7 April 2014
Sad news today that Neil ‘Smithy’ Smith, stalwart institution of the Australian audio equipment scene, has died of stomach cancer.
His Facebook page HERE is swamped with goodwill – befitting someone loved by all. His 60th Birthday Party was late in March, and he played bass with lots of well wishers from his musical history. ‘We had to lift him up, he was half dead but loving it’, a friend told CX.
Following the service, there will be a wake with light refreshments at the North Manly Bowling Club, 431 Pittwater Rd, North Manly, from midday.
We wrote about Neil in CX not long ago. Here is our story:
Second Hand Neil Bows Out
Era ends for the guy they call Smithy
“I’m not fully retiring, but I am closing the warehouse”, Smithy barks and then laughs. His sidekick Leo looks nonplussed, “I’ll probably go back to a hammer and chisel”.
Last year the second hand audio dealers, best known on eBay as Rock and Roll Auctions or Rock and Roll Music, did around 250 grand. “We made 140 gross. That’s a good margin, but not enough to run this”, Smithy gesticulates around his dark factory unit in the bowels of a complex near Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches. Old records, books, and a cluster of guitars crowd the shelves. Some Lake, DDA and Neve processors await new owners.
Thirty years ago Smithys was at the old Big Bear shopping centre in Neutral Bay. “We did 35 grand a week and made ten percent. But it cost $2,700 to run.” That was the wedge – he sold goods, and took just 10% commission. Neil was THE foremost clearance merchant in the industry, and almost everyone bought and sold from him, myself included. But it wasn’t enough margin.
The business known as Smithys PA and Stage Gear Pty Ltd was sold long ago, and is now based in Camperdown, Sydney. They do new and used equipment. Later on, Niel split with his partner at the time, who went on to form Cannon Sound, who are also selling equipment, mostly online, from Sydney.
These days a trickle of second hand comes and goes, and most of it Smithy sells on eBay. “You have to know how to deal with it – it’s like a supermarket, people put stuff in, and then decide they don’t want things when it comes time to pay”.
Neil dished up a hilarious and lengthy complaint email from an eBay member, complaining that the $18 he had just spent with Neil made him unhappy. “Just received the box of Wieland (lighting connector) bits. Good work on the prompt shipping. However I am not all that happy……” “This from a sale that started at $9”, Neil says shaking his head.
Out the back, Neil has a JBL D130 15”woofer, itself a veteran. “The best speaker they ever made”, he says. Neil has sold countless thousands of JBL speakers, horns, drivers and rig radiators. At the peak of the business, in the hungry days of the early 1980’s, people would have Smithy build them a PA from the ground up.
“Wayne Simms in Wagga”, he says, “has an original Jands JBL modular pub system. Years ago I sold him a Soundcraft 800B monitor desk, 24 into 8 – and he has rebuilt it. He has a PM 3000 he rebuilt. Perreaux amps, and Jands J 920 amps.”
Smithy knows everyone. He only has 20 percent vision, giving him a kind of squinting appearance, a lifelong legacy that doesn’t bother him one bit. He plays bass guitar as ‘Deek Rivers’ in The Swinging Sixties band.
With four kids ranging in age from 15 to 29, and two ex wives, he plans to keep doing some second hard trading, only from home – without the overheads of a factory. “I’ll keep selling Rockard paint”, he says, “seems like I sell four cans a month, 64 cans a year, year in and year out!” This is a locally produced product that has been designed for speaker boxes and roadcases.
“Here’s a tip”, he says, “Have a look at www.e-go.com.au – it’s the BEST freight system in Australia. I guarantee. Trust me.”
Rest well, Smithy.