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Monday, November 24, 2014

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Joel, Rocktown Music Owner

Joel is a third generation resident of St. Cloud and a graduate of Apollo High School.  "When the opportunity came to open a music store in the St. Cloud Area, I knew I had to do it.  I couldn't snooze," He says. "This is the town I was raised in.  I've been playing at the local venues since I was a kid. I've been involved in a big way in many of the local stores and studios since the eighties.  I've done a lot in the local music community.  I knew I wanted to own a music store, and I knew I wanted to raise my kids in St. Cloud... it only made sense to do it all in one place."

As a professional musician:

Joel's career began in his teen years.  He and high school friends put together a great little band and played bars and ballrooms across the state with Joel on lead guitar and backing vocals.  "Back then it was a lot of oldies... I mean, we did Van Halen too," he laughs.  Just out of high school, he went on the road with very popular hard rock band, Mace.  "I was the youngest guy in the band by 10 years. The tour bus literally pulled up to the front door of my parent's house.  I was 17, just graduated high school.  I kissed my mom good-bye and got on board. The band leader greeted me by saying,  'Sit down, kid, it's going to be a long ride.'" He continues,  "I learned a lot about sound, lights, and the business side of running a band from Kent.  It was his band.  He's a good guy." Mace was a springboard for Joel to start his own band, Liberator.  "That was the age of excess.  I had double guitar stacks, 64 par cans, towers of PA to the ceiling... it was nuts.  The lead singer, Lisa, was the only female in the group.  She did everyone's hair."  Liberator got some attention from radio stations, record labels, and endorsements.  "We were almost there, then Nirvana hit and it was different overnight."  Joel spent the grunge years playing the in several of the top cover band acts that toured the midwest.  Joel met Scott (the piano teacher at Rocktown Music) at an audition for a touring band called Visionary.  They both made it in.  He started lead singing when the band manager fired the vocalist and put Joel in the spotlight.  "He must have known I could do it or else he might not have fired him.  Within a few days we were on stage with Gary Richrath from REO Speedwagon, and I was singing and playing guitar."  When Visionary disbanded, Joel convinced Scott to move from Wisconsin to St. Cloud and they formed a band called Rocktown.  Scott has lived here ever since.  "We played our 1000th show at Bubba's.  They put our picture in the paper and made an event out of it."  Rocktown is actually kind of still together.  "We added a member and now we're called Puppet Show.  Spinal Tap has never opened for us," he chuckles.  "We only play once in awhile since everyone's pretty busy with other projects."  Lately, his focus has been on the Joel Edwin acoustic project. Joel plays guitar, piano, mandolin, ukulele, and, of course he sings.  "It's great.  I'm older now, so the excessive volume and heavy gear don't appeal to me as much as when I was younger.  I get to play a lot of different instruments that I wouldn't be able to play in an electric band.  Plus I get to play some of the nicest resorts in Minnesota.  Beautiful venues, great scenery, nice perks.  It's a perfect fit for me."  Not that he doesn't still play rock music.  Joel is in a few assemblies of musicians that are seen regularly at the Benton Station and The Red Carpet.  He's doing vocals, guitar and keys. "I still love to play electric guitar, but I'm a pretty versatile guy"  You can often find updates on Joel's acoustic and electric band dates on the Facebook page, or just ask anyone at the store what's coming up!

As an expert on PA and lighting:

Joel was always the PA owner in all of his bands, even in high school.  "I would sit around reading instruction manuals the size of phone books for mixers all weekend as a teenager.  I just really wanted to learn it."  His study has served him well, both as a musician and salesperson.  He's had the opportunity to run sound for a number of national acts, and nearly every venue in the St. Cloud area.  "When certain groups come within 200 miles, I'm their guy." Joel managed the outside sales for Mars Music in the early 2000's.  "I was the go-to-guy for PA.  They let me be part time because my sales were good enough.  I gigged four nights a week so I couldn't work more at the store."  After the Mars national bankruptcy was announced, he was hired immediately off the sales floor to Guitar Center.  A chance encounter on a day of struggle with the corporate culture landed him at a smaller, independent store called Main Street Music in Elk River, MN.  "I took that store from a guitar and Band & Orchestra shop to a PA powerhouse.  We quadrupled our stock and sales of PA the first year I worked there." He remarks. "I've installed a lot of PA in my carreer," He sighs, "And sold a lot more.  It's gotta be a million dollars worth.  I've installed PA in more churches, schools and bars than I could count... really great stuff... high arches and through cement so you can't see the cables."  He knows lights too.  In 1995 (!) with Rocktown, Joel was running sequenced, MIDI-controlled intelligent light shows and MIDI-controlled digital mixers together.  "You gotta remember, this was back before there was a computer in every home.  The guys that designed this stuff were calling me to find out how to do what we were doing." He laughs.  "They didn't know how to actually make their own stuff work."162

As a Repair Technician and Luthier:

"My great-grandfather made and repaired violins.  Once in awhile I come across one with his name on it.  My grandfather was a woodworker too.  When I was little, my brother and I would play in his woodshop while our parents played cards.  I used to take apart radios just to see how they work and put parts from 3 different things together into something new."  He started putzing around on his own guitars on the road in a pinch.  And then at Main Street, he started apprenticing under their guitar tech after swapping some valuable vocational advice.  "I was helping him wire pots while he was showing me how to straighten warped wood."  Pretty soon he was the main technician, and after his reputation got out, repairs were almost all he did there.  He did repairs at Main Street for almost ten years.  Joel's customers reported that he was the guy who fixed things that no one else could.  He's also fixed guitars for touring ESP endorsees.  "That was pretty cool.  Apparently one of their big endorsees told ESP about how well I did on his guitar and pretty soon ESP is sending me warranty work.  They don't do that with just anyone, most of that work is done at headquarters."

As a Music Teacher:

Joel has been teaching lessons for over 15 years.  "I've studied music with lots of people in lots of places.  I've pined over many books.  And, of course there's the school of hard knocks... like singing with a cold for twenty straight days... I've done that more than once.  And you learn something from doing that, something you can teach someone else.  At first, I didn't really know what I was doing [as a teacher]. It took awhile to figure it out.  There's more to being a good teacher than being a good musician or a good student.  You don't learn everything in school.  For example, I helped a vocal professor from Berklee, Dr. Thompson, on his home studio.  I learned more about vocals over that hour in his basement than I had from DVDs, books, or hours of lessons from other teachers.  A good teacher can do that."  Well, if Joel's busy schedule is any indication of whether he's figured it out, it is pretty clear that he has become one of the most in demand music teachers in the state.  He teaches full time two days and could teach more, but there's so many other things he's doing.  Joel teaches Mandolin, Banjo, Ukulele, Advanced Guitar, and vocals at Rocktown Music.  "Vocals are my favorite.  I do things differently than my teachers did it.  I take what was given to me and combine it with my knowledge and experience... My students like it. They get results they didn't get from other teachers, not even from their college classes.  They come back on Thanksgiving break for just one more lesson."

A well rounded musician working on the ground in almost every area of the music business.

"I get bored doing one thing all day, every day," he sighs.  "Some people can do it, I never could.  I have too many interests and maybe not enough patience to do the same thing all the time."  The heart of a local store is the passion and experience of the owner-operator.  "People want to work with real people, people that have some experience, people that know what they are talking about... " who could be better qualified to help you?