I was born in Omaha Nebraska in 1947. My father was a World War II Navy veteran working as a electrician in the post war construction boom. At the age of eight our family moved to Tucson Arizona where my father worked as a maintenance electrician for Hughes Aircraft.My musical interest started in the 4th grade when I began playing Trombone in the school band.
I continued my music into high school where my career focus was heading toward working in the trades.I enjoyed shop classes and was seriously thinking about becoming a machinist. In the spring of my sophomore year I had to take my trombone in for repairs. I did not know it at the time, but this event was to change my life forever.
Charles Unruh ran a wind instrument repair shop out of his home in Tucson. Charley was a retired line foreman from the Selmer Instrument Company in Elkhart Indiana. He had worked as a lead man in the early days of development of the Mark VI saxophone. When I went to his shop I felt like a kid in a candy store with a great sense of wonder as to the kind of work he was doing. It fascinated me because it seemed like such a wonderful combination of the two things I loved most, which were music and working with my hands. Charley must of sensed my enthusiasm because about two weeks later he called me and asked if I would be interested in starting as an apprentice to help him with his summer school repairs. After I had peeled myself off the ceiling I ran over and worked out a work schedule for after school and Saturdays.
I could not have asked for a better mentor. Charley had integrity, an incredible knowledge of his craft and the patience to work with a clumsy kid who messed up a lot. This man knew wind instruments like few people ever have and I was truly blessed to have learned from him. I loved the work and after only two weeks on the job I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I worked for Charley my last two years of high school and then full time after I graduated. In the spring of 1967, I was offered a job at the Benge trumpet company in Burbank, CA. I was just shy of 20 when I moved to California. I was a green kid from a small town moving to LA at the peak of the Beatles music and the hippie revolution. What a time to come to LA.
I worked at Benge for four years. The foreman was Louis Duda and once again I was blessed with a patient teacher who taught me a great deal about the production of brass instruments. I worked in all departments except bell making but spent most of my time as what is called a “mounter”. My job was to take all the component parts and assemble the frame of the instrument. When I started, the company was still building “hand made” horns and I seem to remember I assembled about 12 frames a week. About a year after I started at Benge, I met Earl Williams of the Williams Trombone Company. Earl took a liking to me and I began to work my day off at his factory. Earl was an innovative designer and developed many production methods that were way ahead of his time.
I had been wanting to get back to instrument repair and in 1971, I obtained the repair contract for the Burbank Unified School District. I left the trumpet company and went into business full time as a repairman. These were hard times and it took a few years to get the business going. However, I soon had other school accounts and was doing work for several music stores. Looking for additional revenue to help me through the lean times, I took a job in 1983 teaching wind instrument repair at Pasadena City College. In 1985, I went to work at the Los Angeles Unified Schools musical instrument repair shop. I continued to run my business on the side while working for the district.
Working in the LA schools shop expanded my skills as a repairman. I was able to learn from the experience of 22 other technicians and they were a great bunch of guys to work with. My outside business began to rebuild with instrument rentals leading the way. I retired from LA Unified in 2002 and continued to build my business until 2016.
In 2016 I decided to sell my business and retire. The business my wife, Nedra and I built was now placed in the capable hands of Bertrand’s Music, a company that puts students, musicians and education over profit. I am excited to continue to work for them as a lead repair technician until Nedra and I move to Idylwild, California.