The disagreements rage, as they always have and always will, about the relative health of Savannah’s live music community. Some people think it’s never been as vibrant as it was in the 1970s, or the 1990s (no one has anything good to say about the ‘80s), while others believe today’s club scene is a Petri dish of fertile sounds and ideas.
What’s certain is George Rody was one of the architects of Savannah music.
Rody, who passed away May 9 at age 61, was one of the owner/operators of Rody’s Music — the city’s first musical instrument “superstore.” It had rehearsal rooms and spacious recital rooms.
“Rody’s was awesome,” says guitarist Eric Culberson, who, like Rody, was born in Savannah. “It was the biggest store in town. It was the place to be.”
Culberson remembers the Mall Boulevard store, which was open for business between 1977 and 2000, when it burned to the ground.
“I bought all my first amps there,” he says. “All my first electric guitars there, it was huge.
“You’d walk in and they had lines of guitars, guitars in line forever down the walls. And drums and everything. I just used to slobber when I walked in there.”
George and his twin brother James, the guitarist recalls, “were the nicest people. They were easy to deal with.”
Explains Bob Hall, an employee and longtime friend of the Rody family:
“Everybody loved dealing with him. He and James would give credit to the musicians, at a time when musicians couldn’t get credit back in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. They’d give you a guitar and say ‘All right, pay me when you can. Pay me when you get a job.’”
That was, perhaps, because the brothers themselves were musicians. In 1965, in their teens, they formed a band called the Rogues, with James on bass and guitar, George playing keyboards. They were in the 10th grade at Savannah High School.
“It was the time of the Beatles, so we were mimicking them” James recalls, “so we had those big Vox Super Beatle amps, Vox Phantom basses. And Bill Wyman basses – whatever was popular at the time. Especially with our father owning a music store, we were playing all of those things.
“We were raised in the music business. Most of the bands that were around were all good friends of ours.” The Rogues won a regional Battle of the Bands.
George Rody Sr. was an accordion player who had a touring Vaudeville act with his wife, Jackie in the 1930s. After a one–nighter in Savannah, the couple had a late dinner at Johnny Harris’ restaurant (known at the time for having “the only air–conditioned dance floor in the East”).
Somehow, Johnny Harris convinced the Rodys to perform for his patrons, which they did, and he offered them a job on the spot. Weary of all the road work, they accepted.
George Sr. eventually opened an accordion school, where he taught hundreds of Savannah kids — including his son George Jr. — how to play.
He started carrying instrument supplies and sheet music, and the first Rody’s Music, on Skidaway and 36th, became the go–to spot for aspiring musicians during the post–Beatle guitar boom of the early ‘60s.
“George and I were raised in the store,” James explains. “We started working there part–time when we were 12 years old. George was 18 when he started full–time — that would have been 1968 — and our father died in 1973.”
After the 2000 fire, and the economic downturn that followed 9/11, Rody’s Music was never able to regain its stature as “the place to be.” For this reason, and partially because of George’s failing health, the business was sold to Audio Warehouse in 2008.
Rody’s is still in business, as part of Audio Warehouse, but things are on a much smaller scale.
Attorney Skip Jennings, who organizes the annual Savannah Jazz Festival, says George was an important part of his event.
“For many years, it was his sound system that powered the Jazz Festival,” Jennings explains.
“He always did a great job for us, and was very dedicated to the festival. And was very generous with his time and resources with us. George was just a super nice guy.”