Axe Music president going to miss the ‘crazy stuff’ when iconic Edmonton store closes
Last week, a Facebook post said that the store had been sold to Long & McQuade. The transition will happen on May 31.
Brian Holowaychuk was 22 years old when Axe was created. He was framing houses and, as a musician, was interested in the speaker cabinets that were going into the homes.
“The boxes that guys built — I felt that I could do way better,” he told the 630 CHED Afternoon News on Tuesday. “So, rather than working in framing at 35 below, I thought working indoors would be a major upgrade in life.”
His business came together, though it wasn’t anything glamorous at first. He and his brother had “literally nothing.” They built a garage to work out of that didn’t have a concrete floor and the heater was made out of a 45-gallon drum.
LISTEN BELOW: Axe Music president Brian Holowaychuk talks to the 630 CHED Afternoon News about his stores’ history
Years later, they were able to open a store at Edmonton Speedway Park – a drag strip that opened in the area of 137 Avenue and 127 Street in 1967. They were planning a new building, but “didn’t worry about permits back then” and someone ratted them out to the city. At that point, Holowaychuk decided to get a legitimate office and moved into the building Edmontonians instantly recognize as Axe Music.
“To whoever ratted us out, thank you,” Holowaychuck said.
“That was the best thing that ever happened to us. That made us legitimate.”
Over the years their business grew and eventually they moved into the space upstairs and, after buying the building from their landlord, renovated it into the building as it stands today.
Over the years, Holowaychuk said they had a number of musicians come into the building, thanks to a relationship with the record companies.
“We had a relationship with the record labels where they’d have the artists come in and do signings. I guess it was more fun doing them in our place than in a mall.”
Possibly the biggest name to ever walk through the door was Prince.
The legend was on tour and his reps called Axe Music looking for somewhere to practice. Holowaychuk and his team set Prince up in large room, with the doors taped over with black paper – at Prince’s request – so no one could see in while he was rehearsing.
Little did he know there was a catwalk through the top of the room.
“While he’s rehearsing we turned off all the lights up there and there’s half the staff up there watching him rehearse,” Holowaychuk laughed. “He doesn’t realize we’re up there watching him.”
A repeat visitor was Jennifer Batten, a guitarist who worked with Michael Jackson. She would come in when they weren’t on tour for guitar clinics.
“That’s when Michael was in the heyday there with the monkey and all the rest of it,” Holowaychuk said. “Jennifer is amazing and had this big, massive white mohawk, but she was so sweet.”
Joe Walsh paid a visit to the store’s Calgary location once.
“I guess he was bored and came and hung around the store for hours while he waiting to play the Eagles concert that night and he invited the whole crew to the show,” Holowaychuk said. “Gave them all tickets.”
Holowaychuk and his brother aren’t just music fans; they’re major hockey fans too.
630 CHED’s own Andrew Grose remembers going to Axe Music for a beer and a burger before Oilers playoff games in the 90s – an activity Holowaychuk joked they didn’t worry about permits for either.
“I remember after one Stars battle where we beat them in the playoff round and they had beaten us a couple years before that, my brother dresses all up as their goalie and he’s standing out in the street with the full goalie gear and sign [that says] ‘looking for work’ and people are driving by honking,” he said.
When the Northlands Coliseum underwent renovations, Holowaychuk and his team were in charge of audio system and robotic lighting and even the iconic oil derrick that “thank God never fell on anybody.”
Holowaychuk calls the decision to close his store “tremendously painful” but also says that it’s time to move on.
“I’m getting old. I go back to the days before fax machines when you had to actually phone the orders in to people.”
He lives in Victoria, B.C. now but says he isn’t going to retire.
“There’s always things to do.”
He adds he’ll miss the “crazy stuff” the most. When asked to elaborate, he only said it’s stuff he couldn’t say on the radio.
Instead, he extended his gratitude to the city of Edmonton and everyone who’s come through his stores’ doors over the years.
“Thanks, everyone for everything. I appreciate it.”
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