FOGGY MOUNTAIN MUSIC
Mary Ellen Sorci
104 W. Main Street, Grass Valley, Nevada County
Music store; sells and rents instruments, offers lessons and does repairs
Why a music store?
Mary Ellen Sorci, who opened Foggy Mountain in 1975, was raised on music. Sorci says her mother, Marilyn Doty Sorci, was a child prodigy violinist who had her first performance when she was 5 years old, and she later taught violin at Foggy Mountain. Sorci’s dad, Joseph Sorci, played woodwinds in San Francisco during the big-band era and toured with Tommy Dorsey and Alex Storgal, among others. Sorci moved to Grass Valley after her mother retired and relocated there from the Bay Area. “We thought it would be a great place to start a business,” she says. “She had run a business before, so she taught me how to run a business. … And it took on a life of its own.” Her 2,200-square-foot building, built in 1860, previously housed Tahoe Cafe “for way over 30 years,” she says. “It was a labor of love to bring it back to the original.” Her business is nestled between Nevada Club, a self-proclaimed dive bar with pool tables and a dartboard, and Foothill Flowers, a family-owned florist that has been in business since 1966. And just a block down West Main Street is the Holbrooke, a gold-rush era hotel that opened in 1862 and is being renovated.
About that name?
When Sorci moved to Grass Valley, “Bluegrass was a very popular style of music,” she says. Her inspiration for the name, she says, was “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” written by Earl Scruggs and first recorded in 1949 by Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, featuring Scruggs playing a five-string banjo. The song was used as background music in the 1967 hit movie “Bonnie and Clyde,” especially in the car chase scenes. Sorci recalls that the California Bluegrass Association held its first festival in 1975, and the annual four-day event is on Father’s Day weekend at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. She also says the clouds in Grass Valley, at 2,500 feet elevation, “remind me of fog.”
“We’re busy, always have a lot of clientele,” Sorci says. “Our clients are very diverse, lots of different kinds of musicians.” She says her store differs from many of the big-box stores that sell instruments because it not only sells and rents instruments — she carries more than 200, including guitars, drums, keyboards, banjos, ukuleles, horns and harps — it offers lessons and instrument repairs and appraisals. On a Monday afternoon in July, Sorci answered phone calls and greeted customers, including two who came in to purchase strings, while she replaced strings on another customer’s ukulele. “We sell a lot of strings,” Sorci says. “Some people prefer to have us replace them.”
Most famous customer?
While Sorci’s clients mostly come from the surrounding region, she’s had some famous customers over the years. “We’ve had quite a few,” she says. “Gene Parsons from the Byrds, Leon Russell, Doc & Merle Watson, and the guys from The Band.” Sorci says many of the musicians who have performed at the nearby Center for the Arts come into her store to browse or purchase, “because we have something for everyone.”
Most unusual instrument?
“We are so diverse,” Sorci says, “beautiful harps and mandolins, and we do a lot of ukuleles. It’s a great instrument for first-time players.” Perhaps the most unusual instrument is the bouzouki, a mainstay of modern Greek music. It has a flat front and either three or four pairs of strings. It’s played with a plectrum, and its sound is reminiscent of a mandolin, but pitched lower.