Apex Music San Diego, Troubadour Article
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The Guys with the Backstage Pass: Three Generations of Sound at Apex Music
by Raul Sandelin
The phone rings again. Actually, it never stops ringing. 'That's part number 8945729 of a Thing-A-Ma-Jigger Super 7829105, manufactured around 1982,' Steve Olsher (StevO) spouts from memory, reminding his counter guy not to confuse it with part number 8945728, which is the left-handed version.

The third generation progeny of the Apex Music dynasty is a numbers guy. Actually, if it weren't for his courteous smile, helpful banter, and eternally young rock biz spirit, he'd remind me of Dustin Hoffman stuck in a phone booth with Tom Cruise as dead-accurate, nine-digit numbers spew from his cerebellum.

Need the basket for your vintage Peavey Black Widow bass woofer? StevO's got it. How about an original amp cover for the Vox AC-30 your dad bought because he wanted a rig just like George Harrison back in the day? Apex Music's got that too.

And, every one of those parts has to have a part number. Plus, a number of ohms, watts, volts, wiring diagrams, and, oh yes, a fair price. So, it's a place like Apex that needs a numbers guy like StevO. In fact, the entire Olsher family seems to know the numbers side of the music business quite well. After all, they've been doing it in San Diego for 54 years.

The first store opened downtown in 1952. And, for 20 years, it was one of the main fixtures not only of the San Diego music business but also of the downtown retail district. Occupying locations at 815 Fifth and then in 1968 to Seventh and Broadway, Apex became an anchor of downtown shopping culture long before various suburban malls began to draw shoppers away from their weekend sojourns to the big city.

Apex also was the pioneer dealer in the area for many of the top name brands that became fixtures of the music industry. They were one of the first in San Diego to carry Gibson, Fender, Yamaha, and Shure, Peavey, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Altec, ElectroVoice, Sunn, Tapco, Marshall, Soun City, Orange, Kustom, Mosrite, Rogers, Pearl, Slingerland among others, under one roof. At the same time, Steve's father began retailing for a maverick in the industry - Peavey. Apex has been a Peavey dealer since 1965, the same year that Peavey was founded. So, when Hartley Peavey says that he and Apex have been together 'since dirt,' he isn't exaggerating.

From the downtown store, StevO's father, George, an I.I.T. grad and electronics wiz, built up the small retail outlet that his father originally founded into music department stores - the type of store with full lines of products catering to all levels and interests, from beginners books , records (45?s & LP?s) and trinkets like kazoos and tambourines to high school band equipment and pro gear for the local names that were breaking into the burgeoning 1960s' rock scene - names like the Cascades who had a hit with 'Rhythm of the Rain' and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

While providing back line and frontline sound for such national acts as Eric Burden and the Animals and Paul Revere and the Raiders, George Olsher realized the potential in this industry niche. And, soon, Apex became the local specialists in providing sound support for both local and traveling bands at the many-sized venues, from the Fox and California Theaters to the newly built Sports Arena and San Diego Stadium, which were sprouting up here in the late-1960s.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Apex's reputation for top-notch service and expert sound support led to their expansion to five stores at one point. The Olsher family businesses also came to include another famous local store: Albert's Music, which at one point directly competed with Apex as brothers in law George and Albert developed a friendly rivalry in San Diego's growing music market. Later, StevO's brother Jerry would go on to open Music Mart which is now located in Solana Beach.

It was in late the 1980s, then, after George finally retired and, as mentioned before, various other Olshers moved into their own retail ventures, that StevO took over the store. The downtown 7th & Broadway store was lost to a peril of fire in the building in 1993. As the business condensed to the one store on El Cajon Boulevard, StevO began focusing as much on sound as on the retail and rental side. Over the past 25 years, Steve has provided local back and frontline support for John Mellencamp, Chicago, Jean Luc Ponty, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bobby and the Midnights, George Michael, and Harry Connick Jr. He has fulfilled quirky requests, such as finding a drum set for Max Roach when the famed bop drummer came to town sans skins for a gig at the Contemporary Museum of Art. Steve has also installed in-house sound systems for many local establishments including churches and synagogues, Tijuana nightclubs, gentlemen's retreats like Nitelife and Dirty Dan's, and even high school auditoriums from the old University High School, Crawford High School, Lemon Grove Elementary Schools, Carmel Valley Middle School as well as Carmel Creek Elementary School. And, through it all, StevO has had his fill of rock star encounters - from getting stuck in a Chinese restaurant with Billy Cobham to playing ping-pong backstage in Paris, France with Jaco Pastorius.

Steve is currently splitting his time between raising his two teenage kids and continuing to provide custom sound and rig setups while keeping the El Cajon Boulevard store stocked, department-store style, with anything and everything a musician might need. The starter tambourines are still there, but there's still also the pro-level gear.

The phone doesn't stop ringing. Nor do the thank-you cards and holiday phone calls. Through it all, StevO seems just as comfortable helping a little girl and her dad pick out the right beginner's keyboard as he does making sure that some rock star's bass amps are ready to hit the road for yet another world tour.

And, somewhere between servicing both the beginners and the veterans, StevO has managed to collect quite an impressive array of vintage gear and knickknacks. On one hand, he has such gems as a '58 Gibson Korina V along with a whole room of vintage guitars that haven't been played in years. On the other hand, he has the eight-track that malfunctioned on Milli Vanilli, thus exposing the vocal chicanery that led to their downfall.

'But, I didn't own it when it malfunctioned,' StevO laughs. 'That wouldn't have happened on my watch.' No, StevO only bought it after the Vanillis' demise. And, like the Vox amp covers and assorted gizmos and doohickeys from the past 55 years, Milli Vanilli's eight-track will wait for the right buyer to give StevO a call

Or, it might be sold at the Apex's annual parking lot sale and weekend music festival. Every year in June, Steve puts almost everything up for grabs behind the store while local bands take turns jamming away on StevO's private stage out behind the store.

For further information about getting on out mailing list for our June Party or to book your band on our Apex stage, give us a call or stop by at 6210 El Cajon Blvd. (619) 583-1431. Info@apex4me.com Check out our website. www.apex4me.com