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Maestro Ken Rice

When you walk into Temecula’s “Little Shop of Horns”, you’re immediately struck by just how much there is to take in. Autographed photos from BB King, Smokey Robinson, Tom Cruise, Ed McMahon and others adorn the walls. Saxophones, trumpets, pianos and more are everywhere. Dozens of cabinets with tiny drawers containing parts for instrument repairs line the back wall. Welcome to Ken Rice’s world.

AE - Ken Rice Shop of Horns ARTICLEKen’s been playing the sax since he was nine. His dad took him to a music store hoping he could interest him in a clarinet. Ken, however, saw a saxophone and knew “that’s what I wanted to play.” Dad tried urging him back to the clarinet, a less expensive instrument, but he couldn’t be budged. He started with an alto sax and then played baritone sax in high school. He picked up a tenor sax at about the same time and it eventually became “his instrument.” He also plays soprano sax, keyboards, guitar, bass, trumpet, clarinet, flute and trombone.

He entered the Army in 1970, serving in Europe, and quickly found soldiers who shared his passion for music, and he joined the 7th Signal Brigade Communicators. His feeling was they could help promote American-European relations. After playing private parties for officers,  they played all over Europe as a small band. He was relieved of his duties as a teletype operator so he could continue playing and touring. After his fellow band members left for home, he stayed abroad for a few months and played USO shows, sometimes with the warm up band and other times backing up Motown greats like the O’Jays, the Temptations and Gloria Gaynor, receiving a Presidential citation for his service.

Ken grew up in the Midwest and listened to a regionally popular band called the Fabulous Flippers. When he returned from Europe he landed an audition with them and became a member of the band. His first gig with them was in Denver with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. He spent seven years with them on and off before joining another band called Circus Max. He did side work with recording artists like Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald and others.

He moved to California in 1981 when his wife, Lenore, became ill. He started working at the renowned The Horn Connection in Los Angeles where he apprenticed under Manny Gavrilov for nine years. At the time he was commuting from Menifee to LA Monday through Wednesday and then Thursday to Saturday from Menifee to San Diego to LA and back. When his car broke down on a 115 degree day, he decided then and there the commuting was done.

Temecula was undergoing a growth spurt at the time and finding office space was a challenge. He saw a space available sign on Jefferson Avenue one day, a tiny back corner room that used to be the dance floor for Guadalajara restaurant. He made an offer, it was accepted and he’s been there ever since, although he’s added space as it became available. At the start he did repairs and lessons and now he sells instruments and continues to teach with his partner, Joe. His son came up with the name of the shop, and his multi-talented wife painted the logo, which hangs in one of the studios. In July, 2014 he was awarded the President’s Call To Service Award that came with a letter signed by President Obama.

School funding has changed and it’s had a huge impact on his business. These days, everything has to come from a non-profit. Gone are the days of the fundraisers for instrument repairs and lessons. An anonymous $1000 donation will allow him to repair instruments people have donated to him and gift them to schools. “We’re a one on one small business that tries to get you American-made instruments, find older instruments and bring them back to life, like to teach young students how to play what they learn in school and how to improvise, write songs and record.”

The Little Shop of Horns is at 27780 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 10 in Temecula. Online it’s Open Tuesday through Saturday and Mondays by appointment, he will eventually have the shop open for business six days a week.

Written by Tom Plant

Why not experience Temecula Wine Country with a guide who knows the area perhaps as well or better than anyone else. You can reach Tom Plant at (951) 907-9701 or via email at

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