Tom Bedell

2004 - Music Store

A Christmas present from his parents launched the music career of Tom Bedell.

Elinor and Berkley Bedell gave their son a Fender Stratocaster guitar for Christmas one year and he began taking lessons from John Senn (Hall of Fame 1997). By age 14 he was giving guitar lessons at Currier Music Store in Spirit Lake.

The next year, through a contact of his father’s, Tom began to source guitars from Japan. This was the first step in creating Bedell Guitar Company. Initially he sourced student guitars for the classes he was teaching.

Then he imported a selection of Bedell Guitars he wholesaled to music stores in a five-state region. One of those guitars is on display in the recording studio exhibit at the Iowa RockNRoll Music Museum; donated by Tom Tourville (Hall of Fame 2003).

Even though he was going to school and launching his music business, Tom found time to play the keyboard in the band “Billy Rat and the Finks” every weekend.

On occasion retailers were unable to pay their bills for the Bedell guitars they had purchased so Tom would collect equipment from them. With this equipment on hand, he decided to open his own retail store in Okoboji for the summer of 1966. He was 16 years old. That fall he opened a second store in Spencer.

Bedell recalls the experience vividly. “I remember the State of Iowa sales tax agent told me I was too young to sign the tax permit. I told her that was fine with me, that I did not mind letting my customers avoid the sales tax. She decided my signature would be acceptable.”

With the securing of franchises for several of the most popular brands of equipment, Tom began advertising on KOA (Little Rock, Ark.), KOMA (Oklahoma City Okla.) and other high-powered rock stations; giving his store (Bedell Guitar Company), a much larger profile.

Expanding further, Bedell started a booking agency, placing bands in high schools and dance clubs around Northwest Iowa, Southwest Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota. By handling his business in this manner, he was able to sell equipment to the bands without requiring them to get their parents to sign loans at the bank. Tom would finance the equipment sales and recover the payment through the bookings. The system worked well for him. Some of those contracts are also on display in the museum.

Once a band had played enough gigs to pay for their equipment, Bedell would help them cut a single at Iowa Great Lakes Recording Studio in Milford. This was a reward from Bedell Guitar Company to encourage bands to do their business with him.

In August of 1968 Tom sold Bedell Guitar Company when his parents persuaded him that he “really should go to college.” He is now the Chairman of the Board of Pure Fishing, an international manufacturer of sporting equipment.

Bedell looks back fondly on his years in the music business. “That was a glorious time for living. We all loved our music. It was our life. Not just those of us who played, but every Friday and Saturday night kids would be out celebrating live music. It represents a time in all our lives that was defining.”Tom Bedell enters the Hall of Fame as one of the youngest music entrepreneurs in Iowa history. He taught by example that you need to think “outside the box.” His ability to tie Iowa musicians with international marketing blazed trails that are widely used in business in the 21st Century.

The Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Association Hall of Fame & Museum exists to preserve the legacy of rock and roll music in Iowa by honoring achievements, educating youth and inspiring artists. Established in 1997, we are a501(c)(3) non-profit statewide organization with many areas of service.

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