are chiseled specimens who do incredible things. But I highly doubt they've ever done tomatoes.

So we have that going for us. Which is nice. And I'm still sore, 30-plus years later.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Shake your Soul Friday night!

THIS FRIDAY, LOCAL band Soul Shaker plays at Blues In The District in Washington Park. Second String Music is one of the main sponsors and we are proud to support local musicians.

Soul Shaker is an excellent band. It features guitarist and singer Eric McCaughey, bass player Jeff Van Kanegen, drummer Steve Hufford and multi-instrumentalist Burt Shackleton. Eric, Jeff and Burt all played in the Cheeseburgers and they are all great players.

I know they play a lot of blues, and they are also into R&B and soul. But in the end, who really cares? If you go Friday and they break into a Motown or classic rock song, you can get your money back at the door. Wait. There's no cover charge, and you can bring your own beverages into the park? Music is music and easy to enjoy.

I guarantee these guys will play their butts off and will entertain the crowd. They will be just as good as any national touring act. When I go see a band and I see them working hard and having fun, well, it doesn't really matter what they are playing.

I commend The District for having at least one local band play every summer for Blues In The District. We will be partying on the sidewalk and coming into the park for the show.

As always, support your local musicians and artists. The talent around here never ceases to amaze us, and we are excited about sponsoring Friday night's event!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Outside People and trash

IT'S BEEN A quiet summer when it comes to Outside People in Washington Park. We had some major issues last year, but none this year. The core group of maybe five to eight people show up when it gets light out, and they are still sitting at picnic tables when we leave between 6 and 7 p.m.

I don't like them, but really, what can you do? They sit there and solve the world's problems, they don't bother anybody, and that's that. They litter the ground with cigarette butts, but until now they haven't been messy.

Notice I said "until now."

I went into Washington Park yesterday and walked the dogs past two picnic tables by the gazebo. It was gross - pieces of rancid pizza on the ground next to sweet rolls. There appeared to be an entire box of cereal dumped by a tree trunk. There was a soda bottle and roll of crackers on top of a table. There was a baby seat by a tree. There were candy wrappers, a child's toothbrush and other debris on the ground.

The Outside People had moved over to another part of the park. I don't stick my head out of the door every five minutes, but Sheryl and I both come and go from the store all day - we can plainly see the tables from the store. It is their usual spot but it must have gotten too foul and they had to relocate to funk up another spot.

If you are going to live in the park, fine. You aren't breaking any laws and you aren't bothering anybody. I get that. And maybe we have a lot more important things to worry about in downtown Quincy than a pizza joint delivering to the flowerbed by the gazebo.

But this is our park. We take pride in it - it anchors downtown Quincy. It should be enjoyed by everybody. The fountain has been packed at times during the hot summer days. And in three days we have another Blues In The District.

The Quincy Park District does a good job of maintaining the park. I have forwarded photos of the trash to them and this issue will be discussed at their monthly meeting Wednesday. I'm not getting into a confrontation with Outside People, and I'm sure they will claim they are being harassed if this issue is pointed out to them.

But I've had enough. The next time I see them littering, or if somebody drops a cigarette butt out of a car window at Fifth and Maine, I'm not just watching.

Keep it clean, Outside People. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Father son guitar bonding

THERE IS A very cool thing going on inside Second String Music today - the father-son guitar shopping bond.

The two guys are having a blast looking at our guitars and basses, trying stuff out and seeing what they like. They are good store customers and they both love music. It's not about walking out of here with a new instrument, though we certainly encourage the whole buying when you are ready thing.

It's great to see them spending time together and sharing a passion for music. I just gave the dad a short lesson in getting better at picking out notes, but it all comes down to playing and spending time - my guitar students are required to goof around as much as possible.

We talked about music and different styles. The father loves old country. The son is diverse and likes to shred and strum. You know what? It doesn't matter. They both play and they both love it.

They picked up some strings and tuning pegs and are going to work on the father's guitar this afternoon. They make music a family affair, and we couldn't be more pleased and honored to help them.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The dog that got away

TUCKER AND ANGUS were in the backyard last night when I heard a lot of barking. Turns out there was another dog on the other side of the fence, and they were making friends.

The small brown dog appeared to be a puppy. It had tags, thank goodness. It had broken off a wire leash and was dragging it around. It appeared to be happy and healthy. So where did he come from? He had a Green Bay Packers collar and his name was Lambeau. Poor dog.

Our dogs wouldn't be caught dead in this.
It took a bit to get him inside our fence, but once in he started romping with his two new friends and they had a blast. I had to get Sheryl outside (mosquitoes are horrible this year and they love her sweet blood, for some reason), and she grabbed the tag and read off a phone number while swatting away the blood suckers.

I called the number, a man answered, and it turns out he was visiting his parents a few doors down with his new puppy, who had simply broken loose.

So it's a happy ending. Tucker and Angus have a new buddy. Dog tags are important, you know.

That reminds me - where is Tucker's Detroit Red Wings collar?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Well hello and Fire Up Chips!

LAST FRIDAY CORI Lyssy and I played a really fun gig at a new Hannibal bar, La Azotea Lounge. April, the owner, couldn't have been nicer and the staff was top notch. We had a lot of people stop by and it was a blast - check it out the next time you are in Hannibal, 323 Main Street, right around the corner from Mark Twain's boyhood home.

When we got there, a guy motioned me over and asked if I played in The Cheeseburgers. Of course! After chatting a bit I mentioned graduating from Central Michigan University. Then somebody said, "Fire Up Chips!"

It's unusual to hear the CMU war cry around here - Fire Up Chips is usually a sign to get the salsa, not cheer on the Chippewas. Then one of the men in the group looked at me and said, "Remember me?"

Hmmm. Maybe. Well, no. "I'm Mike Murphy," he said. "I was your boss in the late 80s in Mount Pleasant. Now do you remember me?"

Well, he had a bit more hair back then, but yes, it started coming back to me. In the summer of 1988, I was finishing school at Central and was hired by the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun newspaper to write feature stories. Mike was the editor of the paper. I didn't have that much interaction with him at work, but I do remember hanging out with him at Sir Richard's Pub and a few other places that summer.

All these years later, he is a senior group publisher for Gatehouse Media, headquartered in Hannibal at the Courier-Post. He and his wife, Kathy, moved here about a year and a half ago, and he appears to have settled in nicely.

Whodda thunk, 28 years later, he'd be watching me play music in a bar in .... where? Hannibal, Missouri?

You can't make it up. It was great to catch up with him and Kathy. Sure, everybody else in the bar didn't catch the references to Kelly Shorts Stadium or stumbling out of The Bird, but hey, we were going way back.

It's a small, small world.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Solar panels and sunny days

SHERYL AND I installed solar panels on our garage roof Sunday. It didn't take that long and immediately we are off the grid, at least for the garage.

We got a new garage last year after the storm of July 2015 destroyed the old one. For much less than the cost of having an electrician install power, we put up the solar panels. Sheryl did all the research and bought all the stuff, and I held the ladder. We even managed to lift the heavy solar panels via two ladders onto the roof without killing ourselves or each other.

It's a tiny solar panel but it is a beginning.
We were at one of the big box stores yesterday getting a few more supplies, and the guy helping us seemed surprised we were going the solar route. "It's too overcast for solar in Quincy," he said.

This is simply not true. According to the Illinois Solar Energy Association, Chicago gets nearly as much sunlight as Los Angeles or Atlanta. Quincy has an average of 200 sunny days a year, or about 60 percent of the time. Sure, there is less sun in the winter months, but not that much less - cold and sunny days abound around here during the winter. Is it enough to power an entire house, or maybe an old building at Fifth and Maine?

We'll do more research and think about it. "We don't have any kids sucking tons of energy. For two sort-of old people, we might be able to do it," Sheryl says.

Here comes the sun. And we don't pay electric bills in our old age? It's all right!