Michael D'Agostino

Drummer, vocalist and Songwriter

Manny’s Music Store/NYC Life in the 1980’s

Posted on Apr 13, 2015

I worked at Manny’s Music store, 156 WeManny's Music Store Frontst 48th St, in New York City in the early 1980’s. It was a different world in music retail then today. It was a college of life for me. Having just finished a year at SUNY Fredonia and a year at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam as a Percussion Major and many years working on a farm in between school  before that. At Manny’s, not only did I learn a wealth of information about drums and the recording studio, I was learning social skills, dealing with so many people in the busiest music store in the world at the time.

I was immersed in NYC life, my band at the time “The Kind” shared a loft in the West Village. I was playing all the time and retail wasn’t something I wanted to do. Turns out in retrospect just how important it all was for my path. I am very grateful for this experience and how it was a perfect handoff from college for me. All the new technology that I was learning would become an integral part of my work. Drums, MIDI, synthesizer programming, keyboards plus inner workings of a recording studio. All the extra money I made I invested in equipment as the first of many incarnations of my recording studio, Intuitive Music, came about. Getting to meet some of the worlds premier musicians, Stewart Copeland, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Peter Erskine, Brian Eno, Simon Philips, Lionel Hampton amongst many others, was sometimes bittersweet but I have fond memories of those years.

Hired by Danny Burgauer because of my mallet experience, owning a Musser 4 octave rosewood marimba, and studying with Leigh Howard Stevens paid off that day I wallked into Manny’s. I sold that marimba to buy a Yamaha recording custom kit, one of the first kits in the US. Before Yamaha released this line in the US, drummers went to Japan to buy these kits. I waited about 8 months for mine, got it at cost, a great perc from working at the store. Manny’s owner’s, Henry and Judy Goldrich let me take the drumset and pay something towards it each week. In retrospect, what a rare thing that was. Many items purchased I still use to this day. The whole store had this historical vibe. One could feel the deep legacy walking into Manny’s. The handoff of Jazz to Rock could be seen from all the cats coming in and the walls were lined with proof. The place had deep history. Hendrix, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the top touring bands would always send roadies in when coming through town to buy gear and working with some of them garnered many backstage passes to great shows. Backstage for The Who at Shea Stadium, with the Clash opening was the pinnacle. On any given day you never knew who would walk in.  David Bowie and Mick Jagger came in one day, they caused alot of commotion. I remember John Entwhistle, bassist for the who,  was trying out some new 4 stringers,  I drumming on a rummber practice pad jamming with him.  Yeah, that doesn’t count I guess, but it was fun.  Henry was on my case alot for practicing. Paul I remember meeting James Taylor one day,  he had a twinkle in his eye. What a songwriter.

 I worked on Bill Bruford’s kit when he was playing duo at the Bottom Line with Patrick Moraz. Bill was a hero of mine as a kid. My shyness, got in the way of meeting him, even when I saw him again with his own band, I wished I met him and told him what an influence he was, I loved his work with Yes and Genesis, UK, and I really dug his solo work when I was in college. I remember meeting Brian Eno at the store and asking him if he’d listen to my band. He was real cool and said to drop it off in his mailbox at EG Records which was up the block. Never heard from him after I dropped it off, also I don’t recall following up either. I needed biz chops. Young and unadvised.  

I was at the store during the heyday of electronic drums and was the go to cat for Simmon’s drums. I was selling many kits a week at over $3500 a pop. Not good when commission was not a factor! Manny’s had the exclusive on Simmons so calls where coming in from all over the country. Simmons gave me a special card allowing me to  pull a drum module out and plug it in while re-programming the default sound which could only be accessed by powering the card outside of the brain. Soon after I was selling my custom drum sounds and programming them into clients Simmons kits. But those early electronic kits where brutal on your hands. They had all the feel of a formica tabletop. Many drummers complained of carpel tunnel while playing em. The second generation although rubber still was brutal on your hands and wrists. Terry Bozzio was doing great electronic drumming work at the time with Missing Persons, he was using some great  custom made gear. It wasn’t till I played the early Roland V Drums that the “feel” made a leap in the right direction.

I worked with Herbie Hancock when he was preparing his “Rockit Tour” at SIR Studios in NYC. I was there for two weeks programming a Simmons SDS7 analog/digital hybrid drum module, to sound as close as possible to the Fairlight sounds that were used on the record. I also programmed drum sounds for Third World, Kiss, Yoko Ono, and drummers Ronald Shannon Jackson and Kenwood Dennard amongst others..

Before the big move into NYC with the band, The Kind, I lived in Bohemia Long Island New York. I was working in a plant nursery that was next to my family’s home. Had a car, summer’s at the beach. Played in a club date band, original rock group, pit orchestra in HS doing “West Side Story”, a jazz trio and one summer was a percussionist in Long Island ‘s “Opera on the Sound” company performing Tosca and La Boheme. A colleague percussionist Michael Parola got me the gig. This experience taught me that I did not want to go into the legit field. Even though I studied classical percussion, played in orchestras in high school and college, the lure of drumming in an original rock group was were I was at. Shortly after I knew I wanted my own studio.

Everything changed in the fall of 1980. Instead of returning to start my sophmore year at SUNY Potsdam, I moved into NYC and started a new life. I landed the gig at Manny’s my first day looking for a job. I went to Ponte’s music and Manny’s that day on a recommendation of my former drum teacher on Long Island, Jack “Red” Snyder(Studio sesion ace and drummer for Les Brown). So now I’m living/rehearsing in a loft with my band on Sixth Ave and 8th street, right in the thick of it in Greenwich Village, NYC. A year before I moved to NYC, I went to see Peter Gabriel at the Dr. Pepper Concert series when they were still at Wolman Rink in Central Park. An amazing show in support of his third release, I remember that balmy summer eve, saying I could never live in the city. The next year I did just that. Manahattan grew on me and I miss the vibe, the energy. I am grateful for the experience of living there. It’s a different place now, it has changed. Obviously 9/11’s impact was huge, but the recession’s effect, artists moving out to Hoboken and Brooklyn, all contributed to a different city. I have so many found memories of NYC when I lived there. I traded my subway straphanger days for a being closer to nature.  Now I live with black bears roaming behind my home, only 35 miles from Manhattan. If I climb up the trail in back to the top of the ridge I can see the skyline of Manhattan in clear weather. The sun shining off the Chrysler and Empire State buildings during daytime. At night in winter when all the leaves fallen, the skyline sparkles in the distance on a cool crisp night. The empire state’s varying colors during the holidays bring back distant memories. With binoculars I can see the flashes of cameras on the observatory deck. I missed the natural world during my NYC stay, but took advantage of the Parks. Great memories riding laps around Central park on my road bike. Riding from my first Apt on Ave A in the East Village, up over the GWB and into Alpine NJ.

So I’m working at the store, Buddy Rich walks in one day to the electronic drum room where I was playing/programming the new Simmons SDS7 analog/digital kit, it’s just me and Buddy in the room so I ask him if he’d like to try it. Buddy’s response “ Kid, do you want to play the drums or push buttons” and then he left………ouchywahwah…..but he had a point. My friend and co-worker Steve Arnold was good friends with Buddy, they’d hang whenever he was in town and he even let Steve sit in with his band. My time in the drum dept was ending as the next room over was were all the cool drum machines and synthesizer’s were. I was really drawn to all of it. I switched departments, with a a little help from Synth Guru Rick Stevenson putting in a good word for me. I learned boatloads. This was before commissions. We were paid a salary so it wasn’t a feeding frenzy whenever anyone walked into the store. Many a day I’d walk into work with a cup of coffee, go to the synth room, open some manuals and dig in and learn the gear. I learned a wealth of information back then. The personal computer for recording was just coming on the scene.   Apple had the IIe had Passport’s 4 track midi sequencer, The commador 64 had Dr. T’s Music Software. I was giving private lessons on this new midi recording software. I made some big purchases that year, I bought a custom Simmons SDS7 kit, a Voyetra 8 synth, a Juno 60, a Oberheim DX., Roland MC500 sequencer, Lexicon PCM 70 and Ibanez SDR1000. My studio was morphing all the time. Soon I sold my 4 track cassette, Tascam 244 Portastudio  to buy a Tascam 38-8 track reel to reel and a 16 channel tascam mixing board. I had a Roland MC500 synched up with a JLCooper sync box on track eight of the Tascam reel to reel. I was working in a band signed to a development deal with Polygram records. I left music retail after working one more year across the street from Manny’s, at Sam Ash. The Apple computer was just coming out and I bought a Mac Plus with 4 megs of Ram, a 20 meg hard drive, Vision software and Studio 3 interface. An Akai S900 Sampler soon followed. My studio was about to take a major turn in capability. A few years later I would upgrade again to 2 Tascam DA88’s digital recorders, Apple Quardra 840 AV, w/A Digidesign AudioMedia Card, Studio Vision midi sequencer/4 track audio HD recorder and Sound Designer 2 track editing Software. I was using StudioVision as my sequence/audio recorder at the time. I cut my teeth on this setup for many years.   I have had 8 Mac’s for music production/recording. MacPlus, Mac IIsi, Centris 660AV, Quadra 840AV, Apple dual core G4, Apple dual core G5, MacBook Pro, MacPro 8 core.

If it wasn’t for landing that gig at Manny’s Music Store, I don ‘t think I’d have a studio today. I now think of it as a huge blessing as so much knowledge about music and life came from it. If I could purchase one thing again it would be a new Rosewood Marimba. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manny%27s_Musichttp://mannysmusic.ning.com/

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