Remembering Bill and Sylvia Gretsch

September 22nd, 2015

A Tribute To A Remarkable Couple

By Fred W. Gretsch

September is an especially significant month in my family’s history. September 10 is the date on which my father, William “Bill” Gretsch passed away in 1948. And September 14th is the anniversary of my mother Sylvia’s birth in 1917. Both of these remarkable individuals played a major role not only in my life, but also in the legacy of the Gretsch Company.

Gretsch has always been a family business. My great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883. Upon his sudden passing in 1885 his son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over–at the age of fifteen along with his mother, Rosa. Fred Sr. brought his sons Fred Jr. and William into the business when they each turned ten years of age—around 1915 and 1916, respectively. (A third brother, Dick Gretsch, did not join the business and lived until the age of 102 and influenced the business as the best Gretsch cheerleader of all time.) Fred Jr. and Bill started at the bottom, of course, packing phonograph needles in boxes on the weekends, 100 years ago now.

By 1933 my father was a young man looking to make his mark in the music business that his grandfather had started and his father was now running. Thinking that that the company’s office in Chicago offered more room for his younger son’s energies than did the staid headquarters in Brooklyn, Fred Sr. transferred Bill to Chicago. Two years later, he met Maxine Lois Elsner.

My mother was a bright and ambitious person in her own right. In 1935 she filled out a questionnaire upon entering Northwestern University, outlining her plans for the future: “When ten years old, I started taking lessons in dramatics. From then until now I have studied speech with the idea of making it my career. I chose Northwestern University because of its superior speech division and its radio courses. When I finish college I plan to do both writing and speaking for radio.”

Perhaps it was Maxine’s insistence about pursuing her career that attracted Bill. When they first met he was not himself interested in getting married. So the couple dated for two years—largely by telegram correspondence, since Maxine was at Northwestern and Bill was in Chicago. During this period Bill gave Maxine the pet name of “Sylvia”—a name by which she became known to friends and family thereafter.

Bill and Sylvia on July 12, 1940

My mother graduated from Northwestern University on June 10, 1939, with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech. After a brief tenure as a high school speech teacher in Webb City, Missouri, in June of 1941 she became a copy writer at radio station KWFT in Wichita Falls, Texas. By October of that year she had taken a job as editor of Western Hotel and Restaurant Reporter, the west’s oldest hotel magazine.

But by this time my father had had enough of job-related separation from Sylvia. So around the time of his birthday in 1942 he called her on the phone, telling her, “You know what I want for my birthday? I want you.” The two were married in California, Missouri, on December 14, 1942—the day after my father’s birthday.

In that same year my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., retired from the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company. My uncle, Fred Jr., became president in New York, while my father ran the company’s office in Chicago. But America had just entered World War II, and shortly thereafter my uncle left to serve in the navy. So my father moved his family to New York, where he took over as president of Gretsch.

My father brought the Gretsch Company into the war effort with enthusiasm. Under his supervision Gretsch made thousands of “entertainment kits” for the Red Cross to ship to servicemen overseas. Those kits included harmonicas, ukuleles, and ocarinas. The factory also manufactured non-musical war-related products, including wooden parts for gas masks.

According to Duke Kramer, who served as a Gretsch executive for almost seventy years, “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best . . . and [he had] a genius for constructive counsel. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they had lost their best friend.”

Bill Gretsch and his family, the Christmas before his passing. (I'm the smiling youngster in the center.)

Of course, when my father passed away my mother lost more than her best friend. She lost her husband and the father of her four small children (my sisters—Katherine, Charlotte, and Gretchen—and me). In February of 1950 my mother started working for the Gretsch Company on various projects. The first was an editorial for a music publication, which she wrote on behalf of Fred Gretsch Jr. She also worked on a guitar booklet and a manual for retailers.

A Gretsch Family Portrait. From left Dick, Bill, Bill's wife Sylvia, Fred Sr., and Fred Jr.

With the support of the extended Gretsch family—including my grandfather, my uncle, and their respective families—this extraordinary woman provided a loving and nurturing environment that allowed my sisters and me to pursue our dreams through childhood and into our adult years.

One of my personal dreams was to bring the Gretsch Company back into family ownership after it was sold to the Baldwin Company in 1967. In 1984 I was able to realize that dream—largely through the inspiration I received from the examples of my father and my mother. That, in turn, led me to consider how I might best honor their memories.

Fred Gretsch with University of Michigan Tribute Marching Drum

Throughout the decades in which my father worked at Gretsch—the 1920s, 30s, and 40s—jazz and big band music were the popular styles of the day. But there were also marching bands, concert bands, and other musical organizations, many of which were connected to schools and other educational institutions. My father was a strong believer in the value of music education. In 1946 he personally established a scholarship for a talented clarinet player at the University of Michigan. (In the mid-1950s a complete set of marching drums, finished in the school’s colors, was donated to the Michigan band by the Gretsch Company in honor of my father.)

Since a focus on music education was a large part of my father’s business philosophy, it seemed to me only fitting to memorialize him and my mother in a way that would support that philosophy. With that in mind, several years ago my wife Dinah and I established the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Its mission is to provide financial support for projects that promote music education in a variety of ways.

One of those projects was the construction of the Sylvia and William Gretsch memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College (my own alma mater) near Chicago. This studio is a central element of the extensive music-education program offered at Elmhurst.

More recently, the foundation provided a grant for a five-year program at Georgia Southern University, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Bullock County (Georgia). In this program, GSU students studying to become music teachers actually serve as teachers for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive music lessons.

I think of my father and mother every day. Their lives revolved around music, as does mine. It’s simply a Gretsch family tradition, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.



Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

August 26th, 2015

Phil Collins: The Unmistakable Man

by Fred W. Gretsch

Considering the enormity of Phil Collins’ success as a solo artist in the 1980s and 90s, it might surprise some people to learn that he first came to musical prominence as the drummer in an equally successful band almost a decade earlier. That band was Genesis, and their unique brand of early progressive rock was powered by Phil’s innovative style and unmistakable sound.

Phil joined Genesis in 1970 for their third album, Nursery Cryme, and he went on to help catapult the band to international fame. His drumming combined a great feel (based heavily on his love for groove-based ’60s soul music) with quick footwork, uniquely effective accents, and burning fills that left drummers shaking their heads in amazement and admiration. When original lead singer Peter Gabriel left the group in 1975 Phil stepped out front to take Gabriel’s place. His drumming chores on live performances were taken over first by Bill Bruford and later by Chester Thompson, but Phil continued to provide the dynamic drumming on all Genesis recordings throughout the band’s lengthy career.

Phil also holds the distinction of having created and played what may be the most universally recognized drum fill in the history of popular music: the classic descending-toms break in his mega-hit “In The Air Tonight” (from his 1981 solo album Face Value). That fill alone—probably the most air-drummed of all time—sets Phil squarely in the pantheon of drumming greats. And although not many people know it, Phil played drums on the famous Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which spent the early weeks of 1985 at the top of the charts and has been a holiday staple ever since.

Phil's Gretsch Kit

Throughout most of his career Phil performed his dynamic drumming on a Gretsch drumkit that was, to put it mildly, different from the kits of his contemporaries (and remains so to this day). First off, it was a “lefty” kit, owing to Phil’s left-handedness as a player. Next, it featured a bevy of single-headed rack and floor toms that produced the deep, powerful attack that contributed to Phil’s trademark sound. Phil tended to sit low, so the kit seemed to surround—and nearly obscure—him as he played. But his talent and creativity—and the kit’s Great Gretsch Sound—always commanded his audiences’ attention.

Sadly, health issues led Phil to retire from drumming in 2011. Fortunately, recordings and videos of his playing with Genesis, with other performers, and as a solo artist abound today. Those recordings serve as a testament to Phil’s personal drumming prowess—and his contribution to drum history itself.

Phil On Display

A full-concert clip from 1973 documents Genesis’s early incarnation as a progressive/“art” rock band, largely due to the theatrics of singer Peter Gabriel. But it also showcases Phil Collins’ contribution to the group’s seminal sound.

By 1987 Genesis was a very different group, with Phil out front on vocals. But he always returned to the drumkit at every show, as on this live concert from England’s Wembly stadium. Check out his drumming duet with Chester Thompson about 3/4ths of the way through the show.

The original “official” video for Phil’s 1981 super-hit “In The Air Tonight” seems a little dated today…but the classic drum fill sounds as powerful as ever.

An absolutely fabulous full-concert clip of Phil playing with a crack band in Paris at the height of his solo career. Phil opens the show on drums, and later participates in a terrific drum feature with second drummer Ricky Lawson and percussion great Luis Conte.

On Phil’s “First Farewell Concert” tour in 2004, Phil and Chester Thompson performed a dynamic drumming duet that must be seen and heard to be believed.

Oh What A Night…With Doyle Dykes!

August 10th, 2015

Saturday night, August 1, was a musically magical night in of all places, Bloomingdale, Georgia, a quiet southern community just west of historic Savannah. Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor hosted a special evening featuring the stylings of Doyle Dykes, “one of the finest fingerpicking guitarists around” as described by the late Chet Atkins. The sold out show was attended by area music lovers–several never having seen Doyle perform before–and none of whom left the event disappointed.

Doyle Dykes. Photo courtesy of Don Aliffi.

For most of the evening, Doyle performed masterfully with his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar to which he had added an LR Baggs acoustic pickup.  He also used a recently-acquired Gretsch 12-string electric. Doyle graciously shared some nice comments about his Gretsch instruments with the audience and also called area resident Fred Gretsch up on stage to talk about Fred’s 50 years in the music business (which is being celebrated throughout 2015).

Also joining Doyle during Saturday night’s show were Keith Miller and his son Nathan from Summerville, South Carolina. Quite a skillful ukulele player, Nathan delighted the audience with a song he composed while visiting a little German village and inspired by their daily church bells. Watch his performance.

Doyle with Dinah & Fred Gretsch along with Keith and son Nathan Miller

What a night and what a terrific time with one of the best cross-genre
fingerstylists today! If you don’t yet know Doyle, you need to visit his website and Facebook page to learn more.  And watch Doyle’s tribute to Chet Atkins from the Pickin’ Parlor.

While out in the Savannah area, add some great music to your evening.  Check Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor’s schedule for upcoming events.


Special thanks to Chris and Missy and to Jim Wethington for posting videos from the show!


Gretsch Greatest Hits…And Hitters

August 7th, 2015

Keith Carlock: Mr. In-Demand

by Fred W. Gretsch

It’s almost easier to talk about what Keith Carlock hasn’t done than what he has. Since graduating from the prestigious music program of the University Of North Texas in 1992, the Greenville, Mississippi native’s career has been one exciting gig after another—and often more than one at a time. Along the way his unique blend of technical ability, southern-infused looseness, unshakeable groove, and intense musicality has established him as one of today’s most in-demand drummers.

Photo: Tom Schwarz

That demand has come from a veritable “who’s who” of the musical world. It started in 1998 when Keith took over the drum chair for the original Blues Brothers Band (from the great Steve Jordan) and also began a long association with fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz. In 2000 Keith gained international attention for his playing on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature. Working again with Steely Dan on their 2002 record Everything Must Go, Keith played drums on every track—no small feat, considering that the Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are legendary for using multiple drummers on their records.

In fall of 2003 Keith was invited to join Sting’s touring band in support of the Sacred Love tour, which kept Keith on the road into 2005. In the ten years since then he’s recorded and/or toured with John Mayer, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, Leni Stern, David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Wayne Krantz, Harry Belafonte, Oz Noy, Clay Aiken, Rascal Flatts, Paula Abdul, and Grover Washington, Jr.

As the latest testament to his status as “the guy to call,” in January of 2014 Keith replaced the legendary Simon Phillips in the drum chair for Toto. He helped record the band’s Toto XIV album and has been wowing audiences on their recent tour dates.

In explaining what makes Keith Carlock so valuable as a drummer, guitarist Wayne Krantz says, “Keith is as advanced technically as anyone I’ve ever played with, but his technique always serves the music. When he plays he’s not mathematical. He’s very spiritual.” Avant-jazz guitarist Oz Noy puts it even more succinctly: “Within one bar of the groove, I can tell it’s Keith. There’s nobody out there who sounds like him.”

Keith has also made a name as an educator. In 2005 he embarked on his first clinic tour of eight US cities, performed at the Modern Drummer Festival and Montreal Drum Fest, and appeared at various other events around the world. Since that time he’s somehow managed to maintain a busy clinic calendar in addition to his staggeringly busy touring and recording schedule.

Perhaps Keith’s most impressive educational effort is his 2011 DVD titled The Big Picture: Phrasing, Improvisation, Style & Technique. In it he explains and demonstrates creative and technical concepts, illuminated by specific exercises, many of which are transcribed in an accompanying printable PDF eBook. Keith also plays to tracks from Oz Noy and from his own group, Rudder, dissecting his drum parts and relating each of his performances to the educational themes of the DVD.

When it comes to his Gretsch drums, Keith himself says, “I’m playing the Brooklyn Series, which are great-sounding drums. They’re similar to USA Customs, with a few little differences. They have their own round badge, and the shells are combined maple/poplar woods that produce a very distinctive, low-end open tone. The rims aren’t die-cast; they’re thinner and lighter. I think this helps the heads breathe a little more so I get a lot of sustain. I play a 20″ or a 22″ kick, depending on the music, and 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms. My snare varies with the situation, but I’m particularly fond of Gretsch’s chrome-over-brass model.”

Photo: Tom Schwarz

Carlock Performance Clips

Keith’s playing with TOTO (live, including a stunning solo) is showcased.

A great funky groove track with Oz Noy, Will Lee, and John Medeski.

A clip taken from a 2012 clinic in Korea focuses on Keith’s imaginative and technically awesome soloing abilities.

And for all you Gretsch drum fans, here’s a clip of Keith demo-ing a new Brooklyn Series kit. Just Keith and a great-sounding drumkit!

Many more tracks are available on YouTube, and are well worth your time to research.  And don’t forget to visit Keith’s website.



Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

July 8th, 2015

The Creation of The Double-Bass Drumkit

by Fred W. Gretsch

Double-bass drumkits are pretty common these days, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the introduction of the double-bass kit was a pretty revolutionary step in the history of drumming.

Ah, but who was the drummer who took that step? And what drum company created that kit for him?

Your answers to those questions probably depend on how old you are and how much you’ve studied the history of drumming. But trust me when I tell you that although early double-bass drumming is largely attributed to drummers like Ginger Baker (of Cream), Keith Moon (of The Who), and even Peter Criss (of KISS) in the 1960s and ’70s, the fact is that the creation of the double-bass kit took place a generation earlier—in 1946, to be exact. And it took place in the Brooklyn, New York factory of the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company.

Big-band music was the dominant musical style in 1946, and drummers in those bands were often featured—thanks largely to the influence of the legendary Gene Krupa.  Wanting to take advantage of this, a young drumming phenom by the name of Louie Bellson had an idea for a drumkit that would be totally new and exciting—both visually and musically. For one thing, it would include two bass drums. This was unheard of in a time when four-piece kits were the standard.

Louie approached several different drum companies, and was flatly turned down. But when he brought his idea to the drum craftsmen at Gretsch, they were as excited as he was. They took Louie’s design concept as a challenge, and they promptly created a set that remains unduplicated to this day.

Louie’s revolutionary kit featured two 20×20 bass drums topped by a unique combination of tom-toms. The center tom was a 26×18 floor tom. Mounted on either side were 9×13 and 7×11 toms, with the whole assembly connected together and supported on legs. The floor toms were 16×16 and 16×18. Nothing like this had ever been seen before.

The kit was debuted by Louie with the Ted Fio Rito band in 1946. Shortly thereafter Louie moved to Benny Goodman’s band. Goodman wasn’t enamored of the big kit, but when Louie moved once again—this time to the band of Tommy Dorsey—the massive kit became a centerpiece. Dorsey was a savvy showman, so he put Louie and the kit on a revolving platform. When Louie would play a solo, Dorsey would revolve the platform so that the audience could see Louie’s feet. To coin a phrase: The crowds went crazy.

Louie’s revolutionary kit established him as one of the most creative and imaginative drummers on the big-band scene. It also launched a twenty-year association with Gretsch drums. “I had a wonderful relationship with Gretsch,” Louie told Gretsch Drums author Chet Falzerano. “Twenty years, that’s a long time! Their drums always had a great sound.”

So the next time you’re marveling at the sound and fury of your favorite double-bass drummer, take a moment to thank two pioneering drum innovators: Louie Bellson and Gretsch!

While no recordings of Louie playing on his original double-bass kit exist, check out this rare clip of Louie playing his solo composition “Skin Deep.” By the time this was recorded in 1957 he’d altered his kit design, but he was still kickin’ it on Gretsch!

In this clip from the Tonight Show (hosted by Steve Allen in 1956) Louie is again featured on his Gretsch double-bass kit, this time trading licks with drum greats Lionel Hampton and Don Lamond.



A Brooklyn Bash!

June 15th, 2015

Celebrating Fred Gretsch’s Fifty Years In The Music Business

This past May 30 saw a very special event in Brooklyn, New York: a celebration of Fred W. Gretsch’s fiftieth anniversary in the music industry. Representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch family business, Fred’s career began on March 2, 1965. Today he remains at the helm of the Gretsch Company—and as such is one of the very few individuals in the musical-instrument industry still actively involved with the brand that bears his name.

It’s entirely appropriate that the celebration of Fred’s anniversary was held in Brooklyn, because that’s where the Gretsch Company was located from its inception in 1883 until 1969. In those years the company manufactured great drums, guitars, banjos, and other instruments under the watchful eyes of Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather (Friedrich Gretsch), grandfather (Fred Gretsch Sr.), father (William “Bill” Gretsch), and uncle (Fred Gretsch Jr.). The iconic Gretsch Building that housed the factory still stands today at 60 Broadway, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

And so it was that Gretsch fans, artists, and music-industry colleagues from across the country came to Brooklyn to help Fred and his family celebrate this auspicious occasion. And it all started with…

Gretsch Day At Street Sounds

Brooklyn’s Street Sounds.

Street Sounds is located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. Touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” (for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

This beautiful guitar was created by Stephen and the Gretsch Custom Shop.

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation. Rocky greeted the crowd, and then introduced Gretsch Guitar product manager Joe Carducci, who served as emcee for the day’s festivities.

Emcee Mr. Joe Carducci.

Following a video presentation highlighting Gretsch history, Joe introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the importance of family, commenting on how he and Dinah shared a multi-generational involvement in business with daughter Lena, and pointing out that there were fifth- and sixth-generation Gretsch family members in attendance at the event. Dinah Gretsch offered her thanks to the audience for their attendance, then went on to express her deep personal conviction that music enriches the lives of those who pursue it.

Fred Gretsch had a moment to chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set after their performance.

Fred enjoyed a chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by Justin Keenan and Ben Fraser—two members of an Australian quintet called The Go Set. Switching between acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin, the talented duo impressed the crowd with their melodic stylings. Their closing number, “Liberty Bell,” was offered as a tribute to the spirit of America.

Stephen Stern presented Fred with a congratulatory banner.

Senior master builder Stephen Stern was on hand to represent the Gretsch Custom Shop.  He presented Fred with a specially-created banner featuring the Custom Shop logo and the signatures of all of the talented artists and builders at the shop itself.

You couldn’t get more “local Brooklyn” than the next band on the bill. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) Their energetic set of punk-infused R&B included numbers by Jimmy Eat World and Alicia Keys, as well as a unique arrangement of the classic Jackson 5 tune “I Want You Back.” Pretty impressive, considering that it was their self-described “first time playing out.”

Brooklyn-based Off The Roof featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums.

Mark Nelson (center) and Mike Nieman of Gretsch Drums presented Fred with a limited-edition snare drum.

Mark Nelson and Mike Nieman, representing the Gretsch drum-making operation, made the next presentation to Fred Gretsch. Appropriately enough, it was the prototype of a limited-edition snare drum model called the FredKaster ’65 FG. Only fifty of these unique 7×14 commemorative drums will be offered for sale in the US. Fred’s drum came with its head signed by everyone involved in the manufacturing and sale of Gretsch drums.

The Nashville Attitude may be from Staten Island, New York, but they have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

State Island's The Nashville Attitude have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

You might not think of New York City as a hotbed of country music, but Staten Islands’ The Nashville Attitude would prove you wrong. Fronted by the vocals, guitar, and banjo of Marc Vincent Sica (with Elvin Cartegena on guitar and Ian Underwood on bass) the group stormed through a set of foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ tunes, including an ever-accelerating version of Johnny Cash’s classic “Rock Island Line” that challenged the stamina of drummer Dave Strickland.

The legendary Duane Eddy was a surprise guest.

The next scheduled act was Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands. But before they began, Joe Carducci introduced a surprise artist: the legendary “father of twang,” Duane Eddy. After modestly acknowledging the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer sat in with Jet and the band, adding his special touch to several tunes . . . including his 1960s hit, “Rebel Rouser.”

Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands are a throwback to the great western swing bands—and a real crowd-pleaser.

Then Jet and his boys returned to play an entertaining set of their trademark western swing and standards. Following a crowd-pleasing sing-along rendition of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” Jet offered musical tributes—first to Dinah Gretsch by singing the classic “Dinah…Is There Anyone Finer?” and then to Fred Gretsch in the form of special lyrics added to Roy Hamilton’s 1958 hit “Don’t Let Go.”

New York state senator Marty Golden (at right) offered a proclamation from the senate honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family connection to Brooklyn.

NY senator Marty Golden offered a proclamation honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah back up as well. Golden then read a senate proclamation that highlighted the history of the Gretsch Company and its connection to Brooklyn, and went on to salute Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth anniversary.

Todd Taylor and bassist Mike Moody.

Joe Carducci could barely contain his enthusiasm when introducing the next artist, citing him as “the Guinness World Record Holder as the fastest banjo player on the planet!” This was Todd Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation.

A stunned Kentucky Parkis—an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass in the Little Kids Rock music-education program—took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar, presented to her by Dinah Gretsch.

Kentucky Parkis took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar.

Throughout the day Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as several Gretsch guitars. The day’s big winner was Kentucky Parkis, an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass guitar in the Little Kids Rock music-education program. Literally in tears of surprise and happiness at her good fortune, Kentucky took home a classic orange-finish Gretsch 5420 guitar worth over $1,200.

The performances closed with an appearance by The Empty Hearts, an all-star band featuring Wally Palmar (the Romantics) on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica; Elliot Easton (the Cars) on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Babiuk (the Chesterfield Kings) on bass and vocals; and Clem Burke (Blondie) on drums and vocals. Clem played on a totally appropriate Gretsch Brooklyn Series kit for the occasion.

The Empty Hearts closed the show with a bang!

Offering what they themselves describe as “simple, straightforward, soulful rock ’n’ roll informed by ’60s garage rock and British Invasion sounds,” the group’s set combined original tunes from their new self-titled album with hit songs from each of their bands—including a joyous closing rendition of the Romantics’ “What I Like About You” that left the crowd screaming for more.

Joe Carducci concluded the celebration by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of congratulations to Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth Anniversary. A good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for videos from the event to be posted soon!

A Very Special Party

This specially decorated cake greeted guests at the Gretsch dinner party.

The day-long public celebration at Street Sounds was followed by a private party under a sparkling white tent at the nearby Dyker Beach golf course. The guest list included four generations of the Gretsch Family, along with Gretsch artists, industry colleagues, and other people near and dear to the hearts of Fred and Dinah Gretsch.

Dinah Gretsch served both as hostess and emcee for the evening’s festivities.

The party was presided over by Dinah, who opened the festivities by saying “We’re here to celebrate my greatest hero: Fred Gretsch.” Dinah then introduced a video program containing congratulatory messages from family, friends, and artists all over the world, as well as from the Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum, Elmhurst College, Berklee College of Music, the Little Kids Rock program, and Modern Drummer magazine.

A particularly moving moment in the evening came when Dinah read a paper composed by grandson Logan Thomas. Written for a school assignment called “My Definition Of A Hero,” it eloquently described how and why Logan’s grandfather, Fred Gretsch, met that definition.

David Wish of Little Kids Rock presented Fred with a framed concert photo.

Later in the evening a succession of guests offered personal anecdotes and appreciative words in tribute to Fred. These included David Wish, founder of the Little Kids Rock program, who saluted Fred as a mentor and supporter of LKR’s goal “to bring music to every single child in this country.” Dave then presented Fred with a framed photo of an LKR concert, emblazoned with a congratulatory message from the 195,000 children in the LKR program.

A special 50th anniversary “trophy” was commissioned by Dinah to honor the man she called “My hero: Fred Gretsch.”

Terry Dennis, who has worked with Fred and Dinah Gretsch in a design capacity for more than twenty years, created a one-of-a-kind commemorative “trophy” to be presented to Fred from Dinah. The award’s design was based on imagery from historic Gretsch catalogs.

Duane Eddy described how he was first introduced to Fred and Dinah in 1991—by George Harrison. Andy Babiuk cited Fred’s “persistence,” including how Fred relentlessly pursued him about writing a book on Paul Bigsby. Tony Oroszlany, president of Loyola High School in New York (Fred’s alma mater) saluted Fred for his ongoing support of the school. Street Sounds owner Rocky Schiano recalled “getting a history lesson about Brooklyn from Fred” during a stroll through the Williamsburg section. Bill Acton, of Fender’s Gretsch Specialty Team, stated how it was an honor to partner with Fred in marketing Gretsch guitars world-wide, describing him as “the nicest man in the business to work with.” Dave Waters, also of the Fender/Gretsch team, noted that of all major American guitar companies, only Gretsch has someone with the brand’s name running the company. And guitarist Elliot Easton related how he and Fred met and bonded over a bit of guitar minutiae: the fact that in the early 1990s, out of all left-handed guitar models only Gretsch’s featured control knobs that also worked “lefty.” Elliott—a left-handed player—particularly appreciated this attention to detail. This led to a friendship that ultimately generated a signature guitar model that he and Fred designed together.

Finally, Dinah brought Fred himself up to the podium—where he received a lengthy standing ovation from all in attendance. Discarding the written comments that he had prepared, Fred said instead, “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t add any more in words…but please know how much is in my heart. I thank you all.”

Then, with a twinkle in his eye and excitement in his voice, Fred added, “Now let’s have cake!”



Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

June 4th, 2015

Hannah Welton: Powering Prince’s 3rd Eye Girl

by Fred W. Gretsch

Watching Gretsch drummer Hannah (Ford) Welton perform as the backbone of Prince’s 3RDEYEGIRL (the legendary artist’s explosive four-piece rock band), you’d likely get the impression that Hannah is a dynamic and talented young rock drummer. And you’d be partly right.

The fact is, Hannah is a multi-faceted performer who’s been a significant figure on the drumming scene for quite a while now. She came to the attention of the drumming community in her early teens, largely as the result of innate talent combined with a lot of hard work and study.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Hannah was immersed in the performing arts from a young age, gravitating toward the drums by age seven. At the age of twelve she moved to Chicago, where she studied and performed with legends and mentors such as Peter Erskine, Danny Seraphine, Johnny Rabb, Paul Wertico, and Gretsch artist Stanton Moore. At the same time she launched her professional career, playing in a blues band with her trumpet-playing father.

After a childhood focused on classic rock influenced by the powerful sound of John Bonham and Led Zeppelin, Hannah expanded her scope through study at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. There she played in the school’s Latin Ensemble and Big Band Orchestra, and also studied in the Vocal Jazz Department. In addition, she had the opportunity to play with top touring musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Butch Miles, and Jeff Berlin.

It wasn’t long before Hannah had established her own rock trio—The Hannah Ford Band—in Chicago. She also performed and recorded with a Milwaukee-based crossover Christian band called Bellevue Suite. From 2006 through 2011 Hannah received a variety of accolades and awards, while making a name as a clinician at events like the Chicago Drum Show. Capitalizing on her arts background, she landed the role of L. A. Coulter, the on-stage drummer in the 2011 Chicago Royal George Theatre run of the Whoopi Goldberg-produced musical White Noise.

Hannah was on a Guitar Center clinic tour when she heard from Prince’s representatives that he had seen her videos on YouTube and wanted her to come to Paisley Park Studios to jam. After joining Prince’s New Power Generation band in the summer of 2012, Hannah made her national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in October, performing “Rock N’ Roll Love Affair.”

In November of 2012, after receiving direction from Prince, Hannah and her husband Joshua Welton set out to find the best female guitarist in the world. Shortly thereafter, they discovered Donna Grantis and invited her to jam. The musical camaraderie between Prince, Hannah, Grantis, and Danish bassist Ida Nielsen led to the birth of 3RDEYEGIRL. In 2013 Hannah anchored the band on their Spring tour and appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, performing the new song “Screwdriver” and the classic early Prince song “Bambi.” Hannah and the band soon followed up with their debut album titled Plectrum Electrum.

One of the things that I admire about Hannah is that she could just as easily be the subject of one of my “Great Gretsch Educators” blogs. From early on in her career she’s made a point to share her talent and knowledge. In addition to the in-store clinics and drumming events at which she’s appeared, she has also created her own “Peace Love And Drums” solo show. The idea behind this unique presentation is to share her experiences as a young musician and take her audience through the multifaceted world of music and drumming—and at the same time to inspire the audience to “dream big.”

Hannah’s main theme is the importance of music in our world today—especially in the lives of young people (a topic that’s near and dear to the Gretsch Family, as well).  Hannah reaches out to kids in the audience and shows them how much fun music can be, the places it can take them, and the long-term benefits it can bring. At the same time, Hannah impresses adults in the audience with how important it is that they continue to support music programs in the local schools and communities.

You can learn more about Hannah at her web site: And you can see and hear her on YouTube. Here are a few notable clips:

A 2011 clip of Hannah in clinic at the Memphis Drum Shop illustrates her improvisational soloing technique.

Hannah gets funky—and talks music and drumming—with bass star Nik West on this snippet from Drum Channel.

Hannah’s faculty recital performance at the 2012 KoSA drumming camp.

A clip of Hannah playing “fixurlifeup” with Prince is on her website.

Another performance—this one live in 2013 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.



Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award

May 20th, 2015

Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award and Sponsor First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts Celebration at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch are presented the Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award to recognize their support of the John A. Calabro Music and Arts Program at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. From left to right: Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, Dean of the Academic Board; Colonel (Retired) Robert L. McClure, President and CEO, West Point Association of Graduates; Dinah Gretsch, and Fred Gretsch. Photo by Kristin Sorenson, VP of Development, WPAOG.


Fred and Dinah Gretsch were presented the General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award for helping sponsor the First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. The April 10 event, coordinated through the Department of English and Philosophy and the Cadet Fine Arts Forum, showcased cadet creativity and talent in music, photography, film, poetry, prose, and fine art.

This year’s event began a new tradition of honoring the late retired Colonel John A. Calabro, Jr., a 1968 USMA graduate and former Academy Professor of English, and Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the West Point Association of Graduates. Calabro, a revered Soldier and scholar, was also an accomplished musician, creative writer, and fine artist, and a strong advocate for the important role the arts played in the overall development of officers. He was a longtime friend of Fred Gretsch, President of the Gretsch Foundation.

“John Calabro was a true Renaissance man, a lifelong learner, and an ideal blend of ‘Athens and Sparta’ here at West Point,” said Gretsch. “We’re very proud that the Gretsch Foundation can support the Music and Arts Program named in John’s honor, and be associated with the United States Military Academy, one of the most respected and historic brands in America for over 200 years.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gretsch were invited to attend the inaugural event at West Point and spent the day touring the museum and many historic buildings at the nation’s oldest continually occupied military post. They enjoyed having lunch with over 4,400 cadets at the Academy’s famous mess hall on the first floor of Washington Hall.

“It was a wonderful experience. How can you not be impressed with the history and tradition of America’s most esteemed military academy,” said Dinah Gretsch. “And the talent and creativity we saw in the cadets, both women and men, at the celebration and awards ceremony was outstanding. The Gretsch Foundation is happy to honor John Calabro’s legacy with this sponsorship.”

The sponsorship not only makes the John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony an annual event, but also includes an outreach program that will connect members of the Cadet Jazz Forum, the USMA Band’s Jazz Knights, and students from local middle and high schools through music appreciation and performances. This year’s ceremony included a performance by the Jazz Ensemble, a band comprised of USMA cadets and students from West Point Middle School and James I. O’Neill High School.

About the Gretsch Foundation:

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, has a mission of enriching lives through participation in music, and has long been involved in music education through its sponsorship of concerts, festivals, clinics, workshops and direct assistance to schools.

In addition to providing music scholarships at Berklee College of Music, Elmhurst College, Georgia Southern University, and the University of West Georgia, the Foundation’s unique GuitarArt program donates guitars to schools for students and major artists to paint, decorate and auction off for fundraising efforts. Please visit for more information.