By Carolyn Marnon – It’s hard to miss the huge guitar on the sign outside the humble house on Wayne Rd that was home to Victor Music Studio. This is the story of the man behind the music whose life sonata finally reached its coda.
Alphonse Victor Tupakavich was born March 27, 1929 to John and Anna Tupakavich, both of whom were of Lithuanian descent. He grew up in Detroit attending All Saints Parochial Grade School, Beard Elementary, Wilson Middle School and Cass Technical High School.
It was during his schooling that Al’s amazing artistic abilities began. His children, a daughter and son, can attest to this from the school papers they found with the actual written lesson on one side and Al’s depictions of various war and army battles on the other side.
Al’s interest in playing guitar began in his teenage years when a friend of the family would visit and bring along his $1,200 classic guitar. Al’s mom couldn’t give him such an expensive guitar. One Christmas when he was 16 years old, his mom surprised him with a six string fret hole Kay, his first guitar. Although he was appreciative, his true desire and interest was to play what he knew as “Hawaiian” guitar – also known as a lap steel. With his mom’s permission, he was able to trade in the Kay so that he could get his first steel. He always felt a little bad about having done so.
The music bug was planted. In time, Al became a talented self-taught player of both guitar and the steel. Through the late 1940s Al and his family spent many days at Hickory Park, the American Legion hall in Temperance. His mother was the bar owner at the time.
It was during the late 1940s when Al honed in on his artistic side. At the age of 17 he took 3rd place in AAA’s National School Traffic Safety Poster Contest. He took art classes through Art Instruction Inc. based out of Minnesota.
In 1950, Al enlisted in the Army and served as a Private First Class cartographer (map maker), yet another way to indulge in his artistic side. In 1952, he was honorably discharged.
Al was diagnosed around this time with Optic Nerve Atrophy thus deeming him legally blind. This diagnosis did not prevent him from continuing to pursue his passions of art and music. Prior to his diagnosis, he had been driving a couple classic cars which he was proud to have owned. “When cars had whitewall tires” he would say and “they don’t make ’em like they used to”.
Al’s musical journey continued in the mid-1950s. During these heyday years he took to playing lap steel guitar with local bands. He played with The Ramblin Boys and with the Melody Drifters. He idolized the one and only famous steel guitar player Jerry Byrd.
Al found work at Rigley’s where he made various signs and Palmer Paint Company which is famously known for paint by numbers art kits. It was around late 1959-1960 that Al got a job at Foxhole Records in Garden City. He began giving guitar lessons. In 1964, Al moved back to the home where his mom and brother had lived on Wayne Rd., and it was there that he established Victor Music Studio. He worked in the front of the house and lived in the back.
He continued teaching guitar for a total of eleven years. His family says he took pride in this and the role he played in shaping the musicality of so many. He diligently kept a hand-written record of each and every student and lesson.
Al took great pride in his guitar shop and what he brought to the table. Not only did he provide sales of various items, he offered repairs, restringing and tuning of guitars. If a customer was willing to wait, he even offered to apply tattoos-removable ones of course!
As big box stores and the internet began making it harder for the “little guy/small businesses” – Al Victor trudged on doing what he did best – providing one-on-one service by being, according to his daughter, “his sweet, knowledgeable self” chatting it up with whomever entered the doors of the music shop. He did so for an impressive fifty-four years up until 2018 when, at the age of 89, his health began to decline.
When you drive by the old store, you will notice the landmark yellow guitar out front that Al designed and built with some help through the years from two of his brothers-in-law. He also designed the artwork on the sign situated above the guitar.
Lest you think Al’s life was consumed only by music, Al did have a personal family life that began in the mid to late 1960s when he met his wife, Joanne, at a get-together hosted by her cousin and his wife. A beautiful 38-year love story began on November 22, 1969. In May 1970 they were blessed by the birth of their daughter and then on Al’s 43rd birthday in 1972, he was blessed with the gift of a son.
Every card that Al gave Joanne throughout their 38 years of marriage was handmade by him. Many of them were displayed at his memorial service last month. Al died March 7 at the age of 91.
Al’s children recall their dad being on the “strict, rigid side.” Through the years, however, they found him to be a “softie at heart.” They remember him as “fair, humble, quiet, even-tempered and rarely, if ever, swore. He would tell them “swearing is a sign of ignorance.”
Al was extremely proud of his son’s accomplishments and talents. He was also proud of how well his daughter has handled all of life’s adversities. He was proud of both his children, each in their own way.
His daughter says she will miss sharing what her dad would call her “stories.” “I could go just about anywhere and come back with a ‘story,’ she said. “He was ready to be all ears. Like he had a choice – Hah! One of the greatest compliments my Dad ever gave me is when he would come to me for guidance and stated that I helped him to be a better man. Nearing his last days, he communicated to me how thankful he was for all we had done for him. Brought me to tears. I told him it was the other way around.”
Memories abound in his family. His soft spot for his 30-pound grandcat. The yearly appearance of “Spidey.” Playing Hot and Cold. Carving pumpkins. Watching the parade. Frequenting places like The Town Peddler, Karma Coffee, IKEA, and Aunt Rosie’s. Playing checkers and being beaten by Al almost every time despite his sight-impairment. Listening to the MOJO in the Morning phone scams. Trying to get lucky with scratch-off lottery tickets. The life-sized paper-mache witch he made for the elementary school one Halloween. “Witch Hazel,” the last piece of art Al created during this last year while he was quarantined to his assisted living apartment AND he made her while having almost no vision.
The poem he penned titled “Michigan” that was given the State Senate Special Tribute seal from Senator Loren N. Bennett. The magic and card tricks he would do. His impressive ability to pull a tablecloth out from under everything on the table. The phone calls that ended with “Love you. Be well. Over and out.”
Over and out.
If you have a special memory of Al or Victor Music Studio, the family would love to hear about it. You can reach them at stupakavich@-gmail.com