Making music and memories with the Dietz brothers
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF BERTING
The lives of Dietz Brothers Music owners Pat Dietz and John Dietz are like a blockbuster movie. The two brothers (of 11 children) studied music at the University of Oregon, where they met their wives, Susan and Carol, who are also musicians.
By their early 30s, Pat and John had four and three children respectively. “We were ahead of our time,” jokes Pat. “We didn’t think of ourselves as adults.” Pat, who plays the guitar, mandolin and lap steel, and John, who plays the flute, saxophone, steel drums and guitar, were giving lessons and gigging but didn’t have their own store. “I didn’t have the realization we were running a business until a student named Jerry Kelly said to me, ‘You’re doing really well,’” recalls Pat.
In 1988 they opened a small space on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Pine. By 1991 they had moved into the current location on Sepulveda Boulevard.
The brothers were strongly influenced by a neighborhood music store when they were growing up, owned by the late Gene Leis. This is where Pat and John cut their teeth from the age of 12. They gave lessons here and sold instruments before they branched out on their own at ages 33 and 34.
Gene was Pat’s mentor. He remembers that Gene had a Rolodex of people with IOUs for instruments, and one of Pat’s jobs was to call those customers to collect the debt. “Gene once asked me, ‘Can you guess what percentage of those people wouldn’t pay?’ The answer was 2%—close to zero.”
The lesson was that you have a lifetime customer when you sell someone an instrument—they’ll need lessons, repairs, etc. In addition to being a great businessman, Gene was a great teacher, explains Pat—a trait he and John also demonstrate. They employ musicians who have just graduated and spend a lot of time training them on how to give lessons. It’s not unusual to spend 30 to 40 hours with them.
They teach their instructors not to overwhelm students. “The main thing new teachers do wrong is over-teach,” he says.
Dietz Brothers Music has 14 employees, including Carol (who plays the violin, viola and harp), Susan (who plays piano and sings) and sometimes including their children. Combined, the instructors at the music store have taught millions of hours of music.
The Dietz brothers find it important to offer a steady job for musicians. “That’s really the calling card,” says Pat. “This is what they count on. It allows them to do other things and not worry about where they’ll come up with money for rent.”
Their advice for artists who are starting out? “Be prepared to work,” says Pat. And for those who are already in the business, he says, “Just keep working, man.” John adds that even today, the two of them log the most hours at the store and play 100 shows a year.
To date they’ve played an estimated 6,000 gigs for countless dignitaries and celebrities including President Jimmy Carter, Barbra Streisand and Bryan Cranston. Recently they played in Santa Barbara for The Giving Pledge fundraiser where Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and Ted Turner were in attendance.
And they don’t have plans to slow down. On the horizon is the potential purchase of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. “The real goal is to keep doing what we’re doing,” says Pat. “Things are really good, and we just want to maintain that.”