If David Baas had lived his life according to what other people told him to do, or followed a typical societal timeline, his life would look very different. After all, a biology professor couldn’t keep 12 dusty guitar cases lining the perimeter of his new office. Nor would it be professional to keep a cherry-wood acoustic leaning against his desk for easy access.
His walls would be adorned with diagrams of the DNA double-helix structure and magnified images of the HIV virus rather than a vibrant watercolor portrait of Ringo Starr.
Baas’s office, in the back of Roadworthy Guitar & Amp, has a sort of systematic disorder to it. Loose papers threaten to consume the desk space, music magazines pile up in the corner, and thumbtacks hold countless stray notes to a cork board, far above eye level. If it were neat, Baas joked, he’d never find anything.
Baas owns Roadworthy Guitar & Amp, a retail and repair shop at 115 S. Walnut St. He opened his first store in 1991 and since then, Roadworthy has changed locations five times, mostly to support growing inventory.
Born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., Baas came to Bloomington in 1982 to attend graduate school at IU. He planned to study freshwater ecology and become a biology professor.
“Biology was kind of something that I was doing because I thought it was more what I was supposed to do, rather than what I wanted to do,” he said.
According to Baas, one of his true passions is teaching. However, as he gained experience in the field, he realized that politics play an overpowering role in the academic world.
“You have no way of knowing if you’re doing a good job,” he said. “It’s more important that you’re in agreement with the powers that happen to be. … I just don’t have the stomach for that kind of stuff.”
Baas made the decision to leave academia in 1985. At a loss for what to do next, he turned to another passion, music.
Inspired by musicians like Charlie Musselwhite, the Rockets, and the Beatles, Baas started playing guitar when he was 10 years old. He played his first gig back in Rochester when he was only 15.
Baas got involved in the Bloomington music scene while he was a student. He recognized that it was unrealistic to make a career out of playing music. But he remembered Ron Volbrecht, a friend who used to repair his guitars.
Bass set out to learn the trade of repairing guitars, starting on his kitchen table.
“I bought cheap, busted-up guitars and books about fixing guitars and talked to people, including Ron, and I put it together,” he said.
Baas opened his first Roadworthy store at 2624 N. Walnut in 1991 when he was 36 years old. The store had 26 guitars, eight amplifiers, and one employee -- Baas. Five years later, Roadworthy had outgrown the space.
“I went into substantial debt to make this happen,” he said. “You get a box when you’re a storeowner. You have to turn it into a store. You have to build the walls and put the lights in and all that jazz.”
Baas continued the business, simultaneously pursuing his own music career. A music enthusiast, he has an affinity for the blues and plays in the band Built for Comfort, which has a regular gig at Bear’s on the first Friday of every month. Baas also plays in a band called Tone-o-Matics, a blues band that features mostly cover tunes.
Eventually, Roadworthy moved to the heart of downtown Bloomington, at 124 E. Kirkwood Ave. Unfortunately, someone else had their eyes on the property.
When Baas called landlord Jim Regester to inquire about renewing his lease, Regester told him that he was selling the property to Finelight, an advertising company in Bloomington.
Forced to move or close, Baas began searching for another home for the business he built, finally settling on Roadworthy’s current location at 115 S. Walnut.
The new store opened on Oct. 2, 2006. Roadworthy moved on a Sunday, and the store did not close at all during the move.
Finelight subsequently announced it would not move into the property downtown and would instead move to the west side of town.
Although it was disruptive, the Finelight fiasco hurt Baas’s business far less than it could have.
Baas said he often wondered if he made the right decision by leaving his teaching job behind and pursuing the career he has now. But if he hadn’t followed his passion for music, he always would have wondered about it.
“I miss the act of teaching," Baas said. "I love to teach. But in a lot of ways, I teach here.”
Sarah Bloom can be reached at .