The Shaker Microphone story is one of persistence, determination, success and a wee bit of luck.
In retrospect, our story is very much what people call the American dream. But we believe, it’s everyone’s dream,no matter where you’re from or live. We started with a lot of enthusiasm and a good idea. But it was very much like playing in a band and knowing none of the songs. The most commonly heard verses around the Shaker shipyard would be, “Oh yea! Oh, no! Oh, brother! and WHAT!” We never know when we take that first step into something new and unknown, where it will lead or how long the road will be. This road we’ve ventured onto has brought both good times and hard times, plus lots of cool stuff.
It all began in the winter of 1991 when Shakey Joe dropped his bullet mic and it died. We had 3 boys, and the money was needed in about 10 different places. Being a crafty sort, Shakey actually decided to build one of his own designs. Even though he loved the old bullet mics, he thought he could improve in some significant ways. Being a draftsman, to the drawing table he went. The idea was to build a microphone that would greatly reduce feedback, fit the human hand, be much lighter, have a wider frequency range and it needed to bounce. After 8 months of experimentation, with the help of a good friend and electronics guru, Mike Milarovich, who owned M-Troniks in Mesa, Arizona at the time, the very first Shaker prototype microphone came into being. After that, Shakey Joe went to Ted Kowall’s Music, in Chandler, Arizona, to take harmonica lessons from Steve Gilbert, an advanced player who taught there. Ted watched as Shakey played really loud in a small room with little feedback. He came in and said, “How do you do that?” Shakey showed him the design, and Ted said the famous words that started this whole thing. He said, “I’ve been in this business a long time, that’s an amazing rig. If you built those, a lot of players would want one.” And that was the seed that grew into Shaker Microphone.
That very night Shakey Joe went home and asked his wife, “Do you think we should go for it?” We had to agree we would be in this together to the end. It was decided Shakey would design and build the mics, and do public relations/play in the bars. Dawn would run the office, handle customer service, shipping and accounts/office queen. And that’s the way it is to this day. To be honest, in the beginning there were many times when she could be found running drill presses and soldering irons at two in the morning to meet a deadline.
We started as a grass root, bootstrap and sweat equity venture. The back porch became a factory, the old refrigerator transformed into a spray booth, the bedroom became the shipping department, and one of the boy’s bedrooms acquired a desk, file cabinet and phone. It was on that phone that we got our first big time call. The voice said, “Hi, I’d like to talk with someone about these Shakers. My wife asked his name, it was Huey Lewis. That was a pretty awesome thing and indicative of things to come.
Let us explain something. These were thin times. We actually started Shaker Microphone with $137.00. The first banker Shakey took his business plan to actually started laughing out loud. Really uncool! But, with the help and support of many wonderful people, who loved the blues and wanted to promote music, Shaker came into being. As an example, Mr. Bob Corritore who owns The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona. He was gracious enough to tell the doorman if the Shaker guy comes to show his harp mics, just let him in for free. He knew we were strapped for cash. Because of this kindness, Shaker mics were shown to William Clarke, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite and so many more. This was pretty much our entire public relations campaign and advertising strategy. Shakey Joe showing up at the Rhythm Room early, introducing himself and saying, “Hi, I’m Joe. I’ve invented a new type of harmonica microphone. Would you like to try it out?”
The first player Shakey approached in a club was the great Mr. James Harman. Shakey says, I was so scared, it was actually hard to make my feet move to walk up to him.” James said, “Cool man. Let me see it.” So, Shakey handed him the Dynamic Shaker and left him with it, not really knowing how this was supposed to work. He thought to himself that maybe at the end of the night, if he was lucky, James would try it and give his opinion or something. Shakey was more than lucky. During the second set, James plugged it in and did 3 songs with it. Those were three L-O-N-G songs. After the show, James was so kind. We think he could see how green Shakey was and said, “I think you’ve got something there. Keep on keeping on man!” If he had said something ugly like, there may never have been a Shaker Microphone company.
We’re going to tell you one more story. How Shakey met the man, Mr. Junior Wells. Because of him, we have our slogan. So, we think you might want to hear it. Shakey was at the Rhythm Room doing his public relations thing, Bob introduced them in his office. “There I sat with one of my idols and he was so gracious, so kind. He told stories and laughed just like regular folk. “I’m going to confess, I drank my first taste of Tanqueray. Oh yea! With Junior Wells! I sat there thinking how I, a draftsman, house painter, landscaper, instrument repairman, harp dude could be here with a blues legend. I remember as a young kid, riding in my uncle’s ’59 Impala convertible, listening to some hot music pumping out from the radio. I asked my uncle Ted, “What kind of music is that?” He said, “That’s that’s the Blues and that’s Junior Wells.” Enough history, back to the story. So Junior says, “Come on, let’s see how it sounds.” We went up front, got the sound man to hook it up, Junior blew a few riffs, laid our mic on the monitor, smiled, and said, “Sounds good. We’ll see how it goes Shaker man.”
And so he did. And we have a picture on the last page of our website that he sent us holding his Crystal Shaker, which he endorsed. And later that night, Junior slipped a piece of paper in Shakey’s shirt pocket, smiled, and said,”I wrote a slogan for your company. Don’t look at it until you get home.” It said,”There are five things between your lips and their ears…your harp, microphone, cord, amp and air. Make sure one’s a “Shaker”! It’s still our slogan. Thank you Junior!
As we’ve walked this road, we’ve met so many talented players and great people – each one has become a link in our chain. Everybody is a link in some chain, somewhere. One very special link in ours was when Mr. Chamber Huang introduced Shakey Joe to a wonderful harp player, Peter “Madcat” Ruth. They became collaborators as they birthed the Shaker Madcat Microphone. Its design is based on Madcat’s very technique oriented and animated style of playing. The idea was to build a mic that would allow a harp player to use his hands freely for effect, but be amplified. We did it and we did it good. If you ever get a chance to see Madcat play, do it. His music – and the man – is amazing. Thank you Madcat!
So, do we have a big factory and laboratory where we develop our products? Well, we have a factory where we hand build each unit and, by the way, we use as many American made parts as possible. Our microphone bodies are injection molded by Bob, who owns Southwest Injection Mold in Springfield, MO. Our metal bodies are cast in Harrison, AR, by Mike Marley’s company. Our Retro Rocket pewter grilles are cast by Dennis, who owns Louisianna Casting. Our cable comes from Horizon Cable, out of Missouri. And our labor is done by Shakey Joe, sons, grandsons, and wife. So, when we say American made, that’s what we mean. It’s not just a sales gimmick.
As far as research and development, we do that to this day through venues such as clubs, bars and festivals. All is fair game. We receive input from players all over the world, listen to what they say, and respond. That’s the thing when you aren’t too big. You can adapt and respond quickly. And that is what we are constantly striving to do. We keep on perfecting. The art form evolves, so too the player. We refer to this as influence induced evolution.
So, let us all here at Shaker Microphone tell our harmonica loving friends out there in the world, thank you! Why? Because each and every one of you are part and parcel of keeping the music alive. It is stories taken from life and played by the people who have lived it. Once Shakey asked James Harman, “What is a blues song?” He answered, “I don’t know about somebody else’s, but I’m tellin’ a story, man, and it’s true.” Playing harmonica is the way some of us choose to convey our emotions, hopes, disappointments and dreams to the next generation. And we do it with 10 holes, some wood, brass and breath.
Shakey Joe considers himself an okay harp player, but a darn good microphone designer and builder. A harp player’s microphone is a link in the chain between the player’s lips and the hearers ear. We thank you for choosing Shaker Microphones for your link.