Piano Row, 1971

Piano Row, 1971

Brina Healey worked at Jack’s Drum Shop from 1971 to 1973.

“There was always a surrealistic metalflake or pearl drum kit in the left window. A lineup of shiny, chrome-plated and slick-looking guitars in the right window. What musically-inclined rocker wouldn’t want to work at Jack’s Drum Shop, a Boston rock institution?

There was us and there was E U Wurlitzer (“Wurley’s”) up the street on the venerable “Piano Row.” Basically, there were only two cool places to be if you were in town as a wannabe, hired gun, local rocker or big gigger: us or them. Now, don’t think I harbor any bitterness toward Wurley’s: I don’t. That’s just the loyalty I felt and the friendly rivalry going on between the two stores.

In the fall of 1971 — September I think — there was an Englishman named Jimmy Page leaving Jack’s with a gold-top Les Paul that had just been tweaked by Jeff Baxter (he was not commonly referred to as “Skunk” at that point). But Wurley’s had local rockers Aerosmith and had served The Rolling Stones when they came through town on their 1972 tour.

None of this seemed to faze the owner, Jack Adams. Jack was a local drummer of some notoriety, and later, a manufacturer of drumsticks. Add a retail store and you get a busy guy. Make your own drumsticks, then sell them in your stores. Simple brilliance. Add being the exclusive distributor for Gretsch drums and you’ve got a formula for success. I remember Mr. Adams as a sweet, soft-spoken yet “all-business” type of man. Yet there was always a kind word and warm, sincere smile from him — even to a part-time grunt like me. He kept an office in the brick 252 Boylston Street building overlooking The Public Gardens.

The sales floor was always electric: alive with all kinds of crazy types. From bourbon-belting Jazz types to stoned guitar gods: Jack’s had them all. Glass cases lined the walls: filled with guitars and brass instruments for your approval. Drums slung everywhere. Barely room to hoist a foot up to support a vintage axe as you tried it out on an early Marshall amp. As was the norm, the walls were decorated with cheaply-framed 8 X 10 glossies from ‘whom-evers’ promo packs. All signed: some big names — many of whom were still unknown at the time. I remember plenty of days when many of the hard-partying staff (I was underage at the time) were in sad shape from a previous night of revelry, as the store was located in what was formerly the “Playboy Club” district, with the “Combat Zone” only blocks away and the stripper / transvestite bar “Venus” around the corner in Park Square. All pre-“Four Seasons” hotel and pedestrian mall.

Time takes its toll on everyone and everything. After Jack’s death (circa 1975), moving the business further down Boylston Street to be nearer student musicians may have seemed the thing to do, as Piano Row’s decline was becoming more noticeable with the influx of suburban music stores. Jack’s became more suburban themselves with the opening of their Norwood store and later with their Hyannis branch. In a trip by the Jack’s Boylston Street location last summer, their storefront was now a vacant expanse: up for the next tenant to resume the lease — leaving the legacy of Jack’s to the last vestige on Main Street in Hyannis, MA.
Sad. I miss you, Jack’s Drum Shop and a generation that went with you.”

Published On: February 20, 2013