I’m still reeling from your recent remarks about small business owners in America. With one sweeping generalization, you stated that those of us who have had successful businesses did not earn that success. Instead, you insist that someone else made it happen for us. I’ve written to tell you my story in the hopes that you will see the foolishness of your unproven assertions.
Back in 1989, I decided to pursue a PhD in Criminology. I was nearing the end of my Master’s program in Psychology. I had a teaching assistantship that paid a mere $345 per month. I knew that I could not live on $345 per month for the minimum of three years I would need to finish my doctorate. I also knew that my parents would not be able to extend the same financial support they had so graciously extended while I was working on my Master’s degree. So I devised a plan to start a new business with just $1000 of initial investment.
My grandfather had passed away in December of 1988. In the late spring of 1989, my grandmother mailed me a check for $1000 that had been part of a life insurance policy payout issued upon my grandfather’s death. In the late summer of 1989, I met a graduate student by the name of Shannon Ruscoe. He had been playing tennis with my roommate Harry Wilson the day I met him. I was sitting in my living room playing a song by James Taylor when Shannon started singing along. After just a few minutes of listening to Shannon sing, I knew my life would never be the same again.
I called Shannon later that fall and asked if he wanted to get together and rehearse a few songs. We did. Within a few weeks we were hanging out at keg parties in places like Starkville’s College Station apartment complex. After a few beers, I would go to my car and get my 12-string. As our repertoire increased, so did Shannon’s confidence as a singer.
After a few months of getting to know Shannon, I laid out a plan. I found a beautiful Alvarez six-string with a cedar top and black jacaranda back and sides. I realized I could buy the guitar and install a Martin thin-line pickup under the bridge for just $700. With the remaining $300, I told Shannon that, for just $30 per night, we could rent a PA system from our friend Jim Beaty, the owner of Backstage Music in Starkville. The idea was that after playing free ten times we could start to earn a living as musicians.
First, we had to find a place to play. Fortunately, a Kappa Sigma named Mike worked as a manager at J.C. Garcia’s – a Mexican restaurant/bar that featured acoustic acts including the legendary Jeff Cummings and Jeffrey Rupp. We went to see him with an offer, telling Mike we would play at J.C’s free of charge on a Tuesday night, but only on one condition: if they sold $2000 worth of liquor, they would have to hire us the next week for 10% of the liquor sales, or $200.
Mike laughed. J.C.s had never sold $2000 worth of liquor on a Tuesday night, which was generally their slowest night of the week. Naturally, he felt he had nothing to lose. So we book our first gig at a real restaurant in a real college town.
I called all of my old friends at the Sigma Chi house and told them to show up at J.C’s the following Tuesday night. Shannon told all the girls at the Chi Omega house where he worked as a “house boy” in his spare time. As a result of our marketing, we packed the place out. J.C’s sold over $2000 in liquor that night and we were invited to come back the next week.
Playing free at keg parties also paid off. Later, by May of 1990, we were getting hired to play private parties. At one of those parties, we met the manager of the Bully III, a restaurant/bar near downtown Starkville. His name was David Lee Odom. He upped our salary to $250 per night plus free dinner and free beer. By the time I graduated, I would play in that bar over 100 times. It was there that I met other musicians and eventually had a chance to play all over the state and region. As a businessman and friend, Dave Odom changed our lives forever.
After Shannon moved to Nashville in 1991, I decided it was time to rely on the government for financial support. I’m just kidding. I simply went out and found another great singer named Anne Ford. We would play together until 1993. Our act was so successful that in April of 1993, my last full month of college, we played a whopping 22 gigs in just 30 days.
As the result of my business venture I was able to graduate with a PhD without taking out a single student loan. And it was a business venture. I was not just a guitarist. I booked most of our gigs, handled equipment purchases, and did a modest bit of accounting.
The irony is that, back in those days, I was a Democrat with socialist leanings. I voted for Dukakis and Clinton as the “lesser of two evils” – all the while complaining about the lack of a far-left alternative. Shortly thereafter, I would get involved in a two-year relationship with the daughter of the head of the Socialist Party of Ecuador. I simply failed to reconcile the discrepancies between my theoretical view of the world and my real world experiences. Eventually, I grew out of my childish socialist mindset and realized that capitalism had allowed me to utilize my God-given talents to earn a living government could never provide.
Someday, Mr. President, you’ll grow out of it, too.
Dr. Mike S. Adams