Neon guitar last homage to prominent Edmonton music store

A neon guitar spinning and twinkling in Edmonton’s Neon Sign Museum is the only symbol left to remember one of Western Canada’s largest music stores.

'It’ll bring generations together,' the Alberta Sign Association says

Volunteers resurrected and restored the iconic Mother's Music guitar, which has become the latest addition to Edmonton's Neon Sign Museum. 1:00

A neon guitar spinning and twinkling on the side of an Edmonton building is the only symbol left to remember one of Western Canada's largest music stores.

The sign was created in the early 1990s for Mother's Music, a local store owned by Warren Price and his family that supplied professional musicians with equipment and premium guitars.

The sign served as a beacon for musicians for 10 years until the Price family closed its 109th Street and 103rd Avenue location in 2009.

For years, the weathered guitar hung from the building while the property's new developers tried to figure out what to do with it. That's when David Olsen, the building's real estate agent and spokesperson for the Price family, stepped in.

"I told the new owners either they could throw it out or donate it," Olsen told CBC News. "When the family found out it was being donated, they were overjoyed."

The sign was donated to Edmonton's Neon Sign Museum.

A crew from Skyline Services works on the rotating guitar. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

The museum was created in 2014 to preserve signs that were crucial to businesses in the city's past. Heritage planners work with the Alberta Sign Association to review all the signs they receive and decide which ones have enough historic value to restore and incorporate into the museum.

Tim Pedrick, past president of the Alberta Sign Association, believes the Mother's Music sign will strike a chord with young and old.

"People are already commenting, 'Oh, I remember Mother's Music,' " Tim Pedrick said. "It brings generations together."

Mother's Music store an ode to rock 'n' roll  

The idea for Mother's Music came to a young Warren Price while on a solo trip to Chicago.

The young man was inspired by a bar called Mother's — one of Chicago's first rock-'n'-roll-infused venues. Price was convinced after a night in that bar that something was missing from Edmonton's music scene.

"I thought the name or the connotation or the usage of it there ... [would] be neat for kind of a rock-'n'-roll store," Price told the National Association of Music Merchants in a 2007 interview.

At the time, Price worked for his father, Gordon Price, at Gordon Price Music. After the trip, he asked his father if he could open his own store on Jasper Avenue. 

"Fortunately, he at least listened to me and thought, 'What the heck, it can't go that far wrong,' " Warren said.

Mother's Music opened its doors for the first time in 1972 — and it didn't take long for business to take off. Price soon opened sister stores across Western Canada, with locations in Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Vancouver.

"It turned out to be an all right move," Warren said, adding it was their third store in Edmonton alone. 

The sign was not put on the building until the early 1990s. The origins of the sign are a bit of a mystery, but Olsen said the Price family believes it might have been created for Warren by a family friend.

The sign 'a thrill' for neon lovers

Kevin Barabash has been renovating the Mother's Music guitar every two years since it was first mounted on the store's location in the 1990s.

City of Edmonton Heritage Planner David Johnson is on the hunt for more buzzing bling to add to the growing Neon Sign Museum in Edmonton. 2:37

"When I was on the service truck, I would work on this sign all the time ... usually at 30 below and you're cursing about it,"  Barabash said, with a laugh. 

Barabash and his crew at Skyline Sign Services Ltd. volunteer their time to restore old neon signs. They've had a hand at repairing most of the signs displayed on the brick wall of the Telus building.

Getting the guitar up to standards took four months of scraping, gutting, painting and rewiring the electrical circuits of the spinning mechanism at the sign's base.

Even though Barabash put in more than 100 hours of unpaid labour, he said it's worth it to see the final result.

"There's not much for creative signs left, period," Barabash said. "So, when we get to work on some of these that are classic-looking signs, it's a thrill, really." 

The Mother's Music guitar will be formally inaugurated into the museum later this month, once city planners are finished creating 20 commemorative plaques and organize a date with the Price family. 

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais