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I Get to Talk to People…

Hello Troubadourians! Journalism is a funny business. When you read this column sometime in February, remember that I wrote it in mid-January. I forgot that time discrepancy when I wrote last month’s column. I was thinking that since my next column would be February, I would have already attended the 2019 NAMM Show and would be telling you about it in this column. I completely forgot that in mid-December; I wouldn’t have attended an event that occurs in late January so I couldn’t write about it in mid-January. Confused? Yeah, me too. So, since I can’t tell you about being at the actual NAMM show, let me tell you what it’s like to attend. First, the NAMM Show is an industry only event, which means that you have to have credentials from some business in the music industry, either retail, wholesale, or manufacturing. Also, some attend as artists who represent or are endorsed by a manufacturer. I attend because I’m a member of the media and I report on the music industry for the Troubadour. Being in the media has perks and problems. There are special areas just for the press where you can escape the din of the show and collect your thoughts. Maybe get a free cup of coffee. Also, everyone in every booth wants to talk to you! The downside, everyone in every booth wants to talk to you. Everybody could use some free publicity and some company reps can be a little aggressive when seeking publicity for their company. I’m used to that by now so I can usually deflect unwanted approaches tactfully. When I can’t–which is rare–I’ll generally talk for a few minutes and then say that I have another appointment in just a few minutes, thank them for their time and walk away.

With manufacturers of almost everything musical from almost every country on earth, you can imagine that there is a lot to see, hear, and experience. It certainly can be overwhelming. Having experienced the show almost every year for nearly 30 years–the last eight for the Troubadour–I’m used to it by now. The show planners and the companies try to book their spaces in the same locations every year, so you can usually count on finding the companies you are looking for in the same places. This makes it easier for returning attendees if you want to just see certain companies or if you have an appointment with a smaller company and don’t know where they are. They can just tell you, “We’re next to Ernie Ball, or we’re just down from the Martin exhibit.” This can save you a lot of time wandering around the massive show floor. The Convention Center has one huge main floor, a smaller lower floor, and two upper mezzanines where you find many of the “Heavy Hitters” in the business such as Paul Reed Smith Guitars, Fender and their associated companies, and Taylor Guitars, as well as legendary companies such as Steinway Pianos. There is also an arena attached to the Convention Center, which usually houses companies that manufacture concert lighting and effects. Last year, the Convention Center added new exhibition space to the east of the main buildings in what used to be a parking structure. This is the new area where pro sound and cabling companies have been installed. It was a little confusing at first but I think it’ll be better this year.

Now, I can hear you asking, “Are there famous people there too?” Yes, there are lots of celebrity musicians there as well as musicians who are generally only known to other musicians. I’m pretty immune to being starstruck by now but I’ve met and spoken with a host of famous musicians. Just a few of the people I’ve met and spoken with, in no particular order: John Entwistle, Dave Navarro, Eddie Van Halen, Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, Timothy B. Schmidt, Johnny Hilland, Brad Whitford, Lita Ford, Gene Simmons, Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Doyle Dykes, Tal Wilkenfeld, Ry Cooder, and David Lindley. This is just a small sampling, I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of people and players. Some builders have also achieved celebrity status and I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many of them, some of whom have become friends. From legends like Leo Fender, George Fullerton, Don Randall, Ted McCarty, and Ernie and Sterling Ball, to folks like Paul Reed Smith, Randall Smith, Dana Bourgeois, Bob Taylor, Andrew Barta, and my good friend Bill Collings. As an engineer in my day job, I tend to be drawn to the builders as they are usually very approachable and have a lot of interesting things to talk about. Most are happy that someone has taken an interest in their work and they love to talk about what they build as well as what they are planning to build. I believe that while we celebrate the players, I often wonder where we would all be without the excellent instruments and gear that these innovative builders make. All you have to say is “Leo Fender” and from there almost everything else flows forward. Leo was old, frail, and in a wheel chair when I met him but I could sense that he was still interested in inventing more things… And without Ted McCarty, there would be no golden age of Gibson Guitars with the classic instruments of ’50 through ’66. Imagine a world without Les Paul guitars, the ’58-’60 versions are considered to be the Holy Grail of electric guitars. Or a world without PRS guitars. That’s a world without Ted McCarty as he is responsible for those Gibsons–as well as Explorers, Flying Vs, and ES-335s–and mentored Paul Smith into creating the dominant company that PRS Guitars has become. I remember meeting George Fullerton, it was late on the Sunday of the show and he was standing alone on the very corner of the G&L booth, a company he had founded with his friend Leo Fender (this after I met Leo a few years before). I introduced myself and my daughter and he graciously spent 30 minutes talking to us. He was a real gentleman.

And then there’s Bill Collings. I’ve written about Bill before as well as remembering him in one of these columns when he died in July of 2017. It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know Bill, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without attending the NAMM Show.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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