COLLECTOR GARY MAYES CALLS HIS OBSESSION A SICKNESS. AND HE’S OK WITH THAT
By Eric Grubbs
Gary Mayes values music so much that he finds joy in being surrounded by memorabilia. Loving the Beatles for most of his life parlayed into collecting items for over 30 years. And it’s not just from the Fab Four. Being a fan of artists like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Styx and AC/DC, he has a vast collection of items in a home garage he has converted into a museum/office.
After working in entertainment with Phyllis Diller and John Tesh, he’s worked in commercials and documentaries, as well as real estate. In the past few years, he found enough time to make a retrospective documentary on Rick Derringer called All-American Boy Still Alive and Well: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Redemption, featuring interviews with Ringo Starr, Edgar Winter, Pat Travers and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
We sat down with Mayes to talk about how he became a collector, what he values out of the experience and what he would love to have.
When did you go from being a fan of music to wanting to collect items?
That’s a really good question. My uncle worked for Capitol Records back in the ’70s. So, as a young kid I was able to go into his office in the warehouse. I was totally amazed by everything I was looking at. I loved the music. I grew up listening to the Beatles and a lot of groups from the ’60s. When I would go to his office, I would see promo posters and displays, and then he had some memorabilia in his office as well. So I asked him about that. I just thought it was really cool. It was a way to [be] almost as an extension of the groups I was into at the time. It started with that. I used to get Goldmine [magazine] back when it came out once a month and you would pay extra to get it early. I’d get it in – this is way before the internet – and I’d see a Beatles lunchbox from 1964 and it looked so cool. I bought one and thought it was great.
Then I started going to shows in Dallas just as a fan. I wasn’t a dealer selling memorabilia yet. That’s when I started meeting people that were into the collectibles part of the hobby. I really liked it. I thought it was fun and it grew from there.
Why do you have so much Beatles stuff as compared to anybody else? Are they your favorite all-time group?
I think it’s a sickness. That’s what my wife tells me. [smiles] I love the Beatles. They were one of the first groups that wrote their own material and they did in a time when that wasn’t done. They looked different. They sounded different. I loved the British accents. I got into them with Meet the Beatles. My aunt was one of the original ’60s hippie chicks, so I’d go over to my grandparents and my aunt was in high school and living at home. I’d go into her room and she put on Meet the Beatles. When I heard that album, for some reason, it opened my eyes. It opened my mind in a way that had never happened before. That was the path I wanted to pursue after that. The Beatles were leading the charge.
So far, what is your most valuable item in your home museum?
That’s kind of hard because I have so many cool pieces. I’ve done some of the autographs over the years. They’re real pricey, as we all know. I don’t have a whole lot of those. I like the original ’64 stuff if you can get it in near mint condition or better. Not only as an investment piece, but something I can put on display and I can enjoy. I really like the original buttons that say, “I Love the Beatles!” or “Stamp Out the Beatles!” There is a company out of Chicago called Green Duck that put out a lot of those buttons that sold in gumball machines back in the 1960s. They’re not very big so they don’t take up a lot of space.
I’ve always been a guy that really likes colored vinyl. Back in the ’70s, I collected as much as I could find, not only from the Beatles. Back in ’78, Capitol did this huge push of picture discs and colored vinyl. I liked some of the other bands that put out colored vinyl back then, like Styx and Kiss.
Is there an item that you sold you wish you still had?
Yeah! There are a couple of them. I had an original 1966 Beat Time pinball machine. I got it through a friend of mine who knew I was a collector. When I purchased it, the coinbox was full of quarters. Sixty-five, seventy dollars in quarters. It was in a trailer that was abandoned, so I couldn’t go back and say, “Hey, I’ve got your quarters.” But when I got it, it was in really bad shape. I found a place in Dallas that restores pinball machines. They restored it for me.
Then I found a place in New York that did back glass for pinball machines. I had them paint the back glass, “The Beatles.” On the original ones that came out in 1966, they were not licensed so they were called “The Bootles.” I got a guy out of New York to redo it with the “dropped-T” logo. I had a lot of fun playing that pinball machine.
When my kids were young, my wife and I had a lot of hours enjoying that pinball machine. I eventually sold it through Heritage Auctions. I wish I would have kept that.
The other item I wish I would have kept is a keyboard signed by Ray Manzarek of the Doors. A friend of mine had gone to a book signing and I couldn’t go. I had to work. He had Ray sign it and wrote “The Doors” across the keys. There were pictures taken of it, so the provenance was there. I sold it years ago and I wish I wouldn’t have. [laughs]
With all the stuff you have, do you still have room for a white whale item?
Always! [laughs] I’ve been a memorabilia collector and dealer for most of my life. I did about 25 years of Beatlefest shows. A lot of record shows. But I’m always on the lookout for something I haven’t had. It’s interesting. The way I look at memorabilia and collectibles is I’m just a caretaker for a period of time. I buy it, I can enjoy it. I put it on display if I can and then I sell it to the next collector. Condition is so important. I believe we’re a temporary caretaker of all this cool stuff.
ERIC GRUBBS is a pop music cataloger at Heritage Auctions.
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine.