Hendersonville – To put it mildly, it is tough times for anyone in the artistic world. Covid 19 has put incredible pressure on musicians to survive financially. The whole joy of music is to bring people together, to enjoy themselves with friends and family, then suddenly “zap,” here comes COVID 19 and just about every musical event has had to be canceled. One survivor to applaud is Tempo Music Center, a Hendersonville neighborhood treasure, run by Lillian and Michael Hall. Certainly Tempo Music Center has had to fight hard to keep their doors open, when “all of my customers have lost their jobs.” Somehow the Halls have managed by offering their incredible depth of musical knowledge to their customers and then combining that with an amazingly wide range of services and products. Hendersonville is a small town, packed with lots of musical talent. Fortunately over the years the City of Hendersonville, the school system, and the retirees have all kept music alive for their residents, and the meeting place, the hub, is Tempo Music Center in downtown Hendersonville.
Building a Musical Community
When visiting the store, it was quite obvious that customers obviously enjoyed walking in to find the answers to their musical questions. A young student, learning to play a guitar whose strings kept breaking, was told by Mike that he had tuned it incorrectly, which made the strings break; then the well known conductor and band leader Russ Wilson stopped by for a visit. Michael and Lillian have the knowledge to make sure their customers get what they need, and many in turn have become friends.
This is an eclectic store, with just about everything the local musical community would want, particularly for bluegrass, religious music and some rock. Over the years many musical events have taken place at the store, such as rock band gatherings, clinics on instruments, and drum circles. Just this past Saturday the drum builder Ed Carrasquillo was outside Tempo in the freezing weather playing his cajon drums and chatting with those passing by. The large showroom is filled with every type of quality instrument imaginable—guitars, acoustic guitars, ukuleles, drums, accordions, recorders, violins, violas, mandolins, keyboards. And all the needed parts to make these musical instruments sound and function properly are available.
Instruments for All
Tempo Music Center carries whatever is required for local bands, symphonies, and orchestras. Customers come from all over the state, even as far away as Tennessee. If needed, the Halls will help someone find an instructor on a particular instrument if needed; some are even employed there at the store. The basement is full of band instruments, like flutes, clarinets, trumpets, tubas, horns, trombones, oboes, saxes, cymbals and tenor drums. Of course the needed accessories are available for them also. And to help parents provide these instruments for their child/children at a reasonable cost so they can play in the band, these instruments can be rented for a low monthly payment. School band leaders tell their students, “Go get it from Tempo. If you get it online you will invariably get the wrong thing.”
As you look around the showroom, there are file cabinets full of sheet music for the bands and orchestras, popular song books on countertops, and walls covered with needed musical parts. Both Seagull and BlueRidge guitars are hanging from the ceiling. Some handsome instrument cases are scattered on the floor. Speakers, amplifiers and sound systems are visible too. In fact Michael Hall mentioned that he was very proud to have become a Peavey dealer in 1995. On the Peavey website they say: they are “ Driven by an unmatched legacy of innovation and a total dedication to quality and reliability, Peavey Electronics embodies the pursuit of perfection in music and audio.”
The store has grown considerably since Michael Hall first opened the doors in August, 1975, in a very small space at 4th and Church. He bought it as an investment, never thinking he would be running it on a daily basis. “Back in those days, you had vinyl records and 8 track tapes, stereo needles, that kind of thing. Over the years we moved to this much larger location at Main and 3rd.”… “In the ’80’s there were eight or nine employees. Rock and Roll was big, and the churches wanted ‘praise and worship’ services which needed sound. And remember there was no internet. We had more business than we could deal with. It was a prosperous time for the music industry….” “Now in comparison, it is pretty quiet, but Saturdays are still crazy. To stay open, all these years, you have to do everything” Mike said.
Mike grew up in Hendersonville, had been a drummer in Elementary School, Jr. High School and High School, playing with the bands. Then traveled with road bands and played drums at First Baptist Church. He loves to play; it has been just a part of his life.
One customer and friend, Joe Thomas, Jr. said, “I have dealt with Tempo Music Center for over 20 years, and it has always felt like family when I went into the shop. Whether browsing or buying, I was treated like family. I have purchased several guitars. The first one I bought had a manufacturer’s defect and when I brought it back, Mike let me have an upgraded guitar for the same price.”
Johnnie Blackwell, a Family of Musicians
Johnnie Blackwell is a local musician, teacher, friend and employee of Tempo Music Center. He manages to play every Sunday at Triskelion Brewery on 7th Avenue, amongst other spots like Banner Elk Winery, The Dugout Sports Bar, Pop’s Diner, The Loft, Burntshirt Vineyards, and Point Lookout with his band or solo. For years, he and his band played at Harrah’s Casino every week, until the government mandate closed it down.
The Blackwell family has become well known for another astounding phenomenon. Their two young sons, Colin, six years old now, and Evan, four years old, are stealing the limelight from their Dad. It all started a couple of years ago, when the boys were four and two. Johnnie heard a racket in the other room. The two little guys were playing, beating time to the music, and having a ball. They were playing and singing The Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh (co-written by Joe Vitale) which you can find on YouTube under The Blackwell Brothers. These videos of The Blackwell Brothers have caught the attention of many. “Joe Vitale, the American singer, songwriter, and composer, saw it, shared it, and suddenly calls were coming in from as far away as Hawaii and Dublin,” said Johnnie. “We got to meet Joe Vitale, during a drum clinic and he sent us his books and CD’s of him and his son, autographed. Shortly after we received a call from Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh, who was kind enough to speak to us for almost ten minutes.”
Occasionally now, unexpectedly Colin and Evan will just walk on the stage with their Dad and join in with the live audience. It is quite remarkable and sure to make you smile. These little guys love music and can’t wait to jump in — playing the drums, the guitar, singing, and getting in the grove as they jam.
As their mother Jessica Blackwell, says, “Colin, six years old (Kindergartener @ FernLeaf Charter School), has loved music all six years of his life! We used to go to Johnnie’s gigs all the time when he was tiny, and he would pick up the beat immediately. Whether playing with his little fingers or hitting the table with straws, he was in the groove. He has been playing instruments in Johnnie’s studio since he was a little guy as well. He could play along on drums with Johnnie on keyboard to Bennie and The Jets when he was two years old (clip on YouTube). He “plays” guitar and ukulele as well by playing the beat, learning notes soon to come.
Evan, four years old (preschool @ home), follows in Colin’s footsteps exactly! There are many clips on YouTube of Evan playing the exact same things as Colin and Johnnie since he was tiny. Monkey see, monkey do! It seems Evan’s favorite instrument right now is the drums, but he will pick up any other instrument and find the beat immediately. The best part of all of this is watching all my guys jam together. One evening they played drums with Daddy on bass, cousin Johnny on guitar, and their Uncle Al on vocals. It was incredible to see them all playing together! Truly magical!”