For children like us, it was a magical place. A place where you could go on a Saturday morning and turn into someone else, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Buddy Rich. When you dream about music, learning to play an instrument is the first rung of your imaginary ladder. And in this place you could play to your heart’s content.
Any budding rock star knows what I’m talking about.
The music store. An endless line of sparkling guitars. A wall of amplifiers, like big sentries with screens for chests. The keyboards, one after the other, smile at you with their white and black teeth. And the batteries. Oh the batteries! Maybe if you just sit down, start tapping lightly, see if anyone notices, then maybe a little louder, then tap the cymbals, and your foot, there it goes on the top hat shape or the bass pedal, and look here! You keep the rhythm!
That was the purpose of the music store. Dip. Sampling the fantasy. It didn’t matter where he was or what was around. Maybe a mall. Or a converted barn. Or a store near the car wash. Or a crowded urban location where you had to climb steps to access different levels of instruments.
Every music store was different and every music store was the same. Practice rooms. Tools. Every spare inch covered by amps, cymbals, strings, microphones. Long-haired kid in the corner playing “Stairway to Heaven”, head down, staring at his fingers.
For many Michiganders, that music store was — and still is — a place called Huber Breese Music on Groesbeck in Fraser, built 50 years ago from an old 800-square-foot laundromat. The owners, Paul Huber and Terry Breese, had worked together to teach music at another store that had closed. So they teamed up, opened a little new place, and before they knew it, many teachers from the old store were working there.
A group splits up. A new group is formed.
It all started with a lesson
“The backbone of our store has always been education,” said Huber, who celebrates 50 years in business this weekend. “At one point, we had up to 600 students. The kids come to learn and that’s a good income, but it’s also the number of people who walk into your store every day, ready to buy instruments.
At first, Huber and Breese didn’t have the money to store anything. “It wasn’t until a year later,” Huber said, that they even started carrying items.
But eventually Huber, a guitarist, and Breese, a drummer, built up an inventory that would make Jimi Hendrix jealous. They added space and more space, including a second level.
The guitars were their backbone. They offer over 1,000 today, ranging from wooden starter acoustic models to collectibles from manufacturers like Gibson and Les Paul.
They are also loaded with drums, keyboards, saxophones, trumpets, flutes, string instruments and percussion. Every music store these days carries recording gear for home studio use, and Huber and Breese are no exception.
But the heartbeat, as Huber says, is always the teaching. “We have children who are only 7 or 8 years old, and of course we have teenagers. But there are also a lot of older people. They retire and say, ‘I always wanted to learn to play guitar.’ ”
They come in dragging their suitcases. But they come out lighter, because they are a little closer to their dream of playing well. This is what sets music stores apart from other outlets. In most stores, you walk in to buy something.
The music stores you go to be Something.
And the beat continues
By now you guessed I was one of those music store kids. In fourth grade, I took guitar lessons in a cramped back room of a New Jersey store, and after I finished, I hung around, staring longingly at the teenagers who looked so cool in their jeans and tie shirts. -dye, effortlessly play “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf.
If I was working on the nerf, I’d find a corner and plug my guitar into various amplifiers, trying out a knob called a “tremolo” that created a throaty sound, famously used in Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” Later, when I became a pianist, I tried the different keyboards with a specific jazz piece that I had memorized just for the occasion to play in a music store, not wanting to pass for an amateur.
Even so, I was no more than average. But the point of those long aisles in the music store wasn’t how good you were; it was how good you could get.
It’s no surprise that Huber and Breese are musicians themselves and both got stuck after they finished working. Breese died 12 years ago shortly after playing a gig with his musician friends. Huber, who has always sported long, wavy hair and always seems to be on tour with the Doobie Brothers, soldiers, paying tribute to his dear friend this weekend.
“Why was it Huber-Breese and not Breese-Huber?” I asked Paul.
“Terry used to ask the same thing,” he laughed. In the end, they decided “Huber-Breese” was more rhythmic, two syllables followed by one, which is about the perfect way to decide what to call a music store.
Paul Simon once wrote a lyric:
“Here’s to all the boys who came out early,
transport soft guitars in cardboard cases,
All night long,
where did those boys go?
You don’t have to wonder. These boys — and girls — can still be heard in the rafters of stores like Huber Breese. Sit. Take chopsticks or a pick. Put your hands on the keys. And play, man, play.