verge / april 2010 / 11
a little bit rock & roll / rock bottom music
a trip to this music store is a journey through rock & roll history “It’s a music square downtown,” Jonathan Karow, owner of Rock Bottom Music says about the area that encompasses the James Brown Arena and Statue, the Imperial Theatre, the Augusta Commons, PVC Record Shop, Joe’s Underground, Pyramid Music, The Bell Auditorium and Rock Bottom Music itself. His own employees encompass that square: most have been in major bands, playing gigs with the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Steve Morse of The Dixie Dregs. Rock Bottom Music is more than a music store; it is a repository of music knowledge. “Recognizable musicians work here,” Karow says. Even the home Rock Bottom Music resides in firmly makes up the square: the one-hundred-year-old Johnson Building. And Karow wants to firmly plant Rock Bottom Music in Augusta’s rock and roll history. His vision for the store is much more; creating “a Hard Rock Café that sells musical instruments at a rock bottom price.” “I wanted Rock Bottom to be a legendary music store like Manny’s in New York or Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. Augusta is a music city and it deserves a historic music store as such,” Karow continues. Duff McKagan from Guns ‘N’ Roses has played an acoustic set in the store (he’s also a customer), as has the band Sevendust. People from France, Canada, and all over the world come to Rock Bottom Music; what many people consider to be one of the top music stores in the world, ranking right up there with shops in New York and Los Angeles. Major television crews who come into town during Masters and other events “always end up in our store,” Karow says. Fender, ESP, Takamine and Pearl, some of the leading guitar and drum makers respectively, are proud to call Rock Bottom their premiere dealer in the area. With more than 10,000 music stores in the world, half of them in the United States, Karow thinks of their internationally recognized success as a “dream come true.” Rock Bottom exudes rock and roll from the moment you pull up to the corner. But its much more than simply a place to buy a guitar. Karow’s extensive collection of music memorabilia is on display throughout the store. Many of the pieces have a personal history with Karow and Augusta, as well. There is the 1960’s Royal Artist organ from Bloomingdale’s in New York, formerly owned by James Brown, original autographs from Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys band, and RIAA gold and platinum record awards from such bands as Nirvana, Marshall Tucker Band, and the Doors (the last is signed by Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek). One of the rare pieces fans can see in Rock Bottom is a lithograph of the Beatles from their Greaser Cavern Club days signed by original drummer Pete Best. The walls are littered with Hootie and the Blowfish autographs; not to mention the signed guitars: a John Fogerty guitar, and an Eddie Van Halen guitar pickup and a George Lynch of Dokken hand painted ESP guitar. One of Karow’s favorites is a rare Gibson Custom-Shop Purple Burst Thunderbird bass owned by Scott Jones from Caroline’s Spine, whose album Monsoon went gold and who also toured with Kiss. One of Karow’s most precious possessions is a Stuart Spector bass guitar made especially for Karow, that he calls his “Jurassic Bass.” Made of over five-hundred-yearold water-cured redwood with ebony wood, brass, 24kt gold, mother of pearl and quarter-sawn maple, the bass was built for Jonathan in honor of the tenth anniversary of Rock Bottom Music. It was the 555th bass made by Spector. It’s construction was begun on Karow’s birthday and finished on Spector’s birthday. There are only about ten instruments made by Spector from this rare redwood. One is owned by Nickelback. There are original snare drums by Kiss, Sevendust, and Poison. Guitars by Zakk Wylde of the Ozzy Osbourne band, Duff McKagan, Buck Cherry, and two guitars by Kiss member Paul Stanley, including one he smashed on the 1983 Lick It Up Tour at the Augusta Richmond County Civic Center (now the James Brown Arena). Turn the corner and you’ll spy a Washburn Augusta model
guitar signed by the James Brown band, Slipknot drum heads and the 1980 Kramer AXE bass designed by Gene Simmons of Kiss that is pictured on a well known Rick James album cover. A Takamine guitar, with a mother of pearl logo by country star Toby Keith, is on display as is a Blackstone Cherry signed Gretsch, and an autographed Duff McKagan Fender signature model bass. Other items include an embroidered jacket from the road crew for the Aerosmith/Kiss tour which Karow worked on and a drumstick holder owned by John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. Drum heads used by members of bands such as Cinderella, Ratt, Poison, Shinedown, Reba McEntire, James Brown, Buck Cherry, Skid Row, Saving Abel, and regular customers such as Rehab, Mother’s Finest, Saving Able and Avenged Sevenfold, who come to Rock Bottom and shop when they play in town are also there for customers to enjoy. “This historic building has also been visited by such legends as Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson,” says Karow.
a piece of local art
“Augusta is a music city and it deserves a historic music store as such.” - JONATHAN KAROW
Karow has a collection of thousands of original records, backstage passes, and artist-used drum-sticks and guitar picks dating to the 1960’s. He is still adding to that collection. “I will always play music and collect pieces of music history. I enjoy giving back for music history preservation and education,” Karow explains with sincerity. Other than music legends, Rock Bottom has signed Fred Gretsch drums and guitars, a well known pioneer in musical instrument manufacturing from the Georgia/ South Carolina area for over 125 years. There is musicrelated art by locals Henry Wynn, Troy Campbell, and Chris Murray. Two of the Rock Bottom Music outdoor signs are giant guitars made by local metal sculptor Daniel Forman. “I was about four years old when I got into Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath,” owner Karow says. His father constantly played a montage of Classical, Jazz, Opera, Motown, Blues, Rock and Zydeco music. From that time, Jonathan has been a passionate music lover, immersing himself in the culture. “Two of my dearest personal items are my first birthday gift ever. It is a red and silver drum piggy bank which I still have and the last thing my father gave me before passing away was an African talking drum.” Karow says.
signed by Black Stone Cherry
some of the Kiss collection
from Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne
signed by James Brown’s Band
“I took positive experiences from other music stores I’ve been to around the world,” Karow continues, who has never worked in a music store but knows how he wants to be treated when he shops. “This is what I do,” Karow says. “I grew up wanting more bang for my buck,” he says, “a good value for my customers.” But when it comes down to it, Karow’s music store, with over 400 guitars and drums for sale, is a little bit shop and a little bit museum, and it has plenty more secrets and stories for fans interested in the history behind the music. Rock Bottom Music is located at 758 Broad Street and open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. ROCKBOTTOMMUSIC.COM article by D.H.L. photos by CHRIS SELMEK