By Dan Ferrisi
The music products industry is full of fascinating stories pertaining to how companies were founded, how partnerships were forged and the sometimes-unforeseeable ways in which firms evolve over histories that, in some cases, stretch back decades into the past. The story of how, in 1956, Jack Long created Long & McQuade, an iconic chain of musical instrument retailers up in Canada, might not be so unusual. What is unique, though, is how Long & McQuade birthed Yorkville Sound, a well-respected audio products manufacturer that, this year, is celebrating 50 years in business. This wide-ranging conversation with Long, who has spent a lifetime in the business, lends fascinating insight into the legacy of a man who, from youth, has lived and breathed music.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start with a historical overview. Tell me about how you became interested in music initially, and then discuss the creation of Long & McQuade.
Jack Long: When I was in grade nine of high school, they announced that anybody who wanted to learn to play a brass instrument should show up in the gym the following Friday. So, I did and here I am. [Laughs.] The first Friday, about 80 kids showed up. The man there said we had to “buzz,” and return the next Friday. Half the kids or more said, “That doesn’t sound like much good. I’m not going back.” But, some of us did. He lined all of us up in a row, and each of us had to make our sound. He went down and said, “You’re a trombone. You’re a trumpet. You’re a tuba. You’re a French horn.” When he got to me, he said, “You’re a trumpet.” So, that’s what I’ve been ever since. [Laughs.] From there, I became a professional player while I was still in high school. I was a jazz player, but I played commercial stuff…whatever they paid me to play.
Then, I went to the University of Toronto and took music education, although I never intended to be a teacher and never was. When I finished school, I played in a hotel band in Toronto for a few months and then moved to Montreal. I played in a few nightclubs; there were lots of them in those days. I played a few dance hall jobs, as was the style then. I also played in a theater for a while. Anyway, I got the idea that I wanted to start a business. So, my wife bought me a book, which said if you want to start a business, start it in something you know. I didn’t know anything about anything except music. So, I thought I’d give that a try.
I was actually doing quite well playing. I was an OK player, and there was a reasonable amount of work for people who did what I did. So, I had lots of work. But, a lot of the work was rather boring…stuff where you’d be backing shows, and we would play the same thing every night for who knows how long. It was fairly monotonous. In those days, I was kind of a jazz player. I still am, for that matter. But you didn’t get many paid gigs for playing jazz, contrary to what people might think. It was mostly commercial music. I got the odd jazz gig that was fun, but most of it was pretty “grindy” stuff. That’s what made me look at maybe doing something different.
When I started Long & McQuade, my wife and I had saved up $5,000. I actually started it with $4,000, though. I put $1,000 in reserve, but never used the reserve. I still was playing…I had to. By the time I got started, we had one child; a year-and-a-half later, we had twins. So, within a very short time of trying to start Long & McQuade, I had three kids to worry about. So, for the first few years, I was playing in clubs every night, while trying to get the thing going in the daytime.