O. K. HOUCK

... and his Memphis Music Store

 
 
 


If ever a businessman was respected and loved by all, it was O. K. Houck.   He had a magnetic personality with a ready smile and a hearty handshake for all.  And he loved to joke with friends and strangers, and all of them called him "O.K."  He was often referred to as Memphis' first citizen.  It's no wonder that he also founded a great business that endured from 1883 to 1967.  It was built on the foundation that anything sold there would be the best at that price that money could buy.  And he was able to instill these values in his employees, who stayed with the company for years.   A visit to the O. K. Music Store was always a pleasant experience. 
(Drum roll!)

   
 

 


Click on small photos to see an enlargement


 

Oliver Kershner Houck was born February 25, 1862, in Decatur, Illinois.  The family moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1873.  To everyone he was known as "OK". 

O. K'.s father had married Julia C. French and her brother, Jesse French, was a famous piano manufacturer who had a music store in Nashville with branches in other parts of the country.    The entire French family was totally involved with music.  When he was 13, O.K. quit school and worked in his uncle Jesse's Nashville store to learn the music business.  He also spent time traveling throughout the country selling organs and pianos. 

       O, K. Houck  

Jesse French

1900 Nashville Store

French Billhead

Published Music

3 Sons

359 Main Street  .  303 S. Main Street ... after 1905

O. K.'s father managed the French Piano Co branch store in Memphis.  When he was 21, O. K. moved to Memphis, and with his father, opened O. K. Houck  & Co at 359 Main Street, specializing in music publishing and the sale of sheet music.  The business prospered from the very beginning, and would become the leading establishment in the Mid-South.  O. K.'s brother, Jesse F. Houck, worked side by side with him in the Houck store.  Jesse soon went to Little Rock to open a Houck store there.  Stores were later opened in Nashville, Shreveport, and Chicago.  None of these stores were considered "branches".  They were all individual stores dedicated to the area they served.  Jesse remained in Little Rock until 1914 when he was called home to assist in the expanding Memphis business.

 

Jesse F. Houck

 

1902 - 359 Main

1909 - 303 S. Main

1909 - 303 S. Main

1911  - 303 S. Main

1896 Competition

Contest Winner

Sheet Music

Sheet Music

Sheet Music

Sheet Music

Above:  Some of the various music  published by O, K. Houck Piano Co ... and the sheet music

 

 

     

In 1903 the company name changed to  O. K. Houck Piano Co. and the business began to sell and rent musical instruments and merchandise.    O. K.'s father, John Cassell Houck,  had continued to manage the nearby French Piano Co. and this is surely the reason that the O.K. Houck & Co. branched out into the same business.  By 1904, the Jesse French Piano Co and the O.K. Houch Piano Co had merged.  In 1905 the business address changed to 103 S. Main when the new Memphis numbering system was introduced.  In the 1920's the Houck Co  opened a warehouse at 100 S. Front Street. 

 

John Cassell Houck

From the beginning O. K. stressed efficiency, absolute honesty, and total integrity.  Plus, with his lovable dispositon, he also saw the humor in any situation.  This made him stand out in business.  He was active in several Memphis Masonic organizations and filled the highest offices in practically every stage.  After his death, several lodges were named the O. K. Houck lodge.  He was also a member of all the local secret societies (social clubs)  as well as three humorous organizations.  And he was chairman of the Business Men's Club (Chamber of Commerce) .  His committee annually raised $50,000 for all public purposes sponsored by the BMC. 

     O. K. French  

1902 - O. K. Houck & Co

1905 - O. K. Houck Piano Co 1908- O. K. Houck Piano Co 1923 - O. K. Houck Piano Co

1918 Letter

1921 Billhead

Early "Sticker"

Token

1919 Ad

      

Vintage Ad

1920 Ad

Nashville Store

100 S. Front 100 S. Front

 

 

 

       Frank H. Jump/Fading  Ad  Blog

          

 

     

102 S. Main Street

The Great Depression hit the Houck company hard .   None of the out of town Houck stores made it.  The original Memphis store filed for bankruptcy in 1933, but managed to survive.  After the store came out of bankruptcy, they moved across the street to 102 S. Main in 1936.  They remained  in this location at least until 1942.

  

102 S. Main    

Houck Billboard

 

Piano Rolls

Philanthophy

O. K. Houck laid down the principle of the "square deal" and absolute honesty, with a slogan of "One price - no commissions" and insisted that every item sold be the BEST at that price that money could buy.  And he set about hiring a remarkable workforce of earnest men and women who dedicated themselves to his ideas of service.    He lived his life this way.  This was so strongly established that even after his death, the workforce continued to impart it to all newcomers.  Plus the sheer volume and range of his financial donations surpassed those of any other Memphian during this generation.  He gave to the limit of  his means, and sought nothing for himself in return.  His last benefaction was a gift on his deathbed to the Hospital for Crippled Children.

O. K. Houck  
         

1918 Humor

1919 Lends city money

1919 Nutcracker

1920 Opera Supporter

1920 Houck Foundation

      

 

 

O. K. Houck Funeral


When O. K. Houck died May 30, 1920, it was like losing a family member.  There were daily newspaper columns devoted to his obituary and then to his funeral service.  Thousands attended the funeral and all Memphis traffic, including trolleys, came to a halt for one minute.  He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery.  Although there is a beautiful monument there for him, most Memphians felt that O. K. Houck's passion for bettering humanity through music was his true monument.  O. K. Houck was unmarried and after his death, his brother Jesse assumed control of the store ... and then his son Jesse, Jr.

 

1920 Obit

Obit Funeral Services O. K. Houck grave

 

 

121 Union Avenue



Sometime after 1942 the O. K. Piano Company moved to 121 Union Avenue.  We have been unable to locate an exact date.   In the 1950s the three-story building on Union, just east of Main Street,  played an important role in the development of rock n' roll.  That's where the Memphis musicians who were the pioneers went to by their instruments, because Houck's sold all the important guitar brands.  From around 1955, Elvis was a regular customer.  He not only purchased guitars, but purchased a piano that is now in the Graceland collection.    He also purchased an earlier piano here for $281.  It  recently sold at auction for $140,000.

121 Union  

Elvis' first piano:  $281

Auction price: $140,000

Guitar montage

Scotty Moore bought his 1953 Gibson ES295 at O. K. Houck and , used it on the first Sun Elvis sessions and then traded it back in at Houck for his 1954 Gibson L5 which he used on "Mystery Train" and on the Elvis RCA recordings and tours through 1957. Elvis himself bought his famous Martin D-18 and Martin D-28 here.

Luther Perkins bought his 1955 Fender Esquire here along with a Fender Champ amp, and Marshall Grant bought his first bass here ( as did Bill Black, but Bill bought his as a private sale from an O.K. Houck salesman). Many other famous musicians bought instruments at this landmark Memphis music store.  This store's place in Rock history is secure.

 

 

 

Memorabilia

   

        Key to the city  

Elvis Piano Receipt

 

Piano Plate

 
   

 
 

Credits

 

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