Thursday, September 19, 2019

Crazy days

I CAME OUT of giving a guitar lesson at 5:30 yesterday afternoon. Sheryl was helping two moms fill out violin rental paperwork at the counter. Another guy was waiting to exchange drum sticks. Another guy was buying a school band book. And another guy was playing guitar.

Welcome to mid-September at Second String Music and the culmination of school band rental season. It's going to be insane in here for the next couple of days. The most common thing we hear is "My child didn't tell me they needed this until the last minute." True, and that's why we are here.

We have help. Jean Murray is working for The Music Shoppe and will be in the store the next three days to help rent instruments. Steve Rees does his usual fine job with repairs, restrings and answering questions. I have a boatload of lessons today but I'm free most of tomorrow and Saturday to help.

Most of it falls on Sheryl because it involves paperwork and entering stuff into the computer. When I'm in the back giving lessons and she's alone on the floor, she takes it one person at a time and methodically ticks off the things needed to be done.

We are leaving the dogs at home in the afternoons because it's just too crazy. In fact, we might have to leave them home all day for the next few days, depending on how it goes. You know it's nutty around here when the dogs have to stay home.

We'll get through the next few days. We thank our loyal Second String Music customers and our school band parents for their business and patience during a hectic time. Let's have a great school year in band and orchestra!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

New keyboard, boxed up or set up

A WOMAN RECENTLY came into Second String Music and ordered a very nice Casio Privia PX 770 keyboard for her daughter. We are Casio dealers and didn't have it in stock, but we match the internet price and it comes with a free bench, so she was thrilled we could get it in for her.

It arrived yesterday. Actually, two of them arrived yesterday. Sheryl figured if we got one, we might as well get another to put on display. They are pretty amazing keyboards.

We got it out of the box and Sheryl put it together. I helped by disappearing in the back room, eventually coming out and handing her the directions and a flashlight as she lay on the ground and stared blankly at the underbelly of the keyboard. She finished just in time for a rush of school band instrument rentals (yesterday was violin day, for some reason), and it's ready to rock and roll.

The woman has two choices. She can either take home the assembled keyboard, but it will require some strength and finesse to transport. Or she can take home the keyboard still in the box, which is as long at the Mississippi River and kind of bulky, but much easier to move.

Part of us wants her to take the boxed Privia so Sheryl doesn't have to put together another one, though the second time will be easier, and I don't have to pull a hammy by handing her directions and pointing at holes where the screws go.

Either way, we are here for our loyal Second String Customers, and we'll make it as easy and painless as possible to take home your new instrument!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The wrath (and rash) of Angus

ANGUS HAS BEEN itchy lately. We are curious as to why dogs get skin rashes and how to treat them. Sheryl usually gives him a doggie benadryl and it helps, but last night he was really miserable and licking his belly.

Sheryl finally gave in and gave him a bath, and used goat's milk soap on his skin. It helped and Angus has stopped being so itchy. Angus doesn't mind getting a bath, even if it's after a tangle with decomposing squirrels or other other disgusting substances he encounters on our walks.

Right after his bath this morning, we took the dogs for their usual run. Angus dug up a mole and had a lot of fun spraying dirt all over the place and the other dogs were impressed with his mole-catching skills - Genie and Tucker are usually the ones who do the actually catching.

So Angus went from a very clean and good-smelling dog to being covered in dirt and dead mole, and he loved every second of it. Sheryl used a dish towel to wipe him off and it was entirely filthy by the time she was done.

Dogs really don't want to be clean. But they don't want to be miserable and have to scratch that nasty itch all the time, either. Angus got the best of both worlds this morning, and he is one happy doggie!

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Cars, endless summers, and farewell to Ric

THE CARS ARE the Endless Summer. Their music is timeless. It always takes you back when you hear it. Always.

I defy you to listen to the first Cars album and try to guess when it was made. It was the first true New Wave album ever made. The second side (back when there were records and cassette tapes) is the most seamless blend of rock and roll magic ever created. You're All I've Got Tonight, Bye Bye Love, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up - slick noise rolled into a big fat bong of a tune, perfect for cranking up the cheap boom box in your room while your parents rolled their eyes.

So when I read Ric Ocasek died in New York Sunday, I gasped. Out loud. A great big, heartfelt, gut-wrenching "OH SHIT." When your inspiration and very reason for getting into music leaves this earth, it's like a punch to the stomach.

Then you hear he was 75. Man .... even endless summers tend to add up.

I loved the Cars because they had cool songs with even cooler lyrics and they really didn't care what anybody thought. I loved Ben Orr's voice, Elliott Easton's blistering guitar, and the way Rick Ocasek just stood there with the awful hair and sunglasses. Ocasek looked like a geek, a geek who knew he was getting the girls because he was a righteous and mysterious geek, a New Wave geek. He gave hope to all the other geeks, like me.

Eddie Money also passed on last week. Can't Hold Back was the soundtrack of my college years, back when my roommate would leave for the weekend and I'd get to blast his CDs in the Mount Pleasant ghetto.

It makes you take stock and it makes you realize we aren't getting younger, but our fuzzed out memories get sweeter when set to Candy O, or Heartbeat City, or Sha sha sha sha shakin'.

Endless Summers get shorter and sadder when our musical heroes go.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Emily and WIU Music

GOT A TEXT from Second String Music Hall of Famer Pete Magliocco last night. It had a link to a video. "Your daughter is a badass!" the text read. Coming from a trombone and guitar player, it's high praise indeed.

Pete has deep ties to Western Illinois University, where Emily is a professor of music and Pete's father also taught music for many years. Pete saw the above video of Emily playing her oboe and giving some tips to high school students getting ready for ILMEA auditions.

ILMEA is a huge deal and I remember when Emily had auditions when she was at Quincy High School. I also remember being in the Peoria Civic Center for a big concert her senior year and hearing Emily's oboe drifting through the big arena.

Now the student has become the teacher and it's a beautiful thing.

Every day we get parents coming into the store looking for school band instruments, and most say they just want their kids to play something. Not everybody will make a career out of a musical instrument. But you gotta start somewhere, and you never know where it might take you. In Emily's case, it's taken her to Eastman School of Music for a master's degree, Toronto for a year of studies and Europe with her Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp friends.

And she's in her fifth year teaching oboe and music at a major state university. Not bad for a Quincy girl who has yet to see her 28th birthday!

Can you tell I'm one proud papa?

Her playing is beautiful and melodic, enough to earn her the ultimate compliment from another musician - badass!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Make sure it's good, not used or new

A MAN WALKED into Second String Music Wednesday asking if we had any used guitars. This usually means the person wants a cheaper instrument and is not sure what the price range is for getting started.

We showed him the Alvarez Regent 26 acoustic, which include a gig bag, tuner, strap and picks. All of our guitars come with two free lessons, as well. What a bargain and in a new instrument.

The man said he was looking for a new hobby. He seemed surprised a brand new guitar with a reputable name was in his price range. The thing we stress time and time again is to not buy a piece of wood with strings on it - you won't be able to press down on the strings to play notes and it will make learning a lot harder. We'll see if he comes back, but he seemed pleased with what he had and I hope he makes an informed decision and gets something decent to play and learn on.

We are getting into the thick of school band instrument season. Again, you have choices and you can get something dirt cheap for your child to play. Hey, it's 75 percent less than at other stores! Just make sure that funny looking clarinet isn't pieced together from six different clarinets. You can't make it up.

The thing we keep hearing from beleaguered parents is that they don't know anything about band instruments. No problem! We do! We are here to help and make sure you get the right instrument with the right books and supplies. It's the same feeling I get when I take my car to the mechanic - I have no clue, and I trust him to figure it out and take care of us, and he always does.

It's going to be crazy in here for the next few weeks as students get hooked up with instruments. If you are looking, we advise you to come in now while we have a huge selection of Music Shoppe instruments at all the price points. We are here to help!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Heavy bands get it

THERE IS A DECENT hard rock scene in Quincy. While the acoustic acts and classic rock cover bands tend to get most of the gigs around here, the heavy dudes keep plugging away and share their passion for music.

Some of these bands prefer deafening volumes and screaming vocals you can't understand, but I learned a long time ago not to judge certain genres, and these guys bust their butts with little reward. The heavy bands don't have many places to play around here, but it doesn't stop them from forging ahead and believing in what they do.

The irony of the hard rock guys is that they are some of the nicest people you will meet. They sing ballads like "I DRINK YOUR CHILDREN'S BLOOD" and "MY BOSS IS LUCIFER AND I HOPE HE ROTS IN HELL" and "I WANNA BEAT YOUR BRAINS IN" and other lovely and delicate tunes. Then you talk to them and find out they are family men with kids and jobs and interesting stories. A few of our local heavy bands have some really interesting songs with some thought-provoking lyrics.

The local heavy guys are good Second String Music customers and appreciate what a local music store does for them. A couple of them were in the store the other day talking about Mallstock this weekend, and when it was mentioned there were few places for heavy bands to play, one of the guys said, "It's the Midwest."

True. It's little old Quincy, Illinois. But there might be more than a few casual heavy music fans out there, and for a local heavy band, it's never about the massive crowds or adoration. It's about playing music you believe in and want people to hear.

The Mallstock lineup Friday and Saturday is interesting. It has rap singers, punk bands and extremely heavy rock groups. All I know is the bands involved are super excited, and the fact it's the second Mallstock means they must be doing something right. Our man Seth Fenton is one of the guys behind the scenes and he's worked really hard to promote the event, and Seth is one of the smartest and nicest guys you will ever meet.

I'm going to try and venture out there this weekend. I salute local bands who believe in themselves and love to play, and here's to hoping this weekend's Mallstock rocks and people have a great time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Girl in a rock band

THE THEME THIS week is our guitar students who rock. This is one of my favorite stories, a tale about a girl who is playing with boys and embarking on a whole new musical adventure.

I won't mention any names but the girl's name is Sylvia. She's been taking lessons for a couple of years. Sylvia is very shy and says maybe three or four words a lesson, and that's if we really try hard to talk. Sylvia is in high school and she likes 90s grunge and classic rock. No wonder we get along!

Recently Sylvia joined a band. It's a bunch of boys from Quincy. Not sure how it happened but I bet the boys found out Sylvia is a pretty good guitar player. The name of the band is Spitball, which automatically puts them in the Second String Music Hall of Fame and ensures legendary status.

From Sylvia's brief description, the band tends to play heavier music, and they have original songs. Yes! Young people rocking out their own songs! If Spitball can get something going, it would be great.

Eight years ago we had a few younger bands doing their own things, but that scene dried up and you hardly ever get local original band music. Though there are still great solo players around. The Quincy band Fielder is back to play a show Oct. 11 for a party on Sixth Street, but they get together maybe once a year. We do have a thriving metal and harder-edged scene in Quincy, which we will talk about later in the week, but most of those bands have been around for a while.

There aren't many places left in town for original bands, and it's a tough road to hoe - it's hard enough being in a classic rock cover band getting people to actually care about what you are doing and playing, and cover bands are a whole different animal anyway.

Spitball is playing its first show Oct. 12 in Hannibal at the Star Theater with a bunch of other bands. Sylvia is excited and a bit nervous about playing out in front of people. They will be great! The only advice I gave her (other than not to stand right in front of her amp during practice) is to be herself and to not listen to the detractors and naysayers. Play the music you want to play and stay true to your visions, and have fun!

Sylvia is an excellent player who will get better and better. Here's to hoping we get more young people involved in playing their own music, playing for the love of music, and being appreciated for all their hard work and efforts.

Go Sylvia!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Madison rocks Blessed Sacrament

TIM SMITH AND I had a blast Saturday night at the Blessed Sacrament Septemberfest in Calftown. Anytime you get to hoot and holler four blocks from your house it's a good thing! Tim did a great job as usual, especially with the younger kids. It was a beautiful night and there were a ton of people milling around the Eighth and Monroe parking lot.

If a young person displays talent in the arts, it's important to expose them to playing live and dealing with the public. We had two good examples Saturday night. First, Emmy Kistner came up and played "Free Falling" by Tom Petty. Emmy is a fourth-grader at Blessed Sacrament and had quite the entourage there to cheer her on, and she killed it singing and playing her guitar. A fourth-grader playing a Tom Petty song? Tough act to follow ....

A few songs later, Madison Daggett joined us to play guitar on Wagon Wheel. Madison has been one of my best guitar students at Second String Music for a long time and she has come a long way. When I asked her to play with us about a month ago (she is a fifth-grader at Blessed Sacrament), she got super excited and said yes right away. I could see a little bit of fear in her eyes at first when we started practicing, but by Saturday night she was primed and ready, and she plugged in her guitar with no fear and flashed a huge smile.

I can't tell you how proud I am of Madison, who is always cheerful and grinning from ear to ear. She kept perfect time and even helped me when I got off the rails for a few measures. Geesh. Maybe this wretched human race does have a chance, if Madison and Emmy are any indications.

I've had many students of all ages go from not knowing a thing to strumming and humming in front of people. It's a beautiful thing. I've often thought of having Second String Music recitals, but I'm not sure we really need to do something like that - to be honest, many students don't want to have anything to do with playing live. It's a whole different animal, and I would never force a student to be uncomfortable in front of a crowd.

Then again, a little student jam session on a Saturday afternoon wouldn't be a bad thing to do. Hmmmm ....

It was a great night and I'm am one proud teacher.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Older dogs and tough decisions

TUCKER, OUR BELOVED Border-Aussie mix we rescued around eight years ago, is on the downhill side of his life. He is about 15 years old. He still runs like the wind and enjoys naps with his adopted dog and cat siblings.

But lately, Tucker has been having trouble breathing. He's always been a bit of a wheezer, and in the last few weeks it's gotten worse. It's to the point where he wakes us up many times during the night, and sometimes we wonder if he's going to draw another breath. Then he'll be fine for a few hours, especially after a walk.

Yesterday we had our veterinarian come to the store and give Tucker a checkup. She says Tucker basically has a bad heart murmur that is at a 4.5 on a scale of 6. It is bad. Mostly it causes fluid to build up in his lungs and eventually his abdomen. If he goes for a run or gets excited, the adrenaline kicks in and he feels better, but if he isn't active for a few hours it gets worse and he has issues breathing. In human terms Tucker has congestive heart failure.

Who knows how long he'll be around. Border collies tend to have strong hearts and he may be fine for a while. But we don't want him to suffer and we are watching him closely, balancing quality of life versus the final decision.

Nobody is immortal and the death of a pet in a part of life, something we have dealt with a lot. You never get used to it. We know it's coming.

You can prepare for it, but it's the hardest thing.

Kennedi tried to steal Tucker yesterday.
You can tell Tucker is scared and somewhat confused sometimes. He doesn't like having the coughing fits and struggling to breathe. Last night I took him for a long run in the cemetery by himself and he was his old self, running up and down hills and sniffing for moles and squirrels. Yet by the end of the walk he was tired and walking right beside me - he usually gets in last-minute sniffs or sprints for a squirrel one last time. But last night he was exhausted.

Sometimes I think Tucker is my best friend. He's loyal and smart and been through a lot in his long dog life, and he unconditionally loves me. He is certainly my buddy. We've had him in the store the past few days and he loves it when people pet him and pay attention to him.

Humans tend to claw and fight for every breath. With a dog you have a choice in how much they suffer - we don't coddle them but don't want them to leave us too soon. We will enjoy the time Tucker has left, no matter how long or short.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Need vs. want and Bad Rodney

TROUBLE FOLLOWS WHEN I listen to Bad Rodney. It's a losing proposition and all I do is screw myself into the ground.

"Look," I said to Bad Rodney the other day. "I don't need another guitar. I have plenty of guitars. I'm happy with my guitars. They are amazing. I'm good. Thanks."

Bad Rodney, however, has a different idea. He's the diabolical devil on my left shoulder, while the Good Rodney angel on my right shoulder shudders in horror as we talk.

"You can NEVER have too many guitars," Bad Rodney says. "Never. NEVER. I will use all caps on all my words or at least capitalize the first letter of every word in every sentence like the TV sports guys until  you Buy Another Guitar!"

Geesh. Sentence me to be hanged by the neck until I cheer up first. Then kill me with the all caps.

"Count up all your guitars," Good Rodney gently suggests.

OK. Good idea. I have my original Lotus acoustic, Alvarez and Takamine acoustics, and another battered acoustic somewhere I haven't seen for awhile.

Then there's the electric guitars - the G&L Telecaster, the Gretsch hollow body, the vintage Gretsch Cutter hollow body, my beloved Fender Stratocaster, and an Epiphone Shadow that gets more and more valuable every day. I think that's it.

"More than enough," coos Good Rodney.

"WRONG," bellows Bad Rodney. "You need more. You own a music store, for crying out loud. How about that amazing Fender Squier Jazzmaster? You don't have one of those. How about one of the Gretsch Jets on the wall behind the counter? How about that Fender American Acoustisonic Telecaster that's all the rage right now? How about one of the Takamine acoustics, the one with the Rosewood sides and back? Huh? HUH?"

"Steady now," Good Rodney says.

I take a deep breath. Then I brush both Rodneys off my shoulders. I can handle this. I don't need another guitar, but I do love to be tempted. I'm good.

"By the way," Sheryl says, "wait until you see the new Gretsch guitars coming in before Christmas. And we just ordered six Mexican Fender electrics."

I look for Good Rodney, but he's ticked off about being told to be quiet, again. I'm on my own.

Mexican Fenders and more Gretsches are on the way.

Heaven help me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Falling for fall, busy music schedule

Fall into outside music!
BEST TIME OF the year, fall. The summer heat is slowly dissipating and a hectic summer is fading from the rear view mirror. Fall doesn't slow down for us - we are super busy in the store and getting ready for the school band rental season.

We had some great shows the past few months and made a lot of new friends. Cori and I (HartLyss) reconnected with our many Hannibal friends at a new bar called Tipsy Bricks, and we've had so much fun on Lisa's deck that we're back again at the end of the month.

I have a ton of shows lined up the next few months listed below, more to keep track of for myself than anything. Fall is a great time to catch live and local music, especially if the weather is decent. Tim Smith and I are playing at the Blessed Sacrament picnic this Saturday night and the weather is supposed to be perfect. We'll have a few guest surprises and hooting and hollering in Calftown (Eighth and Adams) is always a good thing!

Saturday Sept. 7 - Stew Boys with Tim Smith, Blessed Sacrament, Quincy, 8 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 14 - HartLyss at Tap Room, Quincy, 7:30 p.m.
Friday Sept 20 - HartLyss at Red Light, Quincy, 8 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 21 - Cheeseburgers at South Side Boat Club Keokuk Iowa, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 28 - HartLyss at Tipsy Bricks, Hannibal, 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 5 - HartLyss at State Street Bar Quincy, 1 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 5 - Cheeseburgers at Red Light 1 Year Anniversary Bash, 9 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 12 - Cheeseburgers at Keokuk Yacht Club, 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 19 - TBA
Saturday Oct. 26 - Stew Boys with Tim Smith, TBA
Friday Nov. 8 - HartLyss at Red Light Quincy, 8 p.m.
Saturday Nov. 16 - HartLyss at Bricks, Hannibal, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 23 - Annual Second String Music Store Party and Rodney's 55th Birthday bash! Details to follow.
Saturday, Dec. 7 - Cheeseburgers private party

Party on!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Beach therapy and time away

Love ya Lake Michigan.
EVERYBODY NEEDS A place to escape. In our case, it's a Lake Michigan beach full of family and memories.

We packed up early Friday morning and headed to my uncle's place near Holland, MI. Traffic wasn't bad, remarkably, for a holiday weekend. If you ever have to head around Chicago take I-72 east all the way to Champaign, head north on I-57 to Kankakee, take about 20 miles of two lane east to I-65, and you'll avoid much of the mess on I-80/94.

It was nice to see my sister, Charys, and her husband David on the beach when we got there. They live in Denver and had just dropped off their son to Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The craft beer was strong and the sun was bright on the beach, and it was a good start to the weekend.

Saturday morning we ventured into Holland and ate at the AlpenRose restaurant downtown, hit the cigar store across the street and then headed to a massive farmer's market. It's about two blocks long and packed with vendors and people. It's also right by the Holland Civic Center, which gives it an anchor building and indoor bathrooms. Sheryl found some excellent cheese and two succulents to add to her collection. The street musicians added a nice touch, from the banjo player to the violinist to the guy and girl singing with an acoustic guitar. Nobody plugs in, they just stand in the middle of the street, and judging from the tips in the cases they seemed to be doing alright.

We had another fine day on the beach and a righteous family jam session by the fire that night. Ahhhhhhhh .... you can feel the air coming out of the balloon. I'm pretty tightly wound and it's a wonderful feeling to let it all go, and to not have any sense of time or commitment.

Charys and I walked up the massive hill behind my uncle's house, dubbed Peter's Hill. It's technically a sand dune but it's covered in bushes, grass and trees. Nearly 17 years ago we scattered my brother Greg's ashes up there in a short ceremony, and we did the same thing for my mom in 2005. It's a special and holy place for us, and it was very peaceful and serene. Some of the trees have fallen and the landscape has shifted a bit, but it's still a familiar and powerful place for us.

It's really hard to get up Sunday morning and leave, but it was gray and cooler on the beach so we picked a good day to head home. I wanted to stay another day, but we had a person watching the dogs and Sheryl wanted Monday to recover before starting another busy work week, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We had no traffic issues save for construction in a few places.

The dogs were happy we were home and we took them on a long walk in the cemetery. Tucker has been wheezing worse lately and we messaged his vet for a consult later in the week. He is struggling and needs our prayers. We had a good Labor Day recovering and getting stuff done.

Back to reality today, with memories of a Lake Michigan beach to get us through another year!