Jerry Freed, the founder of Gator Cases and one of the industry's more dynamic entrepreneurs, died on November 13 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.
Freed brought boundless energy and insight to numerous roles during his 50-plus-year career in the music industry: sales rep, product strategist, importer, and manufacturer. After attending Drake University in 1962, Freed joined the Puerto Rico National Guard, then took a job as a salesman for the Roberts Tape Recorder Company, representing a line of reel-to-reel recorders manufactured in Japan by Akai Electronics. Initially, the job involved calling on consumer electronics retailers and schools, which were primary customers. Two years later, Roberts launched the Califone line of guitar amplifiers to capitalize on the Beatle boom, and Freed found himself calling on music stores.
An indefatigable traveler, he quickly built relationships with retailers from coast to coast. Roberts and the Califone amp line were acquired by Rheem, a manufacturer of water heaters, in 1967. Freed then left to team up with Tommy Moore to create International Music Corporation (IMC).
Moore had begun traveling to Japan in 1963 to find suppliers for a line of preschool rhythm instruments he was marketing under the Rhythm Band trademark. When Freed joined him, the pair focused their energies on the much larger guitar market, forming a joint venture with Tokai Gakki. IMC provided Tokai with capital to upgrade its Nagoya, Japan factories, offered marketing and production assistance, and handled global sales. By 1970, Tokai had become one of the world's largest guitar producers by unit volume, and its products were sold under various brand names by distributors around the world.
In 1972, with the end of the Bretton Woods agreement, which had fixed currency rates globally, the Japanese yen rapidly appreciated and Tokai saw its cost advantage disappear. Freed and Moore responded nimbly by forming a joint venture with Samick to build guitars in Korea. Their marketing, sales, and production expertise, combined with Samick's low cost structure, turned the Korean guitar plant into the world's largest producer. By the early 1980s, the IMC/Samick joint venture was shipping over 700,000 guitars a year.
In 1985, Freed tapped his previous relationship with Akai to persuade the company to enter the musical electronics market. Under his guidance, Akai introduced a line of keyboards, rhythm machines, samplers, and multi-track recorders that achieved considerable market acclaim. In 1986, Freed also engineered IMC's acquisition of the premium Charvel/Jackson guitar line.
IMC was sold to an investor group in 1989 and Freed left to form his own sales and marketing group, Freed International, representing Zildjian and Samson in South America and a variety of other product lines including Fender and A.R.T.
In 2000, Freed teamed with his daughter Crystal Morris to launch Gator Cases Inc. Starting with a line of imported guitar cases from China, Gator steadily expanded its product offering to include cases for audio gear, percussion instruments, and band instruments. Earlier this year, Gator opened a 172,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Freed was a skilled pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings who regularly flew to meet with customers. He also had his helicopter pilot's license and had logged more than 15,000 flying hours. Although he was born and raised in Iowa, he developed a passion for the ocean and was an avid yachtsman and deep sea fisherman. Freed brought focus and intensity to all his business dealings, but over the past three years he turned day-to-day operations of Gator over to his daughter and spent the summer months touring the U.S. in a motor home with his, wife Gail. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Gail, daughter and son-in-law, Crystal and Bob Morris, and two grandsons, Trey and Ryan.
Below is a video interview of Jerry from the NAMM Oral History program below.
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