Friday, December 30, 2016

The music store in Macomb

I WENT TO Macomb yesterday to write about the Macomb-Western Holiday basketball tournament for The Whig. It was a lot of fun and I appreciated the hospitality at WIU's Western Hall.

I hung out with Emily before and after the games. She lives on the square and around the corner from Macomb Square Music, so of course we had to pay a visit.

The owner, Adam Oliver, is a pleasant guy and we had an interesting chat about music retail and the trials and tribulations of owning a music store. It's always good to see how different small music stores approach the business.

Adam tends to take in more consignment items and he buys instruments. It's an easier way to build inventory, and we did the same thing in our first months of Second String Music. I'll never forget Steve Rees coming into the Eighth and Washington store and saying, "I have some odds and ends, do you want to sell them for me?" We quadrupled our inventory on the spot and had some really cool instruments, and it went a long way to getting us up and running as a business.

Adam's father comes in during the day to help out, and he has several customers who like to tinker and tune guitars, etc.

Emily bought a nice ukulele book and we both promised to come back. I wish Adam the best of luck in the wild ride called music retail - have fun!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Count everything in the store

IT'S THE END of the year, which means inventory time at Second String Music. Can you tell how excited we are?

Doing inventory means Sheryl prints out a list of everything in the store, and then we see if what's on the floor actually matches. She is much better at it than I am, and it's a bit mind-numbing, to say the least. Yesterday was a busy one at the store and I'd rather say hello or string guitars than count stuff, so we slowly but surely made progress.

I am in charge of counting all the books in the store. I had no idea we had so many. Somebody should buy this Brown Scales book - it looks fascinating. And look! We have three How To Play Fakebooks instead of two listed in inventory. "It happens. I have no idea why," Sheryl says.

Count 'em up - every single one!
I do. It's likely because I rang one of them up incorrectly. Of course, I'm just happy I can turn the computer on and off, let alone run the cash register. I'm trying to get better, but it's just like doing inventory - it's a slow process.

Sheryl actually counted up all the guitar pegs she has in her guitar tech area. There were 505 in inventory, and she counted 504. Obviously one of them grew legs and disappeared, or Fast Eddie ended up with a new play toy. And she counted every single guitar pick. Every. Single. One. GUH.

So excuse us if we are a little more brain-dead than usual as the week and the year comes to an end. Sheryl, of course, takes it all in stride and keeps plugging away. Me? Well, twice last week I made coffee in the Keurig but forgot to put my cup under the hot water.

I need more coffee, and I'll finish counting the books.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rogue One - Everybody Dies

WE SAW THE new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, last night. It was really good and I highly recommend you go see it. Several people in line said they were seeing it again for the second or third time.

Before we go any further, I will warn you that this post about the new Star Wars movie contains spoilers. But before I spoil it, here's a preview of another movie. And another movie. And another preview about other movies coming in June 2017! We must have sat through half an hour of previews. And they were all sequels - shouldn't Vin Diesel be dead by now and shouldn't there be a law about how many Fast and Furious movies you are allowed to watch or even make?

We got 3D glasses with our tickets. No wonder they were $9 a pop! I thought about the popcorn and drinks but I want to go to the movies again soon and buy groceries and pay my mortgage, so I refrained.

I didn't really like the 3D part and I don't think it added a lot to the movie. In fact, it made it darker and some scenes harder to watch. Star Wars is all about sensory overload anyway so the 3D part is overkill. At least we got to keep the glasses.

I'm not going into the plot in great detail, but it made sense and tied up a lot of loose ends. Rogue One immediately preceeds the original Star Wars movie and tells the story about the rebels obtaining the plans for the Death Star.

Here's the thing - like the first Star Wars movie, where Han Solo and Luke Skywalker avoid the bad guys with death-defying flying and risk-taking, this movie is full of heroics and courage and fighting for your life. But unlike Han and Luke and Chewbacca, everybody in Rogue One dies. And I mean everybody, even the droid. The main characters accept this fact and don't try to duck it, and realize their efforts will continue the rebel cause. And make George Lucas even richer. So it all makes sense, in the end.

Darth Vader makes a brief appearance. He's taking a bath at first, then chokes out the director and kills a bunch of rebels with his light saber. But he doesn't get the stolen Death Star plans. C-3PO and R2D2 are briefly shown, as is the guy who counts down the Death Star laser blasts (the original actor died 20 years ago and was hologramed into the movie, apparently). Even Princess Leia is show at the end, which was kind of freaky considering Carrie Fischer died yesterday.

So go see it, if you are one of three people in this world who haven't been yet, go. It's two hours and 15 minutes of escapism - or nearly nine hours, if you count the previews.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

No Obamacare, no Second String Music

SHERYL WAS INTERVIEWED for a Herald-Whig story about Obamacare being repealed. The reporter, Matt Dutton, did a good job providing two different views. Click here to read the story.

I'm going to give Sheryl some credit - she doesn't like doing interviews and hates having her picture taken. But she sucked it up and presented her side of the story very well, and it's a point of view people need to know about.

What it comes down to is this - without the Affordable Healthcare Act. however flawed it is, Second String Music would cease to exist. Let me make this a little more clear - We. Would. Not. Be. Here.

Not amusing at all.
If you are going to repeal it, please come up with something that makes our health insurance affordable. Right now, there are several plans floating around out there but nothing that seems to work. And yes, we WORK for a living, Mr. Trump. Just so you know.

It is a complicated topic. Solutions need to fit the needs of 20 million people. Sheryl believes that nutrition is key to good health and level blood sugars. Many medical visits could be reduced if people would eat lower carb, healthy fats, and moderate protein diets instead of the high carbohydrate recommendations of the federal government and dieticians. Ask Sheryl for details if you are interested. She lives it every day.

We are signed up with ACA for another year, so short-term we are fine. But the Republicans will ditch the program as soon as the new regime takes over, and it's anybody's guess what will eventually happen.

And there's nothing we can do but wait, and pray we can still afford to stay in business.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas with Grannie Annie

SHERYL AND I were adopted us a few years back by Bob and Anne Mays, and we are better people for it. We get to share in the fun that is the Frank and Mays Clan without too much heavy lifting.

Christmas is a beautiful thing but it can be lonely. Memories make good company, but if loved ones are gone, well, it's an empty feeling. Bob passed away a few years ago, so on our Woodland walk Sunday afternoon, I went past his final resting place, straightened the wreath and American flag, and told Bob we missed him.

The last couple of years we've spent Christmas night with John and Nancy Frank and their kids. John is the son of Bob and Anne. At one point we were all at the table eating a fabulous meal and Nancy said, "I think Rodney wants to say something profound."

Cody tolerating Molly
Not really. I was just enjoying the family vibe. I said, "Well, I have no deep thoughts." What I should have said was, "Sheryl and I appreciate being a part of your family Christmas. We feel like we are part of this crazy crew!"

Highlights included dressing the family dog, Cody, as Santa, and the legendary White Elephant gift exchange. I got a pizza night light and I was over the moon, but Sheryl snuck it back in one of the kid's gift bags. Hey. A pizza night light is the gift that just keeps on giving.

No Christmas would be complete without Anne giving one of her grandkids an extendable fork. I got mine a few years back. It made me feel like part of the family. Sarah will now be eating off her friend's plates in San Francisco.

Thank you for a great Christmas day, John and Nancy and crew. May the new year be good to you and yours, and we'll do again next year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No Facebook = Merry Christmas

HARTYHARHAR is going on Christmas break. I think the best present I can give myself is a turned off computer. So Merry Christmas to me - see ya, social media.. Fa la la la la, la la, la, la.

We'll be back a time or two before the end of the year. Things are crazy busy in the store right now and I wouldn't wait if you are shopping for musical stuff, especially ukuleles. We still have the best unhurried Christmas shopping experience you can find, and we'll get you hooked up.

We leave with an adult Christmas video. I apologize to nobody because it is from the best Christmas movie ever made. Don't argue with me, especially on Facebook, because I won't see it.

Merry Christmas and be good!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Jump right in, Jenna!

MEET JENNA DARNELL. She is 11 years old and lives in Canton, Mo. Her parents got her a guitar from Second String Music a few months ago, and she is taking lessons at Vancil Performing Arts.

Jenna jamming with "the band!"
Jenna likes to come into the store with her father before her lesson to show off her chops and give me some pointers. She has learned incredibly quickly - Lenny over at Vancil has her doing Beatles and Elvis songs, so of course she is rocking! She is always eager to grab a guitar and strum away, singing happily along without a care in the world.

Last night Paul Lester and I were working on some Christmas songs when Jenna, her sister Olivia, and her father, Phil, came into the store. Paul and I were jamming and suddenly, there was Jenna with a guitar joining right in.

"Of course I can do it!" she said, when asked if she was ready to play. I was amazed at how well she kept up - she's a sponge and learns in a hurry. Rudolph and Jingle Bells never sounded so good! As she told her dad later, she was "playing with the band."

A long time ago we had a store party at our old Eighth and Washington location. We had a bunch of people at a jam session merrily making noise. I looked at Frank Haxel and said, "That's the power of music."

Almost six years later, we are still experiencing the power of music. Thank you, Jenna, for putting up with a couple of old guys and rocking out on a cold December night at Fifth and Maine.

Lessons are done for the year both for me and at Vancil Performing Arts. But I have a feeling I might be seeing Jenna back in the store once or twice before the New Year. And we'll be rocking away again!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

All I want for Christmas is .... singing dogs

SINCE WE ARE playing Christmas music tonight in the store, I'm thinking of inviting Tucker and Angus The Young to join us, and maybe Genie, too.

Two years ago I made a Christmas CD featuring the smash hit "Be Nice To Your Pets At Christmas." It featured the late Bella The Destroyer howling at the top of her lungs and scrabbling her paws on our hardwood floor. Angus hit a perfect C note too and I think Tucker added a few harmony whoops. I heard it the other day and almost started to cry.

This morning Sheryl left early for an appointment, and the dogs took to singing about missing their mom. Angus started howling at the top of his Cattle Dog/Corgi lungs. Tucker soon followed and I think Genie whimpered out a few melodic notes, though she is a little bashful about her singing. I keep telling her to not worry about what people think and to just do it - reminds me of a certain girl singer who is scared to play her guitar in front of people.

Just. Do. It. Make noise, dang it! The dogs can howl!

Tucker and Angus aren't afraid to sing. Or wake me up. It's all good and I complimented them on their vocal abilities, and even extended the morning walk despite the frigid temperatures. They woofed their approval.

So come see Paul Lester and I crank out some Christmas tunes tonight at Second String Music. If the dogs are here, we might just do a rendition of "Bark The Herald Doggies Sing" and "It Came Upon a Kennel Clear," along with my favorite, "We Wish You A Woofy Christmas."

Tis the season, you know. Barky bark and woofy woof the New Year too!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas music and pop up sales

ONE OF THE best parts of Christmas is the music. During guitar lessons I've learned the famous Chuck Berry riff to Run Run Rudolph, and who knew Twisted Sister made possibly the best Christmas album ever?

Second String Music is part of The District's Thankful Thursday series. So tomorrow night, from 6 to 8, Paul Lester and I will be playing Christmas music in the store. Actually it's more of a practice because Paul and I are playing a huge Christmas party Saturday night for the good folks at Vancil Performing Arts. Sometimes knowing the songs is a good thing, or at least having an idea.

Paul is one of the most amazing musicians I've ever played with, and he is a one-of-kind kindred spirit. Paul is a big guy with meat hook hands who somehow makes the tiny mandolin frets sing.

He's also Jewish. This makes playing Joy To The World even better. As Paul says, "Well, Jesus was one of ours, you know." He might just wear his Kippah under his Santa hat for good luck.

Sheryl has decided that we are going to have a really cool pop up sale tomorrow, too. Check out our Facebook page at about 4 p.m. on December 15th for details. It's going to be worth your time to head downtown and get some Christmas shopping done, believe me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

DO bids farewell

DENNIS OLIVER IS retiring after many years in Quincy radio. His last show is Friday morning. He's a legend around here, larger than life, yet Dennis is one funniest and most humble guys you will ever meet.

Media lines long ago got blurred. It isn't about the messenger, it's the message, but we long ago forgot about that in our entertainment and Kardashian-crazed world. Radio is a little bit different since the human voice encourages connection. This is the beautiful thing about Dennis - he didn't care about being known or pushing his own agenda. He was just a radio guy. People listened to him in the morning for a million reasons. Then you'd see him out and about and have a beverage with him, and he was just DO, Dennis Oliver. You know, the radio guy.

When it came time to publicizing an event or talk about music, Dennis was your man. You could go on his show with Jeff Dorsey and plug it. The best part about doing his show was the off-air banter between him and Jeff. I'm just glad that mute button worked at 24th and Broadway.

Dennis will disagree, but he's a legend in Quincy. He's one of the good guys. It's time for him to retire and do other things. Like relax!

Best of luck, Dennis. Quincy radio airwaves will be a little less lively with you off the air.

Monday, December 12, 2016

No more vinyl at SSM

A FEW YEARS ago, Sheryl bought a large vinyl record collection from a relative. Then we got another large batch, and we set the records up in our two front rooms.

We sold more than a few. We also found some rare gems, like the Beatles White Album. After a while we found fewer people coming in to look at them, especially since there was still some great stuff in there. A slow dribble of customers made the vinyl room sort of a waste of space.

The other day a guy came in and offered to buy the remaining records - We probably had 7 boxes left. He and Sheryl worked out a deal and let's just say he is happy. But so are we - two new rooms just opened up and we can clear the vinyl out of our inventory records.

I'm thinking office space or maybe an amp room, where you can try out a guitar or amp and let it rip a little bit. I used to use the space to give lessons, but we have two nice rooms in the back now.

We have a few great albums for our own collection and hopefully we can spin a few during Christmas, just to stay in the vinyl groove. GUH. So don't needle us about it. We have more stuff up our sleeves ....

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reasons for giving

THE YOUNG MAN standing next to me in this photo is Chris Spurgeon. He's been a loyal Second String Music guy for a long time, and we've appreciated his business.

Chris has a few guitars. A while back he bought a beautiful Takamine acoustic - Sheryl made him a deal and he couldn't refuse. He loves the guitar. In October he came to the store to browse and he said, "I have this guitar I don't play very much. I'd like to donate it to Six String Heroes." Last week he came back with guitar in tow, and the donation was made.

The program is going very well in Quincy - I have three Six String Heroes students in lessons right now, and the whole therapy through music thing has never been more evident. One is a beginner who wants to play a song for his wife next summer for an anniversary present. Another has a bunch of guitars but never really learned to play. And the third veteran already plays but needs navigational help, and the guitar is his life-saver, in many ways.

Chris might not think it's a big deal, donating his guitar, but it is. Donations like this are the lifeblood of Six String Heroes, which helps veterans but receives no funding from the government. Chris didn't ask for recognition, but I'm giving him some love because this guitar will find a good home and make a huge difference for a veterans.

Chris didn't say much and he was pretty low-key about the whole thing, but you could tell he got more joy and satisfaction out of donating the guitar than he did when he bought it, and that's a big deal for a guitar player.

At Christmas, it's all about the giving. Thank you, Chris. Your donation won't be forgotten.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Small business and wrestling

I THINK IT'S great that our president-elect has nominated Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration. She a kabillionaire who donated a lot of money to the presidential race, so why not return the (small) favor?

I used to love pro wrestling. Now I watch "Super Girl" to get my soap opera fix. Don O'Brien left town earlier this year and now I have nowhere to go to annually watch one or two WWE pay per views. It will be a lonely WrestleMania this year.

The first thing Linda McMahon should do is put Kellyanne Conway in a sleeper hold. Then she should try to get in touch with small business owners around the country and find out what they are going through. BWAHAHAHAHA. Gosh. I crack myself up.

Maybe she really wants to help. Good for her. I long ago gave up on entitlement. Yes, we've had help building Second String Music, but nothing is free, nothing. If we wanted help, we'd go sit in Washington Park all summer and stare at the sky. Wait a second .... forget it. Too easy.

Wanna help, Linda? Then put the state of Illinois in a figure four leglock and cut back our ludicrous sales tax in Quincy. Fix the internet sales tax divide. Make it easier for small businesses to compete in a global marketplace.

So I'll wait for you to be confirmed, then I'll give you a call. Come to Quincy and we'll do lunch and maybe even open the fridge for a Happy Hour, and we'll get things figured out.

We look forward to working with you. Bring that Vince guy along too - maybe he can convince me to watch Monday Night Raw again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dance like nobody is watching

SOMETIMES YOU JUST gotta dance like nobody is watching, or don't care if anybody else is in the room.

We shot some Second String Music promotional videos a few weeks ago with Table 16 Productions. They feature Greg Ellery, who owes me a lot of favors after drinking all the booze in my fridge at our last store party. Or maybe he's just a nice guy and he did it to help us out. Sheryl got it arranged.

You can be a goofball at Second String Music. Really, we don't care. What do you think I do around here all day, besides give guitar lessons and screwing up the electricity? Music is a beautiful thing and it's all about jumping in without worrying about what others think.

The video is a bit long but priceless, if you watch closely enough. And it only took two or three takes, from what I remember. Greg took three days to recover.

Speaking of Greg, he's moving back to California at the end of the month, so we're throwing him a little party here at the store. Planned right now for December 23rd, stay tuned for more details.

And don't be afraid to dance with him at the party!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ghosts in machines, and why stuff doesn't work

WE'VE BEEN WITHOUT internet at Second String Music since Saturday. Sheryl finally got through to our provider's "customer service," and they determined it was a bad router. "Bad Router" would be a great band name, right?

Anyway, our provider agreed to send us a new router. Then, mysteriously, for no reason, the old one started working again. I'm not questioning it, because I'll jinx it if I do. But even Sheryl is baffled.

There is a term for this, Ghost In The Machine. Apparently it's the title of a 1967 book about the brain and why we self-destruct, or something like that. It's also an incredible album by The Police. In our case, it refers to stuff not working for no good reason.

The only Ghost In The Macine in like .....
Last week Sheryl installed a new pickup into an acoustic guitar. I checked it and it worked fine. Then the owner showed up and just to make sure, we tested it one more time. Guess what? It didn't work! Surprised? I wasn't. Fortunately we got to the bottom of it and now it works fine.

Two weeks ago I was playing a show in Mount Sterling with Pepper Sprayer Tim Smith. My guitar stopped coming through the PA. I checked everything. Then it started working again, for no good reason. I am thinking there are Ghosts In Machines everywhere.

I recently lugged all the Christmas stuff out and strung up lights inside the store. Then I got the tree down from the haunted third floor, plugged it in, and realized only one of every 15 lights worked. Of course they don't work! They were fine last year. But the Ghosts have been playing with them, I'm sure.

Now a bank of lights is not working in the store. We've called our electrician. I'm sure he'll show up, flip a switch, look at the lights, and say, "They are fine. What's the problem? I'll send you the bill." Actually he's a great guy and wouldn't do that. But I'm sure the lights aren't working because they just don't want to work.

We just want stuff to work. Go away, Ghosts. Leave the Machines alone. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

The art of Breathe EZ Massage

SHERYL STRAINED HER back the other day cleaning up after Tucker. He finds pleasure in marinating himself in disgusting filth. He's a dog. I am not making it up. She's been miserable ever since and it's even causing headaches, and we have enough stress and challenges right now. Not that there's ever a good time to wrench your back.

Craig and Shannon Lewis were in the store the other day. Shannon is a licensed massage therapist. She and Sheryl went into our back room and Shannon stretched her out. Sheryl immediately felt better. By the end of the day she could actually walk without pain. Shannon worked a miracle!

I have had a few massages, and most were helpful. I once went to a local spa and got a massage and was sore for a week after - the person wasn't careful and pretty much just steamrolled her way through the session. But I was willing to give Shannon a try because Sheryl NEVER lets anyone touch her back and Shannon had somehow worked this miracle.

I went to see her yesterday because I have two shows this weekend and on Sunday, I will feel like crap. There's an old saying in the music business that we don't get paid to play, we get paid to set up and tear down. This is especially true with The Cheeseburgers, plus I am jumping around for three or four hours because it's a high-energy show. It used to take a day to recover. Now it takes two or three.

So I ventured over to see Shannon at Adjustin Chiropractic on Broadway. Her business is called Breathe EZ Massage. Shannon is indeed into breathing and "letting go," as she puts it. She did a lot of gentle stretching and pulling, especially on my arms. There was very little deep muscle pushing. The whole thing was very relaxing and therapeutic. She is into doing gentle pressure point stuff, and this morning my neck and shoulders are unclenched for the first time in, well ,,,, I can't even remember when I felt this good.

The whole thing was very relaxing and unhurried. Shannon definitely takes her time. I will go back, and her massages are worth every penny.

Stressed out and need to unwind? Go see Shannon. She rocks! HartLyss plays tonight at One Restaurant, and The Cheeseburgers play in Carthage Saturday night for a Christmas Party. Now I'm ready to set up and tear down, and rock and roll!

NOTE: We don't do sponsored blogs. We are very grateful to Shannon and love her but we also pay our friends and neighbors for all the great experiences they give us professionally.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Staying open late

WE ARE STAYING open late tonight as part of The District's Thankful Thursday Christmas promotion. We'll be here until 8 p.m., along with many other downtown Quincy businesses. Come out and shop!

We love the idea. Our downtown area is quiet after about 5 p.m. We stay open until 6 or 7 most weeknights and it's always dead when we leave the store to go home. I think it's a shame - there is so much potential down here and it would be fun to actually see people out and about when it gets dark.

But owning a small business makes us realize how much harder it is to stay open longer. It's a Catch-22 type of deal - we stay open later to make it convenient for people, but then nobody shows up. So we end up a little less likely to extend hours every year. You gotta try, I guess.

In previous years we stayed open until 8 during the Christmas season, including Saturdays. We aren't doing that anymore because we didn't get the traffic. We have 6 p.m. posted as our closing time ( 5 p.m. Saturday), but truth is we are here later than 6 most nights because of guitar lessons. And if somebody is in the store and we are doing business, we aren't shutting off the lights or kicking out customers.

Many times we get a panicked phone call late in the day and the caller asks when we close. We'll stay open later if we know you are coming. We are here for you especially if you warn us you are coming!

Last year we were open for a few Sundays in December and nobody, and I mean nobody, came in. So we will probably not be here Sunday, our only day off. There are other businesses downtown closed on Mondays, but we think that's a huge mistake. Again, we understand small businesses have only certain resources and abilities, but being closed on a weekday is like cutting your own throat. Sheryl would never stand for that.

I encourage you to come down tonight. I'm thinking about having a jam session or at least Paul Lester will come on down to play some Christmas music on his mandolin.

The lights will be on at Fifth and Maine. And Fast Eddie and Angus say they'd love to see you, too.