July 27, 2017, Evanston RoundTable
It may not be clear what a hogeye is. Some say it’s a flat-bottomed riverboat, others the harpoon man on a whaling vessel.
One thing is clear; it’s a spirited sea chanty, sometimes enlivened by suggestive lyrics, such as “Oh Sally’s in the garden sifting sand/Her hog-eye man sitting hand in hand.”
The song was regularly performed by the folk duo of Anne Hills and Jan Burda, the married couple who along with musicians Tyler and Joan Wilson first started Hogeye Music in Evanston in 1978, across the street from a bookstore run by Ms. Wilson’s parents.
“We figured, there weren’t a lot of stores focused on old-time folk music,” recalled Mr. Wilson.
The original Hogeye was located at the corner of Central Street and Green Bay Road, where Chase Bank is now. But as soon as the owners got word of the bank’s impending construction, they took over the dry cleaners just west of the alley, where it has been located ever since.
In addition to selling instruments and offering lessons, the store also featured folk music concerts. Rows of old chairs, purchased for 75 cents apiece from St. Athanasius School, provided seating. Some prominent performers played there, including Eddie Holstein, Sally Rodgers, David Roth, Paul Geremia, and Fleming Brown.
Eventually the original owners decided to sell, and looked to Jim Craig, who had worked at Hogeye as a guitar teacher and instrument repairman.
Mr. Craig’s dad was in the Navy, and Jim was born in 1945 at Great Lakes Naval Station. Like many a military brat he moved often with his family, living for a time in Minnesota, then Texas, and later Indiana. He went to Hanover College in Indiana and “majored in philosophy, which made me a good bartender.”
He arrived in Chicago at the age of 22 to attend McCormick Theological Seminary, but dropped out and worked assorted odd jobs, including bartending and construction. Mostly, he wanted to play guitar.
“I came of age during the folk boom,” he reminisced recently from the shop. “I was listening to Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk, but also more obscure musicians like Dock Boggs and Pink Anderson, folks who were off the map but were rediscovered in the early ’60s.”
Mr. Craig taught guitar for a time at the Old Town School of Folk Music, jammed with such luminaries as Eddie Holstein and Steve Goodman, and played folk clubs like the Quiet Knight. He also played guitar with his future wife Vivian at clubs. (They still perform together in what they call a “ukelectic show.”)
“Jim’s a very good guitar player and has an incredible voice,” said Mr. Wilson.
In 1973 Mr. Craig and Vivian married (they have one daughter and two grandchildren). When Eddie Holstein managed Hogeye for a time, he enticed Mr. Craig to teach there. When the owners decided to sell in 1991, Jim took over.
The shop has not changed much since then. It sells guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, strings, percussion instruments, harmonicas, T-shirts, and musical accessories, as well as “Chicago’s largest selection of folk music books and recordings,” according to its website.
“Instrument sales are down due to the Internet and Big Box stores,” Mr. Craig says, “but we’re more service-oriented and do a nice business with lessons and repairs.”
His dog Scout, an eight-year-old border-collie mix, is the “official greeter” and keeps an eye on things.
Teaching guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass are long-time instructors Paul Kaye and Rick Veras, plus younger teachers Brandon Acker (who teaches guitar, bass, ukulele), Laird Patten (banjo), and David Dewey (harmonica). Lessons cost $25 for half an hour or $23 each for five lessons.
Terry Koller, a local psychologist, has been taking guitar lessons there for 20 years. “It’s a cozy atmosphere, a very comfortable place to take lessons,” he says. “Jim’s very helpful and knowledgeable and Hogeye is well known throughout the city.”
“Jim’s a good guy,” adds Mr. Veras. “He’s a great repairman; people come from all over the Midwest to get their instruments repaired at Hogeye. And we have students from five to 70.”
“It’s a neighborhood music store,” Mr. Craig says. “There aren’t too many of those around anymore. Next year will mark our 40th anniversary. Our philosophy has always been to encourage people to make their own music. There’s an expression I’ve seen, ‘Music self-played is happiness self-made.’ We provide people the means to do that.”