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.

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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!”

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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: Hannahforddrums.com. 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.

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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.

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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 www.guitarart.org for more information.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . And Hitters

April 6th, 2015

Charlie Watts: The Foundation

by Fred Gretsch

Virtually every serious music fan knows that great Gretsch drummer Charlie Watts has been the rhythmic foundation of the Rolling Stones for over fifty years. While not noted as a drumistic technician, Charlie is universally recognized as the rock that anchors “The World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band”—and also as the subtle force that swings it. That’s why Charlie was inducted into Modern Drummer magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2006, and why he was named as one of the Top Ten World’s Best Drummers in Rolling Stone magazine’s Readers Poll in February of 2010.

Charlie’s status as a rock-drumming great is somewhat ironic, because he doesn’t play drums like a rock drummer. When he was ten years old he discovered jazz—Miles Davis and John Coltrane in particular. Soon after that he began to explore the idea of becoming a drummer. He had no formal lessons; instead he credits the great drummers he saw in London’s jazz clubs as the people who taught him how to play drums properly. He used the jazz chops he learned as a teenager to invent his own unique style of playing rock ’n’ roll. When he plays, his movements are elegant in their simplicity yet soaring in their impact. None of his gestures are wasted; all are necessary.

Bringing the sensibilities of a jazz drummer to rock music has always been at the heart of what makes Charlie one of the most respected musicians in the world. That respect has resulted in his being called on to contribute to projects by Jack Bruce, B.B. King, Alexis Korner, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, AC/DC, Ben Sidran, and many more.

Charlie’s love for jazz has led him to either lead or take part in a number of musical projects of his own. In 1985 he formed the Charlie Watts Orchestra, a 32-piece band that toured the U.S. and ultimately released an album called Live at Fulham Town Hall. In 1991 he formed The Charlie Watts Quintet to pay homage to the small-group jazz that first grabbed him while he was growing up in London. Over the next five years they released a series of stellar recordings, including From One Charlie, Tribute To Charlie Parker, Warm And Tender, and Long Ago And Far Away. Next came a heartfelt collaboration with friend (and studio drumming great) Jim Keltner. Titled simply The Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project, it was a tribute to their favorite drummers, with each track titled after a different hero.

Charlie’s most recent side project—The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie—takes its name from the first initials of the four members of the band: Axel Zwingenberger, Ben Waters, Charlie Watts, and Dave Green. After forming in 2009, they quickly established a reputation for themselves at the forefront of boogie woogie music. In July of 2012 the band released a CD called Live In Paris, which includes a mix of originals, improvisations, and blues and boogie woogie standards. With a format of two pianos, bass, and drums, it’s about as big a departure from The Rolling Stones as you can imagine.

Charlie has also recorded with Zwingenberger and Green on a trio-format album titled The Magic Of Boogie Woogie. The three talented musicians express the swinging magic of blues and boogie woogie in full glory. It’s the first time that Charlie’ drum artistry is featured in such an intimate setting. Facts about the album—as well as some great musical clips—are available at www.boogiewoogie.net.

My wife Dinah and I have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Charlie on a number of occasions. In March of 2012 we had the opportunity to hear him play with The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie when the group was performing in Vienna, Austria. Later that same year we got to see and hear Charlie in his primary role, when the Rolling Stones played the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York in celebration of their fiftieth anniversary.

The location of that meeting held a special poignancy for us and for Charlie, since the Barclays Center is only a short distance away from 60 Broadway—the site of the former Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. It was in that very factory that the drumkits Charlie used in his early career with the Stones were built. The program for the Stones’ Barclays Center show, titled 50 & Counting: The Rolling Stones Live, included thanks from Charlie to Gretsch Drums. On our part, we thank Charlie for representing Gretsch drums with such artistry and grace for more than fifty years.

You can find dozens of Rolling Stones performance clips on YouTube. But to hear Charlie in particular talking about his Gretsch touring drumkit, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PZug4854sI.

Charlie discusses his own history and his love for swing music at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_6z9oqet8.

Charlie talks about the nature of the Rolling Stones and why he enjoys playing with the band at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZtZ3EDPls8.

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Learn About Making Music Hands-On at Gretsch Family Gallery

March 5th, 2015

An innovative exhibit–the Dinah & Fred Gretsch Family Gallery in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum–teaches young visitors how to record and write songs, be a performer and more; class and group tours encouraged.

Dinah & Fred Gretsch Family Gallery at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Youngsters can record a song, mix a band, learn how hits are written and hear working musicians, band managers and other industry professionals talk about their jobs at the new Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Located within the Taylor Swift Educational Center — which includes a replica of Swift’s tour bus – the Gallery provides a close-up, top-to-bottom look at the process of creating music that’s geared to youthful learners, using artifacts from the Museum’s collection and such learning tools as a giant guitar, touchscreens and a do-it-yourself studio were young visitors can record and mix tracks.

Student and youth groups interested in visiting the Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum can call 800-852-6437 for information and group reservations.

The Gallery was created through a generous donation by Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch and his wife Dinah, who is the historic guitar-and-drum builder’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, through the Gretsch Foundation, which funds a plurality of concerts and music education initiatives. The Gretsch family have been leaders in American musical instrument making since 1883. Now they’ve also become leaders in innovative music education with the underwriting of the Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery.

“The museum needed a new and exciting interactive gallery that connects visitors with the creative process – from recording to packaging music,”  says the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s vice president of museum services Carolyn Tate. “The Dinah and Fred Gretsch Gallery is that space, bringing to life the Gretsch’s long-time commitment to music education for the benefit of our over 900,000 annual visitors.”

The seed for the Gallery was planted when the Gretsch family became involved in the curation of the Museum’s “Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player” exhibit in 2011. But its conception and construction required two years and input from many sources, including educational experts. It was determined that interactive experiences, contemporary stories and the ability to make things should be at the core of the Gallery, which also covers multiple genres.
“An effort was also made to illustrate that there are many ways to be creative within music, beyond being an artist,” says Tate.

The Gallery’s activities and exhibits — which include historic instruments — are tied together by nine stations with touchscreens where students can learn about songwriting, music business jobs, awards, design, costumes, recording, cross-genre collaborations and more. At one station, working professionals from all aspects of the music business explain their jobs via video presentations. Completing each station’s activities earns a badge. After collecting all nine badges visitors are “Certified Country” —  a designation more than 58,000 have earned since the exhibit opened in April 2014.

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch Family, has long been involved in music education through its sponsorship of concerts, festivals, clinics, workshops and direct assistance to schools. Recently the Foundation underwrote the purchase and installation of a new, state-of-the-art sound system in the auditorium of the historic 108-year-old Brunson Elementary School in Brunson, South Carolina, not far from Gretsch’s headquarters just outside of Savannah, Georgia. Fred Gretsch is available for interviews.

Contact:
LOCOMOTIVE ARTIST SERVICES
info@locomotiveartistservices.com
PO Box 17208, Nashville TN 37217
615-730-7916

Great Gretsch Educators . . . Mike Johnston

March 5th, 2015

Mike Johnston: 21st Century Digital Teacher

by Fred Gretsch

Many Gretsch drum artists are also excellent teachers. But Mike Johnston puts things the other way around. While a fine performer in his own right (with years of touring credits that include recording artists Simon Says and Filter), Mike is currently focusing on his career as an educator. And he’s primarily doing it the way you might expect in this digital age: online, via his educational website Mikeslessons.com.

As Mike himself explains, “When I was touring I’d put videos on YouTube for my students while I was out of town. I figured that when I came home I’d have seventy or so views from those students. But my clips would get 20,000 views in a weekend. Things kept growing, and when they got a million views I realized that there must be a need for online lessons. At the time DVDs with any kind of educational content cost $40—and sometimes a drummer might want just one chapter. So I thought, ‘What if I film everything in five to ten minute chunks?’ You could get just one rudiment…or just one funk pattern…or just the songo. So that was the concept.”

Since that time Mike’s concept has been wildly successful, propelling him to celebrity teacher status around the world. And he comes by that status legitimately, having himself studied privately for fifteen years with some of the greatest educator/drummers of our time, including Pete Magadini and great Gretsch drummer Steve Ferrone.

Since establishing his website Mike has expanded his offerings beyond pre-recorded lesson clips. He now presents thirty-six “live” online drum lessons monthly. In addition, he hosts ten International Drum Camps each year at the Mikeslessons.com facility in Folsom, California.

Mike is also highly in demand as a clinician. He spent most of 2012 touring the United States giving clinics at various music stores, and he performed both days at the 2012 Meinl Drum Festival in Germany. All of this activity earned him nominations for Educator/Clinician of the Year by Modern Drummer magazine in 2011 and 2012.

Although he spends most of his efforts teaching online, Mike hasn’t abandoned the more traditional forms of drumming education. He’s also the author of a critically acclaimed instructional book called Linear Drumming. About the book, Mike himself says, “It’s a collection of my favorite linear patterns. It covers three different subdivisions and uses them as fills and grooves. Each page is built around a simple system.”

You can get more information about Mike and his teaching program at (big surprise) Mikeslessons.com. But for just a taste of what Mike has to offer there, check out any of the many clips available on YouTube. Here are a few to start with:

“The Simple Show-Off Lick”

“Breaking Down Polyrhythms”

“Improving Bass Drum Speed”

Mike has also contributed several educational articles to Modern Drummer and DRUM! magazines.  Here’s a YouTube clip based on one of those articles (“The 45-minute practice routine”).

And finally, some great clips of Mike discussing Gretsch drums and his teaching program are on his artist link at Gretschdrums.com.

All of us at Gretsch are proud to have such an energetic and forward-looking educator on our artist roster.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

February 6th, 2015

Chick Webb: The Little Giant

by Fred W. Gretsch

The inaugural article in this new series featured Tony Williams, who was indisputably one of the most innovative and influential drummers in jazz. This time, we’ll take a step further back and examine the career of Chick Webb, who, as the editors of Modern Drummer stated in 2006’s The Drummer: 100 Years Of Rhythmic Power And Invention, “set the standard for how a drummer should drive a band.”

William Henry “Chick” Webb was a small man who possessed an unconquerable spirit and an astounding musical talent. For many jazz fans, he remains arguably the greatest swing drummer to have ever played the instrument. His accomplishments as a musician are all the more impressive because he had to overcome significant physical handicaps in order to achieve them. A childhood accident crushed several vertebrae in his back, and he never grew to full size. He also suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, which left him a hunchback, with a large face and broad shoulders.

Chick was born in 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland. He bought his first set of drums with his earnings as a newsboy there, and he began playing in bands on pleasure boats at the age of eleven. After moving to New York in 1925, he led bands in various clubs before settling in for long regular runs at Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom, beginning in 1931.

Chick powered that band ferociously from behind a custom-made Gretsch-Gladstone drumkit that’s depicted on the cover of the 1939 Gretsch Drums catalog. It was a console-type kit that moved on wheels. A trap table, including temple blocks, was set in the center across the bass drum. Surrounding the table were his snare (with wooden rims) made personally by Billy Gladstone, a 9×13 tom-tom on the bass drum, and a 14×16 floor tom. The striking finish featured a white pearl covering inlayed with green-sparkle “chicks” around the center of each drum. The bass drum head was painted with a massive crown, depicting Chick’s status as “The Savoy King.”

Chick used this unique setup to create complex and thundering solos that paved the way for later drum greats like Buddy Rich (who studied Chick intensely) and Louie Bellson. He couldn’t read music, so he memorized each high-energy arrangement flawlessly. Those arrangements, along with a crisp ensemble sound and Chick’s drum pyrotechnics, became the band’s signature style. In 1935, Chick hired a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald and rebuilt his show around her. In return Ella provided Chick with his biggest hit record, “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” in 1938.

How important is Chick Webb to drumming history? According to drum historian Chet Falzerano in his book Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of That Great Gretsch Sound: “Webb’s prowess as a big band drummer during the 1930s was best summed up by Buddy Rich. ‘He represented true hipness. His playing was original, different, completely his own. Only about a half-dozen of the top drummers since then have anything resembling what he had.’”

Falzerano goes on to describe a legendary battle of the bands at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom between Chick’s band and Benny Goodman’s, when drum superstar Gene Krupa was playing for Goodman. “Gene got to the heart of the matter when he said, after the battle, ‘I’ve never been cut by a better man.’ Before the night was over Gene stood up on Benny’s stand and bowed to Chick, as if to say, ‘You’re the king.’”

The band’s fame continued to grow, fueled by its reputation as a giant-killer in the Savoy battles and a continuous string of Decca 78s that featured such irresistible numbers as “T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” and the B-side of “Tasket,” titled “Liza.” But Chick’s frail health began to deteriorate, and in 1939 he passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After his death Ella Fitzgerald fronted the band until it finally broke up in 1942.

Regrettably, the primitive recording techniques of the 1930s could not adequately capture Chick Webb’s spectacular technique and wide dynamic range. Still, some re-mastered recordings and radio broadcasts do exist to help us appreciate the talent of the man who was one of the first Gretsch drumset endorsers—and who indisputably earned his nickname of “The Little Giant.”

Here are a few YouTube links to check out:

A classic recording of “Stompin At The Savoy”.

A performance of “St. Louis Blues” taken from a radio broadcast from the Savoy Ballroom in early 1939.

A 1937 recording of “Harlem Congo” (from The Smithsonian Collection/Big Band Jazz [From The Beginnings To The Fifties] Volume ll).

Chick’s importance to jazz history is also made clear in a feature film titled THE SAVOY KING: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America. Check out the full film if you can. In the meantime, watch an excerpt clip.

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