Deke Dickerson visits the Pick N Strum

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

Deke Dickerson’s new book

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]

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 with the job. Charles, a drummer who grew up in Flint, had no clue as to what he and his business partner 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 needed to be cleared out. 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. 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 think he kind of adopted me. 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, 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

7 Comments to "Deke Dickerson visits the Pick N Strum"

  • Gayle Parry Guy
    January 6, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    I’m Earl’s granddaughter. Thank you for the photo and the memories of this magic place where there was always a bowl full of kazoos for kids to play with.

    • January 6, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Gayle. It certainly sounds like a place I’d enjoy visiting.

  • John Idan
    December 19, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    I used to go quite often to see Earl at the pick and strum in Berkley. Sometimes you’d catch him in, and others he would set up an appointment with you. He was a very interesting man. I remember him playing me Library of Congress records of McKinley Morganfield. He took great delight in turning you on to the real deal and I purchased some great blues publications from him.

    That was just the beginning really, for the whole place was a treasure trove. Earl had also been an Epiphone dealer in the ’60s and when I discovered his shop in the late ’70s he still had brand new unsold stock which he continued to sell at the listed prices from the ’60s! Lovely brand Gibson-made Epiphones! Quite rare and unusual guitars these days.

    I remember going to see him in the early nineties and the shop had real problems with the roof. He had pots and pans catching water and of course he was getting older. I’m not sure if Lucky was still there but he loved his dog and would often go outside and play with him and just leave you to it in the store. I’d moved abroad by this time but he remembered me and supplied me with an absolutely mint 335 case from the early 60s and banjo case for my wife’s SS Stewart. He also told me George Gruhn visited him from time to time and that many guitars were going his way.

    Earl may have seemed quite eccentric but he was real gentleman and a sweetheart. If he liked you, he’d say, “Come back and I’ll play you some more records.” … Stepping into the Pick N Strum, I felt a great presence of a folk and blues world, and hipness from a different time. Thank you Earl for sharing it with us!

    • December 19, 2014 at 7:36 am #

      Thank you John for your memory-filled description. Wonderful!

  • Lorrie Gormaine Lossr
    January 5, 2015 at 11:53 pm #

    Thank you for the nice article on my Dad! We grew up with guitars all over the house including under the beds.
    Lots of music and singing too!

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

      My pleasure, Lorrie! Wish I could have met your dad.

    • Ruthann Zaroff
      April 20, 2017 at 9:36 pm #

      Earl wrote a wedding song for one of his daughters, and hired me to sing it for the wedding. Maybe it was yours? I bought many guitars from him.

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