By Tony De Caria and Les
FORDS BLUES CONNECTION
Now that I think of it all these years later, Fords was destined to have a heavy blues influence many years before I got there. The Purple Hearts had completely blown away three kids at a venue across the road in Stanley St. called “The Bowl”.
We had been having guitar lessons for some months and had at the time become rather bored with Shadows instrumentals and the top 40 hits played by the resident bands, finding Smokestack Lightnin’ infinitely more exciting. So, off to the Prim. The Primitif Jr. was an absolutely life changing experience as the whole audience
seemed to be into the blues, and the “Hearts” did not disappoint. Not long after, we heard about an”R’nB band that was playing at a Cannon Hill school fete, so along we went. They were a bit scratchy, but made up for that with obvious enthusiasm and appreciation of the music so we ended up talking to the guitarist of the band, Jimmy Brelesford..
Jim was playing his new bright red Maton Fyrbyrd through a Moody amp to which he showed no mercy. Drawing more than a few concerned looks from the hovering teachers. The next time I saw him was at The Open Door with the early version of the Bay City Union. They sounded great. Unfortunately, the singer, living up to his appropriate nickname of “Pig Boy Johnson” dropped the tone by pausing mid song to sit on the front of the stage to light a fart. Classy.
Later, after a while when I had started at Fords I began to recognize a lot of the faces from the Prim, not the least Barry Lyde (later named Lobby Loyd), Jimmy Brelesford, Peter Miles and a young man called Mick Diggles who, even then, was a staunch blues enthusiast. In fact, The Blues Association of South East
Queensland was started by him.
Tony and I both had blues bands when we started. Combine that with Mal’s enthusiast involvement (and a great blues player in his own right ) which included guest appearances of our beloved “Hearts” in that shabby old basement It’s not surprising to learn that The ‘Ol Girl Fords’ played a huge part in making Brisbane the blues loving city it is today.
Fords by Les
The first I heard of this place called Fords was from my parents who had bought my first guitar for £8/10/-. A Belmont acoustic (with steel reinforced neck), purchased from a nice young fella who said that I could “come in anytime”. So, along with two mates with whom I had just started guitar lessons with in Wynnum, made the trek
one fateful Saturday morning and experienced the magic of the “Aladdin’s cave” that was Fords. Alighting from the tram (yes, the TRAM) we had caught from our mate Steve Tatton’s house in Moorooka we were confronted by two huge windows stacked with guitars and amplifiers that simply left us amazed. And that was before we even entered through those timber framed doors to the “wonders” within. I was indentured to an apprenticeship as an electrical mechanic, so it was some time later that Mal asked if I would like to come to work at Fords. Duuuuuh!
Anyway, Mal introduced me to Les FORD … yep the bloke with his name on the door. Mr Ford was a sombre, tall man who, after his close questioning of my firm commitment to my newly appointed post left me grateful he didn’t require it in written form … in blood.
The first day on board was a Saturday. (Talk about in the deep end.) As usual the place was a madhouse and eventually I made my first sale. It was to a Dad who had brought his son in to buy his first electric guitar and amp. I sold them a Jason guitar and, I think, a little Coltone amp for which the Dad dutifully made out a cheque for the combined amount. When I excitedly reported the total back to Mal he told me that it was too much and to drop the sale price by $10.00. I’ll never forget the grin on the Dad’s face when I asked him to alter the cheque … or the
look on Mal’s face when he realized what had happened. I learned a lot that day.
The take away lesson I learned on that first day contributed to every sale from then on. Everybody got a great deal that would ensure that anything else they bought later would be from Fords. In fact, quite a few of those teenage kids that came in with their Dad for their first guitar are still counted as our good friends over fifty years later.
Fords By Tony
I bought my first guitar from Fords Music Centre. How many times have you heard THAT? It was a Belmont acoustic. I can’t remember if it was a round hole or an f -hole. I discovered Fords when I was working at an engineering firm at Buranda in the early sixties, walking from Dutton Park to Woolloongabba, crossing at Stanley
Street past Fords Music every day to drool at all the guitars in the window. That went on for months and years.
One of those days Mal asked me if I could help him out for a couple of weeks, while Les was on holidays. I think I said yes before he finished talking, as Fords had such a big profile name with all the musos. I felt very privileged to have such an opportunity. In that couple of weeks I was there I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and then … I sold something, wow, my first sale. It gave me such an incredible high helping people that I kept on selling and Mal saw my potential and, as a lot of you know the rest of it is history.
As a fitter and turner I remember on one occasion I made a Jazzmaster/Jaguar full tremolo kit for Mal as it was impossible to get any spare parts from Fender in those days. Although I was only the “apprentice” at the start I worked under Les, but over time the three of us, Mal, Les and myself became a good team and served all the great (and not so great) musicians of that era with great service, great product knowledge and great respect for the customers, who made what we became at that time. Of course not to forget those great deals.
There were no computers, no mobile phones and no internet. My kids say to me … “How did you ever survive?” Hahaha. As time went by Fords was getting so busy that the times were a changing and we had to divide the shop into two separate divisions. Mal and Les ended up in Pianos and Organs and I managed the Fords Sound Centre, which were side by side and again I say the rest is history. As you all know me I had a passion for music, instruments and most importantly, people. Some of the bands I was in at that time were The Trojans, Milestones, Satisfied Minds and of course Ice Bag Parties.
Regards and much love to all,
Tony De Caria
In those days the title “guitar technician” simply didn’t exist. When a shipment of Fenders came into the shop from the importer in Sydney, J. Stanley Johnson, it became a natural operation to take off the heavy gauge, flat wound strings (that would have been a hit with the ‘Ol Boy country players ten years before) and replace them with lighter gauge set that gave our customers what they needed to play the current R ’n B and Pop music. This “simple” exercise meant that the neck had to be removed to be adjusted, and when it was put back on the guitar required a “shim” to set the angle. Normally the thickness of a Gibson Sonomatic string packet. I have often wondered how many Fenders out there owe their great playability to a bit of Gibson cardboard. Oh, and then the tremolo had to be re-adjusted to allow for the difference in tension.
Anybody who walked into the Aladdin’s Cave knows the excitement of seeing all those incredible musical instruments. So you can understand what it was like working in a place like Fords SIX days a week. It whetted one’s appetite. So just after starting at Fords I traded my trusty £45/-/- Harmony Meteor on what was to be the first of seven Fenders in my quest for the right guitar. The thing about Fenders is that they are not restricted by being glued together …. so I started all sorts of experiments which culminated in the “TeleJag” I’m playing in the pic with the
As we were all players, we had a real understanding of what our customers needed, moreover we would go the “extra mile” to ensure their wishes were realized. To that end we provided services that ranged from shaving the neck of a
brand new Stratocaster so close that it required an Xray to ensure against exposing the truss rod to installing extra switching on the mighty Strat, carving belly cutouts on Telecasters and offering musos the choice of their guitar own in any colour they desired. And when someone came in with a service problem they knew they were talking to somebody who would understand what they were talking about and not experience the “thousand – mile stare” they experienced with some other stores.
As the demand for musical instruments increased, so did the opportunities for local manufacturers. A young Dutchman by the name of Hans Overeem was keen for Fords to sell his newly developed transistorized amplifiers and so the first model appeared on the floor. The idea was to use it as a demonstration unit from which
orders could be taken for Hans to fulfil from his factory. A great idea in theory, but when a persistent young man by the name of Glenn Wheatley offered to buy it, from Mal, a man who found it impossible to turn down a sale… the stage was set. As a result, until production caught up, it was arranged for Glenn to bring it back on ensuing Saturday mornings for an enterprising ten bob a pop. It was a VERY clean amp, which in the days of the Shadows etc. was great … but times were a changin’.
A young designer like Hans found it extremely hard for to come to grips with the idea of an amplifier that could be driven into DISTORTION was highly desirable. It went against all he had been taught. So when he asked me to describe the sound we were looking for he decided that he should reduce some of the inbuilt “filtration”
and thus let the amp “breathe a bit,” as I described it. The outcome was a success. There were a few small “side effects though.” The most unfortunate, and I speak from an experience with my own Overeem.
There was an annoying tendency for it to occasionally receive an impromptu radio broadcast, in my case in
the middle of “Dust my Broom.” I thought it only occurred in guitar amps as Hans produced excellent bass amplifiers but later was witness to a bemused “Twilights” who started jiving to ‘Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog’ blurting from the newly installed PA at The Scene. You can’t be on the cutting edge of technology without getting a few nicks now and again.
At that time, we had no access to Vase due to an agreement they had with another Music Outlet, so obviously when comparisons were made we enthusiastically came down on the side of Overeem. Tony Troughton, the no nonsense owner/designer of “Victory Audiophonic Sound Equipment” whose acronym gave us VASE, wasn’t too enchanted at some of the (obviously distorted) reports that had got back to him…… so …..
I recall Mal and I were talking in the middle of the shop floor when I noticed a young man in white overalls struggling across the street with a huge speaker box, closely followed by a big man with a surly expression carrying an amp head. …………. “Mal, I think that’s Tony Troughton.”
Tony had come to set the record straight and started off in no loose terms in the strong Northern accent of a Lancastrian. “Maaaah Vaaaaase Umplifiers …… “ and so on. Then, for the first time, a Vase amp was taken down into the newly cleared basement where it was given a right old hammering. And it sounded magnificent. Fords became pretty much the home of Vase from then on. Tony was very happy with the sales and was extremely open to any feedback (heh heh) that Mal, me and later, Tony (Decaria) offered to keep up with a rapidly changing market.
There were a few people who left Vase thinking they had obtained all that was needed to produce a product that could compete in opposition, but these “pretenders to the throne” couldn’t hold a candle to a world class amp that was the result of the passion, pride and precision built into these amazing products.
Initially the sole purpose of the basement was as a demonstration area where a prospective buyer could try out new amplifiers and guitars at the sort of volume that they would use onstage. To make that possible we would have to lug all the equipment down two sets of stairs and then set everything up. A rather tedious task that gave increased incentive to ensure that a sale was clinched and it was then loaded into its new owner’s vehicle. Another happy customer. Billy Gilbertson was a regular Saturday morning visitor and would just love to play.
I know most memories would be of those who experienced his blistering rendition of the entire “Beano” album featuring a young Clapton, but before he discovered Eric we were treated with instrumental renditions of current hits such as Cat Stevens “Matthew and Son.” But it was when he got into playing “All Your Love,” Steppin’ Out” and Hideaway things were on a roll.
Obviously we needed a bass player, a role quickly filled by one Patrick W Clifford and a drummer. Sometimes an incredible young percussionist named Peter Miles would drop in to fill that role, terrifying any would be “skin specialists” so much that they went out of their way to conceal newly purchased drumsticks protruding from
back pockets. Pretty soon word got round attracting a constant stream of interested people down to a dank, dark, smoke filled basement that wouldn’t stand a chance under today’s Health and Safety regulations. A lot of good noises came out of that Basement.
I’m sure that most of the people who experienced the activities on a Saturday morning at Fords had images of constant jams through the week, but no. Even so it brings back memories of weekday visits by the likes of Billy Thorpe with his newly named mate Lobby Loyd, who was keen to show us the “modifications” to his Fender Jaguar, transformed from the original immaculate sunburst finish I remembered. He had painted it a kind of apple green, sawn a section off the body and cut the famous Fender scroll on the headstock to a point. The resultant finish made it absolutely indistinguishable to the untrained eye. Most certainly to that of a repossession agent.