Elvis’s dressing room. A 1920’s speakeasy. Sun Records studio. The iconic red Pegasus. Sights to see? Sure, if you’re visiting the Old East Dallas home of neighbor John Gasperik. They’re all there.
Gasperik is founder and owner of Shake Rag, a cool little hole-in-the-wall vintage guitar/record shop on Live Oak, the one with the giant, gyrating Elvis figure beckoning at the door. It’s also the shop that’s closing by year’s end.
For decades, Gasperik has haunted estate and garage sales, buying then selling the results of his treasure hunts. But he’s also kept more than a couple of his finds, using them in creative and offbeat ways, in his home and in his found-object folk art.
It’s been a long and winding road for The World’s Biggest Elvis/Beatles Fan. As a kid growing up in 1950’s Sherman, Texas, he was instantly mesmerized the first time he heard Elvis’s “Hound Dog.” His little 45 RPM record in hand, he played it on every neighbor’s turntable who would let him. He still has that 45, by the way.
He loved his Elvis, but a certain little band out of Liverpool changed his life. He began hitting garage sales, looking for cheap Beatles records to add to his growing collection. The lure of the hunt had taken hold.
In 1971, long-haired Gasperik hitchhiked to the big city of Dallas and headed to Lee Park, a hippie hangout back in the day. He slept in vacant buildings and got by selling pilfered newspapers and Tyler roses at the corner of Lemmon and Oak Lawn. He also dabbled in photography with his 35 mm camera and found that his camera, a relative rarity at the time, opened doors and earned him instant respect. “It was like a backstage pass,” recalls Gasperik. “VIP treatment.”
He eventually found steady work at a restaurant owned by the same person who owned the now-legendary Mother Blues club. At a party one night at the club, Gasperik happened to have his camera, shot a few photos of Led Zeppelin members and sold a shot to Buddy magazine for $5.
His career in photography took off. Soon he was shooting every concert in town, rubbing elbows with James Brown and Carl Perkins, and enjoying rock star perks. Then he was hired to shoot a guitar show. It was a pivotal moment.
Gasperik saw an opportunity. Guitars were expensive, but not at garage sales, which he had continued to visit in his search for records. He bought a couple of guitars cheap, turned around and sold them for a big profit and decided he had found his calling.
It didn’t take long for Gasperik to accumulate more than enough to open his shop of vintage guitars, records and memorabilia. “But I love buying, more than I love selling,” he says. What to do with all that stuff?
Inspired by Dallas folk artist Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson, known for his yard art, Gasperik began to see his own home as canvas, a chance to express himself. Dozens of vintage metal signs line his fence, reflecting bygone ad campaigns for vodka, cigarettes and Coca-Cola. In one shaded area, Gasperik has staged a 1950’s style gas station tableau, complete with rusty gas pump, a Coke cooler, old red gas cans and an Elvis thermometer hanging on the wall.
A 40-foot shipping container runs along one side of the yard. On one end, he installed a giant pull-down screen for showing movies; a rainbow of vintage metal lawn chairs face the screen. On the other end of the container, he painted a replica of the front door and picture windows of Memphis’s Sun Records Studio, home of the first recordings of Elvis and Johnny Cash. A bright yellow, arc-shaped sign, identical to the actual Sun Records sign, perches above the faux door.
One man’s trash and all that, an old broken rocking horse left on the side of the road called to Gasperik, who brought it home, painted it red, fashioned some plywood wings, added a string of red lights, and voila, Pegasus on the rooftop of the shipping container.
Step inside Gasperik’s house and you’ll find artfully arranged displays: Rat Pack, Kennedy, UFOs/aliens, vintage radio microphones. Entire rooms have become works of art. One bedroom has been transformed into a 1920’s speakeasy, with an elaborate bar, Victrola, slot machine and Hollywood stills of gangsters.
Mosey down the hallway to rustle up some grub in Gasperik’s Western kitchen. Or is it the “Rusty Spur Cafe”? That’s what the weathered sign over the stove says. You’ll notice the mounted longhorns, a 1950’s era rodeo rug, portraits of cowboys and cowgirls, a rack of six-shooters (film props) and a black cowboy hat which Gasperik sheepishly admits he wore during his black-hat-and-long-black-duster phase.
The humble bathroom has not been left out of the fun. It is, according to Gasperik, Elvis’s dressing room. Elvis’s white jumpsuit hangs inside, his wide, studded belt is draped over the towel rack and a photo of a sudsy Elvis showering is positioned in his shower.
Gasperik’s folk art diorama of the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show won him a blue ribbon at the State Fair. The kicker: It’s set in an old, gutted television. And then there’s the collection of hybrid musical instruments: a tiki figure with a guitar, a ukulele and guitar and a keyboard with an electric guitar. He’s also experimented with making guitars from a silverware box and a wine box.
His shop will close soon, but Gasperik is ready. “Stuff is cool, but it can be an anchor, too,” he says. “I just want to tinker and do what old men do.”
Patti Vinson is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 15 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.
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