Remembering My Dad, Bill Hagner. The Man Who Brought Music Into My Life.
My dad, longtime Gretsch plant manager, Bill Hagner, had a passion for music. And he made sure our home (and especially me) was always surrounded with it.
I was lucky to grow up as a kid in the 60s with lots of musical instruments in our home in East Meadow, Long Island, NY. I remember drums, bongos, guitars, banjos, and maracas laying around. (I also remember my mom making a really nice planter out of one of the drum shells!) Unfortunately, I never learned how to play anything, although I took drum lessons for a short while.
My dad also loved his stereo. He always had records of the day playing on it, usually Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Ray Conniff, Al Hirt, and sometimes even the Beatles (because George Harrison played Gretsch guitars). I have fond memories of Dad sitting me down as a child and saying, “Now listen very close and you will hear the drums, or you can hear the trumpet, or you can hear the guitar.” He was very good at pointing out what instruments were playing on the stereo to my young ears.
Another Gretsch memory I have from the New York days was watching The Monkees on TV and being thrilled to see that they played Gretsch guitars and drums. I was a teenager then and totally in love with Davy Jones!
Thirty years later, I had the chance to meet Davy at the TV station I was working at in Virginia. When I told him about my dad and the Gretsch connection, he flipped out. He shared with me that Gretsch had developed a special guitar for him to accommodate his short stature (Davy was only 5’2” and had been a horse jockey prior to joining The Monkees). He told me he would send me a photo of him holding his custom Gretsch guitar and he actually did! I was surprised that Davy remembered.
The Big Move from Brooklyn To Booneville.
Because I was young, I never visited the Gretsch Brooklyn factory where my dad was the plant manager, but I remember visiting the Arkansas factory in Booneville. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since this rising high school junior made the move from the big city of New York to country life in Arkansas. Boy was it an adjustment. It was hard being the only “New Yorker” in my high school (they thought I talked funny, I thought they talked funny!) I spent a lot of time by myself in the school library my junior year, but eventually made friends, joined the Pep Squad, had my first boyfriend and settled in.
My mom’s favorite Arkansas story that she told many times occurred at the only grocery store we had in Fort Smith in 1970: a Piggly Wiggly that still had wooden floors. My mom asked a lady where the Deli was in town and the lady replied, “What’s a Deli?” Remember, we were from New York and very used to buying cold cuts and other things at our local Deli. We knew we weren’t in Long Island anymore.
I’m sure it was a big adjustment for my dad as well. He had worked at the Brooklyn factory for nearly 30 years, straight out of high school. Now, Gretsch was owned by Baldwin Piano, and he was being asked to relocate the factory into a large reconverted barn in rural Arkansas, manage it, and hire a whole new team of local factory workers who had no experience building musical instruments. But with grit and determination, my dad succeeded. Dad, along with the help of his right-hand man, Jim Foldvary (an industrial engineer my dad had hired in the early 50s, and the only other Gretsch employee who made the move from the Brooklyn factory to Booneville), hired and trained a new team of factory workers – mostly women – within a matter of months.
And those women really liked working for my dad. I think it’s because they witnessed his honesty, his integrity, his work ethic, his dedication to Gretsch, and how he truly loved the music business and making musical instruments that brought joy and happiness to so many people.
During those Arkansas years, I didn’t see the business side of him much, but he really loved the people he worked with. Dad always had something kind to say about the people down at the factory. He really cared about the women who worked at the Booneville factory and was always trying to figure out how to make their working conditions better and more comfortable.
Dad also enjoyed working with Gretsch artists; all the guitarists and drummers who endorsed the instruments my dad was responsible for making in the factory. His favorite artist by far was Chet Atkins. He counted Chet as one of his best friends and was very close to him.
My Lifelong Love Affair with Music.
Like my dad, I’ve had a love affair with music my entire life. And I have my dad to thank for it. In college, I was a DJ for the college’s radio station. It was a jazz format, and it really helped me grow my love and appreciation for jazz. Later, because of my large music collection, I had a mobile
DJ side business, working local clubs and events (my daughter dubbed me “DJ Ginger” because of my hair color). Even when I worked at a Veteran’s Hospital in Richmond, Va., I was the hospital’s resident DJ for various community and employee events.
Probably the highlight of my music career started in the 90s when I created and produced a music-based TV show in Roanoke, Va. called Roanoke Plugged In (the opposite of MTV’s then-popular Unplugged series). In addition to featuring some really fun local bands (2 Skinnee J’s, Less than Jake, Jimmies Chicken Shack and Chin Ho), we also shot and aired videos of major artists performing at the Roanoke Civic Center. During its run, our show featured such stars as Elton John, Def Leppard, Rod Stewart, John Mellencamp, Hootie & the Blowfish, 98 Degrees, and many more. It was a blast.
It’s been a year since the man who brought music into my life passed away. Dad was 96 and had lived a long and very full life. I’m so proud of him and all that he accomplished during his 58-year career with Gretsch. I have to admit, even today when I’m watching a music show or awards show on TV, I’m looking for Gretsch guitars and drums. And it warms my heart to see one, knowing my dad’s DNA is somewhere on those great-sounding and great-looking instruments.
— Kathy Busch