Vic Lillo

BIO – Vic Lillo

Vic was born January 17, 1939 into a musical family and grew up in the small village of Ryley, Alberta. Vic loved music and he learned to play many instruments as a child; piano, saxophone, trumpet, accordion, guitar, violin, clarinet, ukulele and drums. Vic joined the Harold Parsons Band playing tenor saxophone in grade 8. During high school, Vic and three of his friends formed the band The Sugar Beats. The Sugar Beats were very popular and played many parties and dances in several villages along Highway 14. In 1956, The Sugar Beats won Alberta Search for Talent. The finals were broadcast live on CFRN TV in Edmonton. Vic previously won Alberta Search for Talent when he was 10 years old singing “Ya Sure Ya Betcha” accompanied by his mother Martha on accordion.

Vic met the love of his life when he was in Grade 12 at Ryley High School. Doreen Lindstrom moved to Ryley from Kingman for grade 10. She was 14 years old. Doreen was playing the song “Oh Baby Mine” on the school piano when the charming red headed Vic heard the music and came over to meet the young pianist. Love blossomed. Vic graduated from Ryley High School and moved to Edmonton to study business. He travelled to Ryley every weekend to see his beautiful sweetheart. Vic and Doreen married after Doreen completed high school. Vic was ready for a challenge. He was an excellent salesman and took on a job selling Collier Encyclopedias door to door across Western Canada. Vic received the award for top sales across Canada and North America.

Vic and Doreen had a dream to start their own business and work together. They found a location on the south side of Edmonton in the Garneau area on the second floor of the Charlie Rapp building 8225 – 109 Street. The monthly rental rate was $65 a month for two rooms. They borrowed a desk and paid $15 a month for a phone. A used piano was moved upstairs along with a saxophone and a guitar. Three signs were displayed on the windows facing 109 street to advertise their new music school. On July 2, 1963 Lillo’s School of Modern Music opened for business. Vic went door to door in the neighbourhood to introduce the new business and play piano for potential students that had a piano in their home. In 1964 the business moved to the back of the Rapp building as they needed more space for their business. Vic and Doreen were both busy teaching and as more students signed up for lessons they hired more teachers.

In the mid 1960’s their business continued to grow. Vic and Doreen moved to the Boston Pizza building (10856-82 Avenue) Lessons and retail were upstairs, their wholesale company Vidor Distributors was in the basement. This was the era of the Beatles and there was a great interest among students to buy instruments and learn to play rock and roll music.

In the late 1960’s Vic and Doreen rented the old Garneau Hardware location 10848-82 Avenue. Lillo’s Music became the first rock and roll shop in Edmonton. Vic was working in the store full time and Doreen was teaching and working in the store. The store was open 6 days a week, 9 am to 9 pm weekdays and 9 am to 6 om on Saturdays. Vic solicited business with many bands in the evenings. In the 1970’s as more musical lines of equipment became available Lillo’s Music expanded and branches were opened in Calgary, Whitehorse and Fort McMurray. In the late 1970’s Vic and Doreen sold the northern stores and closed the Calgary store. Lillo’s Music Calgary branch was reopened in the 1980’s on “music row” 1501-17 Avenue SW. Vic purchased products from Canada, the United States and imported guitars and other products from Japan. Vic and Doreen’s sons Vic Dean and Les opened their own stores in Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Diego. After many successful years with stores and branches, only the original store in Edmonton on Whyte Avenue remains.

Vic and Doreen worked with many wonderful staff and teachers over the years. Their children Corinne, Vic Dean, Les and Danielle all worked in the family business. All of their grandchildren (Harrison, Monica, Austin, Evelyn, Regan and Andreas) have worked at the store.

Vic was a professional musician. He played many solo gigs on the piano and performed with a variety of bands on the weekends. In the 1970’s Vic formed the The Vic Lillo combo with Doreen. Their children Corinne, Vic Dean and Les joined the family band in 1975 playing for many dances. Their daughter Danielle was the special guest for performances of the children’s band “The Lillo’s”. Vic was a great promoter. The Lillo’s played for the prime minister of Canada, premier of Alberta, mayor of Edmonton, Scandapades at the Jubilee Auditorium, University Games and were flown for special performances to Norman Wells and Seattle. They also played during Klondike Days and helped raise money on telethons. Vic played piano and saxophone with several family members in the Gospel Jamboree group at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. Music is a big part of life in the Lillo family.

In the 1970’s Vic started attending the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention which was held annually in Anaheim, California. His positive attitude, enthusiastic greetings, genuine interest in people and business aptitude made him a legend in the music industry. He dealt with many suppliers and sales reps across Canada, United States, Europe and Asia that would meet at the annual NAMM convention. Vic, Doreen and their family travelled extensively attending many trade shows, music events and touring factories. (Chicago, Anaheim, Toronto, Montreal, Atlanta, New York, Nashville, Frankfort, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea) Vic won a trip to Spain for top organ sales in the 1970’s. Throughout the years Lillo’s Music has sold all the major brands of musical equipment. The products included Acoustic Amps, Mesa Boogie Amplifiers, Gibson, Fender, Peavey, Ludwig, Rogers, Zyldjian, Sabian, Ufip Cymbals, Zerosette, Ovation, Hohner, Morris Guitars, Hagstrom, GTR Organs, Dean Guitars, G&L Guitars, Schecter, Farfisa, VT Amps, Steinberger, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, Farfisa, Yamaha, Breedlove, Boss, Roland, Ibanez and more …

Vic enjoyed talking to customers and friends and he became famous for taking notes in his lead books. He had great interest in his customers and was happy to learn about their family, hobbies and musical endeavours. Vic would go to great efforts to search out specific products that his customers were looking for and would “sharpen his pencil” to work out super deals. Along with selling instruments Vic loved collecting instruments. He set up an incredible vintage guitar display at the store which included many rare and hard to find instruments. The pre internet days Vic would get many magazines, pamphlets and information from the different trade shows to show his staff and customers to keep updated on the new products available. He had customers all across Canada and would ship products around the country.

Vic loved history and memorabilia. Many of the artists and bands he met at the store and music conventions would give him promo pictures, tapes, albums and posters. The band photos were displayed on the walls of the store and many customers over the generations would come by to look at them. These pictures can be seen on the Lillo’s Music website page. Many great musicians and band members have walked through the doors of Lillo’s Music. The list includes Joe Perry from Aerosmith, Stevie Wonder, KD Lang, band members of Depeche Mode, PinkFloyd and the Sex Pistols, Bobby Curtola, Rick Neilson (Cheap Trick), Doug and the Slugs, Jann Arden, Harlequin, Chilliwack, Headpins, Privilege, Streetheart, SNFU and more. Lillo’s Music would also rent product and supply gear for many shows including the Beach Boys, Roy Orbinson and BB King.

A visit in Vic’s office was a memorable experience. After completing a deal with a customer a big smile would light up on Vic’s face and he would point at a spot on the globe he had in the office saying “Hey! Hey! Hey! Let’s Give the World a Spin!” Then he would spin the globe and bang the desk. The lights would start flashing in the office, there would be sirens and sounds of birds chirping in the walls. At one time there was a mirror ball, can of ‘snakes’ and a wall ornament in the shape of a head that would laugh and spit water on the unsuspecting customer sitting in the chair. This was “The Happening”! It was all in good fun and people would leave laughing never forgetting their time in Vic’s office! Vic also was very good with cards and magic tricks. During several of the student Christmas concerts he would do some special tricks for the students and their families. He was a fabulous piano player and would play jazz standards, boogie woogie, Scandinavian waltzes, gospel and a variety of other songs. Vic’s joy of music was contagious.

In 2013, Vic was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) for Vic and Doreen’s 50 years in the music business. Vic and his two sons Vic Dean and Les accepted the award and were interviewed for this special occasion. Their interviews can be viewed on the NAMM oral history site. In 2023 Lillo’s Music celebrated 60 years in business. Doreen and Corinne were interviewed for this special milestone by NAMM which are also on the NAMM oral history site.

Vic has always been positive and enthusiastic. Many remember his trademark sayings: Hey! Hey! Hey! For Sure! For Sure! By Golly! By Golly! Greetings, Salutations, Hallucinations! Holy Cracky! By Cracky By Cracky! Leaping, Hopping and Jumping! Kick a Tire, Light a Fire! Let’s Get a Happening Happening! Give the World a Spin! Vic loved life and he loved getting people excited about music.

Vic and Doreen retired December 31, 2019. During the retirement celebrations several of Vic and Doreen’s original customers and students from the early 1960’s came by the store to wish them well. They were also greeted by many of their other customers from over the decades. Lillo’s Music has had a major impact on the Edmonton Music Scene and throughout Canada, US, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.

Vic and Doreen enjoyed working together and continued enjoying each others company in retirement. During the COVID pandemic they played ukulele several times a week on zoom with their children.

Vic remained very interested in the store and was especially happy to get greetings or messages from his longtime customers and friends. Vic suffered a stroke in November 2022 and passed away from covid on Feb 12, 2023 at the age of 84. Vic was a Christian and had great faith. His enthusiasm, passion for life, music and care for family, friends and acquaintances was legendary. He was a loving husband, father, boppa and friend. Vic left a positive impact on all who knew him.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” “Super Happenings” “For Sure! For Sure!”

Vic Lillo 1960's
Vic Lillo at the original location mid 1960’s
Lillo's Music 1970's
Lillo’s Music Store 1970’s
illo family at Lillo's Music 1980's
The Lillo family at Lillo’s Music circa 1980’s
Vic and Doreen Lillo on the front cover of the CMT Magazine celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Lillo’s Music 1993.