If Billy Joel is Long Island’s Piano Man, Guy Brogna just may be its Guitar Man.
In a previous life — from 1984 through most of the ’90s — Brogna rocked out as a bass guitarist for several bands, most notably Ludichrist and Scatterbrain. During that period, he and the bands toured the world, recorded albums and drew fans wherever they went. He’s still got a rock and roll heart, but for the past 15 years, instead of selling a tune on his guitar, he’s been selling guitars, along with every other kind of instrument, at Plainview-based All Music, a community mainstay.
At All Music, there are more than 700 guitars from Fenders to Gibsons on display, from a glossy teal and white number to one decorated with images of Felix the Cat. “I really love the ones that look like works of art,” says Brogna, 51, who lives in Franklin Square. Five years ago, the salesman became owner of the store, a status that has given him the opportunity to use his expertise on both the performing and business sides of the music industry. It also allows him to indulge his nostalgic side. “I would come here as a kid, when it was still called Straub Music,” says Brogna, 51, who grew up in Hicksville. His attachment to the store grew after new owner Irwin Natman took it over in 1985 and changed the name to All Music.
“When he opened the store, I introduced myself and we became friends. When I went on the road, I made a deal with him,” Brogna says. “I said if you set up all my equipment for free I’ll put All Music as a ‘thank you’ on my albums. And I did.”
“He’s a nice guy, pardon the pun,” says Natman, 55, of Northport. “Whatever I could do to help his career I did. When he stopped performing and opened a landscaping and design business, I had just finished building a house and needed someone to do that. We became close.”
In 2001, Natman asked Brogna to come into the business with him, realizing that they each had the right skill sets to make the shop thrive. “As my business was growing, I needed someone who had skin in the game and would work like it was their business,” Natman says. “I knew for many years what I was good at and I needed someone to complement me. I took care of a lot of the behind-the-scenes work; he was out there meeting customers and using his experience with music to build the store.”
Natman also credits Brogna for taking All Music in new directions, including music clinics, online auctions (Pete Townshend of The Who purchased a D’Angelico guitar the store was selling on eBay), a social-media presence, instrument lessons and music education programs for children with special needs. “He’s kept the understanding that we’re a company located in an area where we cater to our community,” says Natman, who retired from the business. “He never lost sight of that.”
He also has invited many top performers to the store to appear at many of the clinics, including Mark Mendoza of Twisted Sister, John Moyer of Disturbed and WBAB radio DJ Joe Rock. “I did one on the business of the music business that was all about getting gigs, branding, social media, which was great,” Rock says. “If the local bands are out there doing more, then the store does well, too. It’s a win-win for both.”
A FIRST-STRING PLAYER
Unlike many musicians who start playing an instrument when they’re still youngsters, Brogna was 17 before he picked up a guitar.
“My friends who were younger than me, like 15, 16, had a high school band. I went to one of their rehearsals and the bass [guitar] player didn’t show up. And they said do you want to try this,” Brogna says. “I had the look for a rock star. I even had the Elvis sideburns back then.”
Two weeks later, the old bass guitarist was out, and Brogna was in and playing his first gig. Even he admits, his debut with the band at what he lovingly calls a “dive” in Bellmore, was far from auspicious. “I was kind of on autopilot running my fingers,” he says. “From there, I kept playing with other people. I would take any gigs I could get and play with anybody and learned as I played.”
Still, he showed enough promise playing covers of songs by Cream and Lynyrd Skynyrd that he stuck with music, with his big break coming in 1984 when he joined Ludichrist, a hard-core rock band with elements of heavy metal and punk. Brogna, who eventually began writing songs for the group, got his first really healthy taste of what it’s like to be with a band when they were signed to a European tour.
“You’re talking about underground music,” he says. “I remember getting in a van and driving across Europe — in the winter, not knowing where we were staying. Sometimes we were sleeping in abandoned buildings with no heat or in people’s houses. It was just crazy.” There were also drugs — primarily pot, he says — “but there are drugs everywhere, not just the music business.”
The shows covered lodging and airfare, he says, but back then he didn’t care about making money. “Who cares about money when you’re touring Europe?” he says. “We were there when the Berlin Wall was still up. It was amazing.”
In 1989, the band broke up, but two of the members — singer Tommy Christ and guitarist Glen Cummings — decided to start a new band called Scatterbrain, and brought Brogna on board. The group enjoyed tremendous success over the next six years, landing a deal with Elektra Records, seeing its videos on MTV and having one of its songs, a cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” featured on the soundtrack to the 1992 movie “Encino Man” starring Brendan Fraser.
But as musical tastes changed and grunge groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam dominated the charts, Scatterbrain’s hard-rock sound had fallen out of favor. “The record labels were then looking for the next Pearl Jam or Nirvana and they were pushing away other bands,” Brogna says. “As we were touring, we were seeing less tour support or people from the record labels coming out. Then one guy quit and another. And the next thing you know it was over.”
TAKING THE STAGE
Though Brogna is primarily an entrepreneur now and a family man with three daughters — ages 9, 13 and 18 — he hasn’t hung up his guitar. In addition to hosting the All Music Lounge, a showcase for local musicians, at The Space at Westbury every Thursday night at 8, Brogna still gets on stage himself every now and then, including at WBAB’s Contractor Appreciation Party at The Space each spring.
“He’s a great player,” says Joe Rock. “He played with Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge and Mark Wood, who had been with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and he held his own.”
He’s now working on getting Ludichrist back together for a gig in April, though details are still being worked out. His main focus though is to keep building up his store. He also has one other goal for the shop — to finally get Billy Joel to make an appearance.
“I keep trying,” Brogna says. “We went to the same high school. I would love to get him here.”