Two milestone anniversaries were celebrated on Saturday, June 2 with Brooklyn’s iconic Gretsch guitar line celebrating its 135th anniversary and Bay Ridge Gretsch dealer Street Sounds turning 30.
For more than a decade, Street Sounds has been celebrating the legacy of Gretsch guitars. In fact, “Gretsch Day” has become an anticipated community event that attracts musicians and music lovers from all across the borough, and beyond.
This year’s event featured a full day of music, ranging from rock and rockabilly to bluegrass and the blues. There was free food, drinks and numerous giveaways that included three Gretsch guitars with cases.
Street Sounds owner Rocky Schiano welcomed the crowd and offered a brief history of the Gretsch guitar brand, which, he said, started “just a few miles away in Williamsburg.”
Joe Carducci, a record producer, author, A&R executive and Gretsch’s current marketing director, served as master of ceremonies. Carducci introduced Fred Gretsch, president of the Gretsch Company.
Gretsch thanked the Schiano family — Rocky, his wife Mireille, daughter Kristina, son Matthew and Rocky’s mother Eleanor — for proudly representing his brand.
“We welcome the Gretsch community back to Brooklyn,” Gretsch said. “If you weren’t here already, we’ve got people coming in from California, from Arizona, from Georgia and South Carolina, from Connecticut and New Jersey.
“We’re happy to be here in Brooklyn,” he went on. “My great granddad landed here in 1872 at the age of 16, moved in with family, learned music instrument making here in 1883 and 135 years ago started the Gretsch business. So we’re here to celebrate 135 years in business. It’s our roots, and our hearts will always be in Brooklyn.”
A member of the fourth generation in the Gretsch family, Gretsch added, “And we’ve got two more generations behind us. My fifth generation daughter is in the business and two more grandkids are coming along.”
Schiano has been in the music business since 1988, when he opened Street Sounds as a CD store. He eventually switched over to selling instruments and offering music lessons.
Located about 10 miles away from the original Gretsch factory, Street Sounds is one of the largest authorized Gretsch dealers in the world and carries one of the largest inventories of Gretsch guitars anywhere.
Renowned artists and musicians such as John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and guitar legend Duane Eddy have come to visit Schiano to check out his vast collection of Gretsch guitars.
Friedrich Gretsch started the Gretsch Company in 1883. He opened a shop at 104 South Fourth St. in Williamsburg. In 1916, he moved the company to a larger building that he had built at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn.
Legendary musicians from Eddie Cochran and George Harrison to Tom Petty and Pete Townsend have played Gretsch guitars. Country musician Chet Atkins endorsed a popular series of Gretsch guitars starting in 1954.
The event featured performances by the rock group Slim Kings, country acoustic guitarist Doyle Dykes and folk-blues artist Patrick Sampson.
Opening act Anthony Bambino delivered a standout rockabilly showcase including favorites such as “Sleep Walk,” the Stray Cats’ “Gene and Eddie,” and Brian Setzer favorites “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hoodoo Voodoo Doll,” “Dirty Boogie” and “49 Mercury Blues.”
Gretsch Custom Shop guitar builder Stephen Stern, a woodcrafter, explained how he started working at Fender guitars in 1993, before taking over the Gretsch Custom Shop in 2005.
Stern showed off a number of custom-built guitars explained how they are made from start to finish. “It is a true custom guitar from a block of wood,” Stern said. “They are not premade,” he added.
A highlight of the event occurred when Father Mark Haydu — who works with the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum — and five other priests were introduced.
“I know Fred because he supported the collection of the Vatican Museum restoring some of our musical instruments,” Haydu said. Haydu, a guitar player himself added, “Fred actually gave me the guitar I rock and praise with so I want to thank Fred for his generosity.”
State Sen. Marty Golden attended the event and presented Schiano with a certificate of merit saluting Street Sounds’ 30 years in the community.
Golden said that he was glad to be at the event and thanked Rocky for all the good work he and his family have done. He pointed out that Rocky taught his son how to play guitar. “This is a great family and this is a great business,” Golden said. “And this is a great place to be today.”