Henry Goldrich, Gear Guru to Rock Stars, Is Dead at 88

Owning Manny’s Music in Manhattan, he brought wah-wah to Hendrix and Clapton and connected musicians with equipment that helped define their styles.

Henry Goldrich in an undated photo in front of his store, Manny’s Music, which until it closed in 2009 was the largest and best-known of the cluster of music shops on West 48th Street in Manhattan.
Henry Goldrich in an undated photo in front of his store, Manny’s Music, which until it closed in 2009 was the largest and best-known of the cluster of music shops on West 48th Street in Manhattan.Credit...via Ian Goldrich
Corey Kilgannon

When asked about his musical ability, Henry Goldrich would often demur, “I play cash register.”

His stage was Manny’s Music in Manhattan, where Mr. Goldrich, the longtime owner, supplied equipment to a generation of rock stars. But even though he sold instead of strummed, he secured an important role in rock by connecting famous musicians with cutting-edge equipment.

“To these guys, Henry was the superstar,” his son Judd said. “He was the first guy to get gear they had never seen before.”

Mr. Goldrich died on Feb. 16 at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 88. His son Ian, who confirmed the death, said his father had been in frail but stable health.

Manny’s, which closed in 2009 after 74 years in business, was long the largest and best-known of the cluster of music shops on the West 48th Street block known as Music Row. It was opened in 1935 by Mr. Goldrich’s father, Manny, and it was a second home for Henry since he was an infant, when the shop’s clientele of swing stars doted on him. Ella Fitzgerald would babysit for him in the shop when his parents went out for lunch, Ian Goldrich said.

By 1968, when his father died at 62, Henry Goldrich had largely taken over operations and had turned the shop into an equipment mecca and hangout for world-renowned artists. He did this by expanding its inventory of the latest gear and by solidifying connections with suppliers that helped him stock high-level instruments and new products.

ImageMr. Goldrich sold guitars to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and many others. He was not happy about Mr. Townshend’s penchant for smashing them.
Mr. Goldrich sold guitars to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and many others. He was not happy about Mr. Townshend’s penchant for smashing them.Credit...Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

At a time before rock stars were lavished with the latest equipment straight from the manufacturers, Manny’s was favored by top musicians. They included two guitar gods of the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It was Mr. Goldrich who recommended that they adopt the wah-wah pedal, an electronic device that immediately became a staple of both musicians’ playing, Ian Goldrich said. He added that Hendrix would buy scores of guitars on credit and have Mr. Goldrich fine-tune them to the guitarist’s demanding preferences.

Many rock and pop classics were either played or written on instruments sold by Mr. Goldrich. John Sebastian, founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful, recalled in an interview how Mr. Goldrich, in the mid-1960s, helped him select the Gibson J-45 that he used on early Spoonful recordings like “Do You Believe in Magic?”

He similarly matched James Taylor with a quality Martin acoustic guitar early in Mr. Taylor’s career, Ian Goldrich said. And Sting used the Fender Stratocaster that Mr. Goldrich had sold him to compose “Message in a Bottle” and many other hits for the Police. (Sting later donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.)

The photos on the Manny’s Wall of Fame constituted a Who’s Who of popular music. Credit...Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

In 1970, Mr. Goldrich sold the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour the 1969 black Stratocaster that he played on many of the band’s seminal recordings. It sold at auction in 2019 for a record $3,975,000.

Pete Townshend of the Who would order expensive electric guitars by the dozens from Mr. Goldrich, who was not happy when he heard about Mr. Townshend’s penchant for destroying his guitars onstage for theatrical effect.

“It was good business,” Ian Goldrich said, “but my father was annoyed that Pete was breaking all the guitars he was selling him.”

Unlike many of his flamboyant rock-star customers, Mr. Goodrich always dressed conventionally in a sport coat and kept a blunt demeanor that put his customers at ease. “He had a gruff personality; he treated them all the same,” Ian Goldrich said. “He’d tell Bob Dylan, ‘Sit in the back and I’ll be with you in a minute.’”

There was the day in 1985 — it was Black Friday, and the store was packed — that Mick Jagger and David Bowie stopped by together, creating a commotion that halted sales. An annoyed Mr. Goldrich quickly sold them what they wanted and rushed them out.

“My father was like, ‘What are you guys doing here today?’” Ian recalled. “He didn’t throw them out, but he was not happy.”

When the band Guns N’ Roses asked to shoot part of the video for their 1989 hit “Paradise City” in the store, Ian Goldrich recalled, his father agreed only reluctantly, saying, “OK, but we’re not shutting down for them.”

Ever opinionated, Mr. Goldrich told Harry Chapin in 1972 that his new song “Taxi,” at nearly seven minutes, was too long to be a hit. (It reached the Top 40 and is now considered a classic.) And he told Paul Simon, who as a boy had bought his first guitar at Manny’s, that he thought Simon and Garfunkel was a “lousy name” for a group.

But he also advised new stars in a fatherly way not to squander their newfound wealth.

“He’d take them aside and say, ‘You’re making money now — how are you going to take care of it?’” Ian Goldrich said.

From left, the singer Richie Havens, the singer and radio host Oscar Brand and Mr. Goldrich at a celebration of Manny’s Music’s 50th anniversary at the Rainbow Grill in 1985.Credit...Marilyn K. Yee/The New York Times

Henry Jerome Goldrich was born on May 15, 1932, to Manny and Julia Goldrich and grew up in Brooklyn and in Hewlett on Long Island. After graduating from Adelphi College on Long Island, he served in the Army in Korea in the mid-1950s and then went to work full time at Manny’s.

His father chose to open the store on West 48th Street because it was close to the Broadway theaters, the 52nd Street jazz clubs, numerous recording studios and the Brill Building, a hub for music publishers. In 1999, Mr. Goldrich sold Manny’s to Sam Ash Music, a rival store, which largely retained the staff until Manny’s closed in 2009, as Music Row began to disappear.

In addition to his sons, Mr. Goldrich is survived by his wife, Judi; his daughter, Holly Goldrich; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Mr. Goldrich often used his celebrity clientele to market the store. “He recognized the value of these people being in the store, and it made the business, certainly,” his son Judd said.

When a young Eric Clapton, then with the group Cream, was stuck in New York without the money to fly home to England, he offered his amplifiers to Mr. Goldrich to raise funds.

“He said, ‘I’ll buy them from you as long as you stencil them with the Cream logo,’” Ian said.

Then there was the store’s Wall of Fame: thousands of autographed publicity photos of famous customers that constituted a Who’s Who of popular music. Many were inscribed to Mr. Goldrich, and he would stop his employees from stacking merchandise in front of them.

Mr. Taylor, in a video interview, described being mesmerized by the photos as a teenager and being proud when his own was added. “It was sort of an inside thing, not as celebrated as a Grammy or a gold record or a position on the charts,” he said. “But definitely you had arrived if you were included on that wall.”

Mr. Goldrich became close friends with many musicians, including the Who’s bassist, John Entwistle, who attended Judd Goldrich’s bar mitzvah in New Jersey and hosted the Goldrich family at his Gothic mansion in England. Ian Goldrich remembered the band’s drummer, Keith Moon, sitting on his father’s lap while drinking cognac at a screening of the film “Tommy,” an adaptation of the band’s rock opera.

In a video interview, Mr. Goldrich once described selling the violinist Itzhak Perlman an electric violin. When Mr. Perlman tried bargaining, Mr. Goldrich parried by asking if he ever reduced his performance fee.

“He said, ‘It’s different, I’m a talent,’” Mr. Goldrich recalled. “I said, ‘I’m a talent in my own way, too.’”

That talent was palpable to Mr. Sebastian when he asked Mr. Goldrich to allow him to test out his stock of Gibson acoustic guitars in a merchandise room.

“Henry’s famously prickly demeanor receded slightly,” Mr. Sebastian recalled, and he agreed to open early the next morning to allow him in.

“He knew exactly what I wanted,” he said. “And I’ll be damned if I didn’t catch Henry smiling as he made out the bill.”