News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

A few weeks ago I found myself playing a music job downtown and ran into someone I do not see very often. They told me they had started working at a local music store, and how it had been a long time since they had done that kind of work. The last store they worked at was Tiller Piano and Organ. Now, that might not mean anything to you. But, to me, given that we were already downtown, and the mention of a long since forgotten downtown music store, I found myself going down memory lane; to a more enchanted time.

Since this column is called "This Old Guitar," I thought I might share not only my experiences with these old guitars, But also the old music stores from whence they came. If you are not part of the baby boom generation, you might not find this too interesting. But, if you are, read on.

During the 1960s, no matter which part of Louisville you were from, it was a weekly Saturday ritual for all kids to catch a bus downtown. Fourth and Broadway: Mecca. You had to get there. It was from this point that one entered the heartbeat of what was happening. In a several block area, bounded by Broadway on the south, Market on the north and roughly everything between Third and Fifth street, you pretty much had it all. Movies, clothing stores, restaurants, radio stations, record stores, etc. And last but not least, the music stores. It would have been entirely possible for a group of kids to make the rounds - walking, by the way -going to the music stores, outfitting your band with all the necessary gear, getting your wardrobe together, recording a record in the basement of WKLO radio and then have it played on WAKY or WKLO. What the heck, you might as well set up and play in the middle of Fourth and Walnut. It might sound a bit far fetched, but the reality remains. My, times have changed.

I bought my first bass guitar, a VOX Panther, from Tillers. Houston Jones sold it to me. This must have been around 1968. I believe it was on Walnut, between Third and Third, just half a block from Baldwin's, which was next door to WKLO. I remember wanting a bass that looked like the Beatle bass, and my folks had gotten me a look-alike from Sears, which was to be my Christmas present. Being the snoop I was, I discovered it hidden in our house. That was just fine with me. That is, until I saw this VOX Panther down in the basement of Tillers one Saturday morning, and Houston Jones said he would cut me a deal on it since the finish had checked some.

Well, what was a kid to do? I had to spill the beans, tell my parents I found my Christmas present under their bed, and that there was a better bass at a great price at Tillers. Well, my folks said okay, and so we went back downtown, first to Sears, (8th and Broadway, by the way), and on to Tillers. I was pleased.

Man, oh, man. Tillers had VOX, which was huge back then. You could move on down to Baldwin's and get a Baby Bison guitar, or a Baldwin Split Sound model, complete with the "wild dog" setting. Blow your face out with a Baldwin Exterminator amp. Next door, you could look in the window at the WKLO DJ, spinning the discs of inspiration. On down the street and around the corner, on 4th, was Durlauf's, next to or at least close to, WAKY radio. Roughly across the street was Shackleton's. And let's not forget, cars still cruised down the street: you had to look both ways before going from Durlauf's to Shackleton's, and vice versa. Between these two stores, one could get a Fender Strat, Gibson ES-335, Super Reverb Amp, Martin D-28, Gibson Hummingbird, and lots more. I can still recall gazing at the Rickenbacker 360/12 twelve-string electric in the showcase at Durlauf's. It was indescribable (the feeling that is) to see this exquisitely crafted thing of beauty and sound. The Beatles, the Byrds and on and on. The sound of our generation.

For the youth of this time, downtown was a wonderland. You could go to a movie, eat at Frisch's, check out the latest clothing styles, go to Vine Records, and just basically be re-energized by the whole thing.

I can remember saving my grass-cutting money and going down to Durlauf's to buy my first bass amp. It was a Kustom. One of those black Naugahyde tuck-and-roll piggyback amps. Ralph Lampton sold it to me. If you were into music back then, you knew who Ralph Lampton was. To us, he was kind of like this elderly sage. Upon his word, everything was right. He had been there, done that. You trusted him. I can still smell that amp and see its little purple pilot light. I can still see and hear Ralph, with his big mustache, encouraging me, just like I am sure he did everybody else, to go out there and make some noise. What a time it was. The music scene was exploding. The airwaves were dominated by guitar bands, and every neighborhood had at least one garage band. I never became a very accomplished musician, but boy did I have some fun.

Over on 5th street, between Walnut and Liberty, I think, was the Music Center, home of Gretsch guitars. The White Falcon, the Country Gentleman, the Tennessean. Hey, hey, we're the Monkees, The Byrds, George Harrison, Buffalo Springfield, Gretsch guitars were all over the place. Yep, from Tillers on the east to Music Center on the west, those few blocks of downtown, that heart of downtown, had it all. A musical horn of plenty. Oh, did I forget to mention Marvin Maxwell? He worked at Baldwin's. He is still going strong, decades later, as the owner of Mom's Musicians General Store. And Ray Shipp, of Music Warehouse, I believe, was working for Mr. Imberger, at Music Center. So, the legacy is carried on.

!X**@#x!!Whoops! The soundman just poked me and said it is time to start playing. Wow, I forgot where I was there for a moment. Ok, back to the present reality. Here I am, standing on a stage on Waterfront Park, the Ohio river ahead, Louisville Slugger Stadium over there, the downtown skyline to the other side. I may no longer have my VOX Panther bass or Kustom amp, but somehow, at least for the moment, I am pretty much right back where I started from: I guess it's time to make some noise.

Well, that's all for now. Until next time,

Keep Rockin'