Deke Dickerson visits the Pick N Strum

Deke Dickerson’s book, The Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology, is out. It includes a story about former WEXL d.j. and musician Earl Gormaine’s Pick N Strum music shop in Detroit.

Deke Dickerson‘s first book, The Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology, is about one of Dickerson’s favorite activities: tracking down vintage and unusual guitars. Dickerson is a well-traveled musician, and one of the stories in his book, “586 Guitars and a Trailer Full of Parts,” takes place in Detroit during the late 1990s. [1]

Cover of "The Strat in the Attic" by Deke Dickerson

Deke Dickerson’s book

The family of Earl Gormaine, a former WEXL radio host, musician, and owner of an instrument shop called the Pick N Strum, needed to clean out his estate, and my friend Loney Charles was invited to assist a man who took the job.

Charles, a drummer who grew up in Flint, had no clue as to what he and his boss were about to undertake. When Dickerson came into town with his band, Charles invited him to check out the mess of guitars and instrument parts that he was sorting through. In his book, Dickerson described his astonishment at the amount and quality of the gear he saw.

Musician Gary McMullen, who played banjo, guitar, and bass for country-western and bluegrass groups around Detroit during the 1970s, including a lengthy gig with Casey Clark and Casey’s Kids, worked at the Pick N Strum. He recently shared some of his memories of the shop and Earl Gormaine.

Earl Gormaine, 1978. Copyright Wayne T. Helfrich

Earl Gormaine, 1978. Source: Photos by the Swamper on Flickr [3]

“Earl was quite the eccentric in that he was totally absorbed in his music – all genres – and his wonderful store,” said McMullen. “I knew him well, and because he was a family man, I knew his wife and four daughters, too. He had no sons, and I like to think he kind of adopted me,” said McMullen. “I was at his house countless times, and he had a basement full of guitars, old cases, and boxes of banjo parts, electronic stuff, bridges, nuts … everything. Same thing at the shop – shelves and boxes full of all sorts of stuff.

“He had vintage instruments too,” said McMullen, “but he was an avid trader in instruments and stuff used to come into the shop – and then out – all the time. Lots of used instruments. At the time, he was one of the few local certified Martin dealers, and people used to drive for miles to buy and trade Martins from him. People knew he could be trusted, and they knew he knew his stuff. He specialized in acoustic instruments, but wouldn’t turn his back on good electric gear. I remember some great [Gibson] L5s that he had … I wanted one so bad. His store was also one of the few places that carried high quality banjos.

Earl was quite the eccentric in that he was totally absorbed in his music – all genres – and his wonderful store.

“His wife moved to Hawaii and he stayed behind to keep his business going. He would visit her once or twice a year, and I would run the store for him while he was gone. For the longest time, I was his sole teacher on both banjo and guitar. At one point, I remember having about thirty students there, which put me through college at Wayne State University. I also painted the place, and put a tar roof on it, because I was a starving young musician and college student who needed money,” said McMullen.

Gary McMullen playing banjo, 1970s. Copyright Wayne T. Helfrich

Gary McMullen, 1970s. Source: Photos by the Swamper on Flickr [4]

“About twenty-three years ago, I moved and it was very difficult for me to see him,” he continued. “We lost touch with each other. He had a five-string wooden diamond-shaped banjo (all wood) with a carved bust of Mozart on the peg head that I wanted real bad. I have never seen anything like it. He wouldn’t sell it to me. … I really loved the guy … but as they say, life got in the way and I drifted away from him. It doesn’t surprise me that he had a couple of storage units or a warehouse packed full. To the average person, the store and his house looked cluttered and and unorganized, but he could always put his hand on the part he needed. He was a great guy, and both a role mode and inspiration for me!” [2]

McMullen said Gormaine operated the Pick N Strum shop in three different spaces through the years. The first was located in Detroit on Cass Avenue, near Wayne State. The second stood on the southwest corner of Woodward Avenue and 14 Mile. Gormaine operated his last shop in a former paint store on the west side of Greenfield Road, between 12 and 13 Mile roads. Performers at the Raven Gallery, a folk music venue that Sweet Lorraine’s restaurant eventually moved into (on Greenfield, just north of 12 Mile), often visited the Pick N Strum, accompanied by Herb Cohen, owner of the Raven. Thanks to Cohen, McMullen met the likes of Eddie Adcock, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, and Danny Cox at the shop.

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Notes

  1. Deke Dickerson, The Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Voyageur Press, 2013).
  2. Gary McMullen interviewed by Craig Maki in 2013. He now plays Irish music with Blackthorn.
  3. Photograph of Earl Gormaine by Wayne T. Helfrich, all rights reserved.
  4. Photograph of Gary McMullen by Wayne T. Helfrich, all rights reserved.

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