Music Makers

Couple Responsible for Keeping Countless Local Artists in Tune

By David Morreale | Photography by David Morreale | Posted on 03.13.15 – In the Studio, Music, People & Places

If you live in Frederick County, and you’ve ever wanted to call the cops on a too-noisy band keeping you awake at night, or had to grit your teeth listening to your sons and daughters overplay Stairway to Heaven, you probably have Make ‘N’ Music to thank.

From the bangles, make-up and leg-warmer early ‘80s, to the power chord abuse a few years later, to the flannel-sporting baritones of the ‘90s, and into the emo/hardcore/scream core/slash core/high school band-core movements, Reggie and Pam Nusbaum have been through it all. Arguably, they’re to blame for supporting most of those musical fads and evolutions throughout the region.

Reg and Pam opened Make ‘N’ Music in July 1984, and since that day, Frederick County’s pouting teens have slouched their way through the store mooning over guitars, amps, cymbals, drums and wah-wah pedals that they hope, in their endlessly pining hearts, to own and to play.

Moms are now dropping them off in minivans rather than station wagons, but the slouching, the dreaming, the moodiness … these are timeless. As are the owners and staff that make up the heart of Make ‘N’ Music. “I was a salesman,” Reg offers, “I went around and sold [musical] gear to music stores, and really, there were no stores in Frederick selling anything other than pianos and sheet music.

One night, we were sitting in the basement and I kept talking about opening a music store, and I kept talking about it and [Pam] just said, ‘Look, either do it, or I don’t want to hear it again,’ and that was it. So really, this is all her fault.” The decision to go for it was made in January 1984, and the store opened on West Patrick Street that July.

Reg well remembers their first customer: “He was a guitarist, and I didn’t have a clue how to tune a guitar. … I didn’t know the strings, or anything. I was pretty impressed with myself. But I sold a tuner, and the next day I knew the strings on a guitar.”

Reg, Pam and staff members Rick LaFever, Wally Worsley and Bill Unger are a particularly close group, having worked so closely together for so long. LaFever joined as store manager in 1986, commuting from Virginia, and Pam began working in the store at the same time.

An overworked Reg returned to the road, repping instruments to music stores. Back surgery made driving harder, so he re-entered the retail business. Pam and Rick’s presence all day in the store—now located at 7540 N. Market St.—also helped Reg avoid the 90-hour work weeks that had driven him back into traveling salesmanship.

“I figured that if they were amenable to me and I was amenable to them, I’d be here until I keeled over,” Rick laughs. “And it looks like that’s the way it’s working out.” As store manager/technician/general fix-it guy, LaFever sells instruments and fixes them when necessary.

Relationships with customers are hugely important to these folks. “This is what I do,” adds LaFever, “what I love to do and what I choose to do and I don’t want to do anything else!” Rick is obviously a passionate guy, whether he’s fixing a guitar, rewiring an amp or playing guitar himself. “Guitars are living, breathing things. If you don’t pay attention to them, they go bad on you, and people know when they come here that we know each guitar that is hanging on this wall.”

Worsley has worked at Make ‘N’ Music since July of 2013, and although he grew up in Charlottesville, Va., his connection to Frederick is strong; Pam and Reg both studied music at Walkersville High, taught by Worsley’s mother. “I worked in a much smaller store than this in Charlottesville,” Worsley says, “and I really appreciate working here because you can feel the love in here. I’m not grinding it out working for The Man in here, you know?”

“We like to think that people feel that we’re taking care of people,” says Pam. “They come in here because we make this place a happy place for them to come. We knew people as teenagers who now bring their own kids in here for lessons.”

Neither the Internet, nor the huge chain music stores have ever fazed these guys. “Their best prices on their biggest sales are exactly the same as the prices on these guitars on this wall,” Rick says as he gestures to the overwhelming display of great instruments behind him, “and people are amazed at that.”

Denny Grizzle, a local singer/songwriter is, like many local musicians, grateful for the store’s presence in Frederick. “They’ve been there for me every time I’ve needed them since the late ‘80s,” he says. Musician Eugene Benjamin grows positively effusive on the subject: “Rick is a genius and he does great guitar setups. He’s a great player too. He can tear up on guitar.”

So, when minivans begin pulling up at the door, disgorging slouchy teenagers; or aging musicians bring in the guitars they bought here 25 years ago, or the songwriters needing acoustic guitars and a campfire around which to strum them, Reg, Pam, Rick, Wally and Bill will be waiting for them with everything they’ll need … with the exception of the campfire