Sunday, March 8, 2009

Vancouver Flashback V

Chapter 17

Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis (click to enlarge photos)

Bill Lewis was my first guitar teacher and a good friend. I met him when he returned to the Mediterranean Shop after taking master classes with Andres Segovia in California in 1964. Bill was then working as a guitar teacher in the shop owned by George Bowden. He also did repairs and adjustment to guitars in the workshop located in the back of the store on tenth avenue. As I mentioned back in Chapter 13, I came to the Mediterranean shop quite by accident and decided to take lessons in classical guitar. Bill was to be my teacher.

shop front Renovated first shop exterior (click to enlarge)

He was a fairly tall man with an appearance and demeanor that was quite disarming.

Bill Lewis He spoke in a frank, self assured and friendly manner that gave confidence to beginning students while impressing them with his knowledge.

Bill Lewis He was kind, helpful and always inspiring, quick to laugh and soft-voiced when serious.

shop interior Renovated first shop interior

After I had been taking lessons for some months, George Bowden sent Bill to his Spanish guitar factory, Los Guitarreros de Mallorca, in Palma de Mallorca, where Bill was to learn more about guitar construction from the factory's expert, known as el maestro, José Ortí. Some months later, after Bill had returned to Vancouver, George sent Michael Dunn to Spain to replace him in the factory and to learn construction methods. By this time I was also teaching guitar to beginners and intermediate students.

shop interiorInterior

Fast forwarding into time, George Bowden returned to the Mallorca factory and left the Mediterranean Shop in the hands of his son. Bill Lewis decided to start up his own shop 'Bill Lewis Music' on Broadway near Dunbar St. (Vancouver). Many of his friends and teachers from the Mediterranean shop, including myself, followed him and took part in setting up his business. I remember helping to paint the walls of the new shop. Bill, in mock seriousness, sent me up a tall ladder to paint part of the ceiling, handing me a large brush and paint can.

Bill Lewis As I was gullible, I headed up the ladder determined to get to the top until halfway there, when my knees started to shake, I glanced down to see Bill laughing and motioning for me to come back down. He had a sense of humour and knew that I was easy prey for a joke.

interior Later, after I had moved to Spain and was teaching in Palma de Mallorca, I received a letter from Bill with photos of his renovated shop, a new exterior and an interior full of merchandise, as well as pictures of his workshop. By then Bill was a recognized figure in the Vancouver guitar scene.

Bill working Together with his brother Jack he was building electric guitars that were unique in their construction. Lewis Guitars were played by known performers and were treasured by those lucky enough to own one.

Bill's workbench Bill's workbench

Bill's note 1Bill's note re above photo

Bill later moved his business to new premises on the corner of Dunbar and Broadway St. My photos here are of the first location, after it was renovated.

More history of Bill Lewis and photos of his guitars can be seen on the web at these links:

Raincoast B.C.

After some time Bill turned over the shop to his brother Jack, and formed Lewis Luthiers' Supply, providing woods and materials for guitar builders. During Bill's time working for George Bowden, he had been responsible for shipping western red cedar logs to the Mallorca factory in Spain for use as guitar tops. So together with his brother, he had paved the way for supplying wood for his own business.

Bill Lewis Bill put together a cataloque of his materials which included information and tips on guitar building. He was later to sell out Lewis Luthiers' Supplies to Luthiers' Mercantile, a company in California.

Bill passed away in 1996 at an early age, leaving wonderful memories in the hearts of people who knew him. Those of us who were a part of the scene at both The Mediterranean Shop and Bill Lewis Music will never forget the warmth and camaraderie we shared.

workshop Main workshop

his note Bill's note re above

There isn't much to see on the web about Bill Lewis, nor do I find any photos of him, all of which surprises me since he made such impressive contributions to Canadian guitar construction and innovation. I give my heartfelt thanks to Bill's daughter, Lyra Lewis, who was kind enough to send me copies of these beautiful photos of her father. Thanks Lyra, I'm so happy to be able to include them here.

And I must further point out the moving comment left here below by Ship, a former student, who was so influenced by the music and ambiance at both the Mediterranean Shop and Bill Lewis' Music. Thanks Ship for such a sincere and lovely postscript to my tribute to Bill Lewis. It's very rare that we hear from former students who come back many years later and say thank you.

Continue on to Chapter 18......Off to Mallorca

Go back to Chapter 16 - Vancouver Flashback IV - Robert C. Jordan & Barry Hall


ship said...

Well between Bill's shop and the old Mediterranean shop I have been enriched in my life to say the least. I get up every morning and thing of how lucky I was to have been there and the music that I have today is because of them and also Sharon, she was the first to start teaching me and I am blessed that I have had music in my life for so many years.
As for Bill well he gave us all so may things that I couldn't even begin to describe how he influenced the music in Vancouver and around the world with his guitars and I often wonder how he managed to allow me to stick around at times in his shop, never had any money and often was probably a pain in his rear end, this long haired kid, but he put up with me and show me things when it was quiet enough and all I can think of is I wish he was still with us, so I can take the time to say, you guys, all of them made a difference in my life and the way I turned out and the music I have today is because of your influence's and your putting up with me, when no one else would, miss you all and Bill I hope you are still making guitars up It's not very often that you get to thank those who were influential in your life and music some over 40 years later, thank you all

ff said...

That was nice to read - I didn't know Bill personally, but I used to hang around the music stores in Vancouver (and I lived in Kits not far from his store.)

I just thought I'd google him because I took a few photography courses from him around '77-'80.

Thanks for passing this along - it was touching. Brielle

Canarybird said...

Thanks for your comment Brielle....I had heard Bill was interested in photography but didn't know that he had given classes.

liz said...

Great, great story. Wonderful photographs. I wonder if he ever knew how big of an influence he was on music.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the great read on Bill Lewis! It is so hard to find stuff online about him and his guitars but it pops up here and there. I am currently auctioning a Lewis electric guitar on if you care to look.


Lewis guitar auction.

Canarybird said...

Thanks for your comment zen and the link to the details of one of Bill´s guitars.

Unknown said...

I have never before typed OMG but I have to now. I bought a guitar in Majorca in 1972 from George M Bowden in downtown Palma. I lived in the UK at the time. I subsequently moved to Vancouver and after 40 years I decided to sell the guitar so did a web search and voila - found this blog...OMG. Believe it or not we met George in a pub in Coquitlam at a new years do in the 70s.

Unknown said...

I have never before typed OMG but I have to now. I bought a guitar in Majorca in 1972 from George M Bowden in downtown Palma. I lived in the UK at the time. I subsequently moved to Vancouver and after 40 years I decided to sell the guitar so did a web search and voila - found this blog...OMG. Believe it or not we met George in a pub in Coquitlam at a new years do in the 70s.

Alison said...

Thank you for this. I bought my first 3/4 size nylon string guitar from Bill in 1968. I think it was $40 and he let me make instalments. I was 15 at the time.

Years later wound up in a band with (and dating...) Michael Dunn. :D

rhysmhor said...

My first job in Surrey was as a 'paste-up artist' for a weekly newspaper. After, i took two night courses from Bill in guitar building -- bought one each of his kits and built and Appalachian dulcimer and a nylon stringed guitar. Even tho i was still really a kid (maybe last year of High School?) we hit it off. He started talking about building a luthier supply business and how he wanted to make a mail-order catalogue. So i volunteered to 'paste it up'. And thus was born the first Bill Lewis Luthier supply catalogue, complete with all the tips, as well as tools etc. UI can see the cover still, and the thick paper of the pages.

I remember his absolute insistence on tool sharpening -- that year i went around with no hair on my left lower arm from constantly checking i had the chisels and plane blades right!

A few years later (73? -- 74?), i came down from the Kootenays (Slocan) with an old Delveccio resonator guitar and traded it and 400 bucks for Mr Martin -- a 1964 Martin D-18 that is with me all these years (47) later. Bill said -- "you want this guitar, rhys". And boy was he right. I have never coveted another acoustic guitar in my life!

Bill was indeed a great guy, and as these contributers have said, made a real contribution to the guitar scene in Vancouver in those days. He is well missed....

Moonshadowsman said...

Yes those night school courses were at Vancouver Technical school. I took them too.
As part of the course, he was insistent that we buy a good knife, a stainless steel meter stick and a metal scraper. He was a serious guy that didn't have time for nonsense or dawdlers but he had a puckish side too.

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