Phil Newby guided me through the music section of A. Gordon’s Jewelry & Loan like a curator of a museum. And I feel that’s a proper title for a man who, for the past several years, has collected local music memorabilia to be used as decorations inside the pawn shop.
Unlike the instruments, cassette tapes and other music gear positioned along walls and shelves of the Nebraska Street establishment, the items of Newby’s “tribute gallery” are not for sale. Vintage photographs, Saturday in the Park posters, show flyers, guitar picks and drum sticks and snippets of old Weekender articles are here to stay.
Each piece has a story to tell, and Newby is more than willing to share it. The first display that caught my eye was a Remo drumhead surrounded by a “star” of drumsticks and covered in autographs. I recognized a few names: Mitch Martin, Garie Lewis, Ed Tryon, Tim Vollmer and, oh yes, Doc Funk, among many others. Without hesitating, Newby explained how this item came to be.
“John Bekish, a local drummer, said, ‘Hey! There’s a Bolin Festival coming up!’ – this was like four or five years ago – he said, ‘I’ll take it down there and maybe we’ll get some signatures,’” said Newby. “Well he came back with a lot of them. Since then we’ve added more to it to the point that it’s so full that I’ve actually got another started behind the desk.”
Sure enough, Newby had another drumhead with a few scattered signatures scribbled across the flat base. Also on his desk were stacks of bootleg CDs, demos and cassettes recorded primarily by Sioux City musicians, most of which he found at swap meets, flea markets, garage sales and online markets. Now they’re part of his personal collection.
Newby thumbed through the tapes and stopped at one marked with the name Benny Barnes, an old Sioux City country musician who gained quite a reputation performing in bars around town. Newby’s eyes lit up, and I could tell he had a story to tell.
“There were two racks about like that,” Newby said, measuring out the size of container with outstretched arms. “One was in front of the other. And I’m just looking at the titles going, ‘Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it – got all of it.’ And I turned around to leave, but then I looked back… and that’s when I saw the name Benny Barnes. Damn! I’m glad I came back to look because I would have walked away!”
Newby has an eye for this sort of stuff, in part because he’s been doing it for so long. “Once you get familiar with something,” he said, “I think you can spot it out.”
The gallery’s collection began years ago when bands would ask the employees of A. Gordon’s Jewelry & Loan if they could hang posters on the shop’s window to promote an upcoming show. When the concert had passed, Newby would take down the flyers, but he didn’t throw them away.
Instead, he placed them in the back room of the pawn shop. From there, a collection steadily grew. When word spread that Newby was collecting Sioux City music memorabilia, people would start to seek him out.
“When you work at a pawn shop for 27 years, you’re going to meet musicians,” he said. “You know you’re going to meet them. They come in and they just start talkin’. When I finally got around to do this, they were more than happy to help out and bring in stuff and talk about it and sign it or whatever I wanted them to do.”
As one might expect, memorabilia from Sioux City rock ‘n’ roll group The Velaires and the departed rock guitarist Tommy Bolin make up a great deal of the tribute gallery, but Newby is generous and doesn’t play favorites, allowing for bands old and new to have a place in the collection.
Posters, articles and old Weekender covers feature bands like The Kelly Quinn Band, GhostCat, 35th and Taylor, The Rockers, The Smokin’ Clams, The Skeeters, GhostShip and the now defunct Rockestra ensemble.
Some names were completely unfamiliar to me, like Denny and The Triumphs and Patch of Blue. Newby informed me that these were old rock ‘n’ roll bands founded in the 1960s and featured a very young Tommy Bolin on guitar. I was looking at Sioux City history, and Newby was my guide.
Just about every bit of white space had been filled on these walls, but surprisingly enough Newby is still collecting. Just before I left, he showed me his latest item: a very large poster of the Sergeant Bluff band 35th and Taylor that Newby hopes to have signed by the members one day. But that could be quite the challenge. The problem isn’t getting the autographs; the problem is finding the space.
“Where the hell am I gonna put it?” he said. “I haven’t figured that out yet. But I ain’t got it signed yet so I’m not going to worry about it until it happens.”