Jim Gretty

By Bill Harry  

Jim GrettyThe former rotund chief salesman at Frank Hessy's music store, which was originally based in a street off Whitechapel and then in Stanley Street, Liverpool. He sold guitars and other instruments to most of the Mersey musicians in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jim had worked as a local entertainer on Liverpool's Clubland circuit since the 1930s. He obtained the initial job as demonstrator at Hessy's after he suggested to owner Frank Hessy that a good way of selling guitars would be for him to give free lessons to anyone who bought a guitar. So Hessy rented another shop and each Monday Jim would spend an hour and a half teaching a group of 30 to 40 youngsters. It was Jim who sold a guitar to Mimi Smith when she dropped in one day in 1957 with her nephew John Lennon.

Jim also acted as a variety agent and was later to book the Beatles on a number of dates locally, although they weren't on the rock 'n' roll bills the Beatles were used to. They included the variety show at the Albany, Maghull and the Pavilion Theatre appearance with the Waterford Showband.

The event at the Albany Cinema in Northway, Maghull, Liverpool L31 took place on October 15 1961. It was Jim who organized the three-hour charity show in aid of the local St. John Ambulance Brigade. Ken Dodd was top of the bill and thought that the Beatles music was terrible. He even made a complaint about them. When one of them came into his dressing room and said they'd been told that if they gave him their card he might be able to get them some bookings, he threw the card away. Paul McCartney reminded him of it a few years later and Dodd said, "No, you've never worked with me, lad." When Paul mentioned that it had been on the Albany show, Dodd said, "That noise wasn't you, was it?" Paul said, "Yeah, we were rubbish, weren't we?" "You certainly were," said Dodd. "I had you thrown off."

Also on the bill was local country music artist Hank Walters, leader of the Dusty Road Ramblers, who wore a Stetson. John Lennon walked up to him and said, "I don't go much on your music, lad, but lend us your hat!" Walters told Lennon that he didn't think much of the Beatles music and they'd never get anywhere unless they played country music.

Jim promoted the show at the Pavilion Theatre, Lodge Lane on Monday April 2 1962 with the Waterford Showband as headliners. They were advertised as 'Ireland's Pride' and the Beatles as 'Merseyside's Joy.'

Jim was also a performer and was quite well known as a country music singer/guitarist. He offered advice to all the groups and once built a 'wall of fame', a panorama of photographs of local bands, which stretched along Hessy's main showroom wall. He died in 1992 at the age of 78.

Billy Kinsley was to tell me, "One story I fondly remember of Jim is way back when Hessy's was in Manchester Street. Tony Crane and I were chatting to him when who should walk in but John Lennon. John had lost the spring off his Rickenbacker's Bigsby unit and in those days there was no way to get hold of another one. So Jim told us to carry on talking while he FOUND one. He just happened to see one on a brand new Gibson and duly gave it to John. If that guitar was sold the next day he would have had to find one for that model and so on. The point I'm trying to make is - what on earth would we have done without him! "Jim was a great help to all of us in those days. I recall that years later while Jackie Lomax and I were recording with George Harrison, one of the people George asked me about was Jim."

Editor's note: Jim Gretty is another of the unsung heroes who is little heard of outside the pages of Mersey Beat. He was an invaluable guiding hand to most of the young Mersey musicians and was a well-known figure in Merseyside's Clubland. Jim was also one of the supporters of Mersey Beat, taking out a modest advert - but right from the beginning and on a very regular basis. Virginia and I had little support when we started Mersey Beat and it was virtually a struggle for survival week after week. I'd appreciate any further anecdotes and reminiscences about Jim from Mersey musicians.

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