For the past year the Fred & Joe Show, featuring Fred W. Gretsch and Gretsch Guitars marketing manager Joe Carducci, has been visiting Gretsch guitar dealers across the country. Every stop along the way has been well-attended by enthusiastic guitar fans. But none has had quite as much historical significance as the October 1 show at the Sam Ash Music location in New York City.
Located on 48th street just off Times Square, the store was known as Manny’s Music when it was opened by Manny Goldrich in 1935. It stayed in the Goldrich family for sixty-four years, passing from Manny’s son Harry to grandson Ian. Over those years the store became famous for the number of top musical stars—and future stars—who shopped there.
In 1999 Manny’s was purchased by Sam Ash Music. Founded by Sam and Rose Ash in Brooklyn in 1924 and currently overseen by Sam’s sons Jerry and Paul (with the help of Jerry’s sons Sam, David, and Richard), Sam Ash Music is the nation’s largest family-owned retail music business. The 48th street store continued to operate under the “Manny’s” name until early in 2009, when it was fully converted to a Sam Ash Music location. But the family connections remain strong, with Ian Goldrich, grandson of the founder, helping to direct store operations.
Words like “family” and “history” are important to Fred Gretsch, which is why this particular stop on the Fred & Joe Show tour meant so much to him. Fred represents the fourth generation of the Gretsch family, presiding over a company with a 126-year history.
“But my history with this Sam Ash Music store is particularly personal,” says Fred. “This is my third ‘official’ visit here, and each one was under very different circumstances. The first came in 1958, when I came to the original Manny’s store as a teenager with my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr. The Gretsch factory was located in Brooklyn at that time, and we did a lot of business with the Goldrich family. My second visit came shortly after the Ash family had purchased the store in 1999. By that time I was president of Gretsch. And now, on my third visit, the store has become a Sam Ash Music location, and I’m here promoting Gretsch guitars and their great history.”
And quite a promotion it was. Joe Carducci began by defining the “vibe” of Gretsch guitars, stating that “If Gretsch guitars were a woman, they’d be a combination of Minnie Pearl and Jayne Mansfield: a down-home, natural feel, but with lots of glitz and glamour. What Gretsch guitars are not is high-tech/high-performance . . . or boring . . . or for everyone. Gretsch is an original, one-of-a-kind brand that looks and sounds like no other. The recipe is absolutely unique.”
Next, Joe offered historic photos and film clips depicting the history of the Gretsch Company, as well as many of the great artists who’ve played Gretsch guitars from the 1930s to the present. Attendees were treated to rare live footage of Chet Atkins, The Beatles, and The Stray Cats, along with shots of Django Reinhardt, Duane Eddy, Bo Diddley, Neil Young, The Eagles, The Cars, U2’s Bono and The Edge, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the Reverend Horton Heat, Marty Stuart, and many others. As the photos progressed, Fred Gretsch’s comments contributed a personal perspective.
At the conclusion of the slide show, Fred Gretsch and Joe Carducci made a special presentation of a framed Gretsch-history poster and a collector’s edition Traveling Wilburys poster to Sam Ash Music. The posters were accepted by Gary Brooks, general manager for guitars.
Following the presentation came a popular feature of the Fred & Joe Show: Fred’s $2 Trivia Contest. Correct answers to questions about Gretsch history earned attendees a crisp $2 bill. Later, names were drawn from a sign-up raffle. Lucky winners took home Gretsch-logo T-shirts, bar glasses, and 125th Anniversary bar stools. As though to reinforce Times Square’s reputation as “the crossroads of the world,” winners included attendees from England, Ireland, and a dozen different states in the U.S. But the grand prize winner was a “local boy,” guitarist Giovanni Berman of Astoria Queens, who took home an orange G5120 Electromatic guitar (with case) and a G5222 Electromatic amp.
Kim Falcon—famous as “The Great Gretsch Girl” on a variety of posters and ads—was on hand to assist with the giveaways. Later, she joined Fred Gretsch for a well-attended autograph session. Professional and amateur guitarists alike were thrilled by the opportunity to shake hands and share a conversation with Fred about the legendary guitars that bear his name.