Archive for the ‘Gretsch.com’ Category

“Fluke” Holland: Drummer for The Man In Black

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A Rock & Roll Pioneer On Gretsch Drums

By Fred Gretsch

Fluke with Gretsch Kit

On a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee, my wife Dinah and I had the opportunity to visit the Johnny Cash museum (an experience we heartily recommend). In addition to all the fascinating information and memorabilia on display about the legendary “Man In Black,” we discovered a particular exhibit that immediately captured our attention: a classic 1950s-era Gretsch drumkit. This was the kit played during Johnny Cash’s early touring years by W. S. “Fluke” Holland, who was Johnny’s one and only drummer throughout the singer’s storied career.

As a member of Carl Perkins’ band in the mid-’50s Fluke recorded many of Carl’s hits at Memphis’ Sun Recording Studio. These included such classics as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Matchbox,” and “Honey Don’t.” Fluke toured with other rock pioneers—including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison—and was the first musician to play a full set of drums on the stage of the world-famous Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Fluke on Snare with Johnny Cash

Holland went on to perform on the “Million Dollar Quartet” session that featured Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. This brought him to Johnny’s attention, and in 1960 the singer asked Fluke to join his band for what was to be a two-week tour. But instead of two weeks, Fluke stayed with “The Man In Black” until the singer’s retirement in 1997. Along the way Fluke played in all of Johnny’s backing bands, including The Tennessee Three, The Great Eighties Eight, and The Johnny Cash Show Band.

Fluke is also heard on many of Johnny’s famous recordings, including “Ring of Fire.” The sound that became famous on virtually all of Johnny’s hit records (known as the “Tennessee Three sound”) was largely developed by Fluke’s “train-like” rhythms and driving beat.

The Gretsch drumkit that caught our eyes in the Johnny Cash museum is the one that Fluke played first with the Carl Perkins band and later for many years on the road with Johnny. It’s also the kit that was the first to grace the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. In addition to its “Great Gretsch Sound,” the kit has a unique feature. Its bass drum has a front head made of Naugahyde, with a zipper that opens to provide access to the inside of the drum. When Fluke toured in the early days with Johnny, they traveled in a car, with very little room for instruments and luggage. So, in true “road warrior” style, Fluke opened the zipper on the bass drum and packed his clothes inside!

For more information on W. S. “Fluke” Holland, visit his website. You can also check him out on YouTube. Suggested clips include an interview with Fluke, a live performance of “I Walk The Line,” and a 1963 performance of “Ring Of Fire.” (Note Fluke’s “backwards setup,” with his hi-hat on his right. He says he set the drums up this way on his first recording session with Carl Perkins because he’d never played a drumset before!)

Fluke Holland’s contribution to rock & roll and the signature sound of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three has earned him recognition the world over as a true American music pioneer. Dinah and I are proud that—as has happened so many times—a Gretsch drumset helped to make such an important contribution to music history.

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Christmas 4 Kids Charity Auction

Monday, December 8th, 2014

From Christmas 4 Kids:

The 14th Annual Charlie Daniels and Friends Concert to benefit Christmas 4 Kids was held on Monday, November 24 at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The concert is the cornerstone of Christmas 4 Kids fundraising efforts.  This year The Gretsch Foundation provided two wonderful guitars for a silent auction.

Fred Gretsch with Gary Morgan

The first was a Keith Scott 6120KS Nashville featuring a brilliant gold top that contrasts beautifully with dark walnut stained sides and back.  The 24 ½” scale neck has an ebony fingerboard with humped block position markers on a rock maple neck.  The 16” wide multiple bound body also featured oversized f-holes, master and individual pickup volume controls, tone control and Gretsch’s Space Control bridge.  Gretsch single coil DynaSonic pickups give the Keith Scott model the tone of the mid-fifties guitars, duplicating the pickup that was used until 1958.  This beauty came complete with 24k gold plated hardware and Gretsch Bigsby vibrato and included a Gretsch padded carry bag as well as a 6120 Gretsch book by Ed Ball.  This guitar was purchased by Gary Morgan from Batavia, OH for $3,600!

Fred Gretsch and Jason DentonThe second guitar was a Gretsch acoustic guitar which was made into “historic guitar art”.  It is entitled “POWER OF ME” and was painted by Alexis Vear.  This beautiful guitar was purchased by Jason Denton, Lebanon, TN for $1,100.  Jason actually shopped with us as a child and has been a wonderful supporter of our organization for several years, volunteering his legal services and coming to shop with our kids.

Congratulations and our sincere Thanks! to both Gary Morgan and Jason Denton for purchasing these wonderful guitars to support Christmas 4 Kids.

For over 20 years Christmas 4 Kids has provided the joy of Christmas for thousands of Middle Tennessee elementary school children who might not otherwise experience it.  Each December local businesses, volunteers celebrities, recording artists, and bus drivers set aside two days from their busy schedule for these special children.  To learn more about this great organization please via the web site at www.christmas4kids.org.

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Great Gretsch Educators: Stanton Moore

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Stanton Moore: From New Orleans To The World

by Fred W. Gretsch

There’s an old adage that says: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Well, all you have to do to disprove that adage is to take a look at the incredible Gretsch drummers who most certainly can and do play brilliantly, and who still take the time to share their knowledge and talent with other drummers in clinics, master classes, and drum camps.

Just as one stellar example, check out Stanton Moore’s recent schedule. Hard on the heels of recording and releasing a wonderful new jazz trio album called Conversations, Stanton has been on the road doing a series of clinics and master classes in Europe and the UK. Most recently he played with his jazz trio at the famous Blue Note in New York City. (This guy has so many things going on at the same time that it makes you wonder when he sleeps.)

It won’t be in December, because that’s when Stanton will be anchoring a unique educational experience for drummers: Stanton Moore’s SONO-NOLA Drum Camp. “SONO” stands for “Sounds of New Orleans,” and “NOLA” is, of course, the acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana, where this unique event will be held from December 5th through the 7th. This exclusive camp celebrates the legacy and rich musical tradition that is uniquely New Orleans’. From Mardi Gras Indian to the evolution of jazz and funk, students will enjoy three days of hands-on drumming, live performances, a private tour of the Old U.S. Mint’s “New Orleans Jazz” exhibit and much more. For more information go to StantonMoore.com; to sign up go to www.muso-mart.com.

Photos: Allison Murphy.

Stanton is just one of the Great Gretsch drummers who are willing to share his unique talents with other drummers around the world. In the future I’ll tell you about other great Gretsch drummer/educators, so stay tuned!

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A Great Gretsch Weekend-Plus In Nashville

Friday, October 24th, 2014

This past September 20 through 23 saw Fred and Dinah Gretsch in Music City USA—Nashville, Tennessee. The extended weekend was packed with activities involving Gretsch history, Gretsch drums, and Gretsch artists.

Nashville Drum Show

To begin with there was the Nashville Drum Show, held September 20 and 21 at the Nashville Expo Center on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Gretsch Drums was proud to be an exhibitor and supporter. This popular event—which drew over 1,000 attendees—connects consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and distributors. There’s also a grass roots swap meet/drummers’ hang component that includes vintage drum collectors and dealers, used gear sales and consignments, a drum museum sponsored by Not So Modern Drummer, and drumkits set up outside for attendees to play and show off.

The show also presents drum performers in clinic appearances, and Gretsch artists were key among those. Veteran country drummer Pat MacDonald (of the Charlie Daniels Band) was on hand—just having arrived from Oklahoma City, where he was helping his boss celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. Also performing was stellar drummer/educator Bob Harsen, who has performed with Tiger Okoshi, Randy Brecker, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, as well as teaching at the Berklee College of Music.

Fred Gretsch’s personal narrative about the history of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company was a big hit with show-goers.

But if anyone was to appear on behalf of Gretsch Drums, who better than Fred Gretsch himself? On Saturday afternoon the fourth-generation drum maker fascinated attendees with his historical presentation regarding the Gretsch Family and its conduct of Gretsch company business over more than 130 years.

Commenting on Fred’s presentation, Gary Forkum (owner of top Nashville drum retailer Fork’s Drum Closet and a supporter of the Nashville Drum Show) says, “Fred has done a ton of research about his family history. That’s very interesting to me, and I think it’s interesting to most serious drum people who have a respect for drum history. I think it’s vital for them to know that there was somebody named Gretsch who started things. There are a lot of drum companies where there’s no Mr. Gretsch, Mr. Ludwig—or Mr. Anybody—who stands for the company. Fortunately, Fred was able to get the company back into the family and has been able to keep it going. I definitely

The Great Gretsch Drums team: (from left) Fred Gretsch, product marketing manager John Palmer, and factory production manager Paul Cooper.

have customers to whom it matters that Fred is involved…that there’s a human face to the company, and not just a corporate one. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I personally like the Gretsch company so much. Gretsch was the very first line that I carried in my store when I started, thirty-two years ago. And I’ve been playing Gretsch drums myself ever since. I know the drums are distributed by another company today, but Fred is still involved. And the people that are involved in the day-to-day of the business, like John Palmer, Paul Cooper, and Joe Mazza, are passionate about it too.”

Meeting Mr. Gretsch

Following Fred Gretsch’s presentation, show attendees were pleased to have an opportunity to meet Fred in person, have a photo taken with him, and share with him their feelings about Gretsch drums past and present. “I was proud to meet so many Gretsch fans,” says Fred, “and to hear their comments—especially since I was the only person present at the Nashville Drum Show whose name was actually on many of the drums on display.”

Broadkasters Are Back

Gretsch Drums used the occasion of the Nashville Drum Show to launch the newly re-introduced Broadkaster drum series. This legendary line originally debuted in 1937.

And speaking of “drums on display,” the Nashville Drum Show was the setting for the launch of the newly re-introduced Gretsch Broadkaster drumset, which was personally conducted by Fred Gretsch (with the able assistance of key Gretsch personalities Paul Cooper, Joe Mazza, and John Palmer). This legendary drum series was originally introduced in 1935, and the new versions faithfully re-create the 3-ply non-reinforced shell that gave them their rich, warm tone. As part of his introduction, Fred Gretsch commented, “No other drums made today offer the unique sound—and the equally unique pedigree—of this historic line.”

When asked his opinion of the Broadkaster launch, Gary Forkum replies, “I think it’s a home run. It’s still early on, but we’ve sold a few kits already. It’s a different sound with the 3-ply shell. And it’s resurrecting a period of Gretsch manufacturing that’s been very popular in terms of used vintage kits. So now, with the USA Custom and the Brooklyn Series Gretsch has three US-made product lines with three distinctive sounds. That’s very valuable.”

At least one show-goer agreed; after having his photo taken with Fred Gretsch in front of a Broadkaster kit, he came back later to purchase that very kit.

Pat MacDonald of the Charlie Daniels Band presented his clinic on a Broadkaster kit.

The versatile and talented Bob Harsen gave his clinic on his personalized Gretsch USA Custom kit.

The versatile and talented Bob Harsen gave his clinic on his personalized Gretsch USA Custom kit.

Bob Harsen's Gretsch Kit.

Drummer and Gretsch fan Perry Curtis got a thrill from playing on a new set of Broadkasters at the Gretsch booth.

All photos above courtesy of Bob Campbell.

Going To A Party

Following the close of Saturday’s show, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were Gary Forkum’s guests at a music festival that Gary hosts each year on his South Creek farm just outside of Nashville. Officially called the South Creek Music Festival but nicknamed “Forkfest” by most locals, the event brings the Nashville music community together. Says Gary, “We have a couple of bands, plenty of food. This year we had about 250 people who came and enjoyed the great weather, the camaraderie, and the music. It was a good night with lots of fun.

The Music Didn’t Stop

Fred and Dinah enjoyed another night of music on Tuesday, September 23, when they attended the Tom Petty concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Tom’s band, the legendary Heartbreakers, is anchored by great Gretsch drummer Stephen Ferrone, and the Gretsches made a point to visit with Steve prior to the opening of the show. They were accompanied by Gary Forkum and his son Matt, and by Gretsch Drums production manager Paul Cooper. Paul had brought with him a snare drum made expressly for Steve, and the visitors all took pleasure in seeing his response. Steve was so pleased, in fact, that he took it on stage and played it that very night!

Matt and Gary Forkum with Fred Gretsch and Paul Cooper.

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Dinah and Fred Gretsch Receive Georgia Governor’s Award

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Industry Icons Honored For Contributions To The Arts

Dinah and Fred Gretsch (center) with Georgia governor and first lady Nathan and Sandra Deal following the presentation of the Governor’s Award For The Arts. Photo: Spark St. Jude/MagicOnFilm.

On Tuesday, October 7 Fred and Dinah Gretsch (president and CFO, respectively, of The Gretsch Company) were honored as recipients of the third annual Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. Presented by the Office of The Governor in partnership with the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Georgia Humanities Council, the award recognized the Gretsches for their significant contributions to Georgia’s civic and cultural vitality through service to the humanities or excellence in the arts. The awards program was held at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.

As members of Georgia’s arts and humanities community, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were among a select group chosen from among dozens of nominations from around the state. These recipients represent a diverse group of individuals and organizations that have laid the groundwork for Georgia’s growing creative industry through innovative programs, community collaboration and long-term financial commitment.

Commenting on the awards, Georgia governor Nathan Deal said, “Georgia’s arts and humanities sectors propel our state forward by improving quality of life for the citizens and businesses of our state. The individuals and organizations honored here today are committed to growing and sustaining Georgia’s vibrant culture and history, and I am grateful for their significant contributions to our state.”

Reflecting on her feelings at receiving this prestigious award, Dinah Gretsch says, “We are very humbled, and grateful that we are able to do this for the music industry.” Fred Gretsch adds, “It was a special pleasure to meet with first lady Sandra Deal. She has visited schools in every county in Georgia promoting education—and Georgia has the most counties of any state in the union. In keeping with our personal goal of ‘enriching lives through participation in music,’ we’d love to see Georgia step forward as the most musical state in the USA!”

Gretsch guitar artist "Hot Rod Walt" Richards provided entertainment from the steps of the Capitol Rotunda. Photo: Spark St. Jude/MagicOnFilm.

Following the ceremony, a reception for award recipients and their guests was held in the Capitol Rotunda. Entertainment was provided by Gretsch guitar artist “Hot Rod Walt” Richards See video of award and performance below.

About Fred and Dinah Gretsch

In addition to being key figures in the music industry for more than thirty years, Fred and Dinah Gretsch have been—and continue to be—tireless advocates of music education and outreach programs, both within the state of Georgia and on a national level. To this end they created the Gretsch Foundation, which has a long history of helping schools and promoting music participation through grants, scholarships, and fund-raising efforts.

In 2003 the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Fred and Dinah with the organization’s Heroes Award, which is given to recognize individuals who have improved the environment for the creative community. In 2008 Fred and Dinah’s ongoing accomplishments earned them induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Acting on her belief that music has the power to change children’s lives in a positive way, in 2010 Dinah Gretsch created the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to help support music teachers and in-school programs in Savannah-area schools. The Mrs. G’s Foundation also sponsors a Visiting Artist program, presenting top contemporary musicians in seminars, workshops, and concerts. And a 50/50 funding partnership with North Carolina’s “Music For Learning” program has put music education into six different Head Start daycare centers in Savannah.

In January of 2014 Dinah was honored by the Women’s International Music Network (WiMN) with the organization’s 2014 She Rocks Award. As a leader in the music industry, Dinah was recognized for her unique talents, accomplishments, and philanthropic works.

In February of 2014 The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Georgia Southern University named Fred and Dinah Gretsch as the 2014 Betty Foy Sanders Patrons of the Arts in recognition of their ongoing support of music education. This award recognizes community members who best demonstrate the dedication required to make fine arts programming successful.

In May of 2014 Fred and Dinah Gretsch were chosen by the GRAMMY Foundation to present the Savannah Arts Academy with a GRAMMY Signature Schools Enterprise Award. The Signature Schools program honors public high schools for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. The GRAMMY foundation considered Fred and Dinah Gretsch to be uniquely suited to act as presenters of this important award.

Dinah & Fred Gretsch Among Georgia Governor’s Awards Winners

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

FROM THE OFFICE OF GEORGIA GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL:

Dinah & Fred Gretsch with Georgia Governor and First Lady Nathan & Sandra Deal.

October 7, 2014–Gov. Nathan Deal announced today at the state Capitol the recipients of the third annual Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. Thirteen Georgia citizens and organizations were recognized for their significant contributions to innovation and growth of the state’s civic and cultural vitality. The awards were presented in partnership with the Georgia Council for the Arts and Georgia Humanities Council.

“Georgia’s arts and humanities sectors propel our state forward by improving quality of life for the citizens and businesses of our state,” said Deal. “The individuals and organizations honored here today are committed to growing and sustaining Georgia’s vibrant culture and history, and I am grateful for their significant contributions to our state.”

Dinah & Fred Gretsch with Walt "Hot Rod" Richards and his wife Sharlene.

Thirteen members of Georgia’s arts and humanities communities were chosen from a selection of nominations from around the state. The recipients represent a diverse group of individuals and organizations that have laid the groundwork for Georgia’s growing creative industry through innovative programs, community collaboration and long-term financial commitment.

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The recipients of the 2014 Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities are:

Syd Blackmarr, Tifton
Leslie Gordon, Atlanta
Fred and Dinah Gretsch, Savannah
Paul Hudson, Clarkston
Carl Purdy, Atlanta
Douglas Scott, Atlanta
The Activities Council of Thomson, Thomson
Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta
Brenau University, Gainesville
Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta
Freedom Singers, Albany
Meridian Herald, Atlanta
Richard B. Russell Library of Political Research and Studies, Athens

Detailed information about the recipients available here.

About the Award

The 2014 Governor’s Award was handcrafted by Whelchel Meaders, a distinguished member of a famous family of Georgia folk potters. His father was L.Q. Meaders, one of six potter sons of John Milton Meaders, who founded Meaders Pottery in 1892 in the Mossy Creek community of Southern White County. Whelchel continues this hundred year old tradition of producing functional ware coated with woodash- and lime-based alkaline glazes. His runny-textured ash glaze exemplifies the high-firing, green or brown glazes unique to the South, this distinctive Southern stoneware tradition. Represented in the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia at Sautee Nacoochee, Whelchel joins some 30 potters of the state who maintain a craft tradition continuous since the early 19th century.

About the Award Partners

The Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) is a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development that works to cultivate the growth of vibrant, thriving Georgia communities through the arts. GCA provides grant funding and statewide programs and services that support the vital arts industry, preserve the state’s cultural heritage, increase tourism and nurture strong communities. Funding for GCA is provided by appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. Visit www.gaarts.org.

The Georgia Humanities Council promotes and preserves the stories and cultural legacies of the state’s people — from the past to the present and into the future — to enrich their lives and strengthen their communities. An informed and educated Georgia understands historical and cultural trends, respects the life of the mind, utilizes critical thinking in decision-making, and promotes mutual respect and civility. Funding for the Georgia Humanities Council is provided by the state of Georgia, the National Endowment for the Humanities, foundations, donors and our partners. Visit www.georgiahumanities.org.

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John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 Being Auction by TracksAuction.com

Monday, October 6th, 2014

RELEASE BY TRACKSAUCTION.COM

TracksAuction.com are to auction John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 guitar which John gave to his cousin David Birch MBE in 1967.  Expected to make around $1 million at auction. Online bidding begins at 4pm on 14th November 2014 at www.TracksAuction.com, concluding with a live auction at Le Meridien Hotel, Piccadilly, London at 2pm on 23rd November 2014.

John Lennon With The Gretsch 6120, EMI Studio 3 14th April 1966. Paperback Writer Session.

The Gretsch 6120 is a historically important instrument from the former Beatle’s personal collection, used and photographed during the Paperback Writer session held at EMI Studio 3, Abbey Road, London on the 14th April 1966. The Gretsch 6120 is, perhaps, the most significant of John’s guitars to come onto the market in the last 30 years.

Please check our website www.TracksAuction.com to view a promotional video for the Gretsch guitar. It includes commentary from owner David Birch and Beatles historian and author Mark Lewisohn.

David Birch was given the guitar when he visited John in Weybridge in November 1967.  David recalls that one day John and himself were chatting in the home studio located at the top of the house in Kenwood. David asked John if he had a guitar that he no longer wanted as he was trying to get a group together with some mates at the time. “I was just cheeky enough to ask John for one of his spare guitars”, he remembers, “I had my eye on a blue Fender Stratocaster that was lying in the studio but John suggested the Gretsch and gave it to me as we were talking”. The younger cousin was absolutely thrilled with his gift. The Gretsch 6120, serial number 53940, has been owned by David Birch ever since.

The guitar comes with indisputable proof of its authenticity. The Beatles Monthly Book photographer, Leslie Bryce, took a number of black & white and colour photos of John Lennon using the Gretsch during the Paperback Writer session of 14th April. There are close-up photos from the session clearly showing the wood grain on the front of the headstock of the instrument. When these images of the wood grain are compared to the wood grain on the headstock of the actual guitar the two can be seen to match up identically. Wood grain is exactly the same as a fingerprint in that no two examples are identical. This provides conclusive proof that the Gretsch 6120, serial number 53940, is the guitar that John played on the Paperback Writer session.

John Lennon owned and played guitars from the Beatles period are extremely rare in themselves but a Lennon owned guitar which has the history of a close family connection, unquestionable legal title and clear-cut picture identification is rare beyond belief. It is difficult to recall any of John’s guitars with all of these combined attributes being offered for sale previously. Not only is the sale of this Gretsch 6120 a rare chance to acquire a piece of John Lennon’s musical legacy but in terms of the guitar’s provenance, authenticity, desirability and scarcity the sale of this iconic instrument represents a prime music-related investment opportunity. The guitar is estimated at £400,000 to £600,000 ($650,000 – $1 million USD).

John Lennon far left With David Birch And Family Edinburgh 1952.

The auction contains over 100 lots of Beatles memorabilia including a copy of the Sgt. Pepper album signed by John, Paul, George and Ringo estimated at £100,000 to £150,000, various items from the collection of John Lennon’s life-long friend Pete Shotton and the banjo played by Rod Davis in John’s original group, the Quarrymen. The sale will also include numerous lots of quality rock ‘n roll memorabilia including signed items from the Rolling Stones and The Who, original Sex Pistols concert and promotional posters and a set of handwritten Kate Bush lyrics to the song Wuthering Heights.

TracksAuction.com is a division of Tracks Ltd. established in 1989, Tracks has developed into one of the world’s leading dealers of rare Beatles and pop memorabilia. It’s staff of specialists have over 20 years of experience of appraising, authenticating, evaluating and selling Beatles and rock ‘n roll collectables at the highest level.

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Drago Gajo: Jazz Internationalist

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

By Fred W. Gretsch

It’s said that music is the universal language. And even though it’s considered an American creation, jazz music in particular is performed and enjoyed all over the world—including in the central European nation of Slovenia.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with Slovenia, it’s one of the countries formed after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Located at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is bordered on the west by Italy, on the north by Austria, on the east by Hungary, and on the south by Croatia. In the center of the country lies its capital: Ljubljana. And in the heart of Ljubljana lies Jazz Club Gajo, which is owned and operated by drummer Drago Gajo.

Drago is a true jazz internationalist, having begun his career in Slovenia and then taken it from there to destinations around the globe. He’s performed and recorded with such European and US jazz stars as Woody Shaw, Clark Terry, Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Arturo Sandoval, Duško Gojkovic, Gianni Basso, George Cables, Barry Harris, Dave Samuels, Peter Mihelic, Renato Chicco, Steve Gut, Petar Ugrin, Ewald Oberleitner, Tone Janša, Peter Herbert, Primož Grašic, Miroslav Sedak-Bencic, Adelhard Roidinger, Lee Harper, Roberto Magris, Ondrej Kabrna, Fritz Pauer, Pat O’Leary, the DOM Big Band, and the RTV Slovenija Big Band under the direction of Jože Privšek.

Jazz Club Gajo is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In light of that anniversary I recently had the opportunity to speak with Drago Gajo about his personal history, his unique jazz club—and, I’m proud to say, his love for Gretsch drums.

Early Days For Drago

Drago was born in Ljubljana in 1950. When he was ten years old his father—who was an officer in the then Yugoslav People’s Army—led part of the security detail for a concert at which the legendary Louis Armstrong was to perform. “Louis almost didn’t show up due to snow conditions,” Drago recalls. “We waited for four hours. But it was worth the wait, because it changed my life. I will never forget the sight of a black man, elegantly dressed, constantly wiping the sweat from his face with a handkerchief. And I’ll never forget the sound of that trumpet, and especially his vocal interpretations. I can still see and hear him, like it happened yesterday.”

Eleven years later, when Drago was a young man playing drums in various garage bands, he went to see an American movie called Zachariah. “It was a very strange ‘western,’” says Drago, “in which Elvin Jones played a gunfighter who was also a drummer. He played a drum solo in the movie, and after that, everything was clear to me. What I wanted was Elvin! Not long after, I was astounded by the great Tony Williams, especially on the fantastic Miles Davis album Four And More. What a band! And that incredible drum sound…unforgettable! I consider that album deeply meaningful and inspirational to this day.”

Drumming Behind The Iron Curtain

When Drago decided to pursue drumming in the 1970s, Yugoslavia was still in existence as a communist country. Pursuing a drumming career was difficult enough, but pursuing a jazz career was even more so. “Jazz was not considered ‘desirable’ in Yugoslavia then,” says Drago, “simply because it was an American style of music. Yugoslavian political views did not favor foreign ideas. There was a fear of new ideologies—especially imports of American ideology.”

Ideologies aside, Drago found ways to pursue his interest. One of those was to visit the library of the American Cultural Center in Ljubljana. “I couldn’t wait for the newest American jazz magazines,” he says. “I was madly obsessed with anything I could find about Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Gretsch drums. I have to confess now that when I returned those magazines, a few pages were often missing.”

Back in the 1970s instruments made in America or western Europe could not be imported into Yugoslavia, so musicians had difficulties buying instruments. Some help was provided by neighbors in Italy and Austria. But eventually Drago realized that he simply couldn’t get the instruction and experience that he wanted at home. So he decided to continue his musical journey in the United States. “I came to Los Angeles in 1978,” he says. “My first friend and mentor there was Billy Moore, who played with Ray Charles among many other artists. I studied at Billy’s Studio of Percussion from 1979 through 1982, and I have remained inextricably connected to the Los Angeles jazz scene ever since.”

Pursuing His Career

Drago got his professional start with Slovenian jazz sax legend Tone Janša. “Tone is a dear friend,” says Drago, “with whom I have repeatedly toured the world and performed at most of the major jazz festivals. For this I am immensely grateful to him. In my career I’ve recorded and performed with various artists in Slovenia, as well as artists from the ex-Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe. I’m extremely proud to have played with Woody Shaw and Renato Chicco, among so many others. All these records sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In addition, I’ve led my own jazz quartet and big band for quite a while.”

Musicians often don’t get to choose where and when to play; they usually have to do whatever they can to survive. Drago’s career has been different. “Fortunately,” he says, “I’ve always had the chance to choose my projects. My main focus has always been on my own enjoyment. That is to say, on enjoying the music with musicians who know that time and sound are the two most important things in any kind of music.

“Jazz improvisation is spontaneous, hard to repeat, and unique,” Drago continues. “That makes it a source of inspiration that you subconsciously carry with you into various other musical situations. I strongly believe that jazz improvisation is the driving force for the development of new musical styles.”

Jazz Club Gajo

Drago posing with a vintage-style jazz setup at the Gretsch Drums exhibit at the 2014 NAMM musical-instrument trade show in Anaheim, California.

When I ask him what led him to establish Jazz Club Gajo twenty years ago, Drago replies, “Slovenia has a 95-year-old jazz tradition. But it was nevertheless the only country in the European Union without a jazz club. If we had counted on the government to open a jazz club we would have had to wait at least another twenty years. My desire to educate, uplift, and motivate the jazz scene in Slovenia was too strong for me to miss my chance. My family consciously decided to take everything we had and invest in the first—and still the only—jazz club in Slovenia. Neither the government nor anyone responsible for cultural progress in this area did anything.

“We’re not sorry for investing money and effort into the club,” Drago continues. “The need was great. Since we opened, more and more young players have had opportunities to perform. Today I can proudly say that Club Gajo has produced and supported hundreds of successful musicians—and has put Slovenia back on the jazz map. As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, we have become a very famous jazz club in this part of the EU.”

Gretsch Connections

Drago Gajo and Fred Gretsch at the 2014 NAMM Show.

It’s gratifying to me personally that Drago has been a Gretsch player for many years. Even more gratifying are his reasons for that long association. “I’ve had the opportunity to hear and play many different brands of drums over the past forty-four years,” he says. “Out of all of those, Gretsch drums are and have always been my favorites. My musical preference is jazz, my two heroes are Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, and my drum sound is Gretsch. There’s a lot of history behind those names, and I’m deeply proud to continue with this amazing American jazz heritage.”

My wife Dinah and I recall fondly when we first met Drago, in July of 1989. He was traveling through the USA with his wife Petra and his daughters Nina and Anna, and they came to visit the Gretsch drum factory in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Drago told us that it was “a unique and memorable experience.” Since then we’ve remained in close contact with Drago and his family, and we always try to connect with Drago when he comes to the US to perform. We’re pleased to have such a talented international jazz figure as part of the Gretsch family.

Gajo’s Gear

STUDIO SET: 1969 Gretsch satin lacquer black

14×18 or 14×16 bass drum, 14×14 floor tom, 8×12 tom, 51/2×14 Custom Solid Maple Snare or 61/2×14 130th Anniversary Maple Snare

TOURING SET: Vin Yard Gretsch antique maple lacquer bebop set

14×18 or 14×16 bass drum, 14×14 floor tom, 8×12 tom, 51/2×14 Custom Solid Maple Snare or 61/2×14 130th Anniversary Maple Snare

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