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Front Page » November 30, 2006 » The Business Journal » it's music to his ears
Published 2,832 days ago

it's music to his ears


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

David Dickey stands with a new piano and the sign his dad lettered and painted when the family opened their original store just across the street from their present location in downtown Price.

Not many 14 year old boys know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Most are still interested in boyhood things, with the years of development about their career abilities ahead of them.

But for David Dickey, he knew the minute he walked into a Wurlitzer piano conference at Utah State University in 1971 what he wanted to have as a career.

"I immediately knew that someday I wanted to be a Wurlitzer dealer; I wanted to sell pianos," he said as he stood between two Baldwin grand pianos in his store, Lee's Music, located at 58 East Main in Price. "Pianos always were a part of my life, but I knew when I went to USU that is what I wanted to do."

Dickey said that he saw the Wurlitzer people as heros and legends.

"I didn't have sports stars as my heroes when I was a kid, instead I looked up to those guys," he said.

As a native of Payson, and the son of a farmer, Dickey's mother always had him sitting at a piano. In fact it was a fact of life in the Dickey house; everyone played the piano.

Dickeys father also hauled coal as a business during winter months and one day he was traveling through Price with a load and spotted an empty store front on the north side of Main Street in 1976. Dickey had just graduated from high school and was preparing to go on a mission for his church, but his father had known of his desire own a piano store. He brought home the news of the empty store front and they both wondered whether or not Carbon County could support a piano outlet. They were to find out shortly.

Jake Dickey sits at the keyboard of a piano that belonged to Liberace. The piano was brought to Price by Lee's Music as a promotion for students and patrons of the business.

"Basically we shouldn't exist as a retail store," said Dickey. "There is no where else I know where a town of this size can support a store that sells pianos. It's just an impossibility, but yet we are here."

The store opened in the fall of 1976 and Dickey's father who had partnered with his son in the business immediately hated it. Being a farmer, he had been used to being outside most of his life. He hated being cooped up. The third day the store was open, he got a parking ticket for having his car parked too long in a metered space (in those days Main Street had parking meters).

"I told my dad before I left on my mission that maybe we should have waited, but as much as he disliked it he wanted to keep it open for me," stated Dickey. "While I was on my mission he and my mother kept it going and did good enough business that it was ready for me when I came back. My father didn't like it, so my mother lived in the back of the store and heated dinner up on a hot plate each night. She and my father kept my dream alive."

When Dickey returned he bought his parents out and started his long career in the piano business.

Janis Siggard tries out a piano at the Baldwin piano factory in 1986 while David Dickey looks on. The two went back to the Baldwin factory to pick out pianos for the College of Eastern Utah music department.

He began immediately to build his business and the fact he was so successful made him into a kind of star of the Wurlitzer Company.

"Here was this guy from this little town who was selling a lot of pianos," said Dickey. "I was invited to sit on a lot of boards and panels and our store basically put Price on the musical map."

But for Dickey there has been a lot more to the business named after his father. His part in the lives of people and the community has been very important to him.

During his years in the business Dickey has employed a lot of high school and college students. For many it was a job that helped them through school. For others, working in his store became the beginning of a career.

"A week doesn't go by that someone doesn't stop by that used to work for us," he says. "They often want to talk about the old days. But there are a number who went on to do some pretty big things in the piano business."

Dickey mentioned a few including Jason Allred who works as a general manager for Larrick Piano's in Sacramento, Calif., Travis Lynhart who works for Washburn Music, Lief Nelson who is employed at Riverton Music in Salt Lake and Roger Reynolds.

Lee and June Dickey started Lee's Music in 1976 because they knew that is what their son wanted to do. June actually slept in the back of the old store and kept the business going while David was on his mission.

"I hired a number of kids and I told them they didn't need to learn this business. They were usually involved in delivery and other service," he said. "I guess they ignored me and learned anyway."

Dickey points out that those who have done well use their early experience at Lee's Music to their advantage.

"The way I look at it if you can sell pianos in a small store, in a small town like this where you have to really work to convince people, what must it be like in a town where a lot of people just walk in, wanting to buy?"

He also says that playing music on the piano ties generations together, in a number of ways.

"Last week we had two different people come in here to buy pianos and it turned out that they came here because their parents had bought pianos from," he said.

Dickey's association with Wurlitzer has been one of the longest and friendliest in the piano business. He has always found himself to be drawn toward that company since the beginning.

"When we found out my wife Linda was pregnant the first people I called were my friends at Wurlitzer," Dickey said as he laughed. "And when we got married our wedding invitation said that the music was being provided by a organist playing a Wurlitzer 6000."

Dickey said his wife has been an integral part of the endeavor over the years helping him in all aspects of the business.

But despite a loyal clientele, and good service it would be literally impossible for a piano store to survive in eastern Utah without some kind of outside support. That support has come from the fact that Dickey travels to far flung places in the west to sell at piano shows a number of times a year. In the store is a map of all the places he has sold instruments and there are dozens and dozens of purple pegs in that map, many in Utah, but also a lot in Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada and Idaho.

Three things to look for when buying a piano

•What is the sounding board made of? The best sounding boards are spruce, and while there are a lot of exotic kinds of spruce, just having spruce will guarantee good sound. Many cheap instruments have plywood as their sounding boards. Look for a grain in the sounding board that is diagonal, not horizontal. This will guarantee a spruce board.

•What size are the mechanisms? The mechanism that produces the sound can come in two sizes. The larger size is the best. Look at them and compare an obviously cheap piano to a well built one; anyone can tell the difference once they see both kinds of mechanisms. If in doubt, ask the sales person which pianos they sell to schools. Those pianos will always have full size mechanisms.

•How is the metal plate that keeps the tension on the strings made? The metal plate is there for one reason; to hold the strings taunt. Plates are built in two ways. Inexpensive plates are cast with a vacuum process and will make more noise than those that are sand casted. Look at the plate and feel underneath the plate. If it has a very smooth underside it has been mass produced (vacuum process). If it feels rough, it was sand casted. If in doubt get the fact that the plate is sand cast in writing from the dealer.

"Many of those pegs represent hundreds of pianos that we have sold in those particular towns over the years," said Dickey. "I have people who wonder why I don't want to run a big store in a big town, but I come back from those trips and I have a dream life here in Carbon County."

One of the things that Dickey says he likes about selling pianos is that they have generally remained the same for about 100 years.

"Acoustic pianos haven't changed much in a century," he said. "Sure the industry has added some things, but they are still the same. Right now I have a 1919 grand piano in back we are trying to sell. With most objects that old it would be considered an antique or a curiosity, and it would not be something you used on a daily basis. But with pianos they can serve a family for so long and then go on to serve someone else. They are daily objects that get used no matter how old they are."

Growing up on a farm Dickey learned about hard work and long hours. He also learned that playing the piano does tie the generations of a family together.

"I wanted all my kids to play because in these days of things coming easy and video games, it's good to have kids do something that takes some work and ultimately rewards them," stated Dickey. "Youngsters today generally don't have to do chores or work on the farm. Playing the piano takes the place of a lot of those things."

And then he added, "It's the law of the harvest."


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