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How the Gretsch Stole Brooklyn: Street Sounds Hosts 2012 Music Event

Fountains of Wayne Headline Gretsch Guitar Day at Brooklyn's Street Sounds

Stole Brooklyn? Well stole our hearts certainly. Die hard BKLYN flag wavers like myself always appreciate and support home town heroes who return to their roots. The Gretsch Musical Instrument Company has made a point of celebrating the place of its origins (in 1883) by making Brooklyn’s Street Sounds an annual stop on their road show events. The “Fred and Joe Show” features company owner Fred W. Gretsch and Guitar Product Specialist Joe Carducci along with a troupe of Grestchites who offer up an afternoon of musical treats, giveaways, and signings. I thought the 2011 extravaganza (see it here) could not be topped but I was happily proven wrong on Saturday June 2, 2012 when proprietor Rocky Schiano and his family welcomed the Gretsch family – and the music community at large – to his Bay Ridge music outlet. Schiano has built his business into one of the leading Gretsch instrument depots on the planet.

Miles of Styles…
Last year the focus was on the reverently researched and replicated George Harrison DuoJet model. This year the show highlighted the breadth of styles played by Gretsch musicians. A full stage was erected in the midst of Street Sounds’ well stocked shelves and the show was broadcast live worldwide via the internet. In addition to the musical acts Ms. Kim Falcon, Gretsch’s very own pin-up gal, helped choose the winners of two beautiful guitars and signed copies of her newest poster.

Like a revival meeting preaching the soul of Rock n Roll, Fred and Joe introduced talented players from Austin, Nashville, Canada, another “outer-borough”, and just around the corner (literally.) The audience got a dose of fiery rockabilly from The Octanes, dazzling fingerpicking from Paul Pigat with his band Cousin Harley and some sparkling country harmonies from sisters Nik and Sam. The next generation of Gretsch players was represented by local gang The Foxy Studs who opened the afternoon with the iconic licks of The Beatles’ “Daytripper.” Performances were framed by fun 1950’s news clips decrying the awful effect of “the beat, the beat, the beat” on the youth of America. Oops, too late.

Headliners (and personal favorites) Fountains of Wayne powered up the proceedings with their signature style of bright pop melodies and witty word play. I’d call ‘em The Kinks of Queens. I was happy to hear them do “Red Dragon Tattoo” from the super Utopia Parkway album. Can’t get better than a tune that references the N Train, Coney Island, Basil Hayden Bourbon, Easy Rider, .38 Special and William Blake’s titular iconic engraving. It is that Red Dragon, right – or am I projecting? The compact set included crowd pleaser “Stacy’s Mom”, FOW’s 2003 radio hit, which had everyone singing along to its undeniable chorus. They clearly had fun extending their final tune “Radiation Vibe” with a medley of bits and pieces of everything from Frampton to Foreigner.

OK-Go Member Damian Kulash Personalized His Photos for Fans


OK-Go’s Damien Kulash signed autographs and chatted with fans while his band’s always unique videos played on the big screen. OK-Go used 300 Gretsch Electromatic CVT III guitars in the making of their wacked-out promo for “Needing/Getting.” Many of those actual instruments, battered but collectible and authenticated, are available via Street Sounds while they last. Check out the video and the story behind it here.

Have It Your Way…
Master Luthier Stephen Stern gave attendees a technical tour of the company’s wares. He detailed aspects of fit, finish and hardware and pointed out how the Gretsch Custom Shop can make the instrument of your dreams. In turn Stern got an up close and personal look at some vintage models brought out by local collectors.

Joe Carducci, Vincent Ottaviano and Fred W. Gretsch with Harrison DuoJet

Full Circle…
A very special surprise this year was a visit from Mr. Vincent Ottaviano. “Vinnie” was a driver for the Gretsch company in the heyday of its borough tenure and spent part of the afternoon reminiscing with Mr. Gretsch. He delivered Gretsch products; guitars, accordians and drum kits from the Williamsburg factory to music stores and distributors. In 1957 on one such trip to the legendary Manny’s music store on 48th street in Manhattan Vinnie delivered Gretsch Duojet Serial Number 21179. Sold to a merchant seaman, the guitar eventually found its way to Liverpool England and into the hands of teenage rocker George Harrison. You know the rest. It’s the kind of “butterfly effect” story that makes you realize how a simple everyday task can go on to change the world. You can read all the details here.

SkeletonPete Says… Eat To The Beat
Once again Gretsch and Street Sounds offered up an amazing get together.As if all the musical goodies were not enough to sate appetites, abundant trays of delicious culinary creations from the folks at Artisan Food Valley (conveniently located right next door to Street Sounds) were passed through the crowd. The tempting sandwiches of grilled vegetables, fresh mozzarella and sausages put the shoppe on my short list of must explore places. It was also great to see the always jubilant Joe Carducci beaming at the chance to savor a classic Brooklyn chocolate-covered cannoli.

A special thank you to Ken Pierce, of PiercingMetal.Com who graciously got me a singed Fountains of Wayne set-list, something I’m much too shy to attempt myself. His videos of the afternoon’s performances can be viewed here.

Brooklyn’s Street Sounds Hosts Gretsch Guitar Day

Saturday June 18, 2011
While many weathered the heat to get gander at aquatically adorned Mermaid Parade revelers, the real Brooklyn VIP Party was going down at Bay Ridge’s Street Sounds Music Store, in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge as we like to say. It was a special day and those in the know packed Rocky Sciano’s family run business to take in the beautiful and voluptuous curves of those American designed classics – Gretsch Guitars. You may know Gretsch instruments as the Rock-A-Billy wreckers painted up in delicious Hot Rod colors, or maybe the country picker’s choice in the hands of Chet Atkins, or maybe the hell’s bells ringing red double cutaway Jet Firebird of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young . “Who’s Next”? “Quadrophenia”? – all Pete Townshend’s 6120, gifted to him by Joe Walsh. Django – Gretsch. Eddie Cochran – Gretsch. Got the point?

Homecoming and History

The Gretsch family company started its life in Brooklyn NYC in 1883 making banjos and drums for marching bands. They initiated their historic line of guitars in 1954. For this special event Fred Gretsch III and Product Specialist Joe Carducci paid a visit to original home turf bringing along California calendar girl Kim Falcon and top-notch picker Paul Pigat, AKA Cousin Harley. Of course the afternoon was all about the gear; the star item being the prototype of Gretsch’s 1957 Duo Jet George Harrison replica, reproduced down to the rust on the Bigsby vibrato spring. With only 60 of these puppies being produced worldwide, this Harrison family authorized gem was a thrill to ogle slowly revolving in its display case. Along with the Harrison collectors item Street Sounds showed off walls hung with beautiful examples of the expansive Gretsch line and District Product Manager David Waters was on hand throughout the afternoon to offer attendees help and information on specific models.

As part of the festivities, Mssrs. Gretsch and Carducci presented “The Fred and Joe Show” highlighting the company’s history and key artists. It was augmented to include information about the convoluted journey of George’s Duo Jet. It’s a great story, you can read it here. Raffle tickets were chosen by Ms. Falcon (with a little help from Rocky’s mom). Prizes included heaps of Gretsch merch like T-shirts, playing cards, Zippo Lighters and bolo ties. In addition, two lucky participants won killer Gretsch guitars. Paul Pigat played some smokin’ rock-a-billy, a smooth take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, and taught a compact lesson on the art of Travis picking. Up and coming group Foxy Studs (Joe on guitar, Christina on drums, Tammie singing and Elia on Bass) gave the audience a look at and listen to the future of Gretsch guitar and drum players. After the raffles and presentation Fred and Kim spent time meeting fans and signing autographs on calendars, posters and even a few guitars.

Whoa! Haven’t seen you since the Fort Hamilton High School “Battle of the Bands” in 1972

The event was like old home week for local musicians and brought out players young and umm…seasoned from the surrounding neighborhoods. It is just so cool that so many of us have kept the faith and kept playing. There were some Prodigal Children, a Rockingham or two, John “The Cat” Gatto from – genuflect now – The Good Rats, even a couple of members of Dance Half Done. Modern Drummer editor Billy Amendola was on hand as was Piercing Metal’s main mensch Ken Pierce.

The special day continued into evening with a walking tour at the original factory site – 60 Broadway in Williamsburg. Apparently, the pioneering Gretsch family beat the hipster invasion to the punch by over 100 years!

P.S.
The Frosted Pink Cupcake Lollipops were mind blowing! – no that’s not a psychedelic tribute band.

The photos below tell the story of a wonderful time had by all. Click any image to launch the gallery. (All photos copyright 2011, Peter Parrella)