Hiding in a hole-in-the-wall in downtown Hawkins lies Action Sound music store. The gray brick storefront is easy to miss; but once you open the door, the space opens up to reveal a musician’s nirvana.
Rows of guitars, guitar parts, basses, drums, amps and music paraphernalia litter the walls to the point where the entire music store is one long, narrow aisle. You may have to walk around a few unboxed shipments of gear, but once you get toward the back, you’re likely to see long-haired owner Kelly Barber in his workspace straightening the neck on a customer’s guitar.
On a recent Thursday, Barber was found setting up a new Bedell acoustic guitar for young Charli Parker — her very first guitar. Barber’s no stranger to young musicianship.
“This is the building I had my first job in,” Barber said. “I used to work in it when it was a grocery store. I wanted a drum kit and I was 13 years old. My dad said, ‘If you want a drum kit, go get a job.’ So I went to work.”
Now, over 50 years later, fate has brought Barber back to 157 Beaulah St.
“I was always a drummer, but I could pick up a guitar and tell when one felt good or one didn’t feel good,” Barber said. “So, I started buying second-hand guitars and fixing them up, doing fret jobs on them, changing the electronics, straightening the necks, making them play good. People would just come in and want to buy them.”
After working 25 years in the oil field, Barber decided to switch vocations to his passion of fixing guitars when he felt the oil industry became unstable.
“I was a square peg in a round hole in the oil field, and this just kind of fit me. Every time I tried to quit doing this, people would call me on the phone and beg me not to. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and at this location about 11 years. I’ve just got a knack for mechanics. I’ve got a mechanical mind, and guitars are kind of mechanical to me — especially when they came out with the Floyd Roses in the ‘80s.”
Despite setting his roots in the unassuming town of Hawkins, Barber has worked with some world-renowned musicians.
“I’ve worked for people from all over the world. A guy came walking through the door and he had a funny accent. I asked where he was from and he said, ‘Australia.’ I was being funny and started singing ‘I come from the land down under’ (by Men at Work). Then the guy goes, ‘I was the drummer in that band.’ I asked him, ‘What the heck are you doing in my store?’ and he said someone told him about me.”
Sitting up high on a shelf sits an old stand-up bass guitar with a picture of Elvis Presley.
“That was the bass guitar of Elvis’ second bass player, Chuck Wiginton,” Barber said. “Elvis bought that bass personally just for him. It’s not for sale.”
Barber then began name-dropping.
“I’ve done work for King’s X guitar player and bass player, Ty Tabor and Doug Pinnick. Ovid Stevens from Seals and Crofts, England Dan and John Ford Coley,” Barber said. “I’ve done tons of work for Doyle Dykes. I’ve sold stuff to Eric Johnson and Ian Moore — Will Sexton, Charlie Sexton. Charlie played with Bob Dylan, he’s Bob Dylan’s music director. When Stevie Ray Vaughn died, his rhythm section became Charlie’s rhythm section, and they started Arc Angels. They played with David Bowie. We’ve met so many people. Celebrities that we’ve met, it’s just crazy. We’ve met everybody.”
Barber said that while he used to be a part of the gruff music scene, he’s cleaned up his act a little bit.
“I used to have a really foul mouth, and people thought it was funny. I used to tell jokes and cuss. People used to come into my store and they’d walk in and say: ‘Finally, a real music store! I heard this was the only place you could go get a good deal, get cussed out, and leave happy.’”
Barber said although he’s always tried to give good customer service, he’s not sure why his business has spread “like wildfire.”
“I mean, we’re not really ... ” Barber’s voice trailed off. “Well, I guess we are different than everybody else.”