My First NAMM Show
My Very First NAMM Show
Well there we were…my good friend Keith and I at my aunt's house…the van loaded with everything we needed to pull off my first NAMM Show. The entire booth made of cloth covered pegboard panels, the Styrofoam Dean Winged Logo Sign, tools, our luggage, and now a bunch of Finish Cracked Dean Guitars.
Of course I panicked when we opened case after case of these beautiful…not only new guitars, but “new to the world of guitars” guitars. A nightmare of epic proportion. Cannot remember what was going thru my mind at the time but being the “problem solver” I had been since a little kid, I immediately went into survival mode. A trip to the hardware store, using all of my "Repair Days" knowledge, however, I never was able to repair a finish crack before...and now, I had a plethora of them to repair. I purchased acetone, rubbing and polishing compound, 600 grit sandpaper, artist brushes, etc. My plan was to melt the lacquer by laying beads of acetone on the cracks, and then buffing the guitars back to perfection. And this would need to happen within about 48 hours.
Well, we laid all the guitars out on the kitchen table, counters, other furniture, even an ironing board...and went to work. I simply had to do something. I laid beads of acetone on the cracks and waited for some miracle to happen. I called my marketing director Zan in a panic stressing “we have problems” and remember him having so much faith in my ability to right the ship.
At the same time, there was a booth to set up at the NAMM show. Our schedule really didn’t allow for fixing a dozen guitars with finish cracks and setting up a trade show booth.
This was the real deal…you know, a booth with guitars, a sales staff, printed material, order forms to take orders, media to meet with…Plus, I had a big party planned in my 3 room suite at the Disneyland Hotel. I had no time for playing guitar repairman!
So it was back and forth between the house tending to the guitars and the Disneyland Convention Center, setting things up. After about 24 hours, I realized the attempt to repair the cracks was futile. It was not going to work. There is no way to melt the lacquer and close up those cracks. I needed to come up with Plan B. After a closer examination, there was one Tobacco V that survived the trip – not a single crack. There were 3 others that had no visible cracks on the front of the guitar. As ugly as this was going to be, I was forced to do the show with only 4 guitars. The perfect Tobacco V for demonstration and the other 3 (Black ML, Tobacco Explorer and Tobacco ML) strapped to the display wall with leather shoelaces ...so nobody could take them down and see the cracks! Keith and I finished the set up of the booth, the Gands and Zan flew out to meet us a day or two later. Soon it was show time. We moved from my aunt's house into our suite at the Disneyland Hotel.
It was Friday January 21st, 1977, the first day of the NAMM show and that was the debut of the Dean Guitar. I was only 19, about as green at this as one could be, but I was as confident as any seasoned businessman. Not sure why, but nothing phased me in my early years. I felt bulletproof and like I belonged in this arena.
So there we were in my little 10x10 booth. It is hard to say what was cruder; the pimp cloth covered pegboard walls, the home-made Styrofoam sign or the jerry-rigged outdoor lighting fixtures, but it was 1977 and luckily for me, the world was not quite ready for prime time. We had our little brochures to hand out, order forms ready to write orders, business cards. After about 18 months of preparation, I was officially in business.
And…as promised, one of the first people to come by my booth early that historic Friday was Jerry Ash...the owner of Sam Ash Music. Sam Ash was probably the largest music retailer in the world at that time. He introduced himself and I immediately showed him my guitars. I sold him on my concept of shaped guitars with all the sought after features of a 1958 Les Paul. Flame Maple tops, fully bound bodies, ebony fingerboards, abalone inlays, bone nut, pickups set into the body, not on a pickguard. I know it is hard to believe, but nobody was making guitars like these in the late 70s. Furthermore, I had the soft V neck which had a vintage feel, a sculpted heel, and I was the first to put DiMarzios in a production guitar, so they instantly sounded hotter than anything else on the shelf. I had a headstock that gave the brand instant recognition…but more importantly, added radical string angles that made these guitars sustain like no other. Finally, I had the ML…a new bodystyle nobody had seen to date! Jerry must have been impressed with me, my guitars or some combination of aforementioned but he placed an order for three Dean Guitars (one of each model) and history was made. I took my very first order! Jerry was a very nice guy and I think he enjoyed helping young people like me get their start in the music business.
Dealers continued to come by, I was savvy enough to drop the phrase “Jerry Ash just placed an order” and that was good enough for many more dealers to sign on. I continued to show my wares and write orders throughout the show. Zan and Gary Gand worked the booth with me. Gand was a great player and a fine salesman. He demoed the guitar and helped to close deals. Zan was getting off on being in the Rock and Roll business and was a great help at the show.
We handed out hundreds of invites to our Saturday Night party…word got out pretty quick there was this new guitar company called Dean Guitars and they were throwing party in a suite in the Disneyland hotel. Early Saturday evening, It was getting to be party time and I was not old enough to purchase liquor. Zan had to make the purchase. Back at the hotel, we took the beds and stood them upright against the walls to make room in this 3 room suite. We continued to set up the amps, PA, drum set and keyboards…we were gonna rock the Disneyland hotel.
Soon it was party time, people where coming, the band was playing; Gary Gand on Guitar, Joan Gand on keyboards, I don’t know who was drumming and Emmet Chapman was playing the Stick which also covered the bass. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger, in no time, the 3 room suite could not hold everyone. There was even a camera crew that showed up...not sure if the party made the local news or it was just the NAMM news. Also a few celebrity rockers showed up but I don't remember who!
The liquor was going fast and the party grew all the way down the hallway to the elevators. It was only a matter of time before the hotel security would be paying a visit. We got away with it for much longer than you would expect. This was the early days and hotels did not have the security they have today. When security finaly did show up, I'm not sure they knew what to do but after a couple visits trying to break up the party, they finally had enough and demanded to talk to the person throwing the party. They kept asking whose room is this.
Even at 19, it would have been hard for them to believe it was my party but I only looked about 16 at the time. Well, I did the right thing and stepped up...told security it was my room but they didn’t believe me. So they continued asking around for the owner of the room. Since my confession didn’t fly, I used that opportunity to get the hell out of there and went few floors up to hide out in the rooftop bar while the party got busted. How I didn’t get kicked out of the bar, I don’t know but the party got broken up without incident and without me there.
Hard to explain what a huge event that was but my party became notorious and the talk of the NAMM Show. That helped to put Dean Guitars on the map with the NAMM crowd, especially the music dealers. This was only the beginning of Dean Zelinsky causing disturbances at the NAMM show for years to come. The NAMM show was run by band and orchestra guys. These B&O execs owned the NAMM show and they were only going to tolerate us rockers. They were not prepared for what was coming down the pike…what us Rock n Roll guys were about to bring…the level of “noise” at their stuffy conventions. They fought us tooth and nail in those early years. I got my booth shut down on three different occasions. Us rockers made the NAMM Show what it is today…it was not without a fight.
Well, the show went on through Sunday…during the setup days, I met people named Wayne Charvel, Seymour Duncan, BernieRico (a super nice guy). Met Larry DiMarzio (who I had already been buying pickups from since my guitar repair days) and his partner Steve Kaufman. I think Hamer may have been there as well. We were the new young guys literally from coast to coast, hot rodding guitars going up against Gibson and Fender who were waning under their parent companies Norlin Industries and CBS respectively! NAMM put all us rock guitar guys in the same area. The show was rather small back in those days, we all got to know each other a bit better over the 3-day show.
By the show’s end, the cracked guitars were a distant memory. I finished my first show with a whopping $45,000 worth of orders in my bag. I flew the Gands and Zan back home on my dime while Keith and I loaded up the Chevy van and headed back to Chicago on what turned out to be (as everything is in my life) an interesting adventure.
I had orders to fill…it was game on. The real work was about to begin. I was officially in business and the world would soon know about Dean Guitars. I was also running out of money!
Coming next: Post NAMM
Read about Dean’s adventurous trip home…
Driving Drunk thru Rocky MTs. Gambling under age in Vegas, Getting arrested in Utah!
As my blog continues I will be telling stories about my early years, the early days of Dean Guitars, the more recent Dean Guitar days…my relationships over the years with artists like Billy Gibbons, Michael Schenker, Dimebag Darrell, Kerry Livgren, Elliott Easton, Zakk Wylde, Dave Mustaine, Johnny Winter...some groupie stories and many more. Stories of my rocking and rolling career as a guitar builder during the formative years of Rock Music.
If you have stories you would like to hear, please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org