Larry Garris grew up in Stanly County as a little fish in a little pond. Now he’s a big fish in a big pond.
Garris, a 1966 graduate of Albemarle High School, Wingate in 1968 and attendee of N.C. State through 1971, moved to Nashville and opened his own music store, Corner Music, in 1976. Since then, his business has become the store for Music City’s stars.
Corner Music’s website reads, “Our customers include recording artists, touring pros, studio players, engineers, producers and songwriters.”
“I grew up with the musicians,” said Garris, who started in the music industry as an Aria guitar rep for the Southeast. “The amount of talent here (Nashville) just blew me away. Cab drivers and dish washers were better than any players I had ever seen. It’s the reason that I opened the store.”
Most of his A-listers were patrons before they gained fame and they have remained loyal customers after hitting the big time. Inside Garris’ music store, a black and white banner borders two walls, displaying names of many of his well-known consumers. The idea of the banner arose from being continually questioned by customers about his famous clientele.
Among those listed, the Albemarle native has memories of many.
“Chet Atkins stopped in quite often. He was amazing. He always heard things that no one else did in the instruments,” Garris said. “James Taylor has to have been my favorite. He’s been in the store several times.”
Early on, Garris and his staff worked on Vince Gill’s amps and guitars.
“He had just come off Pure Prairie League. Nobody knew who Vince Gill was yet,” the married father of two sons said.
Brad Paisley worked for Corner Music for a few months in his younger days.
“He would just sit and play guitars all day. Finally, I told him that he needed to be performing,” he said.
A regular customer, the late Jerry Reed would greet Garris in the music store with his classic moniker, “Son!”
Garth Brooks and Keith Urban would drop in before and after stardom.
Garris shared, “Brooks was probably the least likely guy that you’d expect to reach stardom,” referencing his early years gracing his music shop.
“Urban was this new kid who had just moved here from Australia,” he added.
A couple of Christmases ago, Urban made a return trip to Corner Music.
“Keith congratulated me on the success of my store and I said, ‘Well, congratulations to you.’ His face turned red with embarrassment and said, ‘Can you believe how lucky I have been?’ ”
Taylor Swift shopped at Corner Music with her mother. The last time, however, she was also accompanied by two large bodyguards.
“Times are changing,” the National Guard veteran reflected.
The entrepreneurs’ most memorable musical moment occurred when Garris talked over an hour with Leo Fender, founder of Fender Electric Instrument manufacturing Company, at the 1988 National Association of Music Merchants show in Chicago.
Located roughly one mile from Nashville’s famed Music Row, Corner Music moved to its current location on 12th Avenue South in 1984. It remains the only music store in town that opens at 9 a.m. Garris believes that has attributed to his business’ success.
“It’s the first place to go with 10 a.m. (recording) sessions for strings, picks, etc.,” he said.
Steve Gibson, recurring musical director for the network broadcast of the annual CMA awards and the first music director of the Grand Ole Opry, a post he still holds, praised Garris’ store.
“I’ve done business with the folks at Corner Music since they first opened,” Gibson said. “They’ve always been on the leading edge of music, instruments and technology and have always been the most honest source of products, support and information in Nashville. They are not just a music retailer; they are musicians and more importantly, friends.”
His business operates with 20 employees. Each specializes in a certain area. Garris’ top notch staff includes store manager and bassist J.D. Williamson, who toured with Earl Thomas Conley and Waylon Jennings. Supervising the keyboard department is Russell Cox, who installed and maintained producer Owen Bradley’s studio. Then there’s Todd “Toddzilla” Austin, who is known as the “minister of electric guitars” in his division. All know their craft well.
Corner Music sells countless brands from more than 200 vendors and features musical instrument sales, repairs, installations and lessons. Garris is proud that they service what they sell, another big plus for his growing business.
A subsidiary, Corner Audio and Video, Sound and Lighting, has installed systems in 17 states, more than 900 installations.
The music store owner has earned many accolades, including more than 20 awards for outstanding performance from the Music and Sound Retailer publication.
Garris maintains Stanly County ties. A musician himself, he played in a band during his high school years. The guys, which included retired Stanly County Schools educators Reed Furr and Mark Cook, along with Sid Smith, Lynn Burleson, Bob Townsend and Sam Truette, reunite annually. Last fall they met in Charleston.
Garris may have made it in the big city, but he hasn’t gotten above his raising. In many ways, he is still that small-town boy who greets customers with a handshake and a smile. Perhaps, that has attributed to his success. He remembers his roots.
Corner Music is at 2705 12th Ave. S., Nashville, TN. Its websites are: www.cornermusic.com and www.corneraudiovideo.com.
Sandy Hatley is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.