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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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The Gretsch Building

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

The Birthplace of Silver Jets, White Falcons, Round Badges, and “That Great Gretsch Sound” Turns 100

By Fred Gretsch

The Gretsch Building circa 1916.

From the outside, the renovated Gretsch Building, now the home of luxury condos in the chic, trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, looks like it could be a factory, an office building, or even a hospital.

The renovated Gretsch Building; home to 120 luxury condominiums.

And considering how today’s generation of Gretsch guitars and drums (played by young artists like guitarist Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls and drummer Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer) can trace their origins and DNA to the seventh floor of this big, gray building, the hospital comparison isn’t too far off.

Today’s Williamsburg has been called the “new” Brooklyn and is one of the most popular, hippest places to live and work. It’s no surprise Brooklyn was recently named the #1 city in the nation for Millennials. The revived neighborhood is bustling with creative energy much like it was 100 years ago when factories, foundries, and the nearby waterfront energized Williamsburg and made it one of the largest and busiest industrial areas in the nation.

1916 Gretsch catalog cover featuring the new factory.

In 1916 my grandfather, Fred Gretsch, Sr., was 36 years old and had a bold vision of growing Gretsch into the largest music manufacturing company in America. (Remember, he was only 15 when he took over the family business after his father died unexpectedly in 1895.) Along with his mother Rosa and brother Walter, he took a leap of faith and oversaw the construction of a large 10-story factory that, at the time, was the biggest building in Williamsburg. You couldn’t miss it when you crossed the Williamsburg Bridge.

The factory was a source of pride for my grandfather and I believe the tall building with his family’s name on top motivated him to achieve his dream. Within a few years, Gretsch was recognized as the largest musical instrument manufacturing company in the nation. Catalogs from the 1920s and 1930s boast of “Nearly 3,000 Articles To Choose From,” and an image of the Gretsch Building adorned catalog covers and advertising for years.

1928 Gretsch Dealer Catalog promoting over 3,000 band and orchestra instruments.

While skilled Gretsch craftsmen built a wide range of drums and stringed instruments like banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, and guitars, other instruments were purchased and distributed from major instrument manufacturers. And, since the factory was only a few blocks from the East River waterfront, Gretsch imported many top-quality violins, accordions, brass instruments, harmonicas, and other instruments and accessories from Europe.

Even though it was 10-stories high, Gretsch didn’t occupy the entire building. The 20,000 square-foot seventh floor housed the main factory and administrative offices, while the machine shop and plating department took up half of the ninth floor. The basement was used primarily for storing drum hoops, parts and accessories. And while today’s condo residents relax, tan, and enjoy the skyline views from the rooftop terrace, Gretsch used the roof for business purposes: tanning hides for drumheads!

A student sheet music holder from the 1940s. Image courtesy of Ed Ball.

My grandfather was an entrepreneur and recognized the importance of real estate in building a solid business enterprise. Like the smaller factory on Fourth Street the Gretsch Building replaced, my grandfather rented valuable office space in the building to a wide range of businesses – from bookbinders and publishers to vacuum cleaner makers. One of the largest tenants was Robert Hall, a national retailer of men’s clothes.

After 57 successful years as president, my grandfather retired in 1942. My uncle, Fred Gretsch, Jr., became president but soon left the company to serve as a commander in the Navy during World War II. My father, Bill, then became president and guided Gretsch through the scaled-down production war years. Unfortunately, my father’s tenure was cut short due to illness and he passed away in 1948. When Fred Jr. resumed the leadership role, he led the company’s new focus on building professional drums and guitars and into Gretsch’s “Golden Era.”

The 50s and 60s were decades of explosive growth and success for Gretsch. The best jazz artists playing the New York clubs chose Gretsch Round Badge drums, and with advances in guitar electronics and amplification, Gretsch electric guitars were getting noticed.  The 50s saw the introduction of the Duo Jet, Silver Jet, White Falcon, White Penguin, Anniversary, Country Club, and many other models still offered today.  And, thanks to our landmark endorsement with Chet Atkins in 1954, the rollout of the classic line of Chet Atkins 6120, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean guitars.

I sometimes wonder if the people currently living on what used to be the seventh floor of the Gretsch Building are aware of all the musical history that happened there (and all of the stars and legends that walked those floors when they visited the factory). By far the biggest innovation and game changer for the music industry was my grandfather’s invention of the multi-ply drum lamination process that he patented in the 1920s. This revolutionary new method not only made construction faster, but also made drum shells and hoops lighter, stronger, and more perfectly round. It soon became the drum industry standard for manufacturing drums and – 90 years later – is still the method used today.

Several books have been written about the iconic and historic guitars and drums built within the walls of the Brooklyn factory. Some of the most important drums in my opinion are the groundbreaking Gretsch-Gladstone and Gretsch-American drums, the first double-bass drum set built for big-band star Louie Bellson, and the kits we made for drumming legends like Chick Webb, Charlie Watts, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, Philly Joe Jones, and Chico Hamilton.

On the guitar side, Chet Atkins’ ’59 Country Gentleman he used on all of his records and George Harrison’s Duo Jet, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean guitars are probably the most famous Gretsch guitars built at the factory. But, you can’t overlook the Chet Atkins 6120 models made famous by Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, and Brian Setzer; the White Falcons played by Stephen Stills and Neil Young, or Billy’s Zoom’s trademark Silver Jet. By far, the most unusual guitar was the rectangular-shaped guitar Gretsch custom built for Bo Diddley in 1958.

I had the fortune of literally growing up in the Gretsch factory during its heyday of the 50s and 60s, and I started there full-time in the Industrial Engineering Department in 1965. But, things changed after my uncle sold Gretsch to the Baldwin Company in 1967. Within a few years, guitar and drum production moved from the Brooklyn factory to Arkansas. The sales office stayed in the building for several years, but by 1972, all Gretsch connections to the historic Brooklyn factory were gone.

The building remained mostly empty for several decades as the Williamsburg area experienced a cycle of decline, but by the 1990s, the area bounced back with a new infusion of galleries, clubs, music, art, and young people. Although our family still owned the Gretsch Building, we decided the time was right to sell it in 1999. Several years later, the old factory was the first condo conversion in the area, and more have followed in Williamsburg’s transformation and rebirth from an industrial area to a popular, desirable residential area.

Interior of a multi-million dollar loft apartment in the Gretsch Building. Photo courtesy of Corcoran Group Real Estate.

One hundred years later, I think my grandfather would be amazed at how the neighborhood has changed, and would be proud that the factory he and his family built in 1916 has survived and is still a vital part of the Williamsburg community. He would also be proud that we’re still making guitars and drums using the original recipes invented at his factory so many decades ago. It’s ironic that the building that made beautiful guitars and drums that looked like a million bucks, now has condos that sell for well over a million bucks. That’s left the Gretsch Building with a brand new pedigree for the next 100 years or more.

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Guitar Legend Duane Eddy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

How a simple introduction by a Beatle 25 years ago led to two Gretsch signature models, and a long friendship with “The King of Twang.”

By Fred W. Gretsch

Back in 1991, my wife Dinah and I attended a music trade show in London with friends from the Hohner Company, Gretsch’s distribution partner in the UK at the time. Hohner had created an impressive display to showcase the new line of Gretsch guitars we had just introduced. They even commissioned an artist to paint a 40-foot mural featuring several Gretsch guitar players and the Traveling Wilburys band.

When we arrived in London, we reached out to George Harrison and suggested getting together, and he responded that he would like to see us while we were in town. We had gotten to know George several years earlier after Dinah sent him a thank-you note for featuring his vintage ’57 Gretsch Duo Jet on the cover of his Cloud Nine album. That led to a call from George thanking Dinah for the note, chatting about guitars, and inviting us to a recording session to see the vintage Gretsch guitars being used for the upcoming Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 album. George was also involved in helping design the Gretsch Traveling Wilburys electric guitar.

London Mural 1991

Fred Gretsch, London 1991

You can imagine how surprised we were when a member of the trade show’s management team came to the Gretsch booth to say George was at the front door of the exhibition hall asking to see us. Dinah and I literally ran to the front door and happily arranged credentials for George and two friends he had brought along: Jeff Lynne and Duane Eddy.

It was the first time I had met Duane, who, like George, was a fan of the sound and looks of Gretsch guitars. He shared the story of the Chet Atkins 6120 model guitar he had bought at Ziggie’s Music in Phoenix back in 1957. It was the guitar he used on all of his “twangy” instrumental hits like “Rebel Rouser,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” and “Peter Gunn”, and he still performed and recorded with it 34 years later.

After meeting in London, I corresponded and stayed in touch with Duane for several years and shared my interest in offering a Gretsch Duane Eddy signature model. He was intrigued, met with me and our team at our Ridgeland, SC facility, and brought his original ’57 Gretsch along so we could measure and document the details of his iconic guitar.

In 1997, 40 years after purchasing his ’57 Chet Atkins 6120 guitar, Gretsch proudly introduced the G6120-DE Duane Eddy signature model. It was a reproduction of Duane’s famous ’57 6120 and was available in both a Western Orange finish and a cool-looking Ebony Burst finish that Duane suggested.

Duane and Ted McCarty, 1997

We kicked off the release of the new Duane Eddy 6120 at the 1997 Summer NAMM Show in Nashville. Gretsch sponsored a gala dinner that paid tribute to both Duane and guitar industry veteran and family friend, Ted McCarty. With Mr. McCarty getting the recognition he so rightfully deserved, and Duane and his band of Nashville session pros playing a rollicking hour-long set, it was a memorable night and one of the highlights of my 51-year career in the music business.

Today, Gretsch offers a second generation Duane Eddy signature model that is even closer to the sound and feel of the 6120 Duane purchased as a teenager nearly 60 years ago. So close, in fact, that Duane finally retired his ’57 6120 because he said his new signature model has the same sound and punch of his ’57 Gretsch, along with the slim-profiled neck he always liked on his original guitar. Duane worked very closely with Gretsch Custom Shop Master Builder Stephen Stern and his team to both faithfully reproduce Duane’s legendary ’57 6120, and add some modern improvements like trestle bracing and a new Tru-Arc rocking bar bridge for more “twang” and sustain. In Duane’s words, the current Duane Eddy model is the best of the old world and the new world.

Duane Eddy Performing at Fred Gretsch's 50th Anniversary Event in Brooklyn

Over the years, Duane and his wife, Deed, have become very dear friends to Dinah and me. We visit with them often and have seen him perform many times. He even performed at my Fiftieth Anniversary Bash in Brooklyn last year and appeared with me recently at a special event that kicked off the opening of the Bachman-Gretsch Collection Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

It’s always special to see Duane and enjoy his dry sense of humor, colorful stories, and, of course, his music. He is a true living legend and an original. Duane’s twangy guitar instrumentals sold millions of records, influenced thousands of young guitarists (like George Harrison) – and helped sell a lot of Gretsch guitars. It’s hard to put a price tag on all of that. It’s even harder to put a price tag on a friendship that has lasted more than 25 years. Thank you again, George, for introducing me to Duane Eddy “all those years ago.”

The Eddys and the Gretsches at the Bachman-Gretsch Collection Exhibit Opening, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, January 2016

To read an exclusive interview with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy where he shares stories about Gretsch guitars, his friendships with George Harrison and the Gretsch family, and his nearly 60-year music career, please visit http://www.gretsch.com/an-interview-with-duane-eddy

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Mark Guiliana: A Jazzer For Today

By Fred Gretsch

I want to start this article about Gretsch drum artist Mark Guiliana with a quote from a review of his 2013 recording, A Form of Truth, taken from Relix magazine: “There are musicians that the general public recognizes for their greatness, and then there are the musicians that other musicians stand in awe of. Drummer Mark Guiliana falls squarely into the second category.”

What places Mark at the forefront of today’s jazz drummers is the fact that he combines a genuine respect and reverence for the artistry of historic icons like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach with a totally fresh and contemporary approach all his own. Blending impressive technical skills on acoustic drums with electronic sounds and processing, Mark can—and does—cover all musical contingencies.

In addition to playing in his own quartet, in his band Beat Music, and in an electronic duo dubbed Mehliana (with keyboardist Brad Mehldau), Mark is a first-call drummer for artists as varied as Avishai Cohen, MeShell N’degeocello, Matisyahu, Gretchen Parlato, and the group Now Vs. Now. In 2014 Mark had the opportunity to play on the late David Bowie’s final album: Blackstar (released on January 8 of this year).

Noted for his ever-changing musical personas, Bowie’s last turn took him into acoustic jazz—albeit with a dark and moody tone—and he wanted a rhythm section that could support his concept. So he called on Mark, with the able assistance of bassist Tim Lefebvre.

Reviews of the album have repeatedly mentioned the contributions made by Mark and Tim, as with this one from Billboard magazine: “Blackstar is unmistakably a band record, showcasing a talented group of musicians who are comfortable navigating the songs’ harmonically twisty byways. Special credit goes to bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, who lock into Bowie’s grooves, tilting the music in the direction of spooky funk.”

The Wall Street Journal added: “Mr. Guiliana’s staccato drumming pieces the band’s moody wash of sound under Mr. Bowie’s voice as he sings an ominous tale. With Blackstar the delicious conceit of David Bowie conspiring with modern jazz artists is fulfilled beautifully.”

In 2015 Mark “returned to his roots,” recording an acoustic-jazz album called Family First with his quartet. Commenting on that album, Rhythm magazine said: “Mark is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new jazzers out there, and after his more electronic-style recordings of previous years, in 2015 he embraced the classic quartet format for some truly brilliant small-group jazz playing.” The magazine went on to name Mark as one of the top jazz drummers of the year.

In addition to his performing skills, Mark is a dedicated educator, eager to share his distinctive musical concepts with other drummers. He conducts frequent workshops in the New York City area, as well as clinics in various locations around the country. He can also be contacted for private lessons through his Web site, MarkGuiliana.com.

On July 30 of 2014 I had a unique opportunity to take a step back into Gretsch Company history. I walked the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, visiting several sites that mark the evolution of the Gretsch company from its inception in 1883 through 1969, some seven decades later.  I had the pleasure of being joined by more than twenty drummers who are fans of Gretsch drums and their history. I’m happy to say that Mark Guiliana was among that group. Following the tour, Mark had these kind words to say:

“I guess by most accounts I’m a jazz drummer, so my heroes are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey—a long list of guys who made their names on Gretsch drums. It was cool to tie the research that I’ve done on those drummers to the history that Fred Gretsch was providing—oftentimes from his own first-person experience. I specifically remember Fred talking about one of the first buildings we saw—on South Fifth Street. He pointed to a window on the second floor and said that it was where they did some of the drum wraps back in the early 1960s. It was nice to imagine how, as he described, great drummers would come in all the time—some to get new drums, some to just bounce ideas off each other. That was really cool.”

I’ll conclude this piece in the same manner as I began it: with a quote, this time from Modern Drummer magazine’s November 2014 cover story on Mark. In it, they refer to him as “the guy to watch if you want to know where the great art of drumming is right now—and where it could be headed.”

YouTube Clips

Here is Mark performing during his clinic at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, held this past November in San Antonio, Texas.

In this clip Mark walks us through some tips and tricks for emulating drum samples with an acoustic kit and few toys.

Here is Mark with Beat Music, at New York City’s Zinc Bar in 2014.

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