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NAMM: The Return of the Mega Musical Playground


by John M. Borack

The NAMM Show, presented by the National Association of Music Merchants, took center stage at the Anaheim (CA) Convention Center in late January, with musicians, music industry employees, and buyers and sellers of instruments and/or music-related merchandise all gathering for a busy weekend at this enormous, somewhat overwhelming musical playground.


New products were premiered from more than 5,000 (!) music brands including guitars, drums, pro-audio and DJ gear, keyboards, music technology, band and orchestral instruments and so much more. There were also special live music events (Graham Nash and Dr. John being among this year’s performers), celebrity appearances (including Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Billy Corgan, Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, Questlove, and Steve Vai) and plenty of educational sessions and interviews. Tons to see, touch, play and experience, and not nearly enough time to do it all, of course.

Your humble scribe attempts to visit different vendors each year and report back, and this year I focused on scoping out some interesting products, rather than strictly instruments. I perused the Hal Leonard Corporation’s offerings for quite some time, and checked out the massive amount of songbooks they were displaying. For over 60 years, they’ve been publishing and distributing publications for virtually every type of instrument and ensemble. And when they claim, “virtually every type of instrument,” these guys mean it. Have you been looking for The Beatles for Flute, for example? They’ve got it. Or maybe you’ve been in the market for sheet music for “Paperback Writer” on clarinet. Or alto sax. Tenor sax, maybe? Trumpet or trombone? Violin? Yep, they have all of the above. Impressive. Another focus this year was a huge Star Wars display, for sheet music from The Force Awakensand beyond.


Elsewhere at Hal Leonard, there were dozens of licensed gift items for various rock acts, courtesy of Iconic Concepts. There’s really something of a cottage industry for this type of stuff: tin signs, glassware, playing cards, puzzles, wristbands, metal lunch boxes (the AC/DC one is certain to scare your child’s teachers), drink coasters and more. My favorite item was probably the Michael Jackson Bad earbuds – with a 3-year limited warranty, no less. There were also numerous designer guitars to ogle, including a spiffy-looking Jimi Hendrix Axis: Bold as Loveacoustic and a line of sports-related axes from Woodrow Guitar.


My vote for this year’s most innovative display goes to the Moog Island of Electronics, which I passed on my way outside to check out the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. I was given a tour of the bus, which is now in its 19th year; it’s fully stocked with state-of-the-art recording and video equipment and travels throughout the United States shining the spotlight on the importance of music education for young people. The mission of the Lennon bus is to provide students with increased access to music, audio, video and broadcast technologies. While touring the bus, I had the good fortune to watch some musicians jamming, and listened to a recording featuring an 11-year-old drummer, a 16-year-old guitarist and a 16-year-old bassist who were rehearsing in preparation for a performance backing the legendary Dr. John at the 2016 Imagine Party. Great stuff.


While at NAMM I also had the opportunity to interview Wally Palmar, Mike Skill and Rich Cole from the Romantics for my upcoming book, Shake Some Action 2.0: An Updated Guide to the 200 Best Power Pop LPs, 1970 – 2016(more info on that coming soon). In addition to the always-interesting sights and sounds, I was privileged to meet a soon-to-be Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. All in all, a pretty successful day, I’d say.