Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gavin's induction into Rock & Roll, by Gavin Downie

Over the years many people have sat down to tell the story about a icon and mentor in the music biz, but I'm gonna tell my side from my tale that has been lucky enough to interweave with his and the shop that brought myself and so many like us together. The man is Bill Lattimer and the shop as it stands today is Bungalow Bills.

It was decades ago now I first stepped foot in the original store "Musik Market" it was called back then. It was located in the top end of Symonds street in Auckland New zealand and I was around 13-14. Bill lattimer had set up the shop after he had worked for Jansen and Kingsly smiths(i hope this is right- it might have been lewis eiders)
Anyways this is my view of the story and it starts at Musik market.
The shop was something to behold, it was a vast expanse full floor to ceiling with every kind of music instrument you could imagine. it was a empo
rium of rock and roll day dreams, a cavern of cravings from the Les Pauls on the wall to the Gretschs and Rickenbackers and Fenders that hung glistening like wet oil in the sun. And then there were the weird shaped guitars the late 50's and 60's spewed out on its acid tripped psychedelic garage rock trip.. Eko's , Tiescos, Vox tear drops, Hagstroms and the obligatory Mustangs, Jaguars, Jazzmasters, and broncos.
There were organs, synthesizers, clavinovas, electric drum kits, acoustic drum kits, tamborines, autoharps, harps and brass instruments.. I learnt the make and origin of so many brands and the genealogy that exists between two instruments made on different continents but inspiring each other all the same time.
Then there was the far east guitars, back then china hadn't started the take over of the budget brand guitar like we see today with countries like Indonesia and korea and malaysia and india fast in tow. japan reigned supreme in the far east and there copys were in some respects better than the american companies that had gotten fat and lazy.. there are many japanese vintage guitars still around today that supersede there american clones.
Then there was the pandoras box that opened to show the magical world of stomp boxes' or effects pedals,
there were Distortions, Over Drives, Turbo Distortions, Turbo Overdrives, Super FeedBackers, Metal Zones, Grunge pedals, Thrash pedals, Chorus, Stereo Chorus's, Analogue delays, Digital delays, Tape delays, tremolos, Flangers, jet Flangers, Phasers, Noise suppressors, compressors, Enhancers, Boosters, Buffers, Big Muffs, Small Stones, Wah Wahs, Cry Babys, ColourSounds, Fuzz pedals, Samplers and Pitch shifters, octavers and EQ's..
You could twist and take your guitar and bass signal in so many directions that nothing was impossible. Your imagination was the only thing holding you back. Working weekends in this store was like a a kid being given the keys to a lolly shop and told to go mind the store for the weekend. Each trip in I fell in love with another guitar. Normally at my age you'd only be able t
o read about a 1958 Gibson les paul junior not actually play one thru your choice of amp, fender, Vox, Marshall, mesa Boogie. I could get my hands round the neck of a 68 Gretsch Tennessean and feel how it was different from a 68 Gibson 335. I could play a telecaster and hear for myself how the twang was so different from the Stratocaster from the same company.
It was like a university of tone and wood, a PHD in Pickups and a Doctorate in Distorions, Don't let me lure you into thinking i was some 15 year old guitar genius with pitch perfect ears and a well rounded taste in things.. hey i was 15, I liked loud abrasive stuff, I was involve with the fender jazzmaster and i knew one day I'd have to have one of those. My parents had bought me a xmas present of a cool les paul copy and practise amp from bills so i was underway with a good start. I truly believe every parent should give there kids any opportunity to learn an instrument. even if they try it and put it in the cupboard, they will come back to it and the gift of music is such a precious thing to give or receive .
Bill also had a recording studio which he'd run in various locations and guises over the years and now it was thru the back door of the guitar shop. So this shop was also linked closely with that. Between the cool array of gear and the studio the shop was a constant hub for the local new zealand and international touring musicians as well as local heroes all round. I met every band that had been signed the flying nun or Wildside or the other indie labels that sprung up from the whole DIY ethos theater was a leftover remnant from the 70's punk movement. And those musicians loved to shop here.. I think the theory is this, if you buy your brown cardigan from your local opshop and you don't shop at those chain stores your not gonna hit a chain store for your prized dream guitar or instrument. A brand new guitar is a nice instrument, it will play and it will make a great sound, but it needs wearing in.. it needs used.. But luckily Musik market specialized in amazing 2nd hand instruments, so you got that a well worn in guitar theater just felt amazing when your fingers curled round the neck and felt the neck of the fretboard smooth fr
om years of chords in its past.. you fall in love with its character and the little marks and tell tale signs that "this guitar has been played" . The scratches and dings made it original, Sure it might have rolled off the factory floor 20 years ago along with its 12,000 brothers and sisters but not you could tell this guitar from every single one from its tell tale cigarette burn on the head stock and the way it might have worn at the place your arm brushes over the body. these guitars had stories within there bodies and luckily sometimes we were lucky enough to know the stories to pass on with each sale which really made each guitar we sold more than just another sale. In the chain stores what can they say about a brand new Les Paul or Ibanez... Nothing! we could tell you the Gretsch you had just parted your hard earned wages for was originally bought into the country by a big band player from such and such a place and it went to his son that went on to play with a certain band that nouns heard of but released an album way back when, and end up in the hands of a flying nun band that owned it until they sold it to pay for there new record. So many guitars had stories like this, and bill knew them all and passed on that kind of information gathering to me. we took delight- true delight in matching the right people with the right guitar, not the right guitar with the right credit card. we took our business seriously and personally and our business was rock and roll.
I was allowed time to learn about guitar repair and i setup my own little work bench and started simple fix it jobs for the store and its customers, from simple restrings to new pickups, intonations and retrofits. the guitar industry exploded in the 80's with hordes of companies making replacement parts to hot rod your guitar so a new era of guitar customization was on the horizon.
Don't get me wrong, the shop was only frequented by the unshaven and unkept indy musician.. or the carry wearing brown leather shoe flying nun rock god. We catered to every age and music style, Bill would even push himself to learn a different style lick or riff so if a person came in looking for something particular Bill could display it well and along the way try teach me new licks.. sadly I think I can only remember a few jazz chords he attempted in vain to teach me,haha but I did steal them and use them on my first CD i released, in fact I wrote a whole chorus around them..thanks bill!
We could spend hours each day selling recorders or Casiotones but we took as much delight in knowing we might have started a families music journey and we did see kids return over the year, move from acoustic guitar to electrics to premium gear and form ban
ds, break up bands and reform bigger and stronger and go onto success in the local and overseas industry. Some people gave the bright lights a chance and changed there mind and ended up on the sidelines of rock and roll as great engineers and producers and techs like myself.
I worked part time on the weekends to begin with but upon my early leaving of school Bill offered me a full time job and i jumped at the chance, I'm sure in the early days, he may have regretted it. My time keeping skills were along way from where they are now and I kept bill guessing with whatever hair style I'd have that day at work. But for the most part I think I was a great addition to the team. I was following closely in my brothers footsteps as he had first met Bill when recording his first single with his band Splitting Image (who as a sideline play there 25th anniversary show this weekend with me in rhythm guitar position.) then he went on to work in the store and was there on the weekends when i was there but had moved on to be a top sales rep at Fostex.
This is when I also got my first insight into the studio recording procedure with my nights after work helping Terry Moore round this studio. Plus my weekly vacuuming run would often take in the studio if it was empty so I got to see a lot of nice studio gear and learn how to spool on a tape (pre protools days) throw a mix across a desk and learn the signal path of a channel strip.. all things I used time and time again in later life.
The main chore of the store is something that I know laugh about looking back on it. Each day I would have to go round and check the tuning on all the guitars, guitars are the most temperamental things that shift tuning with the weather and the time of day and any temperature change or humidity.. and we had more guitars than you could swing a Neuman U87 at. The thought of checking each guitar and retuning time and time over seemed such a chore but now i make my living from it and its taken me along with my other skills around the world. I have the most technological comput
er programs and electronic machines to help me these days so at least its a bit easier but the basics still the same.. an out of tune guitar sounds like Balls!
Sadly there came a day when a big corporation called Brierlys started buying up all the land around us and forcing the occupants to move out, so we watched as each neighbor forced with ever increasing rent shut up shop. It was such a great little area and it became a ghost town overnight. Brierlys was in the running to build auckland Sky tower and they had Upper Symonds street as the location and they would stop at nothing to get us out. They raised then re-raised the rent, they even sent death threats to the store.. real bad hollywood movie style.. made out of cut up newspapers. Bill took them head on and wouldn't budge we watched as we were left the last standing lonely shop on the strip and it was a sad area now.. closed down empty shops and empty streets now except for the last bus stop out of town outside. We battled on but in this period the shop closed under the strain. Bill moved his office out the back into the studio and started looking for a new store and in a short while another music store up the street closed and there lease became available.
It was a much smaller shop but i think after the wallet raping that Brierlys had suffered upon Bill the smaller size and rethink was a helping hand. I think Bill was sad the dream had been scaled back but at least it was still there. We set about renovating and building this new shop to be the next phase with a new name, taken from a Beatles song "The tale of Bungalow Bill and Polythene pam" I think.. (sorry Bill) and with this new start I could see Billy settle back into things again. It was a smaller space but because of this we could make a lot more changes regularly, move stock around, re arrange guitar walls, make cool displays and have a better sight over the whole store. it was hard to find spaces to
fit everything some days and all the cardboard boxes that go along with everything we bought in.
I was still doing repairs and had now moved onto some serious restorations of guitars we'd buy in in terrible badly abused condition and I could spend a few days and bring back the great instrument underneath-something I have taken delights in still thought my life, nothing feels better than seeing an old beaten down guitar, I assume its like when a sculpture sees there block of blank stone but can already see every angle and line of what there hands are about to create. Ok I'm not making it from scratch, but with things like new working machine heads and pots and jacks and pick ups you suddenly have an incredible guitar that plays as good as anything out there.
We had a good number of years in that shop. Great great summer days the sun beating in thru the glass surrounded by every imaginable trinket and toy a guitarist could want. I was soaking up everything i could read or research on guitars, this was pre internet days so it was books and magazines and brochures, and sucking as much info as you could from visiting reps and salesmen from the importers. I think it was during this period I had partnered up with a friend from the theatre circle called Dominic Taylor and gotten a demo together to hit Bills new label Deepgrooves he'd started with Kane Massey and Mark Tierney. This whole story is another one that didn't end up happily for myself with Kane massy or bill for different and separate reasons. But it was another strand of life that intertwined us again. After the demise of that band I was playing in the hallelujah Picassos another bunch of guys that knew bill and the shop so my world was pretty much based around the shop and all its friends.
After a while I think the shop got quiet, well too quiet for both me and bill to be working so i headed off to work for South Pacific Importers , along with a short run in another store that made me miss my old store all the more.
Bill was eventually to move once more to its current location round the corner at the top of Khyber Pass . The current store is a return to the days of Musik Market in a great old building with tall ceilings and the space for bill to really express his vision within. The shop is still the one stop shop for the local muso's and the famous, in the past month its seen Jack White and Wilco and Faith No More. Sure the Huge Chain stores are still eating up more and more mom and pop stores and amalgamating them into the nz long chains But Bills stood the test of time and Bungalow Bills has as well and inside Bungalow Bills is that first store Musik Market, those ideals and personal service that comes with dealing with a guy like bill is a given, its not something "trained" into staff like those other stores, that most of the time get it wrong.. I know cos I've been to so many music stores around the country and the world now.
It might have been my talent and skill that has got me to where I am today but without Bill and Pam Lattimer I wouldn't have been given the chance to grow. I know there were days we might have disagreed on things . We come round and we are closer friends than ever before. I still go work in the shop when Bills stuck or just go visit and jump into help him if theres customers that need help. I no longer work there full time.. I like to think I just haven't quit either or been fired.,,haha .
as long as there is a Bill Lattimer there will be a Bungalow Bills and as long as there is a Bungalow Bills and the similar stores around the planet that stay self owned and run the big chains won't force you into playing new shiney pointy guitars or the flavor of the month amp.You won't walk out of the store with the guitar the salesman needs to sell to make commission or get his T-shirt or key ring from the importer, but you'll get Bills knowledge and advice and straight up no bullshit approach to life. you'll walk out with a guitar you'll keep falling in love with each day and a special invitation to the little club we all are part of around that store.. I'm a proud card carrying member myself!

On an after thought, heres a story i was told in Los Angeles back in 04.

I had a lay over before returning home after a 3 month tour with steriogram in theUSA and i headed into The Guitar Centre to try pick up a fender jazzmaster i'd seen a month earlier, the only colour they did that year was a cherry red that was horrible , but i was resigned to paint it, I was only shopping there as i had a discount with the band i was touring with. We got talking and he said he could maybe freight one out. After he learnt i was from new zealand the sale sguy remarked he had holidayed out here years before and loved it, but went to a music store called the "The Rock Store " or something and had been offended when the salesman wouldn't let him try a paul reed smith hanging unless he was a serious buyer, and had the cash. he declined the offer and walked out , unknown to fact was the guy is a close friend of Paul reed Smith himself and used to work for the company, he was totally put off by the smug approach he'd had at the shop and the next day he found a crazy little store full of cool guitars and run by "a crazy englishman" I stood listening without a word and then told him thats where i worked part time and had gr
own up. he went on and on about that shop and meeting bill and saying what a cool guy and what a cool approach he had, the total opposite of his other experience. And I was stoked to know this guy had left new zealand with that great experience, so great he shared the story to this stranger