Music is therapy, music is emotion, it’s a release.
General Manager, Kenny’s Music Store
I moved from the Midwest with my first husband back in the 80s. He’s a musician and we both got into the music industry on the business end of it as well as the creative end of it. We had some really amazing experiences working with people like Billy Joel, Elton John, Ray Charles, Phil Collins from Genesis, and did a lot of backstage stuff and studio stuff. It was a really fun and exciting time to live in LA. I divorced my ex-husband probably about 20 years ago and said, “No musicians! That’s it!” I love creative people and I am one myself but there’s so little room for two very passionate emotional drama queens in a relationship! Creative people are very emotionally driven, it’s much more right brain than left. When I met my husband Kenny I was selling instruments for a company called Music Mart, a distributor, and I came in and he didn’t like the guitar but he liked me so he kept ordering it. Then he did invite me over to his place to see his etchings… which I fell for! I was determined not to date another musician. And we’ve been together for 18 years and it’s been wonderful. He was signed with Capitol Records back in the 80s with a band called Defiant, he’s a well-known musician. He was also signed with a blues band and he’s well known in the blues world, too. We manage the business here together. It gives me so much joy to be in a world with creative people doing creative things. The whole experience is something that I wouldn’t trade; music is essential to me. I have a great passion for the arts, period, but specifically music.
As a creative person you need diversity, new experience, to be able to throw yourself into different situations that help you to grow as an artist or as a creative person. The Midwest was all so comfortable and all mapped out and I didn’t want that, I wanted to have that struggle. I wanted to experience the things that make you grow and you can’t grow without struggle. You can’t grow without adversity, it’s impossible. When I first came out here, I didn’t have the confidence level that I have gained over time. You’re a little intimidated when you first move here, especially a small-town girl from the Midwest moving to LA and being around these immensely creative people that are so incredibly talented. But realizing that you have to be true to yourself and doing things that you love and really nurture the artist in yourself: it’s really important to do that and to not be intimidated. I try to say yes and never say no when it’s something… like being on the radio, I felt nervous about that at first and then, what do I have to lose? I love talking about music and it’s what I do. I love creative people and doing interviews and playing music and it’s just been so much fun. I’m just going to say no to fear and say yes to possibilities.
There’s such a strong community in this area and I love that. Everyone kind of knows us around here and we know a lot of people and it’s so fun. Being from the Midwest, I’m accustomed to that. When I first moved to LA, that was major culture shock, but then being part of the music community, there was some community there. It’s a really fun lifestyle. Not as lucrative as some, but that’s ok! You do things for the love of it a lot of times and there’s so much gratification in that. I know a lot of people with a lot of money around here and I wouldn’t trade them. Not at all. When I tell people stories sometimes, and they go, “Wow! You did that?” Or I’ll tell them about different friendships with different musicians and there’s almost a disbelief, like, “What? Really?” People aren’t typically accustomed to interfacing with people that we’ve all heard about. But that’s what being in the music industry is like.
Because of the pandemic, everything was backed up. If you looked out to sea, there were ships everywhere. They can’t offload them fast enough. And there are certain metals that you can’t get for strings and certain parts you can’t get to make guitars so there’s a big break in the supply chain. They’re having problems with cars and phones and things like that; well, guitars and amps and pedals… everything’s kind of tough to get. I’ll order 10 of something and I might get one. It’s an issue. It is putting a big chink in our ability to make money on top of the fact that people aren’t renting instruments for school and things like that so we have those big portions of our business that we just had to figure out alternative ways to make money in order to keep things going, keep the doors open. We’re just a mom and pop; there are big chains out there that probably have warehouses full of stuff so it probably didn’t hit them quite as hard and they probably have massive amounts on order so they’re getting a little bit more than we are. Luckily, people have been really trying to be supportive, which is so sweet. I have people come in and say, “My kids used these violins when they were in school and I don’t know what to do with them – you can have them.” I put some new strings and bows and cases and I’ve got a new instrument to rent. People being that kind and going to those lengths, like, “Keep the change,” trying to support us as a retail business has been invaluable and has meant so much, and why I value being part of this community so much. You put love out and you get love back. You don’t do it for that reason at the time, but then when you see it coming back, you’re like, “Wow! All that extra effort that I put out there actually meant something to people.”
That’s been a really huge eye opener, because we often have gone the extra mile. Even with kids who come in, and they’re like, “I can’t afford to rent” or “I can’t afford to buy” and we figure out a way to get them an instrument for free or for a minimal amount. I’ll restring it and put a new bow in there – just give me money for the new bow and the strings and it’s yours. I’ve done that before because it’s the right thing to do and it’s important that children get the experience of playing an instrument. You don’t know how you’ll affect another human being and it’s really important to do those positive things because it’s the butterfly effect. It’s really important to put your stamp on this world in a positive loving way in the hopes that others will love others and do the same. I know people who have come back and said, “My son was going down a bad road and Kenny always took time in his lesson to talk to him and mentored him in addition to giving him lessons and that meant everything.” We’ve had people telling me, “You took the time to fix this instrument and you did it for free and now they’re playing in college.” That’s so important. I had one young lady, her mom said that she was getting into drugs. Then she started playing guitar and instead of hanging out with the drug kids, she was hanging out with the music kids and that altered her path. It’s not all about the kids we helped get into Berkeley School of Music or Juilliard, and there have been those. That’s awesome, but it’s not just about that. Even just something like you’re playing guitar for the rest of your life and you love it and get enjoyment, play for your children – that’s really important stuff too.
Music is therapy in so many ways. Music is emotion, it’s a release, and you use your whole brain when you’re playing an instrument. You’re using pathways in your brain that you may never ever otherwise use. It strengthens your brain. It’s like going to the gym for your brain but in a really cool fun creative way. It’s more important than we ever realized before, until we started seeing all those brain scans and the Mozart effect that we learned how important music is and why. But musicians have always known that. The fallacy of a stupid musician – I’ll never understand that because probably the most intelligent people I’ve ever known have been musicians.
We have more probably adults than we do kids now because it’s gotten out the level of teachers that we have here. They’re high-level professionals and so people who play, come here. They’re not going to go to the other places locally because they have student teachers, which is fine. But not for us, we want to have top-level teachers here. Like our drum teacher Ray Weston who plays with Iron Butterfly and Kirk Brown is one of our teachers here, who toured with Garth Brooks and he’s just a musical genius. And Kenny’s very well musically educated and signed a few record deals and writes music and gotten some acclaim. We want people at that level because we want to be able to take people to whatever level they want to go to with music. It’s fun to watch, it’s exciting to see whatever they want to achieve, they can achieve.
Not everybody that’s a fantastic musician is also a good teacher but we’ve been blessed that that’s worked out that way so far! Although we did have one woman from Russia who was a concert pianist and she was fantastic, just an incredible musician. But very rigid, very structured, very strict. And we had a few kids that walked out of here practically in tears and Kenny went, “Sorry, this isn’t a good fit because we don’t do it like that here.” We want to teach the love of music. It’s not all about the end result, it’s about the love of it. You have to have structure, but you have to love it, too, because if you don’t love it, it’s not something you’re going to pursue. I think that’s really important.
The radio show thing: KX FM which is the radio station in Laguna Beach, we’re the blues people and we do the blues show there. Unfortunately, we’ve been on a little bit of a hiatus because of coronavirus. There was a time when they had the station closed down and they were only doing certain programming because of the virus. But we’ll be going back in the fall. It’s so much fun… blues is where it all started. All American music started from the blues: jazz, country, rock, everything. Kenny’s kind of a blues historian and I’ve learned so much through that and my experience through the blues community. I was involved with the blues community somewhat in Michigan back in the day. I just love the blues and the history of it and how it evolved. It does make sense when you really take apart people’s music, too, you kind of get where their influence came from. So for instance, I was talking to Martin Barre from Jethro Tull on the show – and they actually came into the studio which was really sweet. He told me that he played saxophone and flute, and then he played the guitar subsequent to that. He’s a phenomenal guitarist, and when you listen to his playing, you go, “Ahhh, I can hear the sax, I can hear where he’s coming from with that instrument.” Billy Joel was classically trained and when you listen to his songs, you hear the leitmotifs of classical pieces. “For the Longest Time,” when you listen to it, it’s a classical piece. Axl Rose took opera lessons and he couldn’t hit that stuff at the top, that stuff that he does at the top, he couldn’t get there if he hadn’t had that operatic training. Another good example is a lot of country artists are jazz musicians. It’s interesting when you hear the backgrounds of people and how they came to their music. A lot of people don’t know that Jimi Hendrix was a blues musician. Our friend Guitar Shorty was his brother-in-law, and Shorty was a very well-known blues musician. Jimi played blues and he would go listen to Shorty at some of his gigs – went AWOL from the Army one time to go listen to him play! And Shorty gave him his first wah-wah pedal. He came at rock-n-roll from the blues. He was a genius. Everyone’s like, “I’m going to play left-handed, Jimi Hendrix is left-handed and he played his guitar left-handed.” No. Jimi Hendrix was right-handed, he flipped the guitar upside down, because… that was Jimi Hendrix! He would just do whatever was creatively cool and interesting to him. Musicians are interesting characters.
You know Ike and Tina Turner? Well, I used to know and was friends with Ike Turner. I was working for this company Kurzweil Music Systems, and he would come over once in a while with his wife Audrey and his attorney who was also his good friend. He was always so nice. He’d go over to the piano with my daughter and he’d be showing her stuff on the piano and he was very sweet. One day we were having dinner and I asked him about the thing with Tina. I said, “Everybody’s seen the movie…” And he said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me that because people always do. But when I was drinking and doing drugs, I was a son of a bitch. I was horrible. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t. However, here’s what you gotta do to make a movie and sell movie tickets, and here’s reality.” It was pretty extreme in the movie, he said. And he said, “Tina and I were like oil and water as far as our relationship goes.” But he was a genius blues musician – he helped produce a lot of other people. He was a phenomenal talent and he was also a very flawed human being. This was pretty early on and it was a business relationship… it was in my home and I felt like he’s in my home, my daughter’s there, and I want to know what’s the deal with all that violence, where did that come from? I’m not into women being abused. It’s important for me to not be doing anything that supports someone being an abusive person. His wife Audrey was very sweet, we’re still friends on Facebook and we talk now and then, but there didn’t seem to be that same issue.
There are a lot of famous people in this area and we had a couple of experiences where I was like, “What?? Oh no, you didn’t!” Like the unnamed Orange County Housewife who comes in here in her brand-new… not a Bentley but a super expensive vehicle like that. And she comes in here and there’s a lady standing in here waiting for me, a very sweet lady with her little girl, counting dollars and change to buy her daughter a violin. And THIS lady is saying to me, “Is that ‘my price’ on that viola?” And I said, “Yes,” and she said, “Well, you can’t do better for me?” It’s an internet-based price and it’s a really good price – that’s what the price is. And I’m looking at her like, “How dare you?” If I’m going to give anybody a much better price it’s going to be the lady standing there counting her dollars and change! Which I did do, just because I was so annoyed with that other lady that she felt so entitled, asking for a better price in her brand-new luxury $100,000+ vehicle.
I think it’s just all about growing and trying new things and having fun with new experiences. That’s kind of what we were thinking about evolving towards. We’re at the point in our lives where, we have friends who are retiring. We’re not retiring because, why? Then what? Plus, we love what we do and we’re having fun, so we’ll just evolve. Kick it up a notch, make it uncomfortable. We’re all about making things uncomfortable! I’ve done so many things outside my comfort level and I’m like, “Well, this might work or might suck, but here we go!” I see people that retire, they don’t do anything, they just hang out, and it’s like, where’s the fun in that? You stopped having fun, you stopped living. I love to make it uncomfortable because that’s where the growth is and that’s where the fun is. You look back and go, “Oh my god, I actually did that!” Nine times out of ten, it all works out.
When we did the installation of the mermaid – the statue on the side of the building by Cherie Currie of the Runaways, a good friend of ours – and Cherie came out with her ex-husband who’s such a doll, Bill Hayes. We were doing this as a memorial for Sandy West, the drummer of The Runaways, who died of cancer. Coincidentally, a friend of ours had a son who was struggling with cancer. We’re like, “We should do a benefit concert.” So Gretchen Bonaducci, Danny Bonaducci’s ex-wife, she has a band, so she came and some of the guys from the Bay City Rollers, and we had this amazing gypsy jazz guitarist and all these musicians… we just started collecting people. They all started joining, and we had five weeks to put it together. Got the city involved, we had newspapers, we had TV, we had interviews, all these people in this little park over here, Plaza Park. We must have had hundreds of people in that little park. I’m trying to pull permits for this thing, and the city of Dana Point was wonderful, they were very cooperative. And we had a blast. It worked out great, we played music in that park, there were people coming in from all over the place and it was just so much fun. But that’s one of those things we put together totally last-minute. But it all worked out, it was a big event. People around here still remember that and it was like 15 years ago. You just put it together and somehow your creative vision comes together, or if it doesn’t, something really cool happens even if it’s not the exact vision. That’s why they say creativity is the highest form of intelligence, because you have to be a super bright person to be a creative person. There’s not a template and a format to be creative; you can’t be taught to be creative.
I worked in marketing at an elder care place one time and it was so illuminating, such a lesson for me. I always thought, “Where do I want to be, what do I want to be doing when I’m that little old lady sitting in a wheelchair at the end of my life and what do I want to say about my life?” The last thing I want to say is that I just didn’t live it, I didn’t do all the things that I wanted to do. I want to be able to say that I had this really interesting life and I did all these fun, fascinating, interesting things, and I wasn’t afraid. Fear is debilitating. Fear is toxic. You have to go forward and maybe have to come up with creative ideas to solve problems but you can’t just be afraid because there’s always been things to be afraid of. We’re all here for a reason – to be able to be true to that reason and live that purpose that we’re here for, that’s cool. To do otherwise is sad. Sometimes the reason people are here is to nurture and love others; it can be really simple things that we’re here for but that’s kind of your contract on this planet, that’s what you’re meant to do.