This street keeps the beat Music: Frederick Road is Baltimore area's musical Main Street, drawing customers from near and far.

November 11, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Walk along the sidewalks of Frederick Road and you can't help but feel the beat. The funky corridor that is Catonsville's main artery swoons with the sounds of swing, the wail of jazz and the thump of rock 'n' roll.

Here -- Baltimore's answer to Nashville's "Music Row" -- the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Nils Lofgren, Ric Ocasek, J. Geils and Pat Travers have been known to shop for instruments at a succession of music stores that draw professional and amateur musicians alike.

"If you can't find it in Catonsville, you probably can't find it," said Emory Knode, owner of Appalachian Bluegrass Shoppe in the 600 block of Frederick Road. "It's not uncommon for someone on a Saturday morning to get up early, drive three or four hours to visit us and then go home -- make it a day trip."

In search of a $5,000 Fender guitar coated in lustrous mother-of-pearl? Try the Guitar Exchange, a nondescript storefront that caters to musicians as far away as Japan and Germany.

Want an Australian-made dijiridoo, an obscure wind instrument that produces a dull sound like blowing across the top of a jug? Or a teal set of drums and matching electric guitar? Check out Bill's Music House, the area's Wal-Mart of music stores.

Or step back in time at Appalachian Bluegrass, a crowded 37-year-old shop whose creaky, well-worn wood floor complements the beauty of the hammered dulcimer, mandolins and acoustic guitars in their glass display cases.

Players and shop owners alike say the musically inclined flock to this corner of southwestern Baltimore County because of its location, just off interstates 695, 95 and 70.

These stores offer something more than convenience, though.

They're museums that detail pop music's explosion over the past 40 years, particularly the guitar's rise to fame.

At Guitar Exchange, owner Bruce Sandler said he remembers a small guitar show that took place in Dallas in 1979. It was held in a hotel suite with "a few dozen people who brought stuff and set up booths."

Today, Sandler said, guitar shows are big businesses that attract hundreds. That popularity jibes with America's love affair with the electric guitar, which began in the 1930s and vaulted into the sounds of rock, blues and country in recent decades.

"In American culture, the guitar has been a very popular instrument. There's now a guitar show almost every given weekend -- it shows that on a full-time or part-time basis, people make a living on guitars," he said.

Sandler, whose 1,200-square-foot shop is full of vintage instruments that include a 1927 Martin guitar, a 1930s Gibson lap steel and a 1916 mando-cello, said he often trades instruments to make a deal.

He hopes to advertise on the Internet.

At Appalachian Bluegrass, the five employees say they rarely have to apply a hard sell for their guitars, mainly acoustic instruments.

"Learn three chords in an afternoon and you can play 1,000 songs," explained John Thurston, who repairs 1,000 guitars a year in a small back shop. "That makes music really accessible to people who don't want to spend years learning the piano."

Thurston, who said he has taught himself how to repair stringed instruments during the past 20 years, attributes the success of the Catonsville music shops to "the grapevine" of musicians -- professional and amateur -- who buy there.

They include Dave Giegerich, a steel guitar player for the local swing band Hula Monsters, who said he shops at Appalachian Bluegrass because he likes the down-home feel of the store.

"I moved here from Florida in 1986 and walked inside," said Giegerich, a professional musician. "The vibe was immediately something I thought was a very neat thing."

Giegerich began giving private lessons at the store. But he also shops at the other music outlets nearby.

"It is kind of cool," he said, of the row of stores. "I have wondered why the county hasn't played it up. Having options there is a nice thing."

Down the street at Bill's Music House, the options are evident.

The shop just moved to a larger location and has the feel of a super store. It displays hundreds of instruments, including guitars, drums, saxophones and even a bagpipe.

"We have over 675 stringed instruments on display ranging from $59 to $5,900 in price," said Jerry Pickholtz, who has worked at Bill's Music House for 10 years. "Our customers are lawyers, doctors and hamburger flippers -- anybody who plays music."

Adds Thurston: "We now have second generations coming in -- the kids who once took lessons here are now sending their kids in for lessons," he said. "You know, their kids want to learn to play rock 'n' roll, too."

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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