Archive for the ‘Gretsch.com’ Category

Darrel Higham: Rockabilly Brit

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Darrel Higham.

The recent Gretsch Day at Street Sounds in Brooklyn was made particularly special by the headlining appearance of rockabilly guitarist and singer Darrel Higham. While all of the other acts on the day’s roster were based in the New York City area, Darrel came all the way from the UK to entertain the crowd. So how did a native of Bedford, England get involved in a decidedly American style of music like rockabilly?

“It goes back to when I was a child in the mid-’70s,” Darrel replies, “flipping through my mom and dad’s record collection.  I discovered an album called Singing To My Baby by a singer and guitarist named Eddie Cochran.  It was the only album released during his lifetime. The front cover had two head shots of Eddie, and between them a picture of him holding this beautiful orange guitar—a Gretsch 6120. I fell in love with the guitar. From that moment onwards I grew up wanting to be Eddie Cochran. And thirty-six years later I still have the same feeling.”

Darrel had the look, the feel, and—most importantly—the authentic rockabilly sound. He credited a large part of that authenticity to the great sound of his Gretsch guitars.

Rockabilly was a pioneering style of the 1950s that influenced every genre of rock that came after. But it’s not exactly at the forefront of popular music today in terms of current recordings and radio airplay. Where does Darrel perform, and how much opportunity does he have to be a torchbearer for the style?

“I’ve been playing since I was about fourteen years old,” says Darrel.  “I’ve always been able to keep my head above water by playing professionally, which I consider a blessing. I’ve toured the world, and I’ve met some fantastic people through being a musician—and through my love of Eddie Cochran and rockabilly and Gretsch guitars.

“Rockabilly is a form of music that—once it left the southern states of America and spread around the world—had a profound effect on young musicians wherever they heard it. Of course those musicians then had their own interpretations of it. So now there are different styles of rockabilly depending on what countries they’re emanating from. There’s British rockabilly, Japanese rockabilly…German…French, and so on. Everyone plays it the way they hear it.

“The fact is,” Darrel continues, “rockabilly has morphed into something bigger over the years. It’s like any form of music: It goes through phases. Sometimes it modernizes, and then it harks back to its roots and perhaps regresses. Rockabilly is, essentially, a retro music. But when contemporary musicians experiment with it, it can be very progressive. We have guitar players like Brian Setzer, Reverend Horton Heat, and Paul Pigat—who can do such wonderful things with the music. Players from other genres will hear someone like Brian or Paul and think, ‘My goodness, rockabilly is to be taken seriously.’”

How did Darrel connect with the Gretsch company as an artist endorser?

Fred Gretsch was pleased to have UK rockabilly star Darrel Higham headlining Gretsch Day 2016.

“I bought my first Gretsch guitar in 1989, when I was nineteen years old,” Darrel explains. “I played that on everything I did until it got stolen in the late ’90s. I went through a brief period of not using Gretsch guitars, and then I went back to them—and it just felt like I was home again.

“Starting in 2008 I was working with my wife, Imelda May. We were doing a lot of TV and radio appearances. I was using Gretsch guitars exclusively, and I just felt that with what we were doing I might be able to contribute in some way to the brand. So I wrote to [Gretsch Guitars national sales manager] Joe Carducci. He put me in touch with the Gretsch people in London, and it went from there. I’d already bought a Black Falcon, and I had a 6120 Custom Shop model. So I basically had the guitars I needed, and I was using them on everything I was doing.”

Darrel concludes by saying, “Playing a guitar and being a musician is no different from being an athlete. It’s all about confidence. If you have confidence in the instrument that you’re playing and you feel that you can play to the best of your ability with that instrument…that’s half the battle. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re walking onto; doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing for…ten, twenty, two hundred, two thousand, ten thousand. And I’ve played in front of all of those numbers in my career. As long as I’ve got my 6120 with me, I feel like I can get away with it. I’m armed and dangerous.”

.

Gretsch Day 2016 At Street Sounds

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

A very special event took place in Brooklyn, New York on June 4: the annual Gretsch Day at Street Sounds. Located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn (and 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.

A large section of the wall at Street Sounds was devoted to a display of Gretsch Custom Shop guitars—each one a unique creation.

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, which is based in Corona, California. The director of the Custom Shop, master guitar builder Stephen Stern, was on hand to describe some of the unique models on display. Meanwhile a video program on-screen throughout the day showcased Gretsch guitar artists Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian Setzer, Stephen Stills, and many others.

After saying hello to the assembled audience, Rocky Schiano then introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the long heritage of Gretsch guitars, as exemplified by the Bachman-Gretsch Collection of vintage Gretsch guitars—which is currently on exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. As Fred described, the seventy-five guitars on display provide a visually stunning window into the evolution of the instrument, from the early 1930s to the early 1980s. The full collection of over 300 guitars was amassed in the 1970s and ’80s by Canadian guitarist and songwriter Randy Bachman (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive). It was purchased in 2008 by the Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch Family.

The first act of the day was a highly unusual instrumental trio called Big Lazy.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by a band called Big Lazy. In keeping with the Gretsch Day’s nickname—“Twang-O-Rama”—this Brooklyn-based trio certainly looked like a rockabilly band. For one thing, guitarist Stephen Ulrich (who said he had grown up “in the shadow of the Gretsch factory”) was using a classic 1955 Duo Jet with a decidedly twangy character. But they quickly proved to be something totally different. Their all-instrumental set featured an eclectic mix of movie themes (including “Mission Impossible” in 5/4), middle-eastern melodies, and even an atmospheric rendition of The Beatles’ “Girl.”

State senator Marty Golden (right) congratulated Fred and Dinah Gretsch, then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to promote music-making among young people.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah Gretsch back up as well. Golden then congratulated Fred and Dinah on the Gretsch Company’s long history—especially its connection to Brooklyn. He then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to encourage young people to play music.

Off The Roof is a Brooklyn-based punk-infused contemporary rock band.

The “local Brooklyn” theme continued with the next band on the bill, who were introduced by legendary custom-pickup designer Tom “TV” Jones. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s 20-year-old daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) They offered an energetic set of punk-infused contemporary rock that wowed the audience.

Rocky Schiano was obviously emotional when introducing the next artist—who, he said, “Inspired me to go out and play live.” That artist was John “The Cat” Gatto, former lead guitarist for New York-area rock legends The Good Rats.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

Playing with the support of a very talented Good Rats tribute band from New Jersey, “The Cat” reprised several of the songs made famous by the Rats during their heyday in the 1970s. His guitar solos were a highlight of the set. Then, in a surprise closer, the band finished with a rousing rendition of The Monkee’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

While all this great music was going on, Fred Gretsch was spending most of his time behind the Street Sounds sales counter, where he chatted with fans, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. Quite a few of those were on the backs of Gretsch guitars that were either brought just for the occasion, or purchased in the store that day.

Throughout the day Gretsch Guitars national sales manager Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as ukuleles and guitars. Lots of event attendees went home with smiles on their faces and goodies under their arms.

Todd performed with the able accompaniment of bassist Mike Moody.

For the next artist, Joe Carducci invited Dinah Gretsch up to handle the introduction. Dinah, in turn, enthusiastically cited that artist’s credits, which include six Grammy nominations and a Guinness World Record as “the fastest banjo player on the planet.” This was Todd “Banjo Man” 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 as a speed demon—although at one point he modestly told the audience “I do play slow…sometimes.”

The Michelle Marie trio took things in an entirely different musical direction—heavy on creativity and complex composition.

In a classic example of contrast, Todd Taylor was followed by New York-based progressive jazz guitarist Michelle Marie, playing with her trio. Known for her eclectic style, complex compositions, and impressive technique, Michelle came on with an uncharacteristic opener: A hard-rocking version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” on which Michelle sang lead as well as playing guitar. Then it was on to a series of deep and rhythmically intricate compositions full of time and feel shifts that showcased her drummer and bass player as well as herself.

With the help of two dedicated rockabilly players from New York City, Darrel played a set full of classic Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins tunes—and a few originals, as well.

The 2016 Gretsch Day at Street Sounds closed with an appearance by rockabilly star Darrel Higham, who came all the way from the UK to perform at the day’s event. Relaxed and personable when speaking at the microphone, Darrel was a bundle of fiery energy when playing and singing. With a look, style, and feel directly out of rockabilly originators Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins, Darrel proved that he was the genuine article. He was ably accompanied by a drummer and bass player from the NYC area, and the audience responded to their set with enthusiasm and appreciation.

(Check out this full-length interview with Darrel Higham.)

Joe Carducci concluded Gretsch Day 2016 by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of thanks to Fred and Dinah Gretsch for their ongoing support. A good time was had by all.

.

More photos:

This giant “record” adorns the wall at Street Sounds, proclaiming ownership by the Schiano Family.

The irrepressible Joe Carducci served as emcee for the day. Joe is the national sales manager for Gretsch Guitars.

A high-quality Gretsch USA drumkit was provided for use by all of the day’s acts.

Yet another part of the wall featured a collection of beautiful “standard” professional models.

The buyer of the White Falcon guitar on the counter waited three weeks to pick up the guitar just so that Fred Gretsch could personally autograph it.

Rocky Schiano and Stephen Stern detailed this unique “aged” Custom Shop creation.

Joe Cimino (at left) flew all the way from Palm Beach, Florida to attend the Gretsch Day event. To make it even more special, he purchased a Gretsch Electromatic guitar and asked Fred Gretsch to autograph it.

Modern Drummer magazine editor-at-large (and Brooklyn native) Billy Amendola stopped by to say hello to Fred Gretsch.

Legendary guitar pickup-builder Tom “TV” Jones was called up to introduce Off The Roof.

STAY TUNED TO THE GRETSCH YOUTUBE CHANNEL FOR PERFORMANCE VIDEOS.

.

.

.

Welcome Back, Vinnie Colaiuta!

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Gretsch Drums announced today that Vinnie Colaiuta has returned!

Via Gretsch Drum’s Facebook page:

We are proud to announce that legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta has come home to Gretsch Drums. Without question, Vinnie is one of the world’s most respected and admired drummers. Throughout his prolific, 4-decade career, his artistry has inspired and entertained legions of drummers and music fans alike. Vinnie will be taking his newly redesigned, Gretsch USA Custom Kit finished in a one-of-a-kind Cobalt Blue Lacquer with Vinnie Colaiuta signature badges out on the road with Sting on his upcoming, 19-city “Rock Paper Scissors” tour with Peter Gabriel which kicks off June 21st in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome home, Vinnie.

Vinnie Colaiuta. Photo: Michael Corral

Gretsch Drums recently restored Vinnie’s 90s signature Gretsch kit.  Experience unboxing his kit with him now!

.

.

A Special Day: Fred Gretsch Receives Honorary Degree From Elmhurst College

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Saturday, May 28 was a red-letter day for Fred W. Gretsch. The fourth-generation leader of the Gretsch family business was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from suburban Chicago’s Elmhurst College at the school’s Spring Commencement ceremony. Bedecked in classic doctoral robes, Fred—who is himself an alumnus of Elmhurst—joined more than 600 Elmhurst graduates in celebrating their memorable life passage.

Upon his arrival at Elmhurst College, Fred Gretsch was met by this congratulatory banner on the music department building.

A Bit Of Backstory

As most Gretsch fans know, the Gretsch Company was founded by Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather in 1883, when he set up shop in Brooklyn and started making drums, tambourines, and banjos. By the early 1920s the company had grown into the largest instrument manufacturer in America. Fred Gretsch began working in the family business in the 1960s, and as a young man he looked forward to eventually taking his place as its leader. But in 1967, amid widespread change in the industry, the Baldwin Piano Company bought the Gretsch operation. Fred continued working for the company, moving his family from Brooklyn to suburban Chicago. While there he began studying business administration part-time at Elmhurst College. After graduating in 1971 he founded his own company: Fred Gretsch Enterprises. But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again. He made good on his vow, when he and his wife Dinah bought the business back from Baldwin in 1985. Today the company makes guitars and drums for musicians who appreciate “That Great Gretsch Sound,” top-quality craftsmanship, and classic style.

The Elmhurst Degree

Elmhurst College confers honorary degrees on individuals whose commitments and achievements embody the College’s mission, vision, and core values. Fred Gretsch was recognized for his ongoing contributions to the music industry, as well as to his and his family’s stated mission, which is “to enrich people’s lives through participation in music.”

In keeping with this mission, Fred and Dinah, their family company, and the Gretsch Foundation have been generous supporters of Elmhurst College and its Department of Music. That support has funded scholarships for students of music and music business, as well as for the state-of-the-art Sylvia and William Gretsch Recording Studio (established in 1987 to honor Fred’s parents). In 1993 the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble became a regular element of the music program, and in 2015 arrangements were made for the music department’s ensembles to perform exclusively on Gretsch drum kits. Gretsch has also been a major supporter of the annual Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival, which is a regular part of the nationally recognized Elmhurst Jazz Festival.

The Commencement

Fred Gretsch and Barbara Lucks, who is chairperson of the Elmhurst College board of trustees.

The Commencement events started with a breakfast reception held in the President’s Dining Room at Elmhurst. There Fred and Dinah Gretsch met with members of the Elmhurst faculty, including interim president Larry Braskamp, board of trustees chair Barbara Lucks, and music department chair Peter Griffin. Also from Elmhurst came Dr. Larry Carroll, who is a professor of business administration, the executive director of Elmhurst’s Center For Professional Excellence, and a board member of the Sylvia And William Gretsch Memorial Foundation.

A number of friends and business associates came especially to congratulate Fred on his well-deserved honor. These included Bill Breslin and his wife Mary. Bill worked at Sears & Roebuck in Chicago when Fred was working there in the late 1960s. The two became business friends and have remained so ever since. Also present was Jeff Cary and his wife Mary. Jeff heads up the Gretsch Guitars operation for manufacturing partner Fender Musical Instrument Corporation, and was on hand to offer FMIC’s best wishes to Fred.

All the way from Statesboro, Georgia came Curtis Ricker, who is Dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Georgia Southern University. Just as the Gretsch Foundation supports the music department at Elmhurst College, so do they support similar programs at GSU. Also on hand, representing the Foundation, was trustee Rick DeMayo.

After the breakfast reception it was time for a little “Pomp And Circumstance,” as the call was given to have the graduating seniors march to their seats on the central lawn of Elmhurst’s beautiful campus. This was accomplished amid the cheers and waves of hundreds of family members on the surrounding grounds. Then the faculty members and the honorary doctoral candidate—namely Fred Gretsch—passed through the rows of students and up to the dais.

Fred shared a moment with the reverend Lance Lackore, who delivered the invocation at the commencement ceremony.

After an invocation from Reverend Lance Lackore and remarks from president Braskamp and trustees chair Barbara Lucks, it was time for Fred Gretsch’s big moment. He was called to the podium by music department chair Peter Griffin, who proceeded to cite Fred’s accomplishments as an industry figure and a philanthropic supporter of Elmhurst’s music programs. Then, with a fanfare from the college orchestra, president Braskamp officially conferred on Fred the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, “with all the rights appertaining thereto.” This was met by unanimous acclaim from the faculty and student body alike, all of whom appreciated Fred’s contributions to their school.

Music Department Chairman Peter Griffin (at podium) nominated Fred Gretsch to receive his honorary degree, citing Fred’s business accomplishments and philanthropic activities.

When it came his turn to address the crowd, Fred started simply but sincerely, saying, “I’m grateful for the honor that you’ve given me. Thank you.” Then he went on to offer two gifts to each of the graduates in attendance.

Fred Gretsch offered thanks to the college, and a few words of advice to the assembled graduates.

“The first gift,” said Fred, “is an invitation to come to lunch with me at the Gretsch studio. Send me an email or give me a call. We’ll set a date, and I’ll look forward to getting to know you better then.

“The second gift is the most important thing I’ve learned from over fifty years in the musical instrument business. And that is to tell you that relationships count. Family…friends…Elmhurst College…business associates. You’ve heard about my wife Dinah, who’s here with me today. Dinah is the love of my life, and has stood by my side in the music business for more than thirty-eight years now. You have your own family here, and your friends. And you have your relationship with Elmhurst College. Mine started in 1969 and remains strong today. Then there are business and industry relationships. Build them, value them. They’re a most important part of success for me, and they will be for you as well.”

At the conclusion of the commencement ceremony the dais party marched out first to form a “receiving line” through which all of the graduates passed. Alongside music business department director Tim Hays and music department chair Peter Griffin, Fred Gretsch made a point to shake hands and personally congratulate students from the music curriculum as they passed by. Many of those students expressed their personal gratitude to Fred for the Gretsch instruments, recording studio, and scholarships that had helped them and their fellow music students to succeed at Elmhurst.

The Celebration Continues

The day concluded with a luncheon for the faculty and guests. On his way in, Fred Gretsch met graduating senior Jane Gooby, who had worked closely with Larry Carroll in the administration of Gretsch scholarships at Elmhurst. Though she shyly admitted that she was not a music major, she had decorated her graduation cap with the Gretsch logo, accompanied by a guitar and the words “Rock Your Role.”

Fred Gretsch presented an inscribed copy of The Gretsch Drum Book to Elmhurst president Larry Braskamp. The inscription applauds the college’s faculty and staff.

At the luncheon itself Larry Carroll presented a framed certificate congratulating Fred Gretsch on behalf of the board of the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Shortly after, Fred presented his own gift, this time to Elmhurst College. It was a copy of The Gretsch Drum Book, inscribed to the faculty and staff of the school and honoring them for their teamwork and accomplishments.

Comments From The College

A number of Elmhurst faculty members expressed personal sentiments regarding Fred Gretsch’s contributions to the college, and his reception of an honorary doctorate. The first comes from Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Joseph Emmick, who comments, “We’re pleased to recognize and honor Fred Gretsch. Who better to receive an honorary degree than someone who has distinguished himself in his generosity and service to his alma mater, his industry, and the music community? Fred and Dinah together form one of the music industry’s most formidable teams, and their international success enhances Elmhurst College’s reputation across the globe.”

Music Business Department Director Tim Hays (left), Fred Gretsch, and Professor Griffin.

Music Business Department Director Tim Hays says, “Fred Gretsch’s support has helped us develop one of the top music business programs in the country, from the Gretsch Music Business Student Scholarship fund to his many other gifts. The College, the Music Department, and generations of students have benefited from his vision and generosity. “

Elmhurst Sound Recording instructor John Towner comments, “Over the years, Fred Gretsch has taken a real interest in funding college facilities and equipment. For example, ever since its implementation in 1987, the Sylvia and William Gretsch Recording Studio has been a real treasure for our music students. In addition to allowing those interested in the recording field to hone their craft, the studio has also been the site of countless recordings made by students in a myriad of styles. We are profoundly grateful to Mr. Gretsch for this.”

Director of Jazz Studies (and the Elmhurst College Jazz Band) Doug Beach adds, “Fred Gretsch’s impact on the Music Department at Elmhurst College has been immense. Over the years, he has provided primary funding for the High School Invitational Jazz Festival, an event that has become an integral part of the larger Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. He is certainly one of the most loyal alums that the Music Department has.”

Music Department Chair Peter Griffin concludes, saying, “We’re proud of our longstanding relationship with the Gretsch Family, the Gretsch Foundation, and the Gretsch Company. Their generosity provides our students with opportunities they might not otherwise enjoy. We look forward to a continuing partnership in providing those students with the best possible educational experiences.”

Elmhurst President Larry Braskamp, Fred Gretsch, and Professor Peter Griffin.

Final Words From Fred

Fred Gretsch himself summed up his feelings at the conclusion of the Commencement ceremony, saying, “When it comes to enriching people’s lives through participation in music around the country and around the world, I recognize that Elmhurst is a great place to start. I look forward to working with the college to create more music-makers in the generations ahead.”

.

.

Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Kimberly Thompson: Doing It All

by Fred Gretsch

It’s hard to find a single word that accurately describes Kimberly Thompson. In fact, it’s hard to describe her using several words. “Original”… “dynamic”… “versatile” … “skillful”… they all fit. But perhaps the most appropriate term would be “determined.” From the very beginning of her drumming history, Kimberly has been determined to succeed…and to do so on her own terms.

There’s no doubt that Kimberly’s determination has paid off. After first coming into contact with the drums as a youngster, she went on to play locally in church and in school. At the same time she immersed herself in jazz, absorbing the influences of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Kenny Garrett, Elvin Jones, Brian Blade, Jeff Ballard, and Terri Lyne Carrington.

Eventually Kimberly entered the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York. While still a student she had her first major professional gig: the 2000 Cuban Jazz Festival with the Kenny Barron Trio. (She was all of nineteen years old.) In 2001 Kimberly was picked to be the drummer in the all-female Sisters In Jazz ensemble—a group assembled by the International Association of Jazz Educators. While with the SIJ Kimberly toured Europe, where she performed at several jazz festivals including the famous North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland.

Kimberly performing at the TD Jazz Festival in 2015.

Kimberly graduated from the Manhattan School in 2003 with a degree in jazz composition. By then she was already immersed in the New York jazz scene, playing with top artists like trumpeter Wallace Roney, pianist Marian McPartland, bassist Rufus Reid, and guitarist Mike Stern (with whom she later earned a Grammy nomination for his 2006 album Who Let The Cats Out?). She also founded and performed with her own quartet. (More about that later.)

In 2006 Kimberly made what might appear to have been a radical career change. That’s when she was hired to play in Beyonce’s all-star (and all-female) touring band, the Suga Mamas. Playing for the world’s leading pop diva in arenas around the world was a far cry from playing jazz in smoky NYC clubs, but Kimberly was more than up for the challenge. Exchanging her jazz chops for a slamming pop groove, Kimberly helped drive the Suga Mamas to ever-more-exciting performances as the tour progressed. Since then she’s worked with other pop artists, including Jay-Z, Kanye West, and George Michael.

Returning to her jazz roots in 2010, Kimberly recorded her first album as a bandleader and composer: Like Clockwork. She continued to perform with her own group and with other artists until 2014, when she took another significant turn: She joined the 8G Band on the NBC television show Late Night With Seth Myers. In that same year she released two CDs:  Live At Marian’s and the studio album A Child’s Eyes.

Performing at Gretsch Day at Rudy’s Music in NYC, August 3, 2013. Photo: Rick Van Horn.

Back in August of 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Kimberly and hearing her perform. The occasion was a “Gretsch Day” at Rudy’s Music in New York City, and Kimberly was leading her quartet as part of the day’s entertainment. I was there with my grandson Logan, and we both were impressed with Kimberly’s talent as a drummer and composer—as well as her graciousness as an individual. I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to see and hear her, and I’m equally glad that she’s chosen Gretsch drums on which to express her unique musical personality.

Video Clips

Kimberly’s YouTube page offers many video and audio clips, as well as drum transcriptions, and other useful and interesting information.

A very, very live trio performance clip taken from a gig in Kansas City in 2013. Kimberly is on fire.

One excellent performance clip, recorded live with her quartet at the Zinc Bar, Sept 24 2015, “Hills Of Macedonia“.

Her quartet performance live at the 55 Bar, February 25, 2015.

.

.

Great Gretsch Guitarists: Joe Robinson

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Multi-talented Wonder From Down Under

By Fred W. Gretsch

In 2001, the Gretsch family lost a dear friend with the passing of Chet Atkins, one of the most talented guitarists and influential musicians of a generation. That same year, a 10-year-old boy named Joe Robinson, living half a world away in Australia, was jumping on a trampoline one day, heard Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” on his Dad’s stereo, and decided it was time to stop the piano lessons and start playing a much cooler instrument: the guitar.

A young Joe at home in Australia doing what else? Playing guitar!

I’d like to thank Joe’s parents (and Eric Clapton) for their roles in that pivotal moment. As many of you know, Joe was a quick learner for his age. The 10-year-old soon outgrew his guitar teacher, and because he lived in a small, remote town in Australia, taught himself primarily through online lessons and YouTube videos. A year later, an 11-year-old Joe was being mentored  – and playing onstage – with fellow Australian (and Chet Atkins CGP Award winner) Tommy Emmanuel, one of the world’s pre-eminent fingerpicker guitarists.

The prodigy picker’s teenage years were just as eventful. There are too many highlights, awards, and accolades to list, but here are a few: Joe won the Australian National Songwriting Competition at 13, recorded his first album at 15, won Australia’s Got Talent grand finale (playing a blistering Tommy Emmanuel-inspired version of “Classical Gas”), and recorded his second critically-acclaimed album “Time Jumpin’” at 17. He was also named “Best New Talent” in Guitar Player magazine’s reader poll, and toured extensively across Europe, Japan, Australia, and America, impressing audiences and winning over new fans with his jaw-dropping guitar chops and intense, energetic live shows.

And Joe hasn’t stopped evolving or showing any signs of slowing down in his 20s. He released a breakthrough album, “Let Me Introduce You” in 2012 that featured one of Joe’s best-kept secrets: his smooth, soulful voice.  The five-star album was an impressive mix of mature, melodic songwriting, superb acoustic and electric guitar playing, and a voice that complimented his own style of blues, rock, jazz and R&B.

The Guitar Army Tour featuring Robben Ford (left), Joe Robinson, and Lee Roy Parnell.

The Guitar Army Tour featuring Robben Ford (left), Joe Robinson, and Lee Roy Parnell.

Now a resident of Nashville, Joe has continued his growth and evolution as an artist by honing his singing, songwriting, and composing skills. He recently released three highly-rated EPs and is a current member of the Guitar Army Tour, sharing the stage with legendary guitarists and musicians Robben Ford and Lee Roy Parnell. Dinah and I had the pleasure of visiting with Joe recently and attending a show in Virginia. It was an amazing performance by this trio of superb musicians. What a show!

Dinah and I are so proud to have Joe in the Gretsch family of artists, and were happy to learn that one of Joe’s heroes and early influences was Chet Atkins. Joe’s parents were amateur musicians and had a lot of musician friends at their home, especially on weekends, jamming into the wee hours of the morning. According to Joe, one group of friends lived and breathed Chet Atkins. They played Chet’s songs on a Gretsch Country Gentleman and even showed young Joe how to play with a thumbpick. Through Chet’s music, Joe learned a wide range of styles, the importance of a good melody, and how to fingerpick. It also exposed him to fellow Australian and Chet disciple, Tommy Emmanuel, and Joe said he continued to “absorb Chet Atkins” through playing and mentoring with Tommy.

Joe with a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

It’s appropriate that one of Joe’s main guitars onstage and in the studio is a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. He plays both a full-sized 6122 and a Country Gentleman Junior. And, it’s even more appropriate that Joe first fell in love with his Country Gent at the Gretsch display at a Chet Atkins Appreciation Society event in Nashville. Although he thinks of himself as an acoustic player first, Joe was drawn to his Gretsch because of its fingerpicking-friendly feel and its versatility when plugged in. He also loves his Country Gentleman for what Joe calls its “big, fat sound.”

Dinah and I also appreciate Joe’s willingness to share his love of music with students. Joe has made three visits to Thomas Heyward Academy in Ridgeland, S.C. as part of Dinah’s Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, which supports music education in rural schools. Joe said he remembers musicians visiting his rural high school in Australia and encouraging and inspiring him, so he jumps at any chance to get in front of children and teenagers to do the same. Joe’s friendly, down-to-earth personality and his own inspiring story of hard work and determination really help him connect with the students. Plus, Joe uses the opportunity to try out new songs, because he says kids will give you honest feedback and tell you exactly what they think, which he finds refreshing.

If Chet Atkins were here today, he would undoubtedly like Joe Robinson and enjoy trading licks, playing, and recording with this young Australian virtuoso. He would approve of his work ethic (Joe woke up at 4 a.m. and practiced four hours before school, then practiced four hours after school), the level head on his shoulders, his drive to grow and explore new musical directions, and his total love for the guitar (like Chet, Joe often falls asleep with his guitar).  I also think Mr. Guitar would approve of Joe representing Gretsch and playing one of his signature guitars onstage and in the studio, because like Chet, Joe is also a gentleman. He just happens to be from another country.

Joe Robinson and Pat Bergeson performing their Salute to Chet Atkins at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2011.

YouTube Clips:

This clip of 16-year-old “Smokin’Joe” Robinson performing his “Day Tripper/Lady Madonna” instrumental on Australia’s Got Talent TV Show has had over 3 million views.

Joe performing “Lethal Injection” with Bernard Harris on bass and Marcus Hill on drums.

Joe obliges Fred Gretsch’s request from the audience to play “Adelaide” at the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration in 2013.

Joe and Richard Smith (right) honoring Merle Travis and Chet Atkins by performing an impromptu fingerpicking classic, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” at the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration in 2013.

.

.

On The Passing Of Remo Belli

Friday, May 6th, 2016

The Gretsch family joins everyone in the drum and percussion industry in mourning the passing of Remo Belli on April 25. As a veteran of that industry myself, I had the pleasure of knowing Remo for many years on a personal and professional basis. My wife Dinah and I shared visits with him at trade shows and other drumming events, and we always enjoyed our time together.

But Remo’s connection to the Gretsch family goes back much further. My uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., was a little more than twenty years older than Remo. When Remo was touring as the drummer for Anita O’Day and bandleader Billy May in the 1950s, Uncle Fred was running the Gretsch business. He welcomed Remo into the fold as a Gretsch drum artist. In fact, Remo’s smiling face graces the cover of the 1954 Gretsch drum catalog—right next to Louie Bellson, and in the company of other drum greats like Art Blakey, Jo Jones, and Shelley Manne.

Remo Belli on Cover of 1954 Gretsch Drums Catalog

Just a few years later, when Remo went into business himself, Uncle Fred supported his efforts by becoming a major customer for his Weather King synthetic drumheads. Remo heads are still factory-installed on Gretsch drums today.

Fast-forward to when I entered the drum business fifty years ago. Returning the favor that my uncle had done for him, Remo (who was a little less than twenty years older than I am) served as a mentor to me, offering sound business tips and valuable personal advice. Over the ensuing years I came to cherish his friendship, his guidance, and his unparalleled professional example. I will miss those things—and Remo himself—tremendously.

Fred W. Gretsch
4th Generation President
The Gretsch Company

.

.

Gretsch Guitar Connects Past to a New Era of Women

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

By Alessandra Femenias

Sometimes the past can connect with the present to create something totally new…

1966 was an eventful year. The war in Vietnam was escalating, Batman and The Monkees premiered on television, while John Lennon announced the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”.

The Colonists 1967. Photo: J Etheridge Ward Photography.

Also formed in 1966 were the Colonists, an all-girl rock band from Richmond, Virginia. Teenage guitarists Pat Kennedy and Betsy Cockriel had both been inspired to play music after watching the Beatles’ historic first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.  Two years later, these girls met by chance at a Paul Revere and the Raiders concert in the spring of ‘66 and decided to form a band.  “I wanted a Gretsch because of George Harrison,” says Betsy who would trade her Gretsch Princess for a Gretsch Tennessean.  Pat had already chosen a new Gretsch Model 6123 – best known as a “Monkees Gretsch“.

Pat and Betsy on stage with their Gretsch guitars. 1967. Photo: Robert Earl Cockriel.

The Colonists became a popular band at school dances, country clubs and several military bases where they played for American soldiers about to leave for Vietnam.

In 1969, Pat left the Colonists to pursue other ventures. Her Monkees Gretsch remained untouched for almost 40 years, until the world of eBay brought the guitar out of retirement and found its way to Australia.

Fast forward to 2015 and Chicanery, an all-girl rock band from Sydney, Australia, entered the recording studio with Pat Kennedy’s 1966 Monkees Gretsch. The band recorded their debut single “Open Road” with the guitar which gave the song a tough, vintage rock sound.

“I love vintage guitars, so it was really cool to have the privilege of playing Kennedy’s Gretsch. The fact that the Colonists were an all-girl rock band like us, just makes it even cooler,” says guitarist Alessandra Femenias.

Chicanery (Ellen Martin, Alessandra Femenias, Annique Edye, Natalie Ang, and Rachel Fogarty) with The Colonists' Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Like the Colonists 50 years before them, Chicanery was inspired to start a band after attending various concerts across Sydney. Drawing inspiration from Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Muse, the girls began writing music and posting covers onto their YouTube channel.

“We got together every weekend and started jamming, then later writing music. At the time we were all high school students so a lot of our songs were written about changing, growing up, and both the good and bad friendships we had. It was a really fun, creative outlet for us,” says singer Annique Edye.

Chicanery & Gretsch. Photo: Larry McGrath.

The girls played various venues across Sydney from 2012-2014, both as a full band and acoustic act. However, it was not until 2015 that they decided to take things seriously and recorded “Open Road” backed with a music video of such sheer visceral energy that it continues to catch the attention of thousands of music fans in Australia and the USA.

Now 18-19 years old, Chicanery have matured since their high school days. Their inspirations have broadened and their sound has grown. “Initially, most of us listened to mainly pop-punk music. However, over the years, our music tastes have broadened and we’re inspired by so many genres. I really love artists like Halsey and Melanie Martinez–artists who create concept records. It’s really inspiring,” says Alessandra.

Chicanery are predominately self-taught musicians who drew inspiration from their teenage musical heroes, friends, and family.

Chicanery. Photo: Larry McGrath

“When Chicanery started, I always wanted to play like Chris Wolstenholme from Muse or even learn such fun bass lines as those Paul McCartney played on most Beatles tracks,” says bassist Ellen Martin.  Ellen was inspired to learn to play the bass guitar by her older sister, who also played the instrument. Intrigued by the way a song could be changed by a bass line, she began teaching herself to read tabs and learning simple riffs at the age of 15.

Rhythm guitarist Rachel Fogarty was inspired to pick up the guitar after her older brother began playing songs around the house. “I used to watch him learn songs and then play them until they were perfect. I thought that was really cool, and made me want to pick up a guitar and play too. He still teaches me,” says Rachel.

Lead guitarist Alessandra also cites Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Paramore, and Brand New as her inspirations for picking up the guitar at 14. Alessandra grew up in a musical household. Her parents would play The Eagles, U2, Dire Straits and KISS around the house and in the car. It was this exposure to music at a young age which would inspire her to begin song writing.

Alessandra with Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Despite all five members currently studying at University, they are determined to continue making music and playing live shows. They are currently recording their debut EP, set for release in late 2016, which will feature both old and new songs.

In the still male-dominated world of rock music, Chicanery are hoping their EP of original songs will help them to go from one small victory to the next, and perhaps one day inspire other teenage girls to follow a simple dream to play music…much like the Colonists did 50 years before them.

As Annique sums up, “Our goal is to inspire people to make music. If we can do it, you can do it”.

More on Chicanery can be found on Facebook.

And check out their debut single “Open Road” music video.

Chicanery on location for Open Road video. Photo: Larry McGrath.

.

.

.