Lucky Accident Westheimer didn’t set out to get into the music business. He went to college in the early 1950s and upon graduation went to work for World Wide Sporting Goods, Chicago, a company involved in the import/export trade.Shortly thereafter, Uncle Sam came knocking, and Westheimer was drafted into the Navy, where he served from 1955 to ’57.In any case, around 1959 Westheimer began to see enough improvement in Japanese guitar quality he thought the time right to begin importing.To assure quality, he took an approach that would later be used successfully by some other importers.Into Guitars The budding bongo boom quickly expanded into importing drum kits made by Pearl.This, of course, put Jack in the right place at the right time.The popularity of Belafonte, coupled, no doubt, with the somewhat related “beatnik” craze (poetry, dark sunglasses, coffee houses, and guitars), caused a surge in demand for bongo drums.
Westheimer recalls that they were very similar to Harmony’s Stella line, with which, of course, they were competing.
That sounded fine to Jack, and they became partners in what would soon become Westheimer Sales Company.
The only problem was they hadn’t really figured out what business to go into.
It was about that time that Harry Belafonte and Caribbean music were coming on strong, so in a way you can say that Belafonte was indirectly responsible for the avalanche of Japanese guitars that was about to begin…
Belafonte, whose most memorable tune was probably “Day-O,” was tangentially associated with the burgeoning folk revival gaining an audience in the late ’50s.