For a retailing corpse, Manny’s, the legendary music store on West 48th Street, in New York, looks awfully healthy. At least it did to me when I went there over Memorial Day weekend, glad to be insulted by the surly sales staff one more time.
The New Yorker ran an article in last week’s issue (May 18, Pg. 23) marking the closing of the one shop most synonymous with “Music Street,” Manny’s Music. Altho’ Manny’s sold all kinds of instruments, most of the players I know, or knew, were guitarists, and electric guitarists, at that.
Eric Gale shopped there, as did Hugh McCracken, David Spinoza, John Tropea and bassist Will Lee. I met Will there one day, about 20 years ago, when he was doing the Letterman Show. Tropea, who could just be Lee’s best friend, introduced us and got Will to play on a jingle track Tropea arranged for my company, AR Music.
Another super bassist, tho’ not the star Will was, Chuck Rainey, got most of his equipment there, as did fellow Harry Belafonte band member, Ralph MacDonald.
(I know these are not household names to many of you, but they were the Power Pickers of the New York studio scene, anonymous but real, from the middle ‘Sixties into the ‘Eighties. They played on well over half the hit vinyl of the era, backing up many artists and acts not out of LA or San Francisco.
Simon & Garfunkel, John Lennon, George Benson, Carly Simon, Steely Dan, BB King, Barbra Streisand and too many others to count counted on New York session men to help them mold unique musical personas. This pool has pretty much dried up from the hot breath of technology that’s blown over music for the last 20 or 25 years, esp. synthesizers and computer softward.)
These musicians and a few others of their kind were the guys who, once established, were allowed to test amps at higher than the no. 2 volume setting on the amps. Anyone else had to stay at that level or below, or get the amp they were probably going to buy turned off by a sour salesman or other staff member.
Anyway, Manny’s was also home, at least in this country and it’s East Coast, to many monster acts, like the Beatles, Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Loving Spoonful, Carole King, and, again, too many to list here. Read the New Yorker article for a brief mention of a tiny number of ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s super-acts who dropped by for Martin D-28’s, strings and gossip. Better yet, go to Manny’s Music on 48th Street a block or two up from Times Square.
And since that will be impossible for most of you, look for Manny’s Virtual Wall, an Internet social-networking project Kodak is backing that will scan Manny’s walls of pictures of important people who shopped there and upload interviews with many of them still playing.
It’s hard to tell what’s in the future for Manny’s. As everyone in the business knows, they’ve been owned by Sam Asch, New York’s 800-lb. gorilla of music stores, for at least ten years. The people who work there say they’ll continuing doing just that, expecting the place to remain in business, in some form, in the future.
Jody Hill, a guitar technician at Gibson for six and a half years, and at Manny’s for the last couple as computer numeric control specialist, says he’ll continue doing that in their new incarnation, whatever that will be.
Andrea, in Acessories, figures the place will become, “…more frankly a Sam Asch property, but that will be the only difference.” And what is that difference I wanted to know.
“The people who come to Manny’s already know what they’re doing,” she said. “If George Benson wants to try out a Gibson ES335TDC (the same guitar, by the way, I had Chuck Erikson at Duke of Pearl inlay ‘Mother of Pearl’ in the neck of) he goes to Manny’s. But if someone is just starting or not very advanced, they go to Sam Asch, where they can try everything in the store and get expert advice on how to find what looking for.”
But it’s hard to see why Sam Asch would keep Manny’s open under any name or condition, what with their own flagship shop sitting directly across the street. I asked a tall, balding guy I’d seen for a long time in Manny’s sound department, but who wanted to remain anonymous, if he knew why.
He dodged the question, saying he was “just moving down the street” to work in Sam Asch’s retail sound store there, and that that was confidential information, anyway. Actually, he said, “Go fuck yourself, it’s none of your fuckin’ business.” Ahhh, now that’s what I needed to hear to really know where I was. I had the feeling he knew something most people didn’t.
Me, when it comes to Manny’s future, I dunno. It’s hard not to think it’ll just be absorbed into Sam Asch, perhaps as part of a location consolidation necessitated by the drastic rise in property rents in Times Square over the last couple decades.
But I don’t want to rush to the worn-out judgment that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, and the disappearance of independent businesses is just part of our decline. Sam Asch, for one, has been a great music store to buy, sell, trade or rent instruments and equipment. Their integrity and honesty, especially the way they guarantee what they sell and provide support for it, are a credit to any retail business in any industry.
If Asch takes over Manny’s and lets them continue to provide quality goods to knowledgeable customers and guidance to non-professionals, snarls and all, we’re in good shape. Asch is a class act. Let’s see what they do next.