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The Last Days Of A Great Guitar Shop: RIP Manny’s Music Store

Manny's is--or was--a Manhattan musical institution: the guitar shop of choice for superstars and cognoscenti alike. Binky Philips, who worked there, waves goodbye to Axe Heaven.--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

After 75 years, Manny's Music Store on West 48th St in Manhattan will close its doors forever at the end of this month. Obviously, this is not even a cigar butt on the world's stage of Economic Fallout these days. But, for me personally, and The History of Rock 'n' Roll, this is akin to GM going under.

Simply put, the WORLD shopped there. Musicians and bands didn't go to Manny's. They made pilgrimages to Mecca, aka Manny's. It was impossibly fabulous.

I first walked into Manny's in 1965, at the age of 12, with my Dad. It was, by any of today's standards, a tiny shop, no more than 20 feet wide and about 100 feet deep, it was more like a wide corridor, with a two-step drop halfway back, than a retail establishment. The front 40 feet or so was where the reeds and brass were sold, along side the cashier's stations against the east wall.

Heavy, heavy jazz players would be trying out trumpets or saxes six feet from the front door while stock boys were lugging in thirty Fender guitar amps and three Hammond organs. Older people shopping there would ask for autographs and I had no idea who these horn-players were. God knows who I heard casually riffing at Manny's.

This is where Manny himself, decked out in a fabulously loud blazer, complete with carnation in his lapel would sit and dispense pontifical greetings to those worthy.

Manny Goldrich was the absolute favorite musical instrument salesman among the Jazz Giants of NYC. The list of Giants who were playing instruments that Manny just let them walk out of the store with, actually meaning "Pay me when you can..."

Seeing someone the likes of Dizzy Gillespie or Barney Kessel (those two I DID recognize) shooting the bull with Manny was commonplace.

I have no idea why, but, he took a shine to me early on and would introduce me to people who wouldn't have look at me twice...

"Binky, this Frank Sinatra's guitar player... Tony, this is a good kid..."

"Binky, I'd like you to meet the President of Gibson guitars..., This is Binky, Charlie (?). He just bought his first Gibson here last month, right, Binky! He moved up to his Rolls-Royce." And then Manny would tousle my hair. Magic moment that I just kind of took in as every day occurrences.

Manny was like royalty or an ambassador maybe even a saint.

And the shop was absolutely all in the family. His wife and daughters and granddaughters ran the registers.

Directly behind the cashiers was the dumbwaiter (!) that was used to deliver anything smaller than a monstrous Vox Super Beatle amp from the stock rooms upstairs to the waiting salesman and customers.

The opposite side of the front area was perpetually stacked/cluttered with enormous shipping cartons waiting to go upstairs to the storage rooms.

Various salesmen would be always yelling at each other...

"Bobby, that's Brazil on line one... wants buy 15 saxophones..."

"Manny, Lionel Hampton is asking to talk to you right now..."

The hubbub was CONSTANT.

Every single available square inch of wall space was covered with framed autographed 8 x10s... It would literally be easier to figure out who WASN'T on the wall than who was...

You could walk up and touch autographed photos of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Hollies, The Who, The Kinks, Elvis, Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Vladimir Horowitz, Count Basie, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Cream, CSN&Y, Miles Davis, The Grateful Dead, Sly Stone, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Nina Simone, Black Sabbath, The Mothers of Invention, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike and Tina...

Just HUNDREDS of autographs...

Once you got past the front area, you took two steps down and into another 40 deep room... The Guitar and Amp section... aka Heaven!

The absolute coolest, most expensive, most famous electric guitars lined up behind glass...the guitars that you saw on Shindig and Ed Sullivan...George Harrison's enormous Gretsch Country Gentleman, Carl Wilson's chrome-infested Fender Jaguar, Paulie's violin shaped Hofner bass, Jim McGuinn's elegant blond Rickenbacker 12 string, Brian Jones pale green Gretsch Double Anniversary, The Ventures' curvy and offkilter candy-colored Mosrites, Zal Yanovsky's rocket-shaped Guild Thunderbird...all in gleaming lacquered rows. To a kid, it was Santa's-workshop-wonderful.

Manny's son, Henry Goldrich, was The King of this portion of the shop. A salesman of truly mythic proportions...he on his way to exponentially broadening Manny's Music.

Already a legendary and important shop, Henry was the guy who took it all through the roof. A sorta goofy pudgy man-boy with acne in his 30s, he waddled like Burgess Meredith's Penguin. He became a second dad to me...gave me grief every time I came in during school hours but wouldn't throw me out. Henry was a unique salesman. He was loud, abrasive, almost rude...and EVERYONE LOVED HIM.

In particular, Rock Band guys were just crazy for Henry. He lavished them with attention while he openly gave them s**t. The closest I can come to an analogous public figure is Bill Parcells. Even my Dad took to Henry instantly.

That very first visit, my Dad bought me my first amp on the spot (very unlike my shop-around Pops) from Henry and a year or so later, Mom and Dad plunked down a whopping $160 for a brand new Fender Telecaster (think Bruce Springsteen) as a combined Xmas/Birthday present for me in December 1966 (a guitar that was later stolen from me by a 'friend'... I got it back 4 years later and it sits next to the armchair in my living room now...a 43 year old vintage ax!).

By the time I was 14, Manny's became my second living room. And once I figured out that the way to catch real rock stars in Manny's was to go on weekday afternoons, I became close to a truant. In 8th and 9th grade I must've skipped every class after lunch at least twice a week. Somehow I graduated Jr. High anyway.

Without wracking my brains, here are some of the stars I met and/or ogled in Manny's...

Dino and Gene from The Young Rascals

Lou Reed

Leslie West

Big Brother and The Holding Company (Naturally, I spent all my time talking to lead guitarist, Sam Andrew... and ignored the bored girl singer)

Stevie Winwood and Jim Capaldi from Traffic (Stevie had to be no more than 5' 2")

Jorma and Jack and Marty from Jefferson Airplane

Vanilla Fudge

Elvin Bishop

Country Joe and The Fish

John Mayall and Mick Taylor

Joe Cocker and a few of the Grease Band

Frank Zappa

Rod Stewart (Forlornly strumming a blond Gibson J-200 alone in the back of the shop...I wouldn't talk to him even though our eyes met about four times because I thought he was an idiot for "leaving" Jeff Beck)

Bob Weir

Johnny and Edgar Winter

Rick Derringer

Jack Bruce

Mitch Mitchell

John Entwistle

ALL of them ONLY dealt with Henry.

My favorite Manny's moment of all time was the day I cut school in the middle of the week and walked in and, to my disbelief, saw my HERO, Pete Townshend standing at the back counter talking to Henry. It was the first time I'd ever seen him anywhere other than onstage...It's unimaginative cliché, but, I felt like I was in a dream as I walked up to Pete and Henry...just in time to hear, with my own ears, Pete ordering (and this IS verbatim...my brain RECORDED it!)..."10 Telecasters, 15 Stratocasters, 5 Jazzmasters, 5 Jaguars, 5 of those Corals, 3 Gibson Stereo 355s..."

Henry is scribbling furiously, looks up and says, "You really ought to try the Gibson SG Special, Pete. It's the best buy out there." Pete chuckled ruefully..."Okay, Henry...spend MORE of my money, three of them too then..." (About two and a half years later, Pete would throw me an SG Special from the stage of The Metropolitan Opera House)

It was TRUE...Unlike the rumors I'd heard at the time that he was secretly ruining knock-off pieces of junk, Pete Townshend really was trashing copious amounts of really expensive guitars. Amusingly enough, Henry would only get mad at Pete when he wrecked high-end Gibsons. "Well, Binky, your friend Pete broke another 355 last night in Toronto. Yeah yeah, Go on, laugh, I know you get a big kick out of it...But, it's shameful...disgusting!"

Anyway, standing there about 4 feet from Pete, who'd pretended to recognize me (whatta marketing genius!), I desperately tried to think of something to say that would make me stand out. I suddenly flashed on the fact that I'd just found a copy of a super rare unreleased-in-the-States Who EP called {{Ready Steady Who}}...I screwed up my courage, and asked Pete why they never performed 'Bucket T' onstage (a truly awful old Jan & Dean song..."all the girls wanna take a ride with me but there's only one seat in my Bucket T Bucket T Bucket T Bucket T..." that Keith Moon insisted they record that was only available on "RSW")...

Pete scowled at me and said "You've heard it, you KNOW why!"

For years, all the stock boys were required to wear a white t-shirt that said, in navy blue, Manny's Schlepper. The ONLY other people on EARTH who were allowed to wear one were authentic roadies. And for years, about 2/3s of the roadies at any show at the Fillmore East or Madison Square Garden were proudly wearing Manny's Schlepper shirts. They were PRIZED. It took me THREE years to break Henry down and give me one.

I was at the beginning of my transvestite Glam look and took a skin-tight Small (Dang!)... I still have it...but, I haven't been able to put it on for 20 years.

I tried for years to get Henry to hire me as a stock boy. "Never Binky, you'll wind up hating me." And...all the stock boys DID hate Henry...but they rarely quit.

Perhaps the greatest compliments I ever got on my guitar playing came from one of these old cigar-chomping pork-pie hat Jazz guys that Manny had introduced me to. After I'd tried out a guitar for a few minutes before Henry decreed enough...

This old guy rasps...

"I played with Django Reinhart, kid. You know who I'm talkin' about!? [I did 'cause of my Jazz-hip Mom and Dad] Well, I can tell you, Rock playing is garbage. Insulting. Every godd**n Rock player I've ever heard is s**t. But, when you play an A chord, kid
it sounds like a f**kin' A chord...I'll give ya that."

Another great (and STILL annoying) memory...The Les Paul craze had just started. I got bit BAD! Had to have one. HAD TO! Gibson had discontinued them about 8 years earlier and they were now, thanks to Mike Bloomfield, Keith Richards, Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, THE GUITAR to play. I walked in one day and Henry had gotten a hold of a 1956 black Les Paul Custom...the King of Electrics at that moment. I'd never even seen one in person before. OMG OMG OMG. "Please, Henry, please please sell it to me. I'll trade you back the Telecaster and the Ampeg amp and I'll get my father to loan me some money and..."

"Binky, this whole Les Paul business is ridiculous...I'm telling you, they're no big deal. I'm not gonna sell it to anyone. I'm just gonna keep in it in that glass case and make all you fools drool!"

I dashed home and talked to my Dad for over an hour and wore him down to the point where he said, "Okay, go back to Henry and see how much cash he's gonna want on top of your guitar and amp..."

The next morning I jumped on the subway from Brooklyn and got to Manny's less than half an hour after they opened. I ran to the back area...Henry and Billy (the other guitar salesman, a truly swingin' Sammy Davis Jr.-type ultracool jazz-playing black guy) were having coffee and bagels.

"Henry, I talked to my... WHERE'S THE LES PAUL, Henry??? My Dad will lend me the money!"

"Oh, ferchrissake, Binky...about an hour after you left, Jimi Hendrix walked in and DEMANDED that I sell it to him. I never say no to Jimi. Sorry."

If you ever see a photo of Jimi playing an upside down black Les Paul...that was supposed to be MINE, dammit!

Anyway, Manny passed away in 1968, Henry moved the store into a much larger space, the place just exploded, he made millions (I'm sure!) and retired, and then slowly but surely the ride wound down...and now Manny's is just another Rock 'n' Roll Memory...less mass Pop culture than the loss of CBGB, but, to those of us who were there, just as important.

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