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Major Lonesomes for Morgan Music

By Bill Graham - Special for the Mandolin Cafe
September 30, 2008 - 1:30 pm

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Bill Graham
Bill Graham is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer, bluegrass musician and singer-songwriter.

The bluegrass and folk music community is resilient. We have to be in a society that considers us a hillbilly side show to country music, which takes a back seat to pop and is sneered at by the classical folks.

But besides being tough and fearlessly independent, we're also pretty good about helping each other out.

That side has been in action at Morgan Music in Lebanon, Mo., ever since the acoustically hip store burned in a tragic fire. Now they've also been hit by a burglary.

The worst tragedy was human. A young man lost his life on Sept. 4 when, after a police chase, his vehicle slammed into the Morgan Music store and burst into flames.

Our prayers go out to this person and his family.

But we also ache a bit for the Morgan staff, members of our musical family. They bill their store as The Great American Acoustic Shop and it's a business years 30 years in the making.

Then boom, a fire was roaring through a building that contained a variety of stock, including some high end acoustics and years of mementos.

"I'd just gone home but I went back and watched it burn," said employee Jenna English. "It just gave you a sick feeling right in your stomach to see it burning. There was some really nice stuff. It was just sad."

See photos of the aftermath.

The digging out started the next day.

Mike Morgan, one of the owners, found his 1937 D-18 still in its case in a side room.

"It wasn't burnt, but he literally turned it over and poured a gallon of water out of it," said employee Ben Haney. "But after he poured the water out he strummed a G chord and it was still in tune."

The guitar will survive with some tender care. As did some vintage posters and a few of the better instruments.

Some vintage Gibson A mandolins and some expensive new F-style mandolins by Collings and other makers didn't survive. Lots of other stuff perished.

But the music community helped the Morgan staff rally.

"We've had tons of people stopping by offering to help us clean up with trailers and trucks," English said.

They quickly opened a new shop at a nearby location. Collings, C.F. Martin and others rushed new instruments to Lebanon. Some things that normally take months to order arrived in a week.

"Suppliers have been great," English said.

I'd never met anyone from the Morgan store until recently, when I visited their sales shed at the Starvy Creek Bluegrass Festival near Conway, Mo.

They already have some really nice stuff hanging on the walls. I highly recommend their limited edition Dogwood version of the Martin D-18. And they had a wall full of nice, sparkling new mandolins. I test drove the Gibson Fern.

But they have had another setback.

The store was burglarized on Sept. 24. A Brazilian rosewood guitar, a Monroe signature Gibson F5 mandolin and other high-end items were stolen. See a complete list with serial numbers.

"We've been working our tails off to rebuild inventory, then this happens," Haney said.

I fully expect them to bounce back bigger and better than ever, given some time to fully recoup.

You have to be pretty resourceful in the first place to run a successful music business off the beaten path in the Missouri Ozarks.

But also, they're bluegrassers. You can't keep those people down.

© Mandolin Cafe

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