Music Stores & T-Shirts

The guy sitting diagonally across the table from me at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom was wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of a guitar on it. When he sat back in his chair, I could see that the guitar pictured was a hollowbody Gretsch and below that was the name and address of a music store: Matt Umanov Guitars, 273 Bleecker St., NY, NY.

Knowing of the store and its reputation, I had to ask: “Uh, excuse me. Is that as cool of a store as I’ve heard it is?”

And that’s all it took to start a long conversation about how he actually got the t-shirt at a mall but he did go to the store once and it was pretty cool and then I told him about my two music store t-shirts: one from Real Guitars, a store I’d discovered in San Francisco while on vacation there back around 1993; and the other from Ralph’s House of Tone, a great little store in Dover, NH, actually run by a guy named Ralph.

Great music stores and their t-shirts do make for good converstaion.

Great music stores also change lives.

The best $50.00 I ever spent was when I bought my first guitar, a mahogany-bodied Harmony acoustic, from the original Exeter Music in downtown Exeter, NH, in May of 1970.

 The store was owned and operated by Gordon and Katherine Clegg and had at least three different locations up and down Water St. during its life. Mr. Clegg was a fine guitarist and guitar teacher. (My high school band mate, excellent lead guitarist and good friend, Dan Savage, took lessons from Mr. Clegg.) His teaching, as he told me once, kept the store in business. Mrs. Clegg worked the front of the store and probably did the books and everything else that needed to be done to keep a small business in business.

Exeter Music offered guitars, guitar strings ( remember “Nashville Straights?”) and accessories, songbooks (my first: Ramblin’ Boy and other songs by Tom Paxton) and sheet music, and for a while, records. I was a regular customer and Mr. & Mrs. Clegg were always just the nicest people: welcoming, friendly, helpful, interested, encouraging and always willing to listen to the questions and requests of a music-obsessed teenager. Knowing that there were adults who knew about and cared about the same things that I did was a big deal to me in those early years of my musical life.

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting another music store that is to its customers what Exeter Music was to me.

This past weekend, my wife and I drove out to Liverpool, NY (near Syracuse) at the invitation of my wife’s brother, Phil. Phil and his wife, Gena own and operate a music store called Family Music Center ( and Saturday was the monthly Open Mike for students at the school. The day also roughly coincided with the second anniversary of the opening of the store and Phil’s birthday.

The store itself is small but every inch is put to good use. There is a main showroom filled with spinet pianos, guitar amps, PA speakers, acoustic and electric guitars and violins hung around the room, two glass display cases, a shelf holding a number of saxophones, and here and there several potted plants. Off the showroom to the right are two teaching studios and to the left a long hallway that leads to Gena’s office/studio and then Phil’s office/studios and finally, the drum studio.

For the Open Mike, a performance space was cleared in the showroom and for the audience, piano benches and folding chairs lined every remaining open space, even running back down the hallway and into the offices.

At around 4:30 pm, it was showtime. Phil became master-of-cermonies, conductor, vocalist, encouraging teacher and guitar-playing accompanist while Gena worked behind the scenes directing, keeping track of the set list and lending her support and encouragement to both the anxiously-waiting and just-finished performers.  She also stepped forward to sing harmony with a couple of the acts. 

The line-up of students/perfomers covered the spectrum from elementary-school-aged pianists to a middle-school-aged drummer and hard rock electric guitarist to a college-aged classical guitarist to several middle-aged singers and guitarists, a saxophonist, a rock band, an acappella quartet and a septuagenarian singer/guitarist whose duets with Phil stole the show. The many family members and friends of the performers making up the audience listened, watched, sang along and applauded with great pleasure and much enthusiasm for the entire two hours of music.

It was a magical event. Students and teachers, store owners and patrons, audience and performers filled that space with affection, respect, attentiveness, appreciation, mutual admiration and, yes indeed, lots of love. That music store, on that August Saturday afternoon was (as I suppose it is during most of its open hours) exactly what its name proclaims it to be: the center for a family brought together by music.

It is, like every great music store, a very special place.

Bravo, Phil and Gena. 

P.S.: Before writing this post, I went on line to Matt Umanov’s to see if they still sold that t-shirt. They do, but I have this thing about wearing a t-shirt for a place I’ve never actually been to, even if it is a very cool t-shirt.

If Family Music Center had a t-shirt, I’d buy one in a heartbeat and I’d wear it with great pride, just waiting for someone to ask me about it.

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2 Responses to Music Stores & T-Shirts

  1. TPS says:

    What a great story…! You’re right, if more cities and towns had places like that, where musicians of all types and levels could feel welcomed and secure, the impact on the creative communities of folks would be immeasurable. Congratulations to Family Music Center for inspiring so many people!

    Nice of you to mention Dan, and I’m glad you always held him in high regard. In March, it will be 30 years since he’s been gone; more years than he was alive. I can still see the band playing, you with the bare hand drum solos, Dan playing the “Savage Blues”. Great memories….


  2. TPS says:

    A couple other thoughts that came into my head…. I remember when you bought that first guitar, because you dropped by the house shortly after buying it to show me….

    Now the best FIVE DOLLARS I spent was that “sizzlin’ hot” Aria 12 string. Maan, I can still see the look on the store owner’s face when I bought it from that guy. And, I had the nerve to ask him for a box! HAHAHAAH!!!!

    Good times….

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