Steve Weiss, 71, a rare-instrument lover who owned one of the country's largest percussion retail businesses in Willow Grove and rented instruments to both orchestra players and David Bowie's backup band, died Monday, April 21, at Abington Memorial Hospital of heart failure related to prostate cancer.
Mr. Weiss grew up in Logan and graduated from Olney High School. His first drum lesson was at the age of 10, and he went on to play the instrument in bands, including in a Polka group, before starting his business.
Over the years, he traveled across the world, selling and collecting instruments at trade shows in the United States and Europe while picking up gongs in China and cimbaloms in Hungary.
Known for wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and affectionately called "King Gong" after one of the instruments he collected and sold, he opened Steve Weiss Music Inc. in the Logan section of Philadelphia in 1961. The store was born out of his passion for the rare instruments he started to collect while working for the Reading Railroad and traveling across the country.
"I loved walking into a place like Ted's Music Shop in Baltimore and finding a vintage marimba or timpani," he wrote on his store's website. "I'm definitely a collector at heart."
Soon enough, Mr. Weiss was renting marimbas and taxi horns to musicians across town, including members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, delivering the instruments in his 1966 Plymouth, which could fit two kettle-like timpani drums in the trunk.
He also supplied instruments to the backup bands of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Bowie when they recorded or performed in and around Philadelphia, according to a 2001 article in Philadelphia City Paper.
Mr. Weiss's rental business began to wane somewhat when live percussion instruments gave way to drum machines. Unbothered, he told City Paper that all of the samples for the drum machines came from his instruments, anyway. And by then he had grown a large retail business, selling drums to marching bands and gongs to orchestras, mostly by mail order and later through the company's website.
Mr. Weiss eventually moved his store to Willow Grove, storing his collection in several warehouses. In 2012, he graced the cover of Music Inc., a trade magazine for instrument retailers that described him as a model in Web commerce.
"Music and business were his life," said his wife, Yukiko Canfield. "In and out of the country he knew so many people."
Last year, the Percussive Arts Society, the world's largest percussion organization, recognized Mr. Weiss' company with its President's Industry Award.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Weiss is survived by his former wife Marie Saborsky; daughter, Lisa and son, Richard.
A memorial service is planned for the future and will be announced on his store's website, www.steveweissmusic.com.