Friday, April 9, 2021

No more Red Light

IT'S SAD TO hear about the closing of the Red Light Bar & Grill, located just across the street from Second String Music on the Washington Park square. They are done after Saturday. They will be missed.

The Red Light was a great place to play music. It's a huge old bank building with high ceilings and sound that bounces around. For an acoustic act it was really good. For a band it was a bit more challenging but the atmosphere was always good and the owners took good care of the people who played. 

According the Chris and Kayla Griffin, the Red Light owners, they were told this week that the new owners are turning it into a bed and breakfast, and they've been ordered out after this weekend. This was one of the main reasons we bought our building from Dennis Prock 8 years ago. We needed to know we wouldn't be booted by a higher bidder.

I'll remember the great times playing music inside Red Light. I'll remember running over there to pick up lunch and talking with Chris, who was always smiling and upbeat in the face of tremendous challenges. We tried to support our local restaurants by getting food to go during the pandemic, and Red Light lunches were always good. I might have to sneak over there today or Saturday to get one more batch of chicken wings in the Naughty Sauce.

We've lost one of the few live music venues in Quincy, a good restaurant and a popular downtown destination. All our best go to the Griffins.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We have it in stock. Amazing.

WE ARE FINALLY getting stock delivered to Second String Music. Of course we've had a ton of stuff all come at once, but we aren't complaining. Poor Sheryl had to deal with a massive delivery while I was in lessons all morning Tuesday. But she is organized and enjoys rearranging things. It is a win for everyone.

We have the $200 Fender acoustics back on the floor. We also received Casio, Roland, Gretsch and Takamine orders. The Takamine acoustic guitars are beautiful as always, and we even have a super nice Pro 5 on the wall.

Sorry about the glare!

It's tough when people come in and you don't have what they are looking for. Of course, nobody else does either. You know it's bad when the web warriors who normally wouldn't darken our doors come in looking for stuff because the internet is out. Whatever it takes. 

Last week a man from Jacksonville came in and bought a nice Fender electric case for his Telecaster. He said he's been looking in Springfield, Peoria and even St. Louis, and nobody had one. And he was told when new stock came in the cases were going to be more expensive. So it was worth the drive to Quincy and Second String Music.

We are expecting more deliveries as supply chains slowly get better. You can always check our Facebook or this blog for updates. 

Swing by if you want to see what's new!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Universal background checks are the minimum

 I DON'T OWN a gun. Never have. Hopefully never will. I know many people who own guns and enjoy shooting them, and I have no problem with gun owners.

Well, responsible gun owners.

The gun control debate rages around the country yet again after another shooting. My sister lives in Denver and it's a horrible thing to deal with, even if you aren't directly affected.

So let's put it bluntly and not sugar-coat it - what just happened in Boulder, Colorado, could very well happen in Quincy, Illinois.

Going to the grocery store is actually a pleasurable experience. We are fortunate to have stores like County Market and Hy-Vee. I go to the the Hy-Vee at 14th and Harrison at least twice a week. The people who work there are friendly and helpful. For a while, almost everybody wore a mask when shopping and the store was pretty strict about it. That's starting to wane as we get vaccinations and COVID fatigue, but that's another story for another day.

Imagine you are there doing your normal weekly shopping and you hear a gun go off. What will you do? How soon will it take to figure out who has the gun? Do you duck out the back? Do stores have plans in case of things like this?

Nah. It could never happen in our little sleepy river town. No way. 

A few years ago a young Quincy boy was shot to death while sitting on a front porch, the victim of mistaken identity. During the trial information came out about how easy it was to get a gun, to carry a gun, to shoot a gun. All here in our little river town. 

And if you think there aren't people walking around Quincy capable of going into a grocery store and randomly shooting people, you are living in a dream world.

This is oversimplifying things, but we need to wake up. NOW. Stop being political about "gun control." It's about common sense and keeping guns out of the hands of evil people. There are ways to do it so responsible gun owners are not harmed and nobody's Second Amendment rights get violated.

But what do I know? I'm not a gun owner, so my opinions don't count or matter. Sheryl on the other hand has been in the military, and also been subjected to gun violence. She has great anxiety about this issue from personal experience. Her opinion does count. (Spoiler: It's the same as mine.)

You have to have a federal background check in order to run a day care, be a teacher or substitute teacher, be a foster parent, hold any security clearance, be a police officer, work at a dispensary and many more reasons. It is so common place. Why can't it be like this for guns?

I pray we as a community don't have to go through a mass casualty shooting. I'm hopeful it won't happen. I'm not going to stop going to the grocery store. 

We need to do something, and something on the federal level now. Federal law would make gun control consistent from state to state.

Dismiss this as being sensational or emotionally-charged. But don't say we weren't warned if something terrible happens in Quincy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Twice convicted of murder, Clarence Starks is free

I REMEMBER CLARENCE Starks. He killed two people and spent most of his life in prison. The first person he killed was 3 years old. The second was a homeless man, and he stuffed him into a closet in an abandoned house. 

And now he's living three blocks from our business. 

I saw Clarence Starks in a courtroom several times when I was a reporter for The Herald-Whig. In court he had a dead stare I saw in only a few other diabolical people. He got sent to prison in 2007 and I wrote about him. But let's start at the beginning.

In 1985, Starks killed his 3 year old step-daughter. He did things to her before he killed her. He abused the little girl's mother. It was beyond cruel. The little girl had a sister who is now a friend of mine, and I cannot imagine what this was like for her.

This was about four years after the Alan Madden case that rocked Quincy and the entire country and led to a lot of legal reform. Yet there was little reaction in Quincy when Starks killed the girl. It was .... strange. 

Starks was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He served 22. You can look all this up on the Illinois Department of Corrections website. Back then, you could get day for day credit, even for a violent crime. Starks also served time in 1980 for battery and taking indecent liberties with a child.

In October 2007 I was in the newsroom when police scanner traffic indicated a chase on the north end of town. Seemed a man had stolen a pickup truck at Fifth and Hampshire and was fleeing from police. He was heading back into town, and on a hunch I headed to Clat Adams Park to see if police would catch him.

When I got there, an officer was pushing Starks into the back of a squad car. The stolen truck was on the railroad tracks on the north end of Clat Adams Park, where Starks crashed it trying to make the turn just past the Pier Restaurant. Starks pleaded guilty to several charges and started serving an eight-year sentence.

When Starks was booked into the Adams County Jail after crashing the truck, police noticed what appeared to be blood on his boots. Then information came out that Starks was a suspect in the murder of a homeless man in Quincy. The boots were still in evidence.

I remember the man Starks killed, John Kelley. He used to wander around Washington Park and I'd see him collecting cans for recycling. I went into the park and talked to some of the regulars to find out more. Seems there was an abandoned house less than a mile away at Sixth and Oak where homeless people stayed. There was a pecking order to the arrangement - you stayed in a certain area, you left before dawn and you didn't come back until it was dark. From what I remember there were actually titles given to certain people who made the rules and kept order in the abandoned house.

John Kelley supposedly ran afoul of the so-called rules and there was a confrontation with Starks. Kelley was strangled to death and stuffed into a basement closet, and his body wasn't found for a few weeks. A man doing work around the house noticed the smell, located the body and called police. What they found wasn't pretty, obviously. They had to cut the hands off the body, use water to pump up the skin on his fingers, and then get the fingerprints to finally identify him as Kelley.

Information developed that Starks was involved in the murder. Police remembered his boots, still in an evidence locker, and they were tested for DNA. The evidence led to Starks pleading guilty to second-degree murder, and he got a 22-year sentence.

Of course that sentence was served at the same time as the eight-year sentence. It was all part of the plea bargain deal. There was no way it could go to trial because of witness issues, and it was the best outcome at the time - forget about all the horrible things Starks did 20-plus years ago. Starks' court-appointed attorney called it a "fair" outcome. It was two homeless guys, and most of Quincy shrugged.

On Monday, the Quincy Police Department issued a press release about Starks. He's been released from prison. It gave his address, the hotel at 200 Maine Street. 

This is not right. How can this awful excuse for a human being be out? He should have never been released from the 1985 murder, let alone another homicide. It's a frustrating example of the numerous cracks in our criminal justice system. 

Take a good look at his photo. And stay away from him. Men like Starks, and I use the word "men" loosely, usually dig their own graves. He'll get into trouble again. 

I just hope it isn't for another murder.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Greg Ellery - Q Town legend!

 IT'S ALWAYS GREAT to see our friend Greg Ellery pop by Second String Music. Greg is from Quincy and has been living in California for a few years. Now he's moving to New York City and pursing some promising acting gigs. 

Greg and I have "acted" before. The picture on the right shows us reenacting the infamous "International Dropping Guitars Off The Roof Of Second String Music contest" a few years back. The video is linked. It never gets old. In the immortal words of Sam Middendorf, "NEEEEEVVVVEEEER."

I also unearthed some videos we did in the Calftown backyard a decade ago. You can type in Funions Follies on YouTube to find them. I think Greg is a genius. Life around here isn't quite the same without him. 

Good luck in New York City, G-Dawg. And I'm glad you can swing by your old stomping grounds once in a while or between life adventures. Go get em in the Big Apple!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Summer schedule looks promising

 ARE WE REALLY turning the corner? Are we really winning the Covid-19 battle? 

I'd like to think so. Sheryl and I are both vaccinated. Cases are down in our county and we lead the state in percentage of people vaccinated. Cori and I (HartLyss) have shows scheduled, and so do the Cheeseburgers this summer.

Yet we need to be vigilant and not relax. We are still requiring masks in the store, washing our hands and trying to be socially distant. 

In Quincy there are summer events being scheduled, and it gives us hope. The first is our Gus Macker tournament Memorial Day Weekend. If it happens, it will be the first really major event in town since we shut down a year ago. I'm sure there will be precautions and attempts to be as safe as possible.

We have scheduled our noon shows in the First Mid-Illinois Bank Plaza at Seventh and Maine. We'll have live music the last Friday in April and the first three Fridays in May, weather permitting.

What is the new normal?

Q-Fest is scheduled for the last weekend in June. And just announced was the return of Blues In The District, on the second and fourth Fridays in June, July and August.

Blues will be a real bell-weather event for Quincy. You do have to wonder how safe it will be with several thousand people in Washington Park - will masks be required, and can you enforce that rule? Maybe, and no. Of course we have the best spot to watch and hang out on the sidewalk, something I've sorely missed the past year.

I'm all for being safe and not letting the guard down. But we do have to move forward and do our best to return to normal, whatever normal means.

At least it looks like normal is returning this summer, and we couldn't be more ready.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Farewell to family in the times of COVID

HENK HART DIED in Toronto Monday. He was 85. He was my father's oldest brother, the eldest of seven siblings, a Dutch immigrant and philosopher. Certainly he was the quirky Uncle Henk Hart. I have found out much about him in recent months, and he was a larger than life figure in many ways.

Henk and Sophie
He had health issues in his last years. He knew he was dying, and predicted when he'd die, and he was close about that prediction. Henk's wife, Anita, passed a few years ago, and Henk's daughter, Esther, also died of cancer more than a decade ago. He is survived by his son Klaas (Anita) and two daughters, as well as Esther's daughter Sophie.

Uncle Henk lived life. He threw rocks at German soldiers in the Netherlands during World War II. He immigrated to Canada as a teen. He became a well-known writer, educator and philosopher in Toronto. He liked to travel and he was an avid birder. He was also a champion of the LGBTQ community being a part of his church, a controversial belief that strained friendships. This is putting it way too simply, but Henk thought the church should be accepting. He was way ahead of his time.

One of my fondest memories is when he and his siblings gathered at my Uncle Peter's house in Michigan 20 years ago for a family reunion. In the afternoon somebody broke out a concoction called "Opa's Gin" and the stories really started to flow. Henk was the ringleader and the laughter bounced across the Lake Michigan dunes and through the trees. He sat on the deck overlooking the big lake and beach, a big smile on his face and his binoculars handy in case a rare bird was sitting in a nearby tree.

In December, with the end in sight, a Zoom session was organized for family and friends. Henk looked well and delighted in seeing old friends, even if it was on video. In these soul-draining Covid times, Henk used the Zoom session as his funeral and farewell, and it fit his quirky nature. But if you think about it, if you know you are dying, why not have a virtual funeral and farewell while you are alive? You can't enjoy it and find peace when you are dead.

A few weeks ago Henk's sister, my Aunt Willa, lost her longtime companion, Ron. He was a few weeks shy of 80. He'd also battled health issues for a long time, and his death was expected, but no less painful. We didn't get to zoom with him before he died and are grieving alone because of COVID.

Klaas, Rodney, and Ron
He was also a wonderfully different man who loved to play guitar and tell stories. I spent an afternoon on a Georgian Bay island beach playing guitar with him a few years back and it was one of the best times I've ever had playing music. Fortunately we didn't let the songs get in the way of laughing and being goofballs.

Both of these deaths have hit us hard. It has been a difficult year of isolation. Covid takes away from life, and end of life, yet again.

Henk and Ron are undoubtedly in a better place. It doesn't make it easier. The fact we can't gather to remember makes it worse. 

Farewell, Uncle Henk. You were one of a kind. You will be missed. It was a life well-lived. 

Farewell, Ron Marshak. You were a great guy, fun and talented. You will be remembered and missed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wind and trash

IT'S WARMING UP and blustery in downtown Quincy. That means Angus is miserable, and the trash is blowing around through the wind tunnel known as Maine Street between Fifth and Sixth.

Angus doesn't like it when weather approaches or when the Second String Music door opens by itself because of the wind. I couldn't find him this morning after he got to the store, and I finally located him in the back room bathroom, shaking and panting like mad. Sheryl took him home, where he'll sleep the rest of the day and be much happier ignoring the cats.

Perhaps because of the tall buildings at Fifth and Maine, the wind tends to really whack our little corner of paradise. We won't talk about how many windows we've replaced in our five-story building (probably 80 percent of them) and how it sounds like a freight train at times.

It also tends to displace debris and trash. You know I have issues with trash downtown, and right now there's lots of grocery bags, plastic cups, cigarette boxes and just junk all over the place. I walked around the block and it's always disheartening to see how people just don't care and throw their crap in the street. Washington Park looked particularly bad, but again it's probably because a lot of stuff is just blowing around.

Last night Sheryl took a bag and cleaned trash off Maine, 5th and in Schuecking's parking lot. She normally just takes the blower out and clears off the debris on the sidewalk but last night the trash was overtaking our little part of town.

This is a great idea from the Quincy Brewing Company - a cleanup event downtown on April 24. The District has sponsored various events to make things  cleaner down here, and any effort is appreciated.

We will keep doing our part, encouraging others to pickup and praying the wind dies down someday.  Keep it clean, people!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Back at QU Stadium

I DID SOMETHING Sunday afternoon I haven't done in years - I went to a Quincy University baseball game.

My buddy Bob Youngs is a coach for the Davenport University baseball team. Davenport is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my old stomping grounds. Bob, nicknamed Bones, works for Gus Macker in the summers and we've survived a few tournaments together over the years. Well, maybe more than a few. 

Davenport was in town for a four-game series against Quincy University. So I sat in the sun, met up with some old friends I haven't seen in a while, and really enjoyed the day. I think QU won 12-11, and it's early in the season, but it didn't matter. If it's the first weekend in March and you can watch baseball and not be cold, it's all good.

I'm not much of a baseball fan. I was a big fan growing up, first with the Montreal Expos, then with the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. But when the MLB season was canceled in 1993, I vowed to never pay to watch a Major League Baseball game again. And I haven't.

Big league baseball is all about one thing - money. You can have your Cardinal Nation and root for the home team all you want. All I see is a bunch of greedy men playing a child's game for greedy owners and greedy TV outlets.

That's what was nice about Sunday - these are college athletes. It's the sport in its purest form. And it was beautiful to watch. Hearing the ball smack into the glove, hearing the chatter from the dugouts, and even the metal ding of bat meeting ball brought back a lot of good memories.

Attendance was limited and there are Covid restrictions in place. You can sit virtually anywhere in QU Stadium and not be near anybody. And the stadium itself is not the same decrepit facility of 25 years ago. The University and Quincy Gems of the summer league have done an amazing job of fixing it up, though it still has an old-time stadium feel.

Hopefully there are a few more sunny Sunday afternoons when the Hawks are playing. Count me in on a return visit.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Taylor for sale

WE LIKE TO THINK we know what sells and doesn't sell at Second String Music. If it was up to me,  I'd line the walls with super high end instruments, and we'd be out of business in a year. Thankfully Sheryl makes those decisions and she's learned what to get and what moves.

We are awaiting Fender, Takamine and Alvarez acoustic guitar shipments. Supply lines are messed up right now because of Covid and we've been without a decent $200 acoustic for two long months. Hopefully that changes, maybe as soon as next week.

Yesterday we took in a Taylor 510e with the Expressions pickup and a hard case. It's selling for around $2,000 online. We have it listed for $1,899. It is a 2016 model and it's hardly been played. Sheryl and I are very careful about taking used instruments to sell on consignment, but we are selling the Taylor for a good customer and a long time guitar student. 

It is good to have one spectacular acoustic, especially when the market is this strangled for inventory. We like it when we have different things in the store and it's good for our regulars who are curious about what's come in and new, or used. We hope to find the Taylor a good home.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Happy 10th Anniversary for Second String Music

ONE THING WE were good at from the start was having parties. Second String Music officially opened exactly 10 years ago to this day at the corner of Eighth and Washington, and the store quickly became a social gathering hot spot.

I remember the first days as being cold and snowy, and Sheryl quickly figuring it all out as we went along. We had three or four guitars in the store, all mine. I bought the last acoustic guitar ever sold by Vegas Music, owned by our late friend Pat Cornwell, and it quickly sold our little shop. It didn't take long for items to start arriving, and Sheryl spent many long hours arranging the displays and logging inventory.

The location wasn't the greatest, though it was about a block from the house. Sheryl came up with the idea to open the store after Vegas Music closed in the fall of 2010. She was unemployed with a master's degree. I thought she was crazy and of course she was. 

We saw a For Rent sign in the window. It seemed decent enough to start dreaming. The upstairs had history. The downstairs had a few issues and our landlords were from out of town and didn't care about Quincy. But ... it was a great start.

I think the first party was in November of that year, when we toasted Pat and celebrated the start of a new business. I remember being staggered by the number of people who showed up and hooted and hollered with us. The one-year anniversary was a good one too, though it's all a blur now.

I quickly learned Second String Music parties started early and ended whenever, and the rock and roll truck effect was in full force the next day. 

That's the sad part about this year. We would have had a party two days ago and it would have been crazy fun. Facebook memories have flooded us with nostalgia all weekend with photos from prior year parties. I'm toying with the idea of having a smaller scale bash in early May when we could be outside and safer. Any excuse to have a party, gather with friends, have a jam session and have more fun than should be allowed.

Geesh. Ten years. Thank you to all our loyal Second String Music friends and customers. Sheryl's crazy idea took seed and planted, and we are still going strong. 

And we'll celebrate when it is safer, hopefully this year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hart of the Matter, Local News

PHILLIPS NEWSPAPER GROUP was announced last week as the new owner of the Herald-Whig newspaper in Quincy, and the Courier-Post newspaper in Hannibal. Phillips is based in Arkansas and owns several small Missouri papers. There was initial hope the transition would be smooth and a new owner with other small papers would proceed slowly but surely with needed changes.

Monday morning, 20-plus employees at Fifth and Jersey were given their walking papers, effective at the end of the month when the new owners officially take over. It's believed the employees were given severance pay. They were told they had no choice but to take the deal.

I worked for the Herald-Whig for 16 years, but it's been 8 1/2 since I left. I don't know everybody leaving. I do know longtime Whig reporter and columnist Steve Eighinger is gone, as is fellow veteran Doug Wilson. Both photographers are gone. Three of the four copy desk staff are gone. A bunch of corporate folks are gone. I think there are maybe eight people left in a once-crowded newsroom.

I hired Stevie Dirt (Eighinger) as a part-timer in sports in the late 1990s. He became the best-known reporter there because of his columns and his love of the Quincy Raceways. He can't be replaced.

Then again, Steve and Doug are both old enough to retire, although Social Security isn't the same as working every day. But there is life after the paper, believe me. 

The Herald-Whig has been losing circulation and money for years. Ralph Oakley and the ownership decided it was time to get out while they still could, and I don't blame them a bit. Ralph has been in the newspaper business all his life and it's a grind. 

The paper isn't nearly what it used to be. But I still have friends and former colleagues there and I'm not pining for the good old days. Simply put, fewer and fewer people read the paper. They'd rather get their news from Twitter or the social media grapevine. No wonder we are so divided as a nation, when our primary sources for news are not the local paper but biased opinions from basement dwelling Web Warriors.

You might be hearing something from the new owners soon about the positive changes coming. It's a business, nothing more and nothing less. The new owners never came in and met everybody individually, got their stories, found out how much of their lives they've invested in the paper and the company.

The paper was a strong presence in the community, sponsoring many events and encouraging employees to get involved. Now Phillips Newspaper Group has alienated a large group of people and they don't even have the keys to the building. Do you think they care?

I hope the employees soon to leave bounce back and remember the good things about working for The Whig. And I wish the people remaining good luck. It's still our paper, though it doesn't feel like it at the moment.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Support your local candidate

SHERYL AND I are endorsing Nora Baldner in her bid to become the first woman mayor of Quincy. I did a video explaining my position. This is something I've never done and I was a bit reluctant when first asked. I've got too much of the old newspaper guy in me, where I was expected to be impartial and simply write about it.

Nora asked me to publicly endorse her. So I did it. Can't be that simple, right?

Yes. It. Can. 

I hate politics. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I've voted both parties for most of my life. I hate the extremes of both sides. I was asked about running for an office once, but it involved going to meetings all the time.

This election I am pulling a Democratic primary ballet and voting for who I want to win in the general mayoral election.

Nora is running in the Democratic primary against Brennan Hills, a high school senior. A young man entering politics has my respect and I wish him nothing but the best. If you think Brennan or Republicans Mike Troup or Paul Havermale should be the next mayor of Quincy, I have no issue with you. Just make sure you vote. The courthouse is open now for early voting and the primary voting ends Feb. 23. 

Do your homework. Ask yourself who you think is best qualified to be mayor. In a local election, the party-affiliation is far less important than character, experience and the ability to connect with people. 

I'm endorsing Nora because she's small-business friendly, has good ideas about issues like the riverfront, recycling, city services and she has a lot of experience working with people. Her campaign is extremely well organized and she's been working tirelessly. And, as I explained in the video, it's about time Quincy had a woman as mayor.

So get out and vote, and support your candidate.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Playing again in front of people

IT'S BEEN NEARLY a year since I've played a show indoors, save for church. So Cori and I (HartLyss) were excited to finally book a show inside, and we played last Saturday night at The Tap Room.

We are far from out of the woods yet regarding COVID-19. But our infection rates our down. Adams County has one of the highest vaccination rates per capita in the country. Cori and I have both had the virus. So we decided it was time. I was nervous about going inside again, and even though it was snowing hard (by Quincy's standards, a couple of inches), we decided to forge ahead.

Chris Austin, the Tap Room manager, made it easy. He put us in the corner by the front entrance, with plenty of room to set up and to stay safely distant. A group of Cori's friends showed up, maybe eight or so people, and they sat together but apart at a big table. There were other people wandering in and out and toward the end of the night we probably had a crowd of 35 or so, well under the 50 percent maximum required by the state. I wore my mask when venturing out during set breaks and tried my best to greet people yet stay a respectful distance away.

I love the pic above taken by Mike Sorensen of Bad Wolf Media. He stood outside on the snowy sidewalk and pretty much captured us in all our safely distanced glory.

I felt really rusty most of the night. In normal times HartLyss plays two or three times a month, and it is like riding a bike, but Saturday night the bike had a kink in the chain. One of the many reasons I enjoy playing with Cori is that while we are not happy about messing up, we simply keep going and we chalk it up to experience, and most of the time nobody really notices, anyway. One thing I need to work on is to not talk so much between songs - shut up and play,  hoser.

It was even nice to wake up Sunday morning feeling slightly like I'd been hit by a truck. Slightly. I tried to behave. And I did make it to church.

A lot of the time in a bar we are just background music. On Saturday night we noticed almost everybody was singing along with us and actually paying attention. It was a good feeling. 

HartLyss has booked some shows in March. I'm doing a thing with Pepper Spray and Smart Brothers buddy Tim Smith. The Cheeseburgers are threatening to wake up from a year-long slumber. Things are beginning to look up.

Again, we still need to be safe. Mask up and wash your hands, get vaccinated, all that stuff. I'm beginning to think we might have some live music downtown this summer. Maybe. 

It felt great to play again at the Tap Room!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Randy Industries at SSM

 SECOND STRING MUSIC is proud to welcome Randy Phillips and his Randy Industries as his drop off location in Quincy. Randy, the legendary leader of The Maulers and small plane pilot extraordinaire, is using Fifth and Maine to greet clients and get items for his video production and transfer business. He will not have an office here but it's a good place to meet. 

Randy actually works out of a secret rural location. We tried to get more info but his people refused to meet with our people unless fireworks were involved. So we are trying to guess where his home office is located. 

Some say it's in the caves on Ill. 57. Others say Spring Street. There is a wild conspiracy theory that Randy is actually Vulcan, clips his antenna-like ears and has a spaceship near Marblehead. 

None of these outrageous stories are true. But we like to spread ideas around and make sure people are talking about him, us, and Maulerfest this fall.

If you don't know about the Maulers, well, sorry, there's not nearly enough time to fill you in. Let's just say they are a band, they are loud, and they blow stuff up. And it's more fun than you should be allowed to have.

Welcome Randy! It proves that Fifth and Maine is the place to be, and reportedly very popular with Vulcans.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Old houses torn down

TWO OLD HOUSES have been demolished recently on the south end of town. We are way better off for it.

Before the preservationists get all fired up and history lovers get mad, I agree it's sad to see an old house come down. We lose a lot of history in the process, but blame the owners for not taking care of the property. Perhaps they shouldn't have owned the buildings in the first place. Perhaps they didn't care. Whatever. It's done.

South Eighth Street looks better!
The first one was on Eighth Street near the Save-A-Lot, next to 805 S. Eighth and across the from the old Second String Music location at Eighth and Washington. This derelict building was once home to one of Quincy's more notorious meth users and dealers. I think the owner tried to keep it up for a while. But it was in really bad shape until a local developer bought it. It is being flattened as we speak and the new owner plans to put in a nice duplex. It is a huge upgrade for Calftown.

The second building was located just south of York on Sixth Street. It was used by vagrants and squatters for a long time, as it had no services or running water. A few months ago the body of a woman was found in the house. She was ruled to have died from natural causes.

Anyway, a nearby business has purchased the property, and house came tumbling down last week. The street looks way better.

Here's an example of somebody taking initiative and doing something to improve the neighborhood. Again, I don't like seeing old houses torn down. But owners who neglect old houses are even worse.

Down with the old, up with the new. And we'll move on to the next building which needs to come down.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Old snow days

WE HAD ABOUT an inch of snow yesterday. I did have one guitar student from Missouri reschedule a lesson and I don't blame him - the roads were slippery and he just felt safer staying at home. 

But. It was an INCH of snow. As usual, we had the usual Winter Weather Death Is Coming Advisories and people were slipping and sliding all over the place. If you want the best unintentional comedy ever, click on the local media pages and try not laugh. At least there were photo opportunities. Right.

One story was about how Blessing Hospital was ready in case of a big traffic accident. There was two massive pileups in Missouri because of the weather the past few days. There were no problems with massive casualties or too many people coming to the hospital at the same time. But there could have been. And we need to get somebody from some health place to look serious and say in case it happens, they'd be ready. They probably should have commented about Quincy City Council approving stop signs instead of yield signs at a few intersections, too. 

Yeesh. I do remember we had a big blizzard maybe 10 years ago and I tried ducking when coming into the Whig newsroom because we did stories for at least a week. I get it. But I grew up in places where summer was just two lousy weeks of ice fishing. So I still scoff.

My father and I were reminiscing about the huge blizzards of yesteryear. In January of 1979 there was a record storm still talked about which buried a massive part of the U.S. Midwest and Ontario in snow. My father called somebody to plow our driveway, but all the guy did was pile up the snow in front of the garage door. It took my brothers and me two days to dig it out.

We visited Emily in Rochester, N.Y., a few years ago. We got there on a Friday and it was snowing. We left three days later and it was STILL snowing. We couldn't get to our hotel one night because they had closed off the street so trucks could get the snow off the side of the road and sidewalks. "Happens all the time," Emily said with a shrug.

You get used to it, I guess. The older I get, the more I get used to the idea of living in my brother's basement in Phoenix during the winter. He doesn't have a basement. But we'd make it work.

This morning it was 11 degrees and sunny with no wind. The dogs had a great run and it was bearable and even beautiful, the cemetery covered in snow and the sun glinting off ice-glazed monuments.

In a few months we'll start bitching about how hot it is around here all the time. So it all works out.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Hurry Up, Vaccine

HURRY UP, VACCINE. Get here. Now. I am tired of not playing shows, wearing a mask all the time, social distancing, constantly keeping my guard up because of the COVID-19 virus. I want normalcy. NOW. So hurry up. Please.

There are priorities. I want Sheryl to get it, and soon. She is a Type 1 diabetic and if she gets the virus, there is likely no more Second String Music because of her immune system, or lack thereof. She was thinking about getting the vaccine now because she is still a substitute teacher. "I'll wait. I want the actual teachers to get it first. I'll get it when 1c is ready," she said.

I don't know when the rest of us mere mortals who are healthy will get it. Today we hear Johnson & Johnson is close to getting a vaccine out. And it's just one shot, not two. We'll see. I'll hurry up and wait.

Mainly, I want to play music again in front of people. Cori Powell-Green and I (HartLyss) are going crazy from waiting. I got several calls the past few weeks wondering when we'll be ready. Well, we are ready. But we are waiting until its safe. Cori and I have both had Covid. It's not fun. Don't get it. It does mean we have anti-bodies, but it doesn't mean we can't get it again, and spread it. 

The second we can make arrangements to play, we will. 

The Cheeseburgers are on hiatus, for now. Until it is safe to potentially practice, there is no news to report. Would it be awesome to play outside this summer? Yes. But we'll hurry up and wait.

Actually, I'm going to form a new band and call it "Hurry Up And Wait." Our hit songs will be "Operation Warp What?" and "Stick A Damn Needle In Me NOW." They will both be huge, but we won't make any money because we can't tour. 

Patience, friends. I'm tired of the word. But it's our reality. We are beginning to see light. Sooner than later, we'll be back to rocking and rolling and being social again. 

Just get here now, vaccine!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Family photos

NOT LONG AGO we had an extended Hart Family Zoom. Many of my father's family still live in Canada, most in the Toronto and Ottawa areas. 

Rodney is not sure about his new baby sister .....
My cousin, Klaas Hart, said he was going through some old boxes when he found a bunch of photos. They were presumably taken by his father, Henk, my uncle. They were taken mostly in Nova Scotia and Montreal, so they dated from the 1960s when Henk visited his brother Dirk and his young family.

There were also a few of my grandfather and grandmother, and of their family. Priceless.

One of the photos (shown below) particularly caught my eye. It appears to be of our brother, Greg, who passed away in 2002. He was adopted around 1969/70 when we lived in Nova Scotia. It's the earliest known photo we have of him, I think.

It's fun going back in time and I'm glad Klaas found the photos and sent them to me. They'll be kept safe and remembered as important parts of the Hart family history.

Gregory Klaas Hart, May 1970.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Itching to play

THE COVID VACCINES can't get here fast enough. Hopefully we keep moving in the right direction with a new administration, but who knows? Trust in the government isn't exactly at an all-time high right now.

I am going stir crazy not being able to play live shows with Cori, The Cheeseburgers, Pepper Spray and whoever else is around. I miss going to The Club to jam with the Matt Roberts Blues Band. I know they are still playing, but I can't re-expose myself to covid until I am vaccinated.

The Cheeseburgers are on hiatus. I am ever hopeful we will get back out there when things improve, but we are in a wait and see mode. There is a lot more involved with a band than a duo or solo performer, so it's frustrating on both ends - we want to play, and venues want to book us, but there's so much unknown and it's hard to make plans.

I don't play music for the money, but it is a part of my general income and guitar strings don't grow on trees. 

In Missouri, where they "don't have Covid," a lot of venues are still open and having live music. No thanks. It's not helping to slow the spread and I've already had it, and don't want to get it again.

Restaurants and bars are going to open again Friday in Illinois, but it's still a wait and see thing with us. Sheryl and I prefer to order and pick it up so we can still support our restaurants.

The last few times I went to Hy-Vee nobody was without a mask. Nobody. And it was busy, too. It's encouraging and I think people are taking it seriously. At some point, hopefully sooner than later, Cori and I may brave it and think about playing an indoor gig.

Sooner. Not later. Fingers crossed, and we hope to see you soon at a live music gig!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Phone manners matter

ONE OF THE many things we've lost as humans are phone manners. Our phone rings a lot in Second String Music and we make every effort to answer it.

Remember rotary phones? No? Well, you aren't RFO (really old) like me. They had an earpiece on one end and a speaker on the other. You held it up to your ear and mouth. Now we have these tiny little cell phones where the speaker and the ears are the same thing. You just generally talk into it. Plus you can place a call from anywhere, while doing anything, and being distracted by everything. I have enough trouble strumming with one hand and fretting with the other. Doing too much while talking is not a good thing.

Sheryl thinks people are used to texting and emails and have lost the art of talking on the phone and having real conversations. Knowing what you want to say and speaking in a manner that helps the person on the other end of the phone know are skills that need to be learned by all.

When you call a business, please keep the following things in mind.

1. It Might Be Busy: Usually when people call they have one or two things they need to check, and that's fine. But remember, we are a small retail business and have people in our store. Please don't try to engage us in long winded conversations on your thoughts of the expanding universe. I don't mind chit chatting about musical instruments, but if it's busy, we appreciate keeping the conversations short and about musical instruments. 

2. We Can't Hear You: Please hold the phone up to your mouth. Please do NOT use speakerphone unless you have no other choice. Please don't yell into the phone, or have another conversation with another person, or forget why you called in the first place. Believe me. It happens.

3. Do You Have ...? Sometimes we have it. Some things we don't. If we don't have left-handed pan flutes, please don't get mad and leave a nasty review. No, we don't carry karaoke equipment or needles for record players. We don't mind referring you to someone that might have what you need but this is a small town and sometimes the answer really is St. Louis, or the internet.

4. Bring It In: If you have a guitar or amplifier that doesn't work we repair those. Well, most of those. If it is the free amp that came in your guitar pack, we can replace the fuse but otherwise they aren't repairable. Old tube amplifiers, bad pots in your guitar, replace the output jack? YEP, we do that. We also restring and intonation for guitars of all kinds, including Floyd Rose tremolos. Please remember to wear a mask.

5. Your Name Is .... We love our customers. There are a lot of them. We know most of them. But if you call us, don't hesitate to identify yourself. I'm horrible at remembering names and screw them up all the time. It's nice to hear from you, especially when we know it's you!

Second String Music's phone number is (217) 223-8008. Give us a call or come by the store.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

13 days

 I WAS HORRIFIED at what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C. I had a lot of guitar lessons in the afternoon and after a while I stopped looking at news updates. It was too much, too pathetic, a bunch of losers living in delusional paranonia.

I don't have the time.

But I got caught up and I looked at several sources from both points of view. And I got angrier and angrier. I learned a long time ago not to react right away when you see bullshit or see somebody intentionally trying to drag you down. You'll say or write something you regret and it doesn't do any good.

But to remain silent is to remain complicit. Domestic terrorism is real and yesterday it was a reality we could not ignore. Patriots do not storm the capital and try to force their representatives into not supporting our Constitution.

We tend to live in the bubble in Quincy. So let me ask you a very clear and very direct question, with only one very simple answer.

If an angry mob gathered in Quincy outside City Hall, stormed inside, confronted law enforcement, and a person was shot and others injured, what would you think? Would you blame the people that were at home?

I'm stopping now before anger takes over rational, and I write something I can't take back. 

BTW, the response from two of the mayoral race candidates last night was well done and appreciated. 

In 13 days Joe Biden will be sworn in as the new President of the United States. He has a big job to do uniting this country, healing our hearts and mourning those dead from COVID. Reality is not scary, it is necessary. The real work begins now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Colt Clark and his kids!

EVERY MORNING I get up, stumble around and make coffee, and click on a few websites to start the day. Yes, it's important to be up on current events. But it's depressing, too.

Thankfully we have Colt Clark and the Quarantine Kids to make everything better. Colt lives in Florida and is a veteran music performer. When the country was impacted by Covid, he decided to make videos of him playing with his three young children. 

If there is a better version of Baba O'Reilly out there, please let me know. 

The best part is his little daughter dancing around and the sheer joy and goofiness of playing music with her big brothers and her dad. To the boys, of course, it's serious business playing music with dad, who often has to suppress a laugh or two during the videos. It takes a fair amount of practice to get the songs down and I bet they have just as much fun learning the songs as doing the videos. 

Take a second and listen to at least one song by Colt and his family every morning, and I guarantee it will make your day better!

Monday, January 4, 2021

First Kill

IT STARTED RAINING ice about 3 a.m. New Year's Day. By mid-morning the Calftown Hart House backyard was a sheet of ice. The dogs didn't really want to go out but Sheryl managed to coax them for a potty and the daily walk was delayed.

RIP, Calftown squirrel.
As soon as the dogs got out they trapped a squirrel and they had their first kill of the new year. Then Sheryl noticed what we think was the mate on the neighbor's roof, chattering mournfully and giving her the squirrel eye. There has been a bird condo up in the eaves of the neighbors house for a few years. The squirrels likely bunk there when the weather gets nasty.

"I almost feel sorry for it," I said.

"I do too. She looks shocked and scared," Sheryl said. "She'll probably have to move in with her mother-in-law." ACK.

Later in the day I was in the backyard trying not to fall and kill myself when I heard more angry chittering from the other side of the fence. There were two squirrels up there staring me down and denouncing the utter savagery of our dogs.

"Well, if your buddy hadn't been so fat, you wouldn't be mourning," I said.

The next day we went on our usual cemetery walk and observed the utter savagery of nature in general. There was a squirrel up ahead on its haunches looking around when a hawk came out of nowhere, snatched up his dinner and flew toward the river. Genie chased after it for a bit but then realized the hawk was probably in no mood to share. Sometimes I wonder if Malcolm, a smaller dog, could be snatched up too, so we are always careful and on the lookout for birds of prey.

Anyway, dogs and nature 2, squirrels 0. Off and running in the new year!