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Algis Renkus, 1937 (or thereabouts - he’d never tell you) to 1997
- - - Latest update...actually born October 1938!


Back in August 1997, the pro audio world lost one of its true characters. Industry personality Algis Renkus, son of the late Jonas Renkus, died suddenly from a heart attack.

He and his father were originally half of Renkus-Heinz, and at ARX we came to know Algis when he ran Emilar, an innovative Southern California speaker manufacturer. We had sent him some money for an order of compression drivers for our first run of speaker cabinets, and he phoned us at the factory to say that we had paid him too much! You’ve got to like a guy that does that!

From that time onwards we became good friends, and Algis was instrumental in launching ARX on the US and worldwide market. I’m sure that everyone who knew him has a list of anecdotes, and here are some of my favourites. 

On holiday in the USA in 1986, I thought I might pick up a couple of the brand new Alesis XTC digital reverbs at US (cheap) prices, so I rang Algis and asked if he could get them for me.

No problem, he replied, and called me back later to say that he had them and did I want to come down to his factory to pick them up. When I got there, he put them onto his desk and said here you are. The total for the two came to about $950, about half their price back home.

“How are you going to pay for them?” he asked
“No worries,” I said, “I’ve got a bundle of cash here,” and I plopped $1000 onto the desk.
He looked horrified.
“Cash?” he croaked. “Cash? What am I gonna do with cash?”
I couldn’t believe it. This was my first introduction to the US world of plastic. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly not want cash!

Algis looked more and more flustered.

“Now let me see, I can’t take it home in my pocket, I might lose it or get mugged, I can’t take it to the bank, they’re closed, I can’t leave it here in my desk, the cleaners might take it...” and so on.

Our simple transaction was starting to take on major proportions. Coming from the Live Sound biz, where you often had a few grand in your pocket after a band paid their bill for the week’s gigs (I mean, who’d take a cheque from them?), I was used to carrying cash.
Eventually we managed to sort it out. Algis took the money, rolled it up tightly with elastic bands and put it in a little ziplock plastic bag, and stuck it in the used coffee grounds inside his office coffee percolator! Then he was happy!

Escaping the Russians, Algis and his parents had come from Lithuania during WW2 (that's World War 2, not a website!), and although to us Aussies he just sounded American, to other Americans he must have had a slightly foreign accent. He lived in Silverado, a tiny hamlet out the back of Orange, near Anaheim, which was populated by an uneasy mix of ageing hippies, good ol’ boys and the Silverado Militia!

Looking for his house one day, we asked for directions from a couple of his neighbours who were just a-sittin’ and a-drinkin’ on their front porch. They said they’d never heard of him, although it turned out they lived 3 doors from his house.
“You must know him,” we persisted, “He has a wife, and a little daughter...”
“Doh,” they said, slapping their foreheads, “you mean the German guy!”
When we told him later, his only comment was “Those assholes!”

 He had the driest sense of humour of anyone I ever met. After the NAMM show one year, Colin Park and I managed to get ourselves arrested in Tijuana one year for drinking in the streets. Algis was stunned when we recounted the story to him once we were safely back in Anaheim, behind the Orange Curtain.

"Arrested in Tijuana for drinking?" he drawled, “I can't believe it. Hell, you could pork a donkey in the street in Tijuana and no-one would care!
“I really gotta start hanging around with you guys - you have so much fun!" 

Another time we had found an ‘All-you-can-eat for $7’ Japanese restaurant, and were telling him about it.
“Where is it?” he asked.
We described its location.
“Oh, that place,” he said, “Yeah I know it; you can smell it from six blocks away!”

 Mark you, when he was buying it was a different matter.
“Let me take you out to dinner,” he said to Dave Park and myself one night, waving his arms like Daddy Warbucks. “I’ve found a restaurant I know you’ll love.”
“This’ll be good,” we thought, as we got into his car. “We’ll get to try some real California cooking.”
“OK we’re here,” he announced a couple of minutes later, as we rolled up at an ‘All you can eat for $3.99’ spaghetti bar! 

He loved a bargain, that’s for sure. Whenever you went to his house he’d have a case of some $2.99 Romanian claret or some obscure Belgian beer costing 99c a sixpack that he had bought while trawling through Trader Vic’s or some other bargain booze outlet. 

algis at AES NY

Algis in his element - in show mode at an AES convention in New York


Quite literally, though, everyone knew him. The owner of many audio patents, in recent years he had invented a radical new method of manufacturing compression driver diaphragms, and would haunt the aisles of trade shows accosting people and saying, “Have you seen my new diaphragm?” and thrusting it into their unsuspecting hands. The impression that it was some form of birth control was not helped by the unit being made from a kind of pale pink plastic!

After an NSCA exhibition one year, Algis and I were having dinner with Miguel, our ARX distributor from Puerto Rico.
"Algis," he asked, "Can you get me any Haybaylay speakers?"
Algis looked at him.
"What brand did you say?" he asked
"Haybaylay," replied Miguel.
"I've never heard of that brand," said Algis. "Have you, Duncan?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"No, never" I said, "It's a new one on me."
Miguel looked agitated.
"Oh no, you must have," he said. "Eez a very well known speaker. Very famous everywhere. Everyone knows Haybaylay."
Algis shrugged his shoulders and returned to his salad. Crunching away on a handful of his ever present vitamin tablets, he looked up at Miguel.

"I tell you what, Miguel," he said, "Write it down for me and I'll check it out, ask a few people. Somebody must have heard of them if they're as popular as you say. Here, write it on this." And he pulled a piece of paper and a pen from his pocket and gave them to Miguel.

Miguel took the pen and wrote in big letters

'J B L'

Algis and I looked at it for a couple of seconds and burst out laughing, because, of course, Spanish speaking people don't say Jay Bee Ell, they pronounce it Hay Bay Lay!

"Oh, that HayBayLay," drawled Algis. "Yeah, I think I should be able to track down someone who knows about this company. It might take some time, though!”

 

Sadly he’s gone now, and the world is a duller place now than it was when he was here. He's missed by many of us in the industry.


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