"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Wedged in Park Hill just between ½ of ½ Name Brand Clothing, a car wash and an elementary school, there's an unassuming storefront with the words "Dogtown Sound" in the sort of font we're accustomed to seeing in slogans like "Keep On Truckin' " or "Feelin' Groovy." Inside, the design is sharp and clean. A single seafoam green wall makes the Resonator and Lindert guitars hanging on it look like oversized pieces of candy. In sharp contrast are the adjacent walls, on which dark blocks of multitoned wood fit together like a screenshot from Tetris. Shiny skateboard decks hang on a rack in two rows, and drumsticks are organized in a wire bin atop a glass display case bookended by a low chalkboard that's evidently kept children busy doodling while their older companions browse and strum. It's the gearhead opus of Adrian Bozeman, Andy Warr and Jason Tedford, who opened their doors on New Year's Day 2016 with a mission to "buy, sell, trade, repair and consign guitars and accessories for local musicians," and to operate a "micro-venue" for intimate early-evening shows. It works at least in part because the owners' collective resumes are a major part of the soundtrack to this city.
Bozeman, son of luthier John Bozeman and veteran of bands like Peckerwolf, the Federalis and The Brian Nahlen Band, has been working on instruments since he was 7 years old. He mans the shop most days, and he's responsible for the vibrant interior design.
"We didn't want it to feel dark and dusty," he said. "Even those old music stores that we love were sort of stagnant, never really in that much motion. We want this to feel like a music store, but also sort of like a head shop or a record store, lively and airy and fun."
He shows me a mountain dulcimer lying on the counter. I remark on the flower-shaped accents adorning the front. He tells me his father made them, and flips the instrument over to reveal tiny teal deposits where one might usually see rivets or pins. "Turquoise powder," he says. "Mixed with epoxy." The dulcimer, as it turns out, is backed with wood from a cedar tree Bozeman cut down himself. "It was being choked by some elms. I had a choice between a few new cedars nearby, but this one needed to go. I prayed over it and cut it down. I'm weird like that."
Bozeman's woodwork frames the space at the back of the shop, too, where there's a full drum set and an open carpeted area where a live Willie Nelson show is playing on a TV screen. Dogtown's hosted a few early shows in the space, and has plans to expand this "microvenue" part of the business in the upcoming year.
Warr and Tedford had already been planning the venture when Bozeman stepped in. It's hard to think of anyone in Little Rock who's had more occasion to test out what sorts of sounds complement what sorts of bands than Warr because, well, he's played with so many of them (Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth, Marvin Berry, Frontier Circus, Iron Tongue, Booyah! Dad). Local musician Isaac Alexander designed the store's logo, which Bozeman says was used without edit. "We told him what we wanted, and he sent us that design, and that was it. He worked the dog in there, and the dog's tongue. Even the holes in the letters look like a violin bridge."
Tedford's co-ownership of a guitar shop is another natural fit. Besides being a veteran of the scene himself (Ashtray Babyhead, Marygold, Gas Can, Iron Tongue), he's owned and operated Wolfman Studios since 2005, and recorded bands for 10 years prior. His sense of what kind of equipment local musicians seek out is finely tuned.
When I visited Wolfman Studios last week to talk about Dogtown Sound, Tedford was putting the finishing touches on a track earnestly titled "Rock and Roll," by local band deFrance. I asked what sorts of tracks patrons play in guitar shops when they're trying to impress those in the vicinity. Joseph Fuller, who plays more instruments than most people could identify on sight, and Drew deFrance, the group's frontman and guitarist, weighed in. "Stevie Ray," Fuller said. Tedford described some unwritten rules: "It used to be no "Stairway to Heaven," then maybe no "Enter Sandman." DeFrance ticked off a few: "Guitar Center kids playing 'Need for Speed' licks. Maybe [twangs out the opening riff to "Folsom Prison Blues"], but that's just 'cause we're in Arkansas. Or just anything with a bunch of gain." Tedford said, "That doesn't happen very often" at Dogtown, though, and rattles off a tale about "this North Little Rock police officer who comes in. He's a flat-pickin' bluegrass dude. He comes in, and he's real [puts on a mock serious police voice], he's real quiet. Proper."
"He also drives this 1997 gold Trans Am that's tits. We're sitting there gawking at his car from inside the store, and then he comes in and grabs an acoustic and just kills it."
Although they're eager to see more patrons from the other Little Rock neighborhoods, Bozeman says Park Hill's been a good home to the shop in many ways. Ira's Park Hill Grill is in the same plaza for visitors who want to hear an early show and follow it with dinner, and the shop is surrounded by residential areas full of folks who play guitar as a hobby or want to introduce their children to a string instrument. A new biannual event called Patio in the Park was soundtracked by a DJ until May of this year, so the Dogtown Sound crew put together a lineup of live bands for the event.
I ask about timing. After all, the era of big-box stores doesn't seem like an especially fortuitous time to open an independent guitar shop of the Gist Music variety. "There was a time when Guitar Center was a cool thing, when it first came here," Tedford said. "I've said this a lot, but it's true as hell — Guitar Center is the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, you know, the mom-and-pops. Boyd's, Music City and Stonehenge, where I used to work in the early '90s." Bozeman, a student of his father's and many other luthiers over the years, mentions Bob Boyd, too, a staple in the Little Rock jazz and music education scene whose tenure reaches back to the days when he taught accordion at Rosen Music Studios in 1957. I ask if he's been into the store yet. Bozeman says no, and that he can imagine the reprimand he might receive if and when the revered mentor pays a visit: "[In Bob Boyd voice] Adrian, come on. What are you doing with that stomp pedal and that piece of marble near that customer's guitar?"
Dogtown Sound is located at 4012 J.F.K. Blvd. in North Little Rock and is open 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
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