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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2017 3 months ago

At Fogt's Music, Sarasota's music community thrives

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To area musicians, Fogt’s is more than a store — it’s the best clubhouse, support system, music school, repair shop and social hub in town.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Fogt’s Music is a storefront music shop on the South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. I’d driven by it for years but never gone inside. But recently, my musical friend had a birthday party. During the course of the celebrations, somebody jammed the sections of her flute together. That somebody had a fierce grip. I figured the folks at Fogt’s could fix it. Now I finally had a reason to check out the place.

Bob Moffitt plays along to a Miles Davis record during a lesson.

Outside, the display window reveals a euphonium and a vintage Kasuga guitar, hand-painted to resemble the Woodstock poster. Inside, guitars and rainbow-colored ukuleles hang like Christmas ornaments from the walls. Amps, music gear, songbooks and instruments of all descriptions beckon from all sides. Not only that …

This music store is actually filled with music. Not a recording, but a real live guitar player: J.T. Click— short for James Theodore.

Nearby, guitarist Al Fuller is discussing the arcana of chord changes with another musician. Others are sharing deep thoughts and investigating instruments in clusters around the store. It’s more like a music symposium than a shop.

So I approach the front counter. After dropping off the flute and discussing its symptoms, I ask the beatific woman behind the register if this kind of personal engagement is normal.

Bill Smith, Al Fuller and J.T. Click lead an impromptu jam session.

“Yes,” she laughs. “At least in my shop.”

Her shop. Ah.

Turns out, I’m speaking to the owner, Gwen Fogt. She gives me the full story.

“Officially, we’re Fogt’s Gulf Coast Music Center,” she says. “But everybody calls us ‘Fogt’s Music.’ Or just ‘Fogt’s.’ It’s a family business. I married into the family.”

Dennis Fogt, a transplant from Wooster, Ohio, launched the shop’s original iteration in 1973 in a hole-in-the-wall location on Siesta Drive. A few years later, his parents — Marvin, a former band and orchestra director, and Lamont Fogt — became his partners.

Scott Wortmann plays along to a Miles Davis record during a lesson.

“Dennis and his father actually went to instrument repair school together,” Gwen Fogt recalls. The current venue, at 4209 S. Tamiami Trail, opened its doors in 1979.

At the time, Gwen (another Ohio transplant) was a jazz and blues singer — both a solo performer and the lead singer of the Kicks.

Sarasota’s music scene is a tight-knit community. It was only natural that they’d meet. Dennis and Gwen married in 1985, and before long, they were working side by side in the music shop.

Even in the 1980s, the store’s identity was clear.

First, a no-nonsense business model. Fogt’s Music sold, rented and fixed musical instruments of all descriptions. It stocked songbooks, guitar strings and other accessories. It also offered music lessons.

The big-box music stores offered similar goods and services. But Fogt’s offered something more: a high level of musical talent.

“Everyone who works here is a player,” says Gwen Fogt. “We’re musicians serving other musicians.”

The shop’s talent pool created the aforementioned never-ending music symposium. The music shop had morphed into a musician’s hangout.

Bill Smith performs inside Fogt's on a Saturday morning.

“We became like a little clubhouse,” she says. “That’s one thing that’s never changed.”

Fogt adds that the clubhouse talk isn’t just talk. The musicians who gather here form a support system.

“You’ll see a lot of musicians handing each other gigs,” she says. “It’s like watching waiters taking orders in a restaurant. I sometimes feel like a maître d.”

Band instruments were the shop’s bread and butter, even then. That created another human connection: the wide-eyed kids who came in with their parents for a violin or clarinet. Some of those kids wound up taking lessons there — lessons taught by some of the finest working musicians in town. A few grew up to be working musicians.

“It’s so cool to see parents bring their kids in,” says Fogt. “When those kids grow up to be parents, they’ll come back with their own kids. That’s even cooler.”

Starting in 1996, the shop set the pattern for another human connection. That was the year of the first “Give Hunger the Blues” benefit concert to feed the hungry. Along with donations and music gear, the shop pitched in with Fogt’s Music All-Stars —a moveable feast of musical talent that’s included Greg Polous, Al Fuller, Howlin’ Bob Seibert, Bob Dielman, “Mighty” Mo Cates, Ed Kinder, and other blues luminaries over the years. (The band’s current lineup will wail at the 2017 benefit, complete with a horn section and Gwen on vocals.)    

J.T. Click

Bottom line?

The little music shop along the South Trail became far more than a shop.

It was many things: a top-flight music school with a multigenerational legacy; a musicians’ support network; and, yes, a place to buy cool music stuff.

There was really nothing else like it in town.

After Dennis died in August 2004, Gwen decided to keep the store alive.

In 2017, it’s still going strong.

Bill Smith and Al Fuller

It’ has taken some hits over the years. The big-box music stores have gotten bigger. And with its free sheet music and YouTube tutorials, the internet has taken its toll.

“I went from having 40 students a week to two or three,” says Greg Poulos. “It’s pretty sad.”

But Poulos is proof of the staying power of one-on-one music education. Click, it turns out, was one of his guitar students.

“One day, J.T. was playing this lick on his guitar for this guy,” says Poulos. “He noticed me and said, ‘There’s the man who taught me the lick.’”

Click points out another multigenerational link.

J.T. Click

“I started coming in with my father,” he says. “He was a long-time shopper here and still is. When I first started buying my stuff, we came here. When I started taking guitar lessons, I came here. Now I’m still here, and I love it.”

She lists a few — including guitarist Jamie Gee, the previously noted axeman J.T. Click, and the late Scott Peace, a talented guitarist and singer/songwriter. They’ve had such all-star guitar teachers as Al Fuller (the driving force behind the Al Fuller Band known for burning up the stage at the Blue Rooster), Greg Poulos (of Kettle of Fish, another Blue Rooster fave), and “Guitar” Tony Shepherd (of Big Night Out). Saxophonist Bob Moffit and Alan Evans, a trumpet player with Sarasota Orchestra, teach their specialties. In Fogt’s musical instruments surgery department, guitarist Bob Dielman (of Paisley Craze) is the guitar luthier. Lenny Brooks (a guitarist in Twinkle’s band) is the string luthier. The aptly named Bob Bolt is the band instrument tech. (And he’s also a guitar player.) Store manager Bill Smith is, too. Smith plays his beautiful music in his church. And Gwen herself still sings her heart out, under the stage name “Queenie.” 

Al Fuller puts it succinctly.

“The big chains treat you like a number,” he says. “Fogt’s treats you like an individual. You really feel like family here. It’s not a cliché, it’s just the truth.”

And that’s the final note.

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