When I first started learning about CBGs, I discovered John Lowe, a luthier and performer in Memphis, Tennessee. He does a one-man show under the moniker Johnny Lowebow and builds string instruments known as Lowebows. I had read he owns a bookstore, which morphed into a combination book/music retailer over the past couple decades. The shop, located on Central Avenue in Memphis, is called Xanadu. It just so happened I was going to be in Memphis last week, so I decided to explore Xanadu.
I arrived at the bookstore a few minutes after 11:00 AM on Friday morning. They had just opened and hadn't even turned on the lights yet. A lone employee was setting up a rack of books outside. He told me to make myself at home and explore the shop. As I wandered inside, I was greeted by about a dozen Lowebows hanging on the walls. There were 1-string, 2-string, 3-string, 4-string, and 6-string variants. There was even a double-neck 10-string Lowebow.
After staring upward in wonderment for a minute or two, I made my way into the main room where a couple dozen instruments adorn the walls. Some are completely stock and others have been heavily customized. All of them are for sale. As you can probably guess, there are bookcases everywhere and the titles cover nearly every topic. The place has a really homey vibe. It feels more like your grandma’s spare bedroom than a music store.
As I kept wandering, I stumbled across what appeared to be a small practice space. There were some amps set up along with a drum set. A few homemade instruments (including a 5-string Lowebow with a movable nut), a vintage keyboard wrapped in red tolex, and a slew of cables were strewn around the area. A paper sign stating, “please don’t play the drums, thanks” made me realize the things in this nook were not for sale. I presume several Johnny Lowebow songs have been written in this little room.
Alas, John was not present the day I visited Xanadu, but I had a nice chat with the employee who was on duty. He knows a lot about the instruments and is a performer himself. We talked about music, building things, and the DIY community in general. It was a great discussion. Which leads me to the point of this article, next time you’re in Memphis, stop by Xanadu and have a look. You won't regret it. It’s a quaint little shop full of rare books, good vibes, fun conversations, and a plethora of homemade instruments. Oh… and be sure to pet the cat.
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