Store that supplied gear to music legends closing - WNCN: News, Weather

Store that supplied gear to music legends closing

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Bo Didley, left, is one of many musicians to purchase equipment from Lipham. Bo Didley, left, is one of many musicians to purchase equipment from Lipham.
GAINESVILLE, FL (WFLA) - As customers hauled off the dwindling inventory of discounted pianos and guitars, Buster Lipham proudly laid out souvenirs on the glass display counter, evidence of his contribution to rock 'n' roll history.

There's the black-and-white photo of a teenage Tom Petty and other kids sitting in Lipham Music when it was on North Main and 10th streets in the mid-1960s.

There's the Allman Brothers Band records At Fillmore East and Idlewild South that list Buster Lipham and Lipham Music in the "thanks to" album credits after he fronted the band $13,276 worth of gear on credit, minus about $6,000 for trade-in equipment.

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There's the autographed album "to Buster" from Iron Butterfly.

Lipham shows off photos of the autographed red box-shaped guitar given to him by Bo Diddley, a customer for 40 years, and of Billy Joel and Ray Charles, whom he supplied with pianos during Gainesville appearances.

A customer walks in and urges, "Tell us about Don's call."

Lipham describes how he asked Don Felder, former guitarist for The Eagles, to prove it was him on the phone last week by describing the first two guitars he bought from Lipham and the color of his old Volkswagen Beetle.

It was green.

For 59 years, Lipham Music has sold instruments and equipment to Gainesville musicians and traveling bands, serving as a center of activity during the rise of rock 'n' roll by supplying equipment, jobs and a place to hang out and meet other musicians.

Lipham is retiring at 70 and closing the store. After publicly announcing his intentions last week to close April 15, he said Friday that he expected to sell out of merchandise Friday or Saturday.

Lipham said his wife, Cheryl, the store's bookkeeper, told him it was time to spend more time with their grandchildren.

Val Lipham, Buster Lipham's father, bought the store from C. Asbery Gridley in 1954 after meeting him at a trade show in Chicago. The family moved to Gainesville from west Texas.

The original store, at the time called Modern Music Mart, sold pianos and sheet music at 1025 W. University Ave., now the site of Karma Cream. The store doubled in size in 1957 and started carrying guitars and amplifiers.

In 1960, the store moved to the new Gainesville Shopping Center at 1004 N. Main St. Buster went to work for his father in the mid-1960s at age 21 as business was about to take off thanks to The Beatles.

"When they started, everybody and their brother wanted to play a musical instrument. They created a boom," Buster Lipham said. "Everybody wanted to have a band."

Gainesville bands were well-equipped thanks to Lipham, said Marty Jourard, a professional musician who got his start in Gainesville.

Jourard is working on a book about the era called "Gettin' Down in Gatortown: The Rock and Roll Roots of Gainesville, Florida," which he expects to be released next year by the University Press of Florida.

"He offered credit to teenagers, which nobody else did, so most of the bands in town, no matter how good they were, had Gibson and Fender guitars," Jourard said by phone from his home outside Seattle. "You could get the top stuff and pay it off every week."

"He usually knew their parents anyway. He gave them credit, but he also had it covered a bit because he knew where you lived. Everybody was in the phone book back then."

In his 2008 autobiography "Heaven and Hell: My Life with the Eagles," Felder describes how Lipham gave him a job paying $1.50 an hour so he could pay off a used Fender Stratocaster. Felder gave guitar lessons, and one of his students was young "Tommy" Petty.

Felder also writes that when Bernie Leadon was new to town, he came into the store and asked for the name of the best guitarist in town, so Lipham sent him to Felder. Leadon later would recruit Felder into The Eagles.

Jourard played in several local bands, including two - The Cosmic Blades and Road Turkey - with Stan Lynch, who became Petty's drummer.

"It was a social center, and (Lipham) inadvertently helped a lot of musicians meet and form bands because of that," Jourard said.

Jourard said he was among about 10 local musicians who left for Los Angeles in the early to mid-1970s. He later joined his brother, Jeff, in The Motels, which had two top-10 hits for Capitol Records.

Both future Eagles and Petty - all members of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - would work in the store.

In the 2005 book "Conversations with Tom Petty" by Paul Zollo, Petty said that when business was slow, Felder would show him how to play the piano.

Lipham Music also had a role in bringing together Petty's Heartbreakers. When two members quit his band Mudcrutch, Petty placed an ad in the store for a drummer that was answered by Randall Marsh. Marsh's roommate, guitarist Mike Campbell, joined in on the subsequent jam session and was invited to join the band and later became the Heartbreakers' lead guitarist.

Petty recalled hearing a young Benmont Tench play the entire Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album on organ in the store. Years later Tench would play keyboards for Petty's bands.

"That store was kind of the hub of everything," Petty told Zollo. "That was where all the musicians went and hung out, and they had this great inventory of instruments and amplifiers. People would come from all over North Central Florida to go to Lipham's. You'd see the Allman Brothers in there. You'd see everybody. And their gear."

Lipham said his store was a destination that drew customers from 11 counties and beyond as a result of some clever advertising. If a band bought their equipment from the store, he would pay for the lettering on their vehicles, making sure to add "equipped by Lipham Music."

Touring bands such as The Royal Guardsmen ("Snoopy vs. the Red Baron"), the Nation Rockin' Shadows, and Ron and the Starfires provided such a rolling promotion.

"We had 17 bands running around the state of Florida with our name on their vehicle," Lipham said.

In the late 1960s, Lipham sponsored the Southeast Music Conference, a contest for unsigned bands. The 1969 contest included The Second Coming, a precursor to the Allman Brothers, who were signed to a record deal by the end of the conference when Duane joined brother Gregg in the band, Lipham said.

The Allman Brothers called him at 2:30 one morning on their way from Macon, Ga., to Miami and met him at the store at 3 a.m. to pick up some gear.

Lipham has copies of the $200 checks the band would send him every couple of weeks in 1970 to pay off their bill. A Fender Bassman amp in the Big House Museum in Macon is affixed with a Lipham label.

"When the Allman Brothers would come to town, my father was very strict about playing 200-watt Marshalls (amplifiers) inside the store, so we would go outside the store in the Gainesville Shopping Center and set them up, and they could blast them outside," Lipham said. "People from five blocks away would come down to listen to them because they could hear it in the Duck Pond area."

The store moved to its current location at 3433 W. University Ave. in 1976, and Buster Lipham took over as his father retired.

Lipham said the store became less of a regional destination over the years as people started ordering equipment first from national stores using toll-free numbers and later from big-box chain stores and the Internet.

The employees still include local musicians, many of whom were customers as teenagers during the fertile years of Gainesville rock in the late '60s and early '70s.

Gregg McMillan, who plays bass for the Dixie Desperados, has worked off and on at the store since 1979.

Tom Holtz, 62, has worked at the store since 1986 and recalls buying two guitars there when he was 17, one of which was later used by Duane Allman.

"We were always horse-trading guitars," he said.

Holtz said younger customers don't care about the kind of personal relationships the store has developed with musicians.

"Certainly for those of us who have been around a long time, we all know that it's a loss," Holtz said. "There's a sense of history about this store that no other store around this area has ever had."

Holtz said he will have to find another job.

Dan Tampas, 65, plans to retire after 14 years at the store following a 30-year career in computer operations. He also plays with a couple of bands in town.

In addition to the personal touch that musicians received in the store, Tampas said Lipham Music handled a lot of sound system installations for churches all over the area, and supplied PAs and pianos at no charge for charity events.

"I think there will be a hole in this town, I really do," Tampas said.

Customer Julian Chris Kazimier, 66, came in to buy a guitar for his son earlier this week. He teaches beginning guitar classes and said Lipham always gave discounts to his students.

"They stand behind stuff. It's just a great place to do business with," Kazimier said.

"He wants your business, so he always treats you like he wants you to come back."

Lipham said he has worked about six days a week at the store for the past 49 years.

"I love it. I love interacting with people," Lipham said. "I'm going to miss that more than anything."

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