Around Akron with Blue Green: August 2017

(upbeat techno music) – Hey out there, Akronites. Welcome once again to Around Akron with Blue Green. And today, we’re on Kenmore Boulevard, right here. Now, did you know the silver screen, that thing you watch movies on, was created here in Kenmore, Ohio? We’re gonna learn all about that. I’m gonna teach you a little bit about the rich history of Kenmore and a lot of history took place right here on this boulevard you see behind me. Then we’re gonna head over to Panyard. Now Panyard makes some of the best steel drums or pan drums in the world and they’re based right here in Kenmore. Now to kick this show off today, we’re here at the iconic Lays Guitar Shop on Kenmore Boulevard. Now if you’re a guitar player and you wanna get that specific sound out of your guitar, or you’ve broken your guitar and you need a repair, Lays Guitar Shop is a place you need to visit. Let’s go talk to these guys and see what this place is all about. – We’ll often get a guitar that was stripped down in its youth. When a young player gets a guitar, the first thing he wants to do is strip it down and I want to paint it a different color. Well, now some of these guitars have value and now we restore it back to the finish that it should have. We’ll even age it to make it look like it’s a 50 year old guitar and it should have a certain patina, a certain look, as if it was never touched at all. So we run the whole gamut between simple things to very complex, and then to the guitar building itself, acoustic guitar building, electric guitar building, selecting of wood, gluing. Sanding, shaping, all the way up to the finished work. So we do a variety of different things that other shops just don’t do. (rock music) We always say get a guitar that plays good. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s cheap or not, play it, plays good. Learn. As usually young men and young women learn to play the instrument, then they start figuring out its limitations. As they hear old classic rock or whatever it could be and they begin to think, “Well, how did he get that sound?” Then they start to mature and to understanding how that sound became available, and then becomes the exploration of “What do I need to do to get that sound?” or get close to it, and then a lot of young artists develop, that might be the basis, but they develop their own sound from there. (rock music) All of us have a foundation based on those who have already had experience. So Virgil Lay who first started this business in ’62 taught many apprentice. I had an older brother that apprenticed with him, then my brother Dan who’s owner now apprenticed with him starting in 1979. Then another brother apprenticed under Virgil and my brother for a time, and then when I came along, then I’m apprenticing underneath my brother and some of the other workers he had here, too. So everyone has a touchstone. They can go back to someone who has experience. So if there’s a question, it’s gonna get figured out. So it’s not like we just graduated from a three-month luthier school and, hey, I’m ready, I can do this type of work. It’s like getting out of college and saying I’m ready for that job, you know, I can do it all. You can’t. It’s a learning process, but the foundation is there as you’re learning. The experience is there so mistakes aren’t made and the guitars really can be handled in such a way that they’re properly set up. The finish is correct. So before it goes out the door, it’s right. So I think that’s what makes us special. (rock music) I never worked underneath Virgil, but I always knew of Virgil. My dad always knew him. My dad would come here to where the shop was and get a lot of his parts that he needed to make his guitars. Virgil was the type of guy who was just a down-home, Southern boy, but if he needed to figure how to fix it or make something to fix something, he did it. There are many tools we still have from those early years and we still use them. So that’s what kind of person he was. He was gonna figure it out. Then he sold the business to my brother and started SIT Strings, which is here in Akron, Stay In Tune Strings, and he began guitar string winding and he purchased the first machine, then he reverse engineered it and made all the other machines. That’s how he was. – Next up, we’re gonna talk about the history of the silver screen, which was once located in places like the Rialto Theater here on Kenmore Boulevard. Now the silver screen is the movie screen that we all watch movies on, and that was created right here in Kenmore, Ohio. Let’s go talk to them and see what this is all about. – He was a projectionist at two theaters, the Majestic and the Norka Theaters, and at that time, it was like a bedsheet and he noticed there wasn’t very good reflection and he came up with the idea of a silver paint and he experimented with different kinds and painted the screen. The first one he did was at the Majestic and it gave better quality to the film, and then he did it at the Norka, and then he started painting the screens all over the place. Fox, Warner Brothers, MGM, they all picked up on it. He would travel a lot. He went to Hollywood often. He knew a lot of the early actors and actresses, hanging out with them. At the end of his life, when TV came in and VCRs, it affected the movie industry greatly, and at the end of his life, he was experimenting with the roll-up awnings for camping. He had an Airstream trailer. He had the third production of the Airstream trailer. He liked the concept of it and some place out West, he went out there to the factory and talked to the guy, and it gave him the idea of the silver coating. He said, “I got something you can put on that trailer “that’s gonna make it last for a long time.” The Airstream silver trailer is from him. But he was doing the roll-up canopy stuff. He was experimenting with different kinds of plastic to see which ones would take the weather better and then now they have those roll-up canopies everywhere. If he’d lived longer, he probably would have been in on that industry, too. Oh, he did all kinds of stuff. He left Kentucky when he was young, hopped on a train, and lived with hobos for awhile. He did Vaudeville, worked with magicians. He invented some kind of a foot powder that he went door-to-door. He was just an entrepreneur. Well, as the movie industry changed, he saw needs for stuff and created it. When the talkies came out, they had a problem with the muffled sound from the speakers behind the screen, so he poked little holes in the screens. When the theaters started getting really big with huge screens, then he made his own equipment to do all this stuff. The machinery, he designed it and put it all together. He bought a boathouse that used to be next door here because he needed a large room to spread out these screens. Instead of cloth, they started doing them with vinyl and he experimented with different kinds of vinyl and how he could hook the pieces of it together. He welded these pieces of plastic together so they could get these huge, seamless screens. When CinemaScope came out, he figured out a way to do the framing so he could hook the screens to that kind of stuff. When 3D came, they were doing experiments down at the Civic Theatre, and my husband who was a little boy then, they had him sitting in different places in the theater, and so that they could get the projection right, and “Does this look pretty good, Sammy?” “No, it’s better if you do it over there.” He can remember doing that. It was Bwana Devil, was the film they were working on. Warner Brothers were in Kenmore. They came here for meetings with my father-in-law. – Next up, we’re gonna learn about the rich history of Kenmore. We’re gonna sit down with some local historians that’s gonna teach us all about the history of not only the boulevard, but the surrounding area. Let’s go talk to them and see what this Kenmore place is all about. – Well, a lot of them came from West Virginia. That used to be the big thing on weekends, Akron would go empty because everybody went back to West Virginia to visit and that there, then they’d come back Sunday night, Monday, ready to go to work at the rubber factories. (ragtime piano music) Kenmore, one of the early part, when they got started, was the salt mines down on Manchester Road, and that was called HALO originally down there, and that’s where the salt mines were. And underneath Kenmore is a lot of mines and that there where they get the salt and it’s still there, Morton Salt, Colonial Salt, and it was the biggest business at the time money-wise, and corporation and that there, couple guys from Cleveland that came here and found out about the salt that ran all underneath this area and then they moved here and had the salt mines in here which they still do get salt out from underneath. (ragtime piano music) Well, Kenmore became a village in 1908 and then in 1922, it became a city, and then in 1929, it went into the city of Akron. It’s one of the few places where in Akron it was actually a city itself when it was incorporated into downtown Akron. Kenmore used to have all kinds of stores. There was like two or three hardware stores. You had your post office. You had meat markets, you had grocery stores, shoes stores, clothing stores. When I grew up there in the ’40s, it was town. You never went downtown, well, you may go to Akron or go to Barberton, but you had everything in Kenmore. There was nothing that you couldn’t get in Kenmore in the stores and they were busy all the time. A lot of it I went to, I was a kid, 10 years old. Nowadays, of course, you wouldn’t let a 10 year old kid run around. I’d go to the theater and be in the boulevard practically half the day. (ragtime piano music) Kenmore had two, actually three movie houses. First one was the Palace Theatre and that was years ago and that was just down by the canal, and Kenmore had two more movie theaters, the Boulevard Theatre and the Rialto Theatre, and that’s where kids and everybody, we would go down on a Saturday. You’d see a couple cartoons, a regular movie, and usually there was some other type of reels of something they would show, and it was all just for a dime, and that was your big weekend. Of course, then we had Summit Beach and I used to go over there and swim in the pool, the Crystal Pool, and it was a big pool, and it only cost a dime to swim for the day over there. Well, the Crystal Pool, I was young then and that there, but it was a mammoth, mammoth pool. I mean, it was huge and that there. ‘Course you’d go there and then you’d have Summit Beach, which you’d ride the rides and stuff and that there, but that was a big park. Everybody from Barberton, Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, everybody went to Summit Beach. (ragtime piano music) I’m hoping that Kenmore can come back better than what it was. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of population and that there’s less people. Like our schools, they’ve had to shut some down because of the population, and our high school was gonna be combining with Garfield High School, and we’ll lose our high school here and that there, but I’m hoping people will realize Kenmore is a good neighborhood and there’s a lot of activities that go on in Kenmore. You go other parts of Akron, you don’t see the activities. We have stuff at Christmastime here for the kids. At Easter time, our historical society, which I’m a member of, we provide balloons for the kids and they’ll have a parade on Easter day, and I said, Christmastime, we provide stuff, and then we have our concerts. We have a lot of activities going on, just within the community itself. Now, to wrap this show up today, we’re here at Panyard. Now that is a Panyard mural behind us, provided by the Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience led by Matt Miller. Now at Panyard is where they play steel drums or pan drums. Now Panyard here makes some of the best steel drums in the entire world. Let’s go talk to them and see what their steel drums or pan drums are all about. – Trinidad is the southernmost island in the West Indies. It’s further south than Jamaica. It’s only seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, and it has a sister island, Tobago, so it’s Trinidad and Tobago, really, really awesome place. As far as nature and everything, it’s awesome. As far as music, it’s superb. Because in Trinidad, rather than focusing on sports and stuff, they obviously have cricket and soccer and whatnot, but every community has a steel band. So if you’re not playing in the steel band as a community member, you’re hanging out in the panyard watching the steel bands rehearse, and then during Carnival when the steel bands are moving to the streets, the community will come and actually push the carts while the people are playing. So music is extremely important to just about everybody’s life in Trinidad. (melodic drumming) It was 1938. There was a 14 year old kid in Trinidad. His name was Winston Simon. His nickname was Spree. Pretty much everybody has a cool nickname in Trinidad and Spree, he was playing with a tamboo bamboo group and what they were doing back in the day, they were taking pieces of bamboo out of the rain forest and they would use them as stamping tubes. So there’d be like four people playing different length bamboo poles by stamping them on the ground, so they’d get really cool rhythms going. Well, Spree found a biscuit tin, which is basically like a little garbage can, and it was used by one of the bakeries to transport the baked goods to the groceries to keep them fresh. And Spree cut it in half and he put a strap on it so he could march around because the tamboo bamboo groups would accompany the masqueraders through the streets during Carnival to give them something to dance to while they were showing off their costumes. And this was the coolest drum on the island that Spree had. Well, he got a little aggressive, and he was playing it, and as he played it harder, it dented it into a bowl, all right? And as it started stretching the steel, it wouldn’t make as resonance or as much sound ’cause it was getting tight, tight, tight. He turned it upside down and with a rock, tried to flatten it back out to salvage his drum. When he turned it back over and started playing, he accidentally had five pitches on the surface and that was the invention of this beautiful instrument by a 14 year old kid. (low drumming) It wasn’t that pan was bad, I just always felt it could be better, so I just kept trying to improve the quality, improve the quality, and across the board, we started out just publishing sheet music. And I went down to Trinidad after I graduated University of Akron in 1988. I went down to Trinidad for three months and I was hanging out, playing with the 100 piece steel bands, and I noticed that the composers did everything by ear and they didn’t even know how to write music. So one of my missions or goals back on that first trip was to document some of their music to preserve it and pan music had never been put on paper at that point. Things evolve. You don’t necessarily set out with one agenda, especially when you start running a business, you don’t know where it’s gonna lead. But we’re very proud that, well, first I’m just excited that I had an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a developing musical instrument, because most instruments have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and this instrument’s only been around since the late ’30s. So it’s just amazing that I’ve had that opportunity. And then I took it and said, all right, again, we not only want it to be better, but how can we spread the word? I didn’t see my first pan until I was 18. I developed this particular Jumbie Jam, this beginner’s steel pan specifically to get into the general music classroom. So now we’re exposing kindergarten through junior high to pan at an early age and then they want to move on into the full-size pans and since we have started selling this product about 10 years ago and we’re moving thousands of them through over 800 retailers around the world, we really are seeing the art form grow even more. And I feel that that’s gonna help everybody involved in the art form. It’s gonna help the educators, it’s gonna help the performers, and it’s even gonna help the other manufacturers whether they handcraft or whatever. You know, a rising tide raises all ships and so we feel very proud that we’ve been able to expose hundreds of thousands more people to this beautiful art form. (melodic drumming) If somebody tells me it can’t be done, ’cause believe me, I ran into it. A lot of people when I said I was gonna start mechanizing some of the building processes, we actually stamp this drum, we don’t handcraft it, but then we hand-tune it, okay? A lot of people said, “Oh, no, it can’t be done. “It’s impossible. “Nobody’s ever done it before.” Well, that to me is a motivator. As soon as somebody tells me that, I’m like, okay, it’s time to make it happen. So that’s what I would tell a young artist or an entrepreneur. Just stick to what you believe. If you’re doing something good, you’re trying, like we are, to help better an art form and help keep music education alive, just don’t let anybody stop you. – Thank you again for tuning into Around Akron with Blue Green. Now if you have any questions, comments, or you’d like to see something on the show, you can connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or you can watch past episodes or send me a message on Thanks again and we’ll see you next time on Around Akron with Blue Green. (upbeat techno music) (steel drum orchestra music)


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