Hondo II: Random Memories of Dick Lurie’s Guitar Studio–Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Posted on | May 22, 2015 | Comments Off on Hondo II: Random Memories of Dick Lurie’s Guitar Studio–Cleveland Heights, Ohio

My brother recently posted the picture below on Facebook. He said it immediately took him back to the Dick Lurie Guitar Studio in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I knew just what he meant, and so did a bunch of other old musician friends from Cleveland’s east side. For Dick’s store is where we each began our personal journey with the guitar or the bass.

Ben and I studied with Dick himself. Later, my brother also studied with Bill Jeric, who apparently had been a member of the James Gang at some point. Bill was the rock teacher.


Dick, who was probably around 60 at the time, had a long history as a local jazz player and session musician. He was also quite a character. But whatever his eccentricities, you’ve got to give the guy all due respect: He managed to make a career out of music, and that is no small accomplishment.

As for the store, well, I’d say in retrospect that it was more of a front for the guitar lesson business that happened in the back. Over time, I came to realize that there were better places to go looking for guitars (e.g., there’s probably a good blog post to be written about Barry’s Mayfield Music, which wasn’t far from Dick’s studio).

Dick didn’t actually have that huge of a stock of instruments and amps in his shop, and a lot of what he did have wasn’t necessarily top of the line (more Hondo II guitars and Marlboro amps than Gibson, Fender, and Marshall–although he did get a Mesa Boogie combo in there at one point). This was mostly stuff for beginners, and one imagines, stuff where the manufacturers were more willing to offer a store owner favorable credit terms.

But as a 15 year old kid, there was plenty to be learned in Dick’s store, and the dudes behind the counter were always kind to us in our ignorance. Whether they were actually cool, I’m not sure, but at the time, they seemed pretty cool to me, because they were already inside of a world that I very much wanted to enter. So any little tidbit they laid down about that world, I was going to scoop it up has fast as possible.

We had no Internet back then. We just had guitar shop dudes, Guitar Player Magazine, and our own over-active imaginations.

Anyway, with that brief introduction, I give you a few random Dick Lurie memories:

1. Christmas Eve 1978:  My dad, my brother, and I entered Dick Lurie’s for the first time on Christmas Eve 1978. Ostensibly, we went to get Ben a bass as a Christmas present. Our dad knew Dick, because he taught guitar in the music department at Cleveland State University, where dad also taught.

While we were in there, my dad turned to me and asked “You see anything you want here?” After I timidly said “Maybe a guitar would be cool,” my brother walked out the door with a low-end Fender Precision Bass copy, and I walked out the door with an electric six-string that said “Alpha I” on the headstock and made a Hondo II Les Paul copy look like the real thing.

Imagine two pieces of 5-ply plywood glued together to double the thickness, then cut into a Les Paul shape, finished with a bad red tobacco-sunburst, some humbucker shaped pick-ups, and some volume and tone nobs (no pick-up selector switch). That was the Alpha I.

But it wasn’t a bad guitar for what it was. Action wasn’t bad, intonation was okay, and down the line, after I got some new tuners on it, it stayed in tune pretty well.

Kind of sad I don’t have that guitar. It got left behind when I moved away from Ann Arbor in 1985. Pretty sure it’s the only guitar I’ve ever owned that I don’t still have (I don’t really have that many guitars compared to a lot of other folks I know).

2. The Basement. Dick gave his lessons in a room in the basement of the shop. So you’d walk down the stairs and wait outside for the lesson in front of you to finish up. You’d hear the music without seeing who was in there and the quality could vary wildly. You never knew who would come out, a 7 year old girl with a tiny classical guitar, or a 45 year old man with an Gibson ES-335. And the quality of the music bore no correlation to who came out.

Sometimes, the 7 year old was way better than the 45 year old. Not everybody draws the long-straw of musical ability, but even for people without a lot of natural ability, studying music can still be very worthwhile. Dick treated each student with respect, as long as he believed that they had made an attempt to practice since the last lesson. (I must confess that I wasn’t always so good about that.)

Picture of Dick Lurie

Dick Lurie with Guitar. I wonder if it’s an Aria Pro II?


3. Master of the Instrument. In one of our first lessons, I remember Lurie asking me “Mr. London, do you want to play the rock and roll or do you want to be the master of your instrument?”

What was I supposed to say to that? For better or worse, I chose master of my instrument. Maybe if I’d said “play the rock and roll” he would have passed me off to Bill Jeric. But I didn’t say that. So I stuck with Dick.

And while I have not yet achieved the goal of mastery (e.g., never have learned to sight read music), what I learned from Dick Lurie in my year of lessons was a strong enough foundation that I’ve been able to teach myself ever since (e.g., the importance of alternative picking with a flat pick, the barre chord forms, etc).

Kind of sad I didn’t come to Lurie much later in life. It would be great to learn about all that chord melody stuff now that I appreciate it more than I did back then.

4. Please Please Me. At some point, towards the end of my time taking lessons with Dick, he announced that we were going to work on a rock song (perhaps he could sense that my interest was waning and he was trying to keep me engaged). He pulls out the sheet music to “Please Please Me” by the Beatles.

That’s an amazing song, and I was excited to be playing it. But to a kid who had not yet been playing the guitar for even a year, it might as well have been jazz, with it’s mix of major and minor chords. Not exactly a three chord Chuck Berry song or “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.

Needless to say, I struggled with it, and I probably stopped taking lessons not too long after that. So I never mastered it for him. But by then, I’d joined a band as the bass player and I was hooked for life. Even though I quit the lessons, I kept playing, and eventually I figured out how to do it, after spending more time self-studying some easier three-chord material. In any case, whenever I hear “Please Please Me,” I always think of Dick.

4(a). The Atkins Super Axe. Dick’s shop had a black Gretsch Super Axe with the built in compressor, phase shifter, and maybe one other effect. In a shop filled with a lot of Asian-made copy guitars, it was kind of the Holy Grail guitar.

Despite Chet Atkins assertions in the ad above, it never seemed like a rock guitar to me. But even so, I thought it was pretty cool. If only playing it would transform you into Chet Atkins too. That would have been worth every penny and more. Wonder if Dick ever managed to sell it, and if so, who bought it?

4(b). Gretsch Hockey Stick Guitar. They also had a couple of Gretsch TK-300s in Dick’s store. This is one of the odder electric guitars around. This definitely was intended to be a rock guitar, and I guess I kind of saw it that way, although I don’t think I thought it was very cool back in the day (apparently the marketplace didn’t think it was very cool either). But in retrospect, I kind wish I’d gotten one.

David Kleiler, of Boston’s Volcano Suns, had couple of these back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They always sounded good. My memory is that they had pretty thin neck as well and they seemed solidly built.

5. The Polytone 101.  The tattered remains of the Polytone 101 that we got from Dick now resides in our basement. The transistor amp inside it died over 30 years ago now. But it’s still had some use as a speaker cabinet.

Dick was big on Polytone amps. And for jazz playing they are still well-regarded. Back in the early days of the Presidents of the United States of America, I seem to remember that Chris Ballew played a Polytone. Always thought of Dick when I saw that amp.

6. MXR Graphic Equalizer. We purchased a blue MXR graphic equalizer from Dick’s shop. It was the first effects pedal we ever got. If you turned every band up to 10 and crunched down hard on a power chord, it would almost distort the Polytone’s transistor amp (but not quite).

7. The Great Guitars. Each year, Dick would promote one or two great guitars concerts with people like Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, and Herb Ellis. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I realize what a gift it was to be able to see all those dudes play before they died. Joe Pass, in particular, was a mind blower. Thanks Dad. Apparently, these concerts were pretty formative for some other folks too.

I don’t have kids, but for those who do, remember this: When you take your kids to see music you think is worth their while, don’t assume that it hasn’t been worth their while just because they’re not jumping up and down and thanking you after its over.

Some stuff needs to stew in your mind for a long time before you truly appreciate its value. But when you finally do, you really appreciate that your parents cared enough about you to share that wisdom with you, even if you didn’t understand all of it in the moment.

8. Tommy Tedesco Instructional Book. When I recently watched the Wrecking Crew documentary, my mind immediately flashed back to a book or poster for the book that was in Lurie’s shop back in the day. Tedesco is sitting Buddha-like on a stool with his classical guitar and tinted shades. He seemed old and not very cool to my 15 year old self (although by the looks of it, he’s younger in the picture below than I am now).

I had no idea how much amazing music he had played on. I also learned in the Wrecking Crew documentary that Tommy got into the instructional book and seminar business in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, because studio work for the Wrecking Crew started to dry up, as a younger crop of musicians came on the scene and styles changed.

But like Dick Lurie, Tedesco was a survivor, and he kept figuring out ways to make a living from music. I didn’t understand that at 15. But I admire it a lot at 51.


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