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March 9, 2009
Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
- Among the storefronts along the downtown streets of Glenwood, an anomaly of sorts is found behind the doors of Billy’s House of Guitars and Musical Museum.
The store, which opened in 1995, not only features guitars for sell, it serves as a portal to something akin to a Smithsonian of music heritage. There is a “mom and pop’” feel to it which adds to the allure of the depth of musical history preserved here. And all of the pieces come from owner Billy Herrell’s personal collection.
Whatever genre you might be into, blues, country, rock, … it’s there.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Herrell said about the museum. The ‘”little” part might be a bit misleading as the shop hosts quite an elaborate collection, what Herrell describes as “Americana.” A visitor needs hours to take it all in and absorb the stories associated with each eclectic piece.
It’s hard to find an era not represented at the museum. Different mementos fill every nook and no matter how many times your eyes scan through the store, a new piece seems to come to the surface each go around. As Herrell says, there are “things over, behind, and under things.”
Since the place serves as both store and museum, tags hang on guitars or anything else for sale to avoid confusion as to what’s on display and what’s for sale.
Questions immediately come to mind as the eyes move from piece to piece. Did those glasses in front of the Buddy Holly record belong to Holly? The glasses are lying loose on a shelf with no tag or card to identify them. Herrell then points out that those are Roy Orbison’s.
And that’s just the beginning.
According to Herrell, you don’t have to be a musician to enjoy the museum. Everything ties together and genres cross.
He has one of Willie Nelson’s guitars, dating back to an appearance Nelson made at a Glenwood radio station. Roy Rogers’ stagecoach, which took him three years to land, is here, along with an autographed Bill Clinton guitar, a 1946 working Seeburg jukebox that plays 78 rpm records, Janis Joplin’s guitar, a framed case showcasing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drumsticks from a show he did at the store, and the list goes on. And on. And on.
Then there are the walls, which are packed with photos, some framed, most signed. Every which way you look, another familiar face greets you: Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Lightnin’ Hopkins, George Harrison, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan…
“Everybody wants to be part of the wall so it keeps growing,” said Herrell.
Herrell grew up in Bald Knob and began collecting items as a child. Even then he was a meticulous collector. He still has not only his childhood toy guitar, but the box it came in too. Both are now on display in the museum.
Music was a part of his life for as long as he can remember. His father Carl worked with Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show based out of Shreveport. In 1969 Herrell moved to Hot Springs, where he worked at the old Vapors nightclub. He was a member of several bands including American Timepiece. In 1980 he moved to Glenwood and has been here ever since.
Along with his collection, he’s built an area he calls the “Front Porch,” and an adjoining recording studio found at the back of the store. Here, they do a live radio show the third Friday of each month. Scheduled guests play along with The Front Porch Pickin’ Band, of which both Billy (vocals and lead guitar) and Carl (banjo) are among the band members. The group never charges for a show.
Along with the museum, Herrell finds other ways to keep music heritage alive. He just finished filming American Music: Off the Record, a documentary about the music business, and also helped country music legend and Arkansas native Glen Campbell finish, Meet Glen Campbell: A Documentary.
After spending a few hours in the store, it’s easy to see why people gravitate towards the owner. He has an energy and enthusiasm for the trade that is hard to harness with words. It’s best to experience him and the museum in person. As Herrell puts it, “there’s not many places like this anymore.”
Unfortunately, he’s right.
Billy’s House of Guitars and Musical Museum, open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, is located at 201 E. Broadway; 870-356-4301. There is no charge to see the museum. Billy said he doesn’t have a computer so the shop has no Web Site or e-mail address but he might get one. Maybe. To hear a few songs recorded live by The Front Porch Pickin’ Band, go to: www.soundclick.com/frontporchpickin