Archive for 2016

Today’s Tech and Young Thumbs

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Today’s technology helps Millennials discover – and learn – fingerstyle guitar playing.

By Fred W. Gretsch

Today’s young guitarists are taking advantage of the thousands of guitar and recording app options they can download onto their smartphones and tablets. Without a doubt, digital technology has played–and will continue to play–a huge role in the day-to-day lives of these young musicians. The rise and success of these young guitarists can still be attributed to good, old-fashioned drive, hard work, and hours upon hours of practice…but with some help from today’s technology to boot.

Okay, now about these “Young Thumbs”…

“Who are these kids, and why are they winning these awards?” That was the question fingerstyle guitar fans were asking back in 2013 and 2014, as a wave of young guitarists – many of them barely teenagers – were not only competing against adults in national guitar competitions, they were also winning.

Young Thumb members pose for a group photo at the 2015 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. From left: Evan Twitty, Gracie Constable, Chelsea Constable, Samuel Grounds, Parker Hastings, Kirby Jane, Tanner Duckworth, Sojourner McClure, and mentor John Knowles CPG. Photo: Jennifer Keller Easler.

John Knowles CGP (left) and Parker Hastings performing together at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN. Photo courtesy of Parker Hastings.

Sixteen-year-old Sojourner McClure placed first in the Traditional Category at the 2013 International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Championship, held annually at the Merle Travis Music Center in Powderly, Kentucky. The following year, history was made at the competition when 14-year-old Parker Hastings won BOTH the traditional and the contemporary thumbpicking categories (and history would be made again two years later when two young ladies swept the thumbpicking event for the first time).

In Nashville, the same youth movement was being noticed at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) Convention. Although not a competition, the largest gathering of fingerstyle guitar fans and performers in the country saw an increase of young attendees who were jamming with each other in the hotel lobby, and signing up for as many Open Mic slots as possible at the four-day event. Older, more established performers were noticing too, with several of them inviting these young up-and-comers onstage to play and get exposure.

At the 2014 CAAS Convention, John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel, two legendary master guitarists who were both awarded Certified Guitar Player (CGP) honors from their mentor, Chet Atkins, were impressed and excited with this infusion of new talent at the Convention. John and Tommy decided the time was right to gather these teenagers in a room and have them perform for each other for the first time. The result was magical. The room was packed, the young players were jaw-dropping good, and the older players realized the future of fingerstyle playing was in very good hands. As a result, a new club was formed: The Young Thumbs. “At some point, someone suggested calling the players the Young Guns,” said John Knowles. “But I said, no, this isn’t a shootout. It’s a family. What about the Young Thumbs? It was a paraphrase of Young Guns and everyone liked it.”

The original goals of the Young Thumbs were to get them noticed at the CAAS Convention so they could perform their own sets onstage; help them make connections with the older, established guitarists and find a mentor; and encourage them to connect with each other. Two years later, these initial goals have been met. The Young Thumbs currently total about 25 male and female members up to the age of 21, with some residing as far away as New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and Australia. In addition to the invaluable advice and encouragement they receive from John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel, there’s also a small support group of adults volunteering their time to manage the Young Thumbs’ Facebook page and assist them with basic marketing and promotion.

When talking with these young guitarists and asking them about influences, two answers come up regularly: Tommy Emmanuel and YouTube. “I think it’s Tommy’s world travels and YouTube that are the two biggest factors,” said John. “Tommy is the gateway to this style of guitar playing now because there’s more people hearing him and there’s an electrifying energy in what he does. They’ll find Tommy on YouTube, then click on the recommended links and discover who came before Tommy and influenced his playing: Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Merle Travis.”

Katelyn Prieboy, Grand Champion (left), and Bella Speelman, Runner-Up, with mentor John Knowles CGP, after receiving their Gretsch guitars for being the first females to sweep the Legends Thumbpicking Championship. Photo by Ron Denny.

Two Young Thumbs members, Katelyn Prieboy and Bella Speelman, made history at the recent 2016 International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Competition in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, by being the first females to place first and second in the 28-year history of the event. And, both credit YouTube as being their primary teacher.

“YouTube has been simply invaluable. I don’t know how many hours a week I’m on it,” shared 19-year-old Grand Champion Katelyn Prieboy. “There’s so much music for this genre available that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s such a great resource for watching videos of your guitar heroes and learning from them.”

Runner-Up Bella Speelman, 17, and a senior in high school added, “My teacher didn’t know this style, so YouTube played a big role in me finding Chet Atkins and learning how to play like him. Although I’ve listened a ton to Chet and I’ll listen to a song at least 50 times before I try to learn it, it’s so helpful watching a video of Chet; seeing where he played things and learning by watching his movements on the fretboard.”

Fellow Young Thumbs member Parker Hastings added, “YouTube is a pretty powerful tool to see footage of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Lenny Breau and other artists. Literally with a click, it is all at your fingertips; an endless supply of visual inspiration. Plus, YouTube now has a feature that lets you slow the video down if you’re trying to learn or steal a lick without affecting the song’s pitch. A far superior method to how the older pickers learned back in the day: loading a turntable with coins or weights to slow the record down.”

Kirby Jane

Kirby Jane, 22 and a Young Thumbs “Alum,” is one of several female fingerstyle guitarists making a name for herself in Nashville. When asked about the importance of YouTube, Kirby shared, “I was one of those kids that started with YouTube. Joe Robinson is one of the first guitar stars of the YouTube generation. He taught himself primarily through YouTube because, like me, he lived in a small town. Joe’s videos on ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ led me to Tommy Emmanuel’s music, then Tommy’s music lead me to John Knowles. I can still remember watching Edgar Cruz’s `Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Tommy Emmanuel’s ‘Beatles Medley’ videos on YouTube. They’re the two videos that lit a spark and led me down this road to learning fingerstyle playing.”

In addition to YouTube, today’s young guitarists also take advantage of the thousands of guitar and recording app options they can download onto their smartphones and tablets. GarageBand and JamUp are two apps that give them access to dozens of stompbox effects and amps and makes recording easy. GuitarToolkit is a popular app containing scales, chords, a metronome and a tuner, and Audacity TempoSloMo, and BestPractice are apps that let them import and export audio files and slow songs down for practicing and learning. Many Young Thumb artists also use OnSong, an app that replaces binders and paper, and digitally stores music and set lists. And, Skype is a very popular tool these young musicians use for staying in touch, sharing songs they’re working on, and swapping guitar licks back and forth in real time from practically anywhere in the world.

Without a doubt, digital technology has played – and will continue to play – a huge role in the day-to-day lives of these young musicians.  And, with one hour of video being uploaded onto YouTube every second, (that’s right, every second!), it will continue to be the primary site musicians go to for learning and inspiration. But, these young musicians are quick to point out that technology is only a tool. The human element of playing together with other people, jamming, sharing guitar licks, and getting feedback and encouragement from fellow musicians is still vital to their growth and development as artists. John Knowles, the main mentor of the Young Thumbs, shared, “I haven’t seen any parents pushing their kids to play like Chet Atkins. Each of these Young Thumbs found this fingerstyle playing in their own way, but once they heard it, something clicked, and from then on they were relentless like I was, like Tommy was, like Chet was, like all of us were. The Young Thumbs are all self-motivated, and they’ve gotten this far by being self-learners, self-motivated learners.”

Check out these great videos from these fantastic Young Thumbs:

Bella Speelman performing “Black Mountain Rag” at the 2016 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville, TN:

Parker Hastings performs an original composition “Looking for Licks” at 2016 CAAS Convention:

Katelyn Prieboy performing one of her favorite Chet Atkins arrangements, “Swedish Rhapsody,” from Atkins’ 1956 “Finger-Style Guitar” album:

Kirby Jane performing her arrangement of Randy Newman’s “Lonely at the Top”:

Parker Hastings and John Knowles CGP, performing “Cold, Cold Heart” at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN:

More videos from the 2016 CAAS Convention can be enjoyed on The Gretsch Company’s YouTube Channel.
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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Alvino Bennett: The Road Warrior

by Fred W. Gretsch

If you’re looking for a drummer who can do it all—and, in fact, who has quite literally done it all—you need look no further than Alvino Bennett. A veteran of stage and studio, Alvino has made a career out of providing whatever a given artist needs from a drummer. And he’s done it with his own brand of style, taste, and musical skill.

To say that Alvino got an early start is an understatement. He was only ten years old when he joined the William Penn Elementary School drum and bugle corps in his home town of Chicago. Only a few years later he was playing for various local bands, and by the age of fourteen he was traveling the country on the club circuit. When he was seventeen he was spotted in a club by blues legend KoKo Taylor, who tapped him to lend his talents to her act. This led to calls from other blues and R&B luminaries including Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Cash McCall, and Mighty Joe Young.

But blues and R&B were just a part of Alvino’s skill set. In 1974 he was called to tour with the great pop songstress Minnie Ripperton. This, in turn, led to a whole new variety of projects, including recording with The Sylvers and several other Motown artists.

Then came 1978 and membership in the million-selling R&B band L.T.D. Alvino’s five-year stint in this group boosted his reputation to first-call status, and he quickly became the go-to drummer for such stars as Cheryl Lynn, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Loggins, Bryan Ferry, Robin Trower, Sheena Easton, Little Richard, Slash’s Blues Ball, Patrice Rushen, Little Richard, Soul II Soul, Chic, Bo Diddley, and many more.

In 1996, at the summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, Alvino became part of history. He was playing with Jack Mack & The Heart Attack (on Tony Williams’ Gretsch drumkit, no less!) when a bomb exploded nearby.

“We had played two or three songs when we realized that something had happened out in the park,” Alvino recalls. “I was sitting directly under the Jumbotron that showed everything that was going on. It was moving. We saw the audience running in all directions. We thought one of the big amplifiers had gone out. But it was the bomb that went off.” (You can read the full description of this event on Gretsch.com. The blog is: The Gretsch Drumkit That Made Olympic History.)

So how do you follow being part of a historic event? You go on tour with a historic artist. Since 2002 Alvino has been anchoring the touring band for 1960s icon Dave Mason. Best known for his soulful voice and unique guitar playing, Mason is a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame alum as a member of the legendary 1960s band Traffic. His song “Feelin’ Alright” is a rock and roll anthem, and his other hits include “We Just Disagree” and “Only You Know And I Know.” He has enjoyed a lengthy solo career and continues to play to sold-out audiences—with the able support of Alvino Bennett. According to Mason, “Alvino is a treasured member of the band.”

Alvino with Fred Gretsch.

Alvino has been with Dave Mason for a long time…but he’s been part of the Gretsch family of artists even longer. As he puts it, “To be part of the Gretsch family is great. They’ve always been there for me. I played Gretsch drums as a kid and a young adult. Gerry Brown introduced me to Fred and Dinah Gretsch a year or two before they re-acquired the company, and then I re-introduced myself to them a few years later. We established a relationship in 1986, and it’s been wonderful. And I don’t say this just because I’m with them, but I love the drums.”

Audio And Video Clips

Enjoy a full-length interview with Alvino conducted in 2016 by noted drum writer/radio personality Robyn Flans.

In addition to playing for others, Alvino is a recording artist in his own right. You can listen to five separate clips from his recent solo album Journey.

Alvino doesn’t get much screen time, but his groove is undeniable in this clip with blues/rock artist Lance Lopez from October of 2016.

Solid pocket playing from Alvino is the order of the day, with Dave Mason and others at the Bluesapalooza Festival in 2010.

Alvino’s funk/rock chops are front and center on “Prisoner Of Love,” a track from guitarist Robin Trower’s live tour album This Is Now, ’74-’98.

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Celebrating Paul Bigsby’s Birthday

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

December 12, 2016 marked the 117th birthday of Paul Adelbert Bigsby. When it comes to guitar history, names like Leo Fender, Adolph Rickenbacker, and Les Paul may be more widely known. But their work would not have been possible without the man who designed and built the first solidbody electric guitar.

Paul Bigsby

Paul Bigsby

A skilled motorcycle machinist—and also a music fan—Paul Bigsby got into the world of guitars in the mid-1940s when he designed a replacement vibrato mechanism for C&W artist Merle Travis’s Gibson L-10. Paul’s device set a new standard, and it rapidly became the vibrato of choice for most guitar manufacturers the world over—a reputation it still enjoys today.

In late 1946, Travis approached Bigsby with a concept for a new guitar. Travis’s rough sketch depicted a solidbody electric with all six tuning pegs on one side of the headstock. Bigsby, whose personal philosophy was “I can build anything”, immediately went to work to make the concept a reality. When the guitar was completed, Merle Travis played it on recordings, on radio, and on public performances. The revolutionary design caught the eyes and ears of guitar players and builders alike—and it changed the sound and look of guitars forever.

Paul Bigsby continued to hand-craft custom guitars and vibrato units for the next twenty years. But by 1965 health issues prompted him to sell the Bigsby name and inventory to his friend Ted MCarty. That sale that was effective on January 1, 1966. Paul Bigsby died on June 7, 1968, leaving a legacy of innovation and craftsmanship for which every guitarist today should be grateful.

On May 10, 1999, the Gretsch Guitar Company purchased Bigsby Accessories from Ted McCarty.

To learn more about the life and story of Paul Bigsby, check out of The Story of Paul Bigsby: Father of the Modern Electric Solidbody Guitar by Andy Babiuk.  A standard edition as well as a special collector’s edition are available at GretschGear.com.

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Dinah and Fred Gretsch Presented With RESPECT Award From the Otis Redding Foundation

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Dinah and Fred Gretsch are honored during the Otis Redding 75th Birthday Celebration. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Otis Redding 75th Birthday Celebration

Dinah and Fred Gretsch were presented the RESPECT Award from the Otis Redding Foundation in recognition of their long history of leadership in music education and outreach programs. The prestigious award, which recognizes the “tireless dedication to education through music,” was presented onstage to Dinah and Fred Gretsch by Karla Redding-Andrews, Otis Redding’s daughter and Foundation Director, at the September 11 Otis Redding “Evening of Respect” Tribute Concert at Macon’s historic City Auditorium.

The high-energy Sunday evening concert wrapped up a weekend of events that celebrated 75 years of the legendary King of Soul, Otis Redding. The star-studded show featured the Otis Redding Foundation’s DREAM Choir; The Redding’s, featuring Otis’s sons Dexter and Otis III; plus Mark Lockett; St. Paul and the Broken Bones; Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Andra Day; Rolling Stones pianist Chuck Leavell; and Stax Records legends Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, and William Bell. Grammy-nominated violinist Robert McDuffie also performed and received a RESPECT Award from the Foundation. Proceeds from the event benefited the Otis Redding Foundation and DREAM Academy–Georgia’s first authentic statewide arts-integrated public charter school.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch have been president and chief financial officer, respectively, of the Savannah-based Gretsch Company for more than 30 years. The husband-and-wife team represent the fourth generation of the Gretsch family, which has been manufacturing world-famous guitars and drums since 1883. Both are actively involved in not one, but two foundations they created: The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, and Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, which Dinah established in 2010 to fund music teachers and in-school music education programs. Both foundations support the Gretsch family’s mission of enriching lives through participation in music.

Dinah and Fred Gretsch. Photo: Tracy Crum/Platinum AVP.

“It is really a great honor to win a RESPECT Award, especially from the Otis Redding family,” said Dinah Gretsch. “Karla and I have worked together for many years, and we’ve always focused on enlightening children’s lives and we both think music is very important. I believe music has the power to change children’s lives for the better. I find that music makes children happy; it gives them satisfaction, and they become better overall citizens. And anything we can do to give children these opportunities is something I want to do every day.”

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, has been involved in music education for many years by providing scholarships, instruments, and financial support to various colleges and universities. The Foundation also sponsors a long list of festivals, concerts, clinics, and workshops, including the Gretsch Institute, a music, art, and dance camp for elementary and middle school children. It has donated dozens of used Gretsch guitars through the unique GuitarArt program, where guitars are painted, decorated, and auctioned off for school fundraising efforts. The Foundation has also donated professional-level Gretsch guitars that have been signed by musicians from such bands as R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Sugarland, and The B-52’s, and auctioned off to raise money for music and arts education programs.

In 2010, Dinah established Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to fund music teachers and in-school music education programs, and provide opportunities for children to participate in music. In addition to donating instruments to schools, the Foundation sponsors a visiting artist program that brings top professional musicians like drummers Mark Schulman and Steve Ferrone, and Australian guitarist Joe Robinson into schools for seminars, workshops, and concerts. Dinah’s Foundation also sponsors professional musicians to perform and conduct clinics at Little Kids Rock and School of Rock camps, and gives scholarships to children to attend guitar and drum camps across the United States.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch visiting the Otis Redding Memorial Marker in Gray, GA.

In addition, the Gretsch Company supports several music education initiatives including the “Georgia On My Mind” Benefit Concert; the annual fundraiser for the Georgia Music Foundation where Dinah currently serves as a board member. In 2015, the Company provided funding for the Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville. This state-of-the-art interactive exhibit helps children learn how to write and record songs, mix a band, and more.

“Over 40% of people playing music today got started in school. That’s why music education in school is so important,” shared Fred Gretsch. “My father, Bill, was a strong believer in the value of music education and personally established a scholarship for a talented clarinet player at the University of Michigan in 1946. It was a large part of my father’s business philosophy, and a tradition that Dinah and I are proud to continue for the Gretsch family.”

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Great Gretsch Educators: Matty Amendola

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Taking A Modern Approach

Matty Amendola is one of the newest and youngest members on the roster of Gretsch drum artists. But though he’s only in his mid-20s, he comes to that roster as a veteran who’s been playing behind a kit almost since before he could walk. (Matty is the son of Billy Amendola, who drummed for the 1970’s pop/disco band Mantus, and whose studio playing on then teen-sensation Debbie Gibson’s hits “Only In My Dreams” and “Shake Your Love” earned him a triple-platinum record award.)

Today, Matty is a multi-threat artist. In addition to his drumming skills, he’s a talented guitarist and bass player, a record producer, and a skilled audio engineer. And you can add to that list the role of highly motivational educator, eager to share his knowledge and experience.

Considering that Matty is a cutting-edge artist, it’s not surprising that he’s been using cutting-edge media as his educational platform. Most recently he’s done a series of video tutorials for the audio engineering web site Sonicscoop. In that five-part series—titled “Making The Mix”—Matty details exactly how he produced and mixed the latest single (titled “Blah Blah Blah”) by 13-year-old pop phenom Juliana Wilson. (Check out Matty’s videos at Sonicscoop.com.)

The Sonicscoop video tutorials were recorded at Matty’s own 825 Records facility. Founded in 2008, it houses the 825 Records studio, a video suite, and an apartment for out-of-town artists. “It’s a company that’s based on artist development,” he says, “but the studio is an integral part of that.”

When asked what his tutorials can offer to drummers who aren’t audio engineers or producers like him, Matty replies, “There are parts of my mix series where I describe the why of certain things. Something that has always steered me away from taking formal lessons is that they often teach people how to do things, before they teach why you should do them. So I spoke a lot about why some of the drum parts were being chosen before I explained how I did them.

“For instance, when I was compiling the electronic drums, I knew that there were also going to be live drums on the track. I tried to explain how this electronic kick might seem a little weird here, and that snare drum might seem a little sporadic there, but I knew in the back of my mind that there was going to be a live groove there. Those parts have to be complementary; they can’t be fighting each other.

“One particular thing that I thought drummers were really going to dig—and they did—was that there are a lot of parts in the song where I put the drums in reverse. That’s a huge trick that I use on pop records. As a drummer myself, I’m naturally into putting live drums on as many records as I can. But that’s not really all “in style” these days. So what I do is subliminally let someone’s ear get accustomed to the sound of live drums before they kick in. I explain in the video that you can’t get behind the kit and start smashing away if you’re going to put things in reverse. You really have to start thinking, ‘Okay, did I hit this accent before? Was there a sixteenth note here?’ And then go against that, knowing that when you put it in reverse the parts are going to work together.”

That’s assuming, though, that the drummer is also going to be the audio engineer/producer. Matty usually is…but what about drummers who aren’t?

“Well,” he replies, “I actually brought up in the video that drummers shouldn’t be afraid to contribute ideas. If you’re in the studio and you think you can hit this trick, ask the producer to give you a pass—when you’re done doing what they ask you to do—and say, ‘Hey, do you mind throwing that in reverse real quick?’ Drummers shouldn’t be afraid to go for things like that. Now, obviously you have to know your place on a session. Sometimes the producer doesn’t want any creative input from the musicians. But nine times out of ten they’re hiring you because they do want a little bit of that.”

Speaking not only as an audio engineer and producer, but also as a skilled live and studio musician, Matty reflects on how things have changed in recording world since the heyday of the great studio players.

“Actually,” he begins, “it’s changed dramatically just since I started doing it. Let me back up a bit and say that I learned myself by watching, and by being lucky enough to be exposed to things at an early age—and then eventually to actually get involved in those things. With drums, it was my dad putting me in a high chair to watch him, and then behind drums to play them. In the studio it was [New York studio legend] Butch Jones bringing me into multi-million-dollar studios on sessions where I just sat back and kept my mouth shut and absorbed as much as I could.

“Unfortunately, the community thing that I benefited from isn’t as strong as it used to be. Back in the day you were able to just walk in, watch one of your favorite drummers playing on a track for two minutes, and pick up invaluable information. That can’t be done anymore.

“That’s one of the reasons I love doing these tutorial videos,” Matty continues. “Video clips can give people a glimpse into what they no longer can see on their own.

Which begs the question: Will Matty be doing more video tutorials? To which he replies, “Well, instead of doing these giant tutorial projects, I’ve recently been trying to steer people towards my Instagram page [@mattyamendola]. I’m in the studio six days a week, working with different people. This always generates really cool little nuggets of information about things we’re doing—like miking an amplifier with a telephone. As another example, a company called Big Fat Snare Drum has been making all these new audio accessories, like tambourines and stuff. I’ve been putting them all over the drums in places you wouldn’t expect. I’m happy to go on Instagram and tell people about these things, just saying ‘Check this out,’ or ‘Try it this way instead of that way.’”

Matty concludes with what he calls a “fun fact,” saying, “My first job ever was teaching drummers. It was at Street Sounds [music store] in Brooklyn, where the annual Gretsch Day has been held for the past several years. Sharing information with other drummers has always been a thing I really enjoy doing. What form that will take in the future, and via what outlet, is yet to be determined. But my educational efforts will definitely continue.”

WATCH:

In this video, Matty focuses on live drums and getting a huge drum sound.  You’ll hear his Gretsch Brooklyn kit in action!


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Havana Moon: The Rolling Stones’ Historic Journey & Untold Gretsch Connection

Friday, September 16th, 2016

By Dinah Gretsch

A record-breaking event of historic magnitude deserves nothing less than a “one night only” film screening at thousands of cinemas around the world. The film Havana Moon was shot during The Rolling Stones’ March 25, 2016 concert in Cuba—which was attended by an astonishing 1.2 million adoring fans. The highly-anticipated September 23 screening will not only allow audiences to enjoy the epic concert but will also include exclusive content only to be seen in the theatre. With this upcoming screening, we reflect on a special connection Gretsch had with the historic journey—and has with the equally historic band. (Gretsch has enjoyed a long association with legendary Stones drummer Charlie Watts.)

In early March we were contacted by a member of The Stones’ staff asking if we “would be interested in helping The Rolling Stones provide products to Cuban musicians.” He went on to say that “These incredible musicians have not had the luxury of decent gear for many years and we would love to change that with your help.”  We jumped at the chance to help.

We carefully looked through our personal family drum collection for just the right instruments to donate for this great cause. We selected a Gretsch USA Custom 16″ x 18″ Satin Maple bass drum and 5″ x 14″ snare (seen in the front of the photo below, which was taken in the Gretsch studio in Pooler, Georgia shortly before shipping). We knew that these special pieces were perfect for this very special musicians-helping-musicians initiative. We got the drums packed and quickly sent down to Florida to make their own historic journey to Cuba. Along with other donations that The Stones organization had received, it was reported to be the first time a shipment of instruments of that size was being sent into Cuba since the blockade.

Fred and I are very passionate when it comes to the mission of the Gretsch family: enriching lives through participation in music. Although we focus a lot of our efforts on young musicians—from providing scholarships, donating instruments, and establishing music education programs for disadvantaged children, to sponsoring a long list of musical and educational events—we also recognize other initiatives such as this one undertaken by The Rolling Stones, where we can help to enrich the lives of others.

We hope these special, hand-picked drums are now helping to keep a uniquely Cuban beat on the stages in clubs and halls in Cuba, and that they will continue to do so for many years to come.

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Enjoy The Rolling Stones – Havana Moon Cinema Trailer:

Chris Siebold: Lessons This Guitar Virtuoso Learned

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

The versatile, Chicago-based musician reflects on his Elmhurst College days, and how the Gretsch Foundation helped him grow as a student, teacher, and professional musician.

By Ron Denny

Chris Siebold is one of the most versatile musicians working in the business today. Pick a genre–be it rock, jazz, swing, blues, or even bluegrass–and Chris can play it with authority on his guitar or any number of other stringed instruments: mandolin, mandocello, hammer dulcimer, banjo, or even lap steel. Oh, and he can also sing, produce, and is a highly gifted composer and arranger.

The Howard Levy and Chris Siebold Duo. Levy (left) is a legendary harmonica and piano virtuoso.

This versatility, along with his deep knowledge of music, especially Chicago jazz and blues, has kept this working musician very busy the past 20 years. Chris admits he has a lot of outlets for creativity: solo work, leading the group Psycles that he formed in 2010 with some of Chicago’s finest musicians, performing with legendary harmonica master Howard Levy, and playing with The Unknown New, an instrumental folk group or with Lennon’s Tuba, a new two-man guitar and bass duo he just recently formed.

Without a doubt, Chris’s biggest test of his musical chops and versatility has been as a member of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show band the past two years. “It’s been a dream job, playing and traveling with a world-class band and creating music each week that is truly Americana in feel and texture,” Chris said. “That’s the music I absolutely adore. My heroes were Chet Atkins and Les Paul, and Charlie Christian on the jazz side of things. They were just fantastic pickers. And, Willie Nelson. I was also a huge Willie Nelson fan growing up.”

Performing with the House Band for A Prairie Home Companion.

A HOME FILLED OF MUSIC

When asked to describe his home and childhood, Chris summed it up in two words: very musical.

“I owe all of my musical inspiration, identity, and ambition to my parents,” he said. “My mother was a piano player and my dad was a professional drummer at one point. He also played guitar. He was a folkie, but he was also a jazz drummer. I grew up with Buddy Rich and Chick Corea and Santana and the Beatles. Music was always on. Pretty much all the time.”

Thanks to his dad’s vast record collection, Chris admits to rifling through it on a regular basis; sneaking albums up to his bedroom for a closer listen and to read the liner notes. “Yes, I would steal my dad’s records. Chuck Mangione, Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Miles Davis, The Modern Jazz Quarter, and many big bands. I’ve had the big band sound in my head for a very long time,” Chris shared. “I think a lot of people rebel against the music their parents listen to, but I was all over it. I just thought it was wonderful.”

MEETING HIS MENTOR

When Chris was a high school senior, his band teacher invited Doug Beach from nearby Elmhurst College in for Career Day. Beach was the Director of the college’s Jazz Studies and its internationally-acclaimed Jazz Band, and was also well known for his work as a composer, arranger, and publisher of educational jazz music.

“I was familiar with Doug’s name. His specialty was writing material for student ensembles and big bands, and I had been playing his charts since the eighth grade,” Chris said. Although Chris had received a scholarship from Berklee College of Music in Boston, he decided to stay in the Chicago area and enrolled at Elmhurst. It was a decision he never regretted.

Chris auditioned for the Jazz Band his first year and made it. The following summer, the band participated in a tour of Europe playing the North Sea Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Umbria Jazz Festival, and more. Chris enthusiastically described his days in the Elmhurst College Jazz Band as a fantastic and amazing learning experience.

Chris in 1995 playing with jazz legend Clark Terry at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.

Elmhurst is also famous for their annual Jazz Festival, bringing in the best college bands in the country, along with legendary musicians, for three days of performances and education. “The school brought in these amazing artists to collaborate with the Jazz Band,” Chris said. “I was playing with pretty fantastic players like Clark Terry, Randy Brecker, Conte Candoli, and Pete Christlieb. It was just a remarkable experience. “

One of the many benefits of attending Elmhurst was the close friendship Chris formed with Doug Beach, who became not only his teacher, but a mentor and role model as well. “I learned from the absolute best,” Chris shared. “Doug established such a culture of excellence at Elmhurst and really led by example. He helped me after college, too, with all the connections and relationships he has established over the years. Looking back, I’m so glad Doug spoke at my high school’s Career Day. I’m also glad I wasn’t sick that day.”

THE GRETSCH ELECTRIC GUITAR ENSEMBLE

Chris playing his Gretsch Duo Jet--his main guitar for the past year.

After graduating in the spring of 1998 with a degree in Music Performance, Chris was asked to join Elmhurst’s Music Department, where he taught jazz guitar and led both the guitar ensemble and the school’s jazz combo.  “I was teaching mainly jazz improvisation. Teaching fret board theory and harmony and obviously chord/scale relationships, and learning tunes as well,” Chris said. “I also led the guitar ensemble; finding or writing charts or having the students write charts. I loved the ensemble. We did two recitals a year. I also ran a jazz combo which was a lot of fun too.”

Several years into his teaching career, Chris and one of the college’s Trustees arranged a meeting with Fred Gretsch, President of the Gretsch Company and an Elmhurst College alumni, at Fred’s office in Savannah, Georgia. Chris was eager to meet Fred because he had been a fan of Gretsch guitars since he was nine-years-old. He’d grown up admiring George Harrison, Neil Young, and especially Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, who were all over MTV when Chris was growing up in the 1980s.

Chris shared that he and Fred really hit if off and the meeting went better than expected. “Fred agreed to fund the existing guitar ensemble,” Chris said. “Not only that, but he donated a guitar to the college and let me hand pick it from his studio guitar collection. I’d much rather Fred had donated it to me, because it’s a beautiful Gretsch Country Gentleman Jr., just a fantastic sounding guitar.”

With the donation, Elmhurst’s guitar ensemble was officially named the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, which Chris led for the next seven years. “Having the Gretsch name attached to the ensemble really helped to establish it and give it an identity,” Chris said. “The funding also helped publicize our concerts, which were two per semester, and get exposure and recognition. There wasn’t YouTube or social media around in those days.”

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED

In addition to learning what he called the “nuts and bolts” of music theory, Chris said his four years at Elmhurst and being around his mentor, Doug Beach, also prepared him for becoming a working musician. “The discipline of playing music to the best of your ability; playing in an ensemble, being a member of the team in a sense, and then feeling what it’s actually like to be a working musician,” Chris explained. “Doing gigs. Getting there on time. Having a good attitude. Making sure you’re prepared with the material you’re about to play. Making sure you’re professional. Making sure you do your fair share of lugging equipment afterwards. I did that for four years. It was a remarkable experience. One that I am so thankful for.”

Chris also realizes how much he and other music students have benefitted from Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s generosity to Elmhurst College. By leading the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, Chris knows it made him a better arranger; tackling complex, advanced works ranging from jazz standards to Mozart.  And, Chris admits he also continued learning as he taught students the importance of listening, blending in, and knowing and finding your place within an ensemble of up to six guitars and a rhythm section. Not an easy skill to learn.

The Gretsch Foundation also funded the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Recording Studio, named in memory of Fred’s parents. This state-of-the-art studio is considered a central element of Elmhurst’s music education program and played a critical role in Chris’s education. “When I was a student, I worked in the studio quite a bit for other people and on some of my own music,” Chris said. “And, when I was a teacher, I would sometimes have rehearsals in there or I would sit in and produce some sessions that students would do. I used it a lot. And, learned a lot about the art of recording.”

Chris is just one of hundreds of Elmhurst College alumni to be positively impacted by Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s goal of supporting music education and enriching lives through participation in music. When asked to reflect back on his years at Elmhurst, Chris said, “My Elmhurst College days, both as a student and a teacher for nine years, were quite an experience. It’s very much responsible for me being where I’m at today. It’s who I am. A lot of the culture that I participated in has really made me the musician that I am. Without a question.”

About The Gretsch Foundation and Elmhurst College

The Gretsch Foundation is the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, whose mission is enriching lives through participation in music. In addition to funding the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble and Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Recording Studio, the Gretsch Foundation also funds scholarships for students of music and music business, provides Gretsch drums for all music department ensembles, and is a major supporter of the annual Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival, which is a regular part of the nationally-acclaimed Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. In honor of his longtime commitment and generosity to his alma mater, Fred Gretsch received an honorary Doctor of Music degree at the school’s Spring 2016 Commencement Ceremony.

Video Clips:

Chris performing his beautiful song “Amor Afastado (for Britt)” on A Prairie Home Companion.

Playing with The Renegades, a popular, entertaining Chicago-area jazz-fusion band. Give a listen to Chris’s blistering solo starting at 2:12.

Chris performing “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club” with Chicago’s David Polk Project, a blues, jazz and funk band. Check out Chris’s impressive solo starting at 3:25.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Matt Sorum: The Quintessential Rocker

by Fred Gretsch

Look in the dictionary under “rock drummer” and you’re likely to see a picture of Matt Sorum. With a long and stellar career playing with a “who’s who” of bands and artists, Matt literally defines the genre.

Born in Orange County, California in 1960, Matt gravitated to the drums early. By the age of fourteen he was playing with his own band at The Whisky-A-Go-Go and Crazy Horse West in Los Angeles, alongside the likes of Van Halen and Devo. He went on to develop his skills, supporting artists like Belinda Carlisle (of the Go-Gos), Shaun Cassidy, and Solomon Burke. This earned him a reputation as a first-call drummer for virtually any gig…which, in turn, brought him in contact with singer/songwriter Tori Amos. Matt and Tori formed a synthpop group humorously dubbed Y Kant Tori Read. Two years later the group signed with Atlantic records. Tori went solo shortly thereafter, but the effort brought Matt into the world of recording…and he hasn’t looked back since.

In 1989 Matt joined The Cult to tour in support of their fourth studio album, Sonic Temple. On the final show of that tour, Matt was spotted by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan. He was invited to join GN’R in 1990, forming what subsequently became one of the most powerful and enduring rhythm sections in rock.

Matt’s tenure with GN’R lasted seven years, during which he recorded the massively successful albums Use Your Illusion I and II (1991) and The Spaghetti Incident? (1993). He also was part of two side projects: Slash’s Snakepit and Neurotic Outsiders. (Matt’s work with Guns N’ Roses earned him induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2012.)

In 2001, Matt rejoined The Cult to perform on their reunion album, Beyond Good and Evil (2001) and on the tour that followed. Then in 2002 he re-united with Slash and Duff in the hard rock Grammy Award-winning supergroup Velvet Revolver (which also included guitarist Dave Kushner and former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland.) The band released two successful studio albums: Contraband (2004) and Libertad (2007) and became a sensation at music festivals around the world.

Even with all the craziness of touring with Velvet Revolver, Matt found the time to record his first solo record, Hollywood Zen—which featured him singing lead as well as playing guitar and drums. On the live drumming front, he joined what critics dubbed “LA’s coolest cover band”: Camp Freddy, with Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro. That band’s shows became famous for guest appearances including Ozzy Osbourne, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Juliette Lewis, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.

Matt enjoyed the “band with guests” format so much that in 2012 he founded a project initially dubbed the Rock N Roll All-Stars, but ultimately named Kings of Chaos. The group’s core lineup includes Matt’s former GN’R bandmates Duff McKagan on bass and Gilby Clarke on guitar, then features a revolving lineup of members of Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Extreme, ZZ Top, and more. Since 2012 the band has played shows in Australia, South Africa, and Central America as well as the US.

Most recently Matt has been touring as part of the Hollywood Vampires—yet another supergroup, this time featuring Alice Cooper (vocals), Joe Perry (of Aerosmith; lead guitar), Tommy Henricksen and Johnny Depp (rhythm guitar/vocals), Robert DeLeo (of Stone Temple Pilots; bass), and Bruce Witkin (keyboards/vocals).

In addition to all of his musical endeavors, Matt is an active supporter of animal-rights causes, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), AnimalsAsia, and The Dolphin Project. In a recent YouTube post Matt said, “My main stance is against [animal] abuse and wildlife in captivity. I care for all animals, but I focus on things I can bring attention to and hopefully help solve some of the issues. I can’t preach my particular beliefs, but what I can do is stand [against] certain situations that are blatantly barbaric practices, like circuses, whale and dolphin entertainment, and poaching.”

Matt is also a co-founder of Adopt the Arts whose mission is to bring together well-known artists, public figures, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and the general public to save the arts in America’s public schools.

Matt is a relatively new member of the Gretsch roster of drum artists. But considering his talent, his impressive musical credits, and his involvement in so many worthy social causes, we’re proud to welcome him into the family!

Video Clips

Matt’s trademark hard-rock groove is displayed on the Rolling Stones classic “Brown Sugar,” performed with the Hollywood Vampires at the Rock In Rio festival in 2015.

Playing with Velvet Revolver at a huge outdoor music festival in Germany in 2007.

Matt shows a slightly different side of his playing—but still with his trademark rock drive—playing in the studio with the Buddy Rich Big Band for the Burnin’ For Buddy album. The song is “Beulah Witch.”

Matt discusses his drumkit setups over the years.

Stay connected with Matt via his various social media channels:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

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