Just about this time last year, this infernal rag published an article informing readers that the reports of Pepperland Music’s death were greatly exaggerated. We erroneously reported in the obituary of notable open mic host and musician John Carrillo that the longtime record store/music shop/music lesson studio in Orange was defunct. The author (“someone whose last name in Spanish is cerveza“) not only issued a retraction in the original article but also wrote a full article to set the record straight, as it were, on just how alive and well the 36-year-old shop was.
Until it wasn’t.
I normally wouldn’t point out my colleagues’ gaffes publicly but I make exception here to show, “Joel [Beers] was a bit of a soothsayer in that respect,” according to Pepperland owner Mike Lefebvre. The store, open since 1982, is now closing because as Lefebvre puts it, “after a third of a century, it’s time to retire.”
The 67-year-old splits his time between Orange County and his home in Colorado but after just shy of a decade, Lefebvre’s over the back-and-forth. He’s ready to settle in and spend more time with his wife and children.
“The store does well, but my children are too young to take it over and my two boys that are older have their own careers,” he explains. “Not that they’re not interested but they are busy doing their own thing.”
Three and a half decades and three locations around Orange have given Lefebvre and the music community a lifetime of memories. Out of all of those memories, “number one is the customers,” he says. “You make a lot of friends.” (Missed opportunity to say “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Just saying…)
Owning a music store has introduced Lefebvre to countless people, some have been celebrities, like Kerry King from Slayer, Exene Cervenka from X, Dexter Holland from the Offspring and many more. “You never know who’s going to pop in,” he says.
The shop’s clientele has been a diverse group of professional musicians, would-be musicians, musicians in training, and music fans. Lefebvre falls into the latter group. “I’m not a musician,” he admits. “I figured for every musician out there, there has to be an audience and that’s me.”
And quite the fan he is. Lefebvre opened Pepperland initially as a way to downsize his extensive record collection. The store grew from there. Guitars, equipment, memorabilia, novelty items, books, sheet music, Pepperland-branded retro fuel pump—they’ve got it all. “I do tend to overbuy and sell,” Lefebvre concedes. “That’s why we have so much stuff here to move.”
But when cool shit like Phil Everly (of the Everly Brothers fame)’s guitar and Benny Goodman’s clarinet wanders into your shop, it’s hard not to buy. Both items came from Jack Rael, longtime manager to singer Patti Page (he discovered then represented her to the tune of 52 years) and the Everly Brothers (local tie: the iconic duo broke up during a performance at Knott’s).
“Because Phil [Everly] used to, when he was done with the guitar, after 10 years he just gave it to the manager,” Lefebvre explains. “A lot of people did that and now they want their guitars back.” He was lucky enough to find Everly’s son who purchased it from the shop, reuniting the priceless piece of music history with the family.
Goodman’s trumpet swung into the store through Rael as well. He came to own the clarinet because Goodman was his paternal second cousin and Lefebvre explains, “when he wanted to play the clarinet as his first instrument, they called Benny and Benny told his mom to give him one of the old clarinets he had as a kid.”
Lefebvre put the piece up on eBay and the King of Swing’s iconic instrument sold for a criminally low $150 American. Shit, I would have paid more than that and I can’t even afford to spring the buck fifty to add avocado to my burrito.
But of course the famous musicians Pepperland Music is most synonymous with are the Beatles. The Fab Four have been just as much a part of the store’s history as Lefebvre himself. First there’s the name Pepperland—which was the name of the musical, mystical land that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club band lived in in the animated film Yellow Submarine and the name of a track used several times in the flick (along with “Pepperland Laid Waste”). It’s an association so well known Lefebvre was even offered to buy the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool—an incubator for the early days of the band. He declined the offer but did point the former owners in the direction of the now current owners.
The store is peppered with Beatles albums and memorabilia from 30-year-old Beatles convention booklets to rare framed posters to shirts and books all dedicated to the Fab Four. And that’s just the Beatles stuff—the store chalk full of music equipment, memorabilia, vinyl, CDs and even VHS tapes.
So much so Lefebvre called in a professional to help liquidate with an “everything must go” sale. It’s an incremental sale starting with 50% off everything and discounts rising each week. They’re putting out fresh stock daily as they sort through the extensive collection. The sale is going on now and will continue until everything’s gone. “We hope by the end of the month,” explains the sale’s organizer, Amanda Ellis. “Between the middle and the end of January.”
“Somebody could actually come in here and say I’ll just buy everything and they could take over and have the store. I think that’d be neat to keep it open,” Lefebvre suggests. “An awful lot of people always wanted to open up a music store and when the price [includes] the fixtures and everything else, they can get it pretty cheap at this point.”
“It can be a turn-key transaction!” adds Ellis.
The case for keeping Pepperland alive is there—it’s a three and a half decade Orange County institution. “The thing is this area does not have any music stores,” Lefebvre explains. “There’s nothing left.”
As a disenfranchised punk kid who went to El Modena High just a few miles away, I went looking for identity in the two most counter-culture places in the city of Orange: Flashbacks vintage clothing store and Pepperland. Flashbacks closed a couple years back and now in less than a month, both places will be gone. Fucking bummer. I took a couple years of lessons at Pepperland’s music studios (what’s up, Todd!) while 14-year-old me was trying to learn guitar to become the next Beki Bondage. I loved coming to Pepperland because it was an hour a week where I could talk with my guitar teacher about things I was into that most of my peers weren’t like the early LA punk scene and John Cassavetes. I could also pick up a vinyl or two and of course always had to grab Skratch magazine which I read the way some people read a Bible (RIP). I mourn for the kids like me growing up now and freaks and geeks to come growing up in the Orange-Villa Park area. At least Gasoline Alley’s still there!
“A lot of people have pleasant memories,” says Lefebvre. “Folks would actually come in and just want to give me hugs or just thank me so much for all this.” On that note, we say to Pepperland, “Thank You Girl”, “Hello, Goodbye” and “The End”.