Archive for the ‘Gretsch.com’ Category

Gretsch at Carnegie Hall: Capturing a Moment In Time

Friday, August 30th, 2013

By Fred Gretsch

It’s said that every picture tells a story. Well, there are a multitude of stories connected with the historic picture that accompanies this article. The occasion, the setting, and many of the individuals depicted in the photo all have fascinating histories associated with them.

Let’s start with the occasion. The photo was taken December 29, 1945—just a few months after the end of the Second World War. The management team of the Fred Gretsch Musical Instrument Company had gathered in Brooklyn to set a course for the second half of the 20th century. Their decision: Go full speed ahead with professional instruments.

To commemorate their decision the team traveled across the East River to Manhattan. There they planned to join with some of the leading drummers and percussionists of the day for a photo to be taken with a selection of Gretsch drums.

Of course, such a historic photo called for an equally historic location, which brings us to the setting. The sheer number of people to be included in the photo called for a sizeable area. The fact that notable musicians were to be involved called for a musical venue. So it made sense to hold the photo session on the stage of a concert hall. And what New York City concert hall could be more famous—or more respected—than Carnegie Hall?

Aside from its own legendary musical history, Carnegie Hall had a special attraction for the Gretsch team. Directly across the street was Steinway Hall, which was the headquarters of another venerable family-owned music business—and the two companies had much in common. In 1853 German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway founded Steinway & Sons in Manhattan. In 1883 German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch founded the Gretsch Company in Brooklyn. (Both companies are celebrating major anniversaries this year.)

That brings us to the people in the photo. Regrettably, the names of the gentlemen at the far left and far right have been lost to history. The others, starting from the second on the left, are: Saul Goodman, James Crawford, Mary McClanahan, Frank Kutak, Gus Helmecke, Art Neu, Viola Smith, Bernie Benson, Fred Gretsch Jr., Duke Kramer, Phil Grant, Richard Dickson, William Walter Gretsch, and Al Moffatt Sr.

Carnegie Hall Group Photo 1945

Following is just a bit of information about this fascinating group.

SAUL GOODMAN

Saul Goodman was a legendary timpanist, teacher, and inventor. His career with the New York Philharmonic began on that very Carnegie Hall stage in 1926 and ended with his retirement some forty-six years later. In addition, Saul taught at the Julliard School of Music for over forty years, and his students went on to populate the percussion sections of the great orchestras of the United States, Europe, and Asia. He is also responsible for revolutionizing the design and construction of timpani, employing lighter metals that greatly reduced their weight. He also devised a chain tuning mechanism that made it easier to keep their harmonics in balance. Saul retired in 1972 and died in 1996 at the age of eighty-nine.

JAMES CRAWFORD

James “Jimmy” Crawford was the drummer of the popular Jimmie Lunceford big band for from 1928 to 1942. He was known for playing in a shuffle style based on keeping the beat in two, which became a key factor in establishing the unique Lunceford sound. In the 1950s Jimmie worked as a pit drummer on Broadway, and he also had an extensive recording career with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Frankie Lane, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Frank Sinatra.

MARY McCLANAHAN

Mary McClanahan was one of the first, if not the first, successful female drummers of the 1930s and 40s. She was certainly the first female drummer to be featured in an advertisement for Gretsch drums. The November 1939 edition of Metronome magazine carried a full-age ad that depicted Mary and read, “‘Charmed with the tone and beauty of my new Gretsch-Gladstone ensemble,’ says charming Mary McClanahan of Phil Spitalny’s ‘Hour of Charm’ All-Girl Orchestra.”

The Hour of Charm was a nationwide radio show. And while an all-girl orchestra was admittedly a novelty, the quality of the band was genuine, requiring equally genuine talent of its members. Mary McClanahan had to have chops in order to fill that chair. The Gretsch Company thought she did, because they not only featured her in magazine ads, they also included her on the cover of their 1941 catalog—alongside established stars “Papa” Jo Jones, Nick Fatool, Bernie Mattinson, and Alberto Calderon.

FRANK KUTAK

Frank Kutak was a noted New York City percussionist who played regularly in the orchestras for Broadway shows. Ironically, his most notable credit was for a show that was not, technically, a musical. It was the 1951 production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, which featured a band of five musicians playing what was termed “incidental music.”

AUGUST “GUS” HELMECKE

John Phillip Sousa’s famous band employed only three percussion players at any time during its entire existence: a snare drummer, a timpanist who also played bells and triangle, and a drummer who played bass drum and cymbals simultaneously. This was accomplished by attaching a cymbal to the top of the drum and playing on it with a hand-held cymbal. August “Gus” Helmecke, Jr. was Sousa’s favorite bass drummer, and he was highly regarded for the sounds he produced on bass drum and cymbals. He played with Sousa from 1915 to 1931, and was the highest-paid member of the band!

ART NEU

As part of the Gretsch team, Art was a salesman covering the Midwest region.

VIOLA SMITH

Viola Smith was another pioneering female drummer. Eighth in a line of ten children—she and all her siblings were encouraged to be musical by her father, who put together an orchestra consisting of the eight sisters. They played to acclaim in a restaurant/dance hall owned by her family in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. By the time Viola was twelve the Smith Sisters were touring, and they quickly became a favorite on the RKO circuit.

From 1938 to 1941 Viola drummed in an all-female band called The Coquettes, appearing on the cover of Billboard magazine in 1940. In 1942 she joined (you guessed it) Phil Spitalny’s Hour of Charm Orchestra, where she remained until 1954. She became known as the “Female Gene Krupa” for the way she would hurl her drumstick onto her drum, then jump up in the air and catch it as it bounced. In the ensuing years Viola appeared in feature films, played percussion with the National Symphony Orchestra, and performed her own “Drum Concertos.” In the 1960s she moved to Broadway, where she was a member of the Kit Kat Club’s on-stage all-girl band in Cabaret.

On November 29, 2012 Viola celebrated her 100th birthday, and as of this writing she’s alive and well and happy to talk about drums with anyone who’s interested. Several clips of her are currently on YouTube.

BERNIE BENSON

Another member of the Gretsch team, Bernie handled sales in the New York City area.

FRED GRETSCH JR.

Fred Gretsch Jr. became president of the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company when his father Fred Sr. retired in 1942. But shortly thereafter he turned the reins over to his younger brother, William Walter “Bill” Gretsch, and left to serve as an officer in the US Navy during the war. He accomplished that task with distinction, and he had only been home a short time when this photo was taken.

Following the untimely death of Bill Gretsch in 1948, Fred Jr. reassumed leadership of the company. He continued to oversee its expansion, guiding it through the golden era of jazz in the 1950s and into the rock explosion of the early 1960s.

DUKE KRAMER

Duke Kramer was the only person not actually named “Gretsch” who was nonetheless indelibly identified with the brand within the music industry. He joined the company as an instrument repairman in the Chicago office in 1935. He was shortly promoted to purchasing agent and later to traveling sales rep. After serving in the army during World War II, Duke returned to Gretsch as vice president in charge of Chicago operations. All in all, he was an integral part of Gretsch business operations for nearly seventy years.

PHIL GRANT

In 1945 Bill Gretsch hired drum endorser Phil Grant to head the promotions and sales of the drum department, and to handle artist relations. From that time until he left the company in 1972 Phil’s contributions to Gretsch were varied and extensive. As a talented drummer himself he was sympathetic to the needs of Gretsch artists, and he traveled extensively as a clinician and product demonstrator. He was also an inventor, responsible for such Gretsch innovations as “Disappearing Drum Spurs,” the famous “Snap-In Drum Key,” and the “All Height [shell mount] Cymbal Holder.”

RICHARD DICKSON

Richard was a drum builder employed at the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. (Special thanks go to his family for providing this photo.)

WILLIAM WALTER “BILL” GRETSCH

The younger son of Fred Gretsch Sr., “Bill” Gretsch held key positions in the family business from a young age. When his father retired in 1942 Bill was running the company’s sizeable and important Chicago office. He left that position and moved to Brooklyn to take over as president of the company when Fred Gretsch Jr. entered military service. Bill retained the title of president upon his brother’s return. The two brothers jointly guided the business until Bill’s untimely death in 1948 at the age of forty-four.

Duke Kramer said of Bill Gretsch: “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best and a genius for constructive counsel. And his sense of humor was irresistible.”

AL MOFFATT SR.

Al was yet another member of the Gretsch sales team, covering the New England region.

Gretsch Then and Now

The unique photograph presented here—and all the back-story that goes with it—depicts just a single moment within the 130-year history of the company that bears my family name. Along with my wife Dinah I’m proud to represent the fourth generation of that family. (I’m the son of “Bill” Gretsch and the nephew of Fred Gretsch Jr.) Our daughter Lena, who represents the fifth generation, has been an essential part of the business for almost twenty years. And I’m pleased to report that many sixth-generation family members are pursuing educational tracks that will help them continue the family legacy for years to come.

For those interested in the complete history of the Gretsch Company and the Gretsch Family, be sure to check out Rob Cook’s forthcoming book on the subject. Rob’s reputation as a writer and researcher—as well as the promoter of America’s oldest and largest vintage and custom drum show—has established him as a key figure in the field of drum history. With the able assistance of John Sheridan, Rob has produced a comprehensive work that is sure to appeal to Gretsch fans everywhere.

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Gretsch’s Anniversary Celebration Comes “Home” To NYC

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Events celebrating Gretsch’s 130th anniversary have been taking place all over the U.S. this year—as well as in Canada and Japan. (Don’t miss the story of Fred & Dinah Gretsch’s expedition to climb Mt. Fuji, which you can find here.) But it was particularly fitting for two of those events to be held this past August 3 in Gretsch’s “home town” of New York City.

The Gretsch Company was founded in 1883 when Friedrich Gretsch opened his musical-instrument shop in Brooklyn. The company grew over the next several decades, ultimately being located in the famous Gretsch factory building at 60 Broadway, in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge. And although the company vacated that building in the late 1960s, it still stands today as a monument to the legacy of a great New York-based musical enterprise.

And so it was that Fred Gretsch—representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch Family—came to New York City on August 3 to bring the anniversary celebration “back home.” Accompanying Fred (who himself grew up in Forest Hills, Long Island) was his grandson Logan Thomas—a sixth-generation Gretsch family member.

Meet And Greet At Maxwell’s Drum Shop

Fred and Logan’s first stop was at Steve Maxwell’s Custom & Vintage Drum Shop on Seventh Avenue at 48th Street. In addition to serving drummers across the country with vintage sales and custom repairs, Maxwell’s is the second-largest dealer of new Gretsch USA Custom drums in America. The shop is filled with new and vintage Gretsch drums, posters, and memorabilia, including a drumkit that once belonged to jazz legend Elvin Jones.

At Steve Maxwell’s Custom & Vintage Drum Shop, celebrating Gretsch’s 130th anniversary and the release of Rob Cook’s The Gretsch Drum Book. From left: Steve Maxwell, Fred Gretsch, Rob Cook, Logan Thomas, and John Sheridan. Rob presented Steve, Fred, and John with special leather-bound editions of the new book.

Owner Steve Maxwell offered his shop as a site for a meet-and-greet between local drummers and Fred Gretsch. In addition, the shop hosted a book-signing party celebrating the release of The Gretsch Drum Book, a new in-depth chronicle of Gretsch drums and the Gretsch Company authored by noted drum historian Rob Cook with researcher John Sheridan. While paperback production editions of the book were on sale, Rob presented Fred Gretsch, John Sheridan, and Steve Maxwell with special leather-bound commemorative editions to mark the occasion.

A special guest at the event was Sam Ulano, who himself is an NYC drumming icon. Sam has been an active player and a highly revered teacher since the early 1950s. And, at the age of ninety-three, he’s the oldest living Gretsch drum endorser. Although in a wheelchair following recent surgery, Sam “held court” in a lively fashion for drummers in attendance, inviting everyone to attend his birthday party on August 12.

Fred Gretsch spent most of the time chatting with drummers, signing autographs, and even adding his signature to several drums. One was a 1961 Starlight Sparkle kit owned by jazz drummer Brandon Sanders. Another was a snare drum belonging to Pavel Timoveev, who had just come to America from Moscow a week earlier dreaming of owning Gretsch drums and who couldn’t quite believe his good fortune.

Distant cousins Bill Gretsch (at left) and Sally Gretsch Coulson presented Fred Gretsch with an album documenting many generations of Gretsch Family history.

Fred himself received a pleasant surprise with the arrival of two distant relatives—Bill Gretsch, of Maryland, and his sister Sally Gretsch Coulson, of New Jersey—who had traveled to this event specifically to present Fred with a gift. That gift was an album illustrating Gretsch Family history back to well before Friedrich Gretsch came to America. Bill and Sally told Fred that their great-grandfathers were brothers, and thus they shared a common great-great-grandfather. Fred commented that having documentation of the family that far back in his hand while his grandson was at his side placed seven Gretsch generations in the room.

Gretsch’s anniversary celebration at Maxwell’s was also attended by several key figures in the Gretsch Drums manufacturing and sales operation. These included Jim Druckrey (COO of distributor KMC Music) and his family, John Palmer (Gretsch Drums product manager for KMC), Steve Nigohosian and Kim Graham (KMC artist relations), and Paul Cooper (production manager for Gretsch USA Custom drums).

The indomitable Sam Ulano was a special guest at the anniversary event. At ninety-three Sam is the oldest Gretsch drum endorser. He’s still an active player and teacher in NYC. Here Sam autographs a drumhead for an admirer.

Russian jazz drummer Pavel Timoveev (at right) got the thrill of a lifetime when he was able to purchase the Gretsch snare drum he’d always dreamed of owning—and then have it personally autographed by Fred Gretsch himself.

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Concert At Rudy’s Music

Rudy's Gretsch Guitar Wall and Posters.

In quintessential New York fashion, Fred Gretsch and Logan Thomas then took a subway from Midtown south to SoHo for the second event of the day: A concert held at Rudy’s Music on Broome Street (just across the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn, and thus even “closer to home” for Gretsch). Rudy’s is an upscale shop specializing in upscale new and vintage guitars, and Gretsch guitars of both types were on display. These included a classic 1956 “Black Gold” 6120 model custom-made for Chet Atkins.

Once again Fred and Logan represented the family, once again signing autographs and chatting with Gretsch fans. Meanwhile, a stellar roster of performers was on hand to entertain the enthusiastic crowd. Fred acted as emcee, introducing each of the artists.

Kim with Her Band.

Although the main focus of the show at Rudy’s was on the guitar side of Gretsch musical-instrument manufacturing, the first Gretsch performer was a drummer: the talented Kimberly Thompson. Well known as the former drummer for pop star Beyonce, Kim is also extremely skilled at jazz, as was made evident by the playing she did with her own quartet. The group played an adventurous yet eminently musical set, combining odd times, dramatic dynamic shifts, poignant melodies, and complex compositions to earn a well-deserved series of enthusiastic ovations from the crowd. Kim herself proved an exciting soloist, with power, speed, and inventiveness to spare.

Up next were the CAAS Cats, a group named for and drawn from the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. Led by long-time Gretsch guitar artist Bobby Gibson, the group demonstrated the finger-picking playing style made famous by Chet Atkins (himself an iconic Gretsch artist and the namesake of several Gretsch guitar models). With additional guitarist John Standefer, bassist Frank Gruner, and drummer Wayne Johnson, the Cats combined folksy humor with virtuoso playing to the delight of the audience.

Shop owner Rudy Pensa thanked Gretsch Guitars for helping him realize his dream of owning an upscale guitar store.

Shop owner Rudy Pensa took the stage next to thank the audience for coming, and to deliver a heartfelt description of how he came to America from Argentina with the dream of operating a professional guitar shop. With the opening of his SoHo shop—along with another location on 48th Street in Midtown—Rudy’s dream was realized, and he offered his thanks to Gretsch Guitars for helping to make that happen. In so doing, he singled out Gretsch Guitars national sales manager Joe Carducci and FMIC/Gretsch regional sales manager Dave Waters—both of who were in attendance—for their efforts.

Fred Gretsch returned to the stage to make some special presentations. The first was plaques for Rudy Pensa and Steve Maxwell honoring their achievements in the music business and particularly on behalf of Gretsch guitars and drums. The second was framed copies of the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Timeline Poster, which graphically depicts significant milestones in the company’s history.

Fred next introduced the day’s closing act: Paul Pigat & Cousin Harley. This Vancouver, Canada-based trio (with Keith Picot on bass and Jesse Cahill on drums) played an eclectic set of rockabilly, country, Latin, swing, and blues—all founded on Paul’s blazing guitar technique and roots-rock vocals. The group literally flooded the audience with musical energy, stopping at the end of their planned set only long enough to catch a moment’s breath before responding to demands for an encore.

Fred Gretsch closed the show with his thanks to everyone for their support of the day’s events and for their ongoing allegiance to Gretsch guitars and drums. It had been a heck of a party!

The CAAS Cats ably demonstrated the finger-picking style of guitar playing made famous by Chet Atkins.

Guitar ace Paul Pigat led his trio through a rousing and eclectic set of rockabilly, country, swing, blues…and much more.

Additional photos from the Gretsch events at Steve Maxwell’s Custom & Vintage Drum Shop and Rudy’s Music:

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Video clips from the concert event at Rudy’s Music can be seen on the Gretsch Company’s YouTube channel.

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Party At 12,000 Feet!

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Taking Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary Celebration To New Heights

After criss-crossing the United States to attend a series of events celebrating Gretsch’s 130th anniversary this year, Fred and Dinah Gretsch recently took the celebration international. Following an anniversary show at the Sam Ash store in Hollywood on July 20th, they left Los Angeles on the 22nd for a flight to Tokyo, Japan. Because they crossed the International Date Line they arrived on the 23rd—an auspicious date in itself, since it was Fred Gretsch’s birthday.

The Gretsches were actually in Japan to celebrate two anniversaries. The first is the Gretsch Company’s 130th. The second is the 25th anniversary of Gretsch’s distribution partnership with the Kanda Shokai Company. To make that celebration particularly special, the directors of Kanda Shokai arranged for Fred and Dinah to take part in a unique excursion: a journey to the top of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji.

Fred Gretsch left at 4:30 a.m. for his ascent of Mt. Fuji. It takes twelve to fourteen hours to make the climb up and down.

And so it was that on July 26 at 4:30 a.m. Fred Gretsch left his hotel for a car trip to a point nearly 8,000 feet up on the mountain. (Dinah followed in a car a bit later to a station at 6,600 feet.) After spending an hour acclimating to the lower air pressure at that elevation, Fred embarked with a Kanda Shokai team and an experienced mountain guide on a six-hour climb to the summit. There—at an elevation of just over 12,000 feet—Fred proudly displayed Gretsch drum and guitar banners to commemorate his accomplishment and celebrate the double anniversary. Then it was another six-hour descent back to the 7,300-foot point and a welcome car ride back to the hotel.

Kanda Shokai has been the Japanese distributor for Gretsch guitars since 1989.  Says Fred Gretsch, “Kanda Shokai was recommended to the Gretsch Family by our long-time associate Duke Kramer. Dinah and I visited Japan several times in 1988 and 1989, and we agreed that Kanda had the product team and know-how to service the Gretsch market in Japan. They first offered Gretsch guitars for sale at the Tokyo show in the fall of 1989. And we’ve been going strong together ever since.”

Dinah Gretsch traveled by car to Mt. Fuji’s 4th station, at 2020 meters (6,300 feet). “It was a three-hour wait to go any higher,” says Dinah. “Beautiful ride.”

Fred Gretsch and Kanda Shokai director Mr. Sakurai at the 8th station, on their way towards the summit.

Fred Gretsch and mountain guide Mr. Watanabe, at the 9th station. “Mr. Watanabe had 100 climbs to his credit,” says Fred. “He was very helpful to the Gretsch/Kanda team in achieving our goal of a successful ascent to the summit.”

Kanda Shokai’s Mr. Asahi and Mr. Shigeta, Fred Gretsch, and guide Mr. Watanabe—proudly displaying Gretsch drum and guitar banners at the summit of Mt. Fuji. Fred is holding a “camp uke” that was signed by all the climbers and will be given away in a lottery by a Japanese guitar magazine.

Fred Gretsch with Kanda Shokai directors Mr. Yokoyama (at left) and Mr. Sakurai.

Fred Gretsch with Kanda Shokai directors Mr. Yokoyama (at left) and Mr. Sakurai.

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A Very Special Gretsch Weekend

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

With 2013 marking The Gretsch Company’s 130th anniversary, we knew it would be an exceptionally busy year filled with an array of special events and celebrations involving some of our terrific Gretsch artists and including lots of great Gretsch fans!  The period from July 10 through 14, however, proved to be especially jam-packed.  And here’s what happened:

Postcards From Nashville

Each summer two exciting musical events happen simultaneously in Nashville. One is the annual convention of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS), which draws Atkins fans and guitar aficionados from across the country. The other is the Summer NAMM trade show, which attracts thousands of music retailers to view the musical-instrument industry’s latest products. Gretsch Guitars is a sponsor and participant in the CAAS convention, and is an exhibitor at the NAMM show.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch (along with their grandson Logan Thomas) attended both of these events this past July 10 through 14. Fred offers his thanks to those who visited with him, and offers the following photos as “postcards from Nashville.”

Fred & Osmond Patterson @ NAMM

Met lots of great folks in Nashville. Pictured here with Osmond Patterson of Artesian Music.

Fred Gretsch with Osmond Patterson

Fred, Joe C, & Jerry Ozee @ CAAS

Another great CAAS event. Pictured here with Jerry Ozee (at center) and the one and only Joe Carducci (Gretsch Guitars product manager).

Fred Gretsch with Joe Carducci and Jerry Ozee

Fred & Don Graham @ CAAS

Met some terrific Gretsch fans at CAAS, such as Don Graham, proud Gretsch owner since 1960. Thank you Don.

Fred Gretsch with Don Graham

Fred & Don Cerce @ CAAS

Here I am with Don Cerce and his beloved Gretsch 6120 Country Gentleman.

Fred Gretsch with Don Cerce

Fred & Carlton Jones @ CAAS

I had a chance to sign Carlton’s guitar. Enjoyed meeting so many great Gretsch enthusiasts & Chet fans.

Fred Gretsch with Carlton Jones

Fred & Bill Lord @ NAMM

Here I am with Bill Lord, Editor in Chief of The NashVegas Insider. Nice chap.

Fred Gretsch with Bill Lord

Fred & Eric Hartley @ NAMM

Another great day in Nashville. Enjoyed meeting Eric Hartley with The Gear Getter.

Fred Gretsch With Eric Hartley

Fred & Joey Joy @ CAAS

Terrific photo taken with Joey Joy of Joy Ride here in Nashville.

Fred Gretsch with Joey Joy

Fred & Harrison Woodlief @ NAMM

Really terrific to see the next generation of musicians during NAMM & CAAS. We hear Harrison’s next purchase may be a Gretsch guitar.

Fred Gretsch with Harrison Woodlief

A special thank-you to everyone for these great memories!

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Fred And Dinah Gretsch Attend Music Makes Us Luncheon

Event Celebrates Nashville’s Commitment To Music Education

Dinah & Fred Gretsch. Photo by Spark St. Jude-MagicOnFilm.

On July 11 a unique event happened in Nashville. Held in coordination with the Summer NAMM musical-instrument trade show, the Music Makes Us luncheon celebrated the importance of music education in the enrichment of young people’s lives. Fred and Dinah Gretsch—well known for their charitable efforts on behalf of music education—attended the event as honored guests, accompanied by their grandson Logan Thomas.

Music Makes Us is joint venture between Nashville’s Metro schools and music industry leaders, targeted at developing a curriculum that offers a variety of approaches to public-school music education. This includes traditional programs like concert band and choir, but also includes classes in rock music, songwriting, bluegrass, and even mariachi styles.  “We want to draw students to making music in other genres,” said Music Makes Us director Laurie Schell. “It’s an opportunity to open doors for students who might not otherwise choose music.”

Fred Gretsch comments, “Dinah and I were pleased to attend the Music Makes Us luncheon, where we were honored to sit with Nashville’s mayor, Karl Dean, and NAMM president Joe Lamond. We were also extremely impressed with the Music Makes Us program, and with the Nashville school system’s overall commitment to music education. We learned that of the 84,000 students in the Nashville system, fully 100% of them are exposed to music and arts at the elementary level, and 62% system-wide. The school system employs 200 music and arts teachers, with the goal of having the best program in the world. I believe that Nashville’s progressive approach to music and arts education should be a model for the rest of the country.”

Guests at the July 11 luncheon were greeted with a performance by the McGavock High School Saxophone Quartet, directed by Jacob Campos. Speakers included NAMM president Joe Lamond, Nashville mayor Karl Dean, director of schools Jesse Register, senior vice president of the Recording Academy Nancy Shapiro, Music Makes Us director Laurie Schell, coordinator of visual and performing arts Dr. Nola Jones, and NAMM Foundation executive director Mary Luehrsen. A performance by Gibson Artists Chris & Lolly ended the event.

Video clips of the luncheon performances as well as comments from Laurie Schell and Nancy Shapiro may be viewed HERE.

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Fred Gretsch Offers Insight at Summer NAMM

Participates In a Unique Panel of Industry Icons

Fred Gretsch greatly enjoyed his participation.

Fred Gretsch represents the fourth generation of The Gretsch Family and the company that bears its name. With nearly fifty years in the business himself, Fred has earned the respect and admiration of his industry peers—including the organizers of the NAMM musical-instrument trade show. That admiration led them to invite Fred to participate in their “Insight—Hard-Earned Wisdom From Industry Icons” panel event on July 11. The event was a feature of the Summer NAMM show held in Nashville from July 11 through July 13.

The Insight Panel Along with NAMM President Joe Lamond and Moderators Tom Bedell and Vince Gill.

As part of the “Insight” panel Fred joined several other gentlemen whose family names are also iconic musical brands. These included Chris Martin (Martin guitars), Sterling Ball (Ernie Ball strings and accessories), Jim D’Addario (D’Addario & Co.), Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars), and Hartley Peavey (Peavey amplifiers and guitars). Other industry notables included Henry Juszkiewicz (Gibson Guitars) and Andy Zildjian (Sabian Cymbals). The panel was hosted jointly by country music superstar Vince Gill and NAMM director Tom Bedell (founder of Two Old Hippies LLC).

Fred Gretsch Shares a Thought as Sterling Ball Looks On

The evening’s program gave each member an opportunity to address topics of personal interest, as well as to respond to specific questions posed by the moderators. Segments included manufacturing, business and leadership, and the future of retail. The goal was to offer meaningful advice to the music retailers in attendance.

“I was honored to be a part of this great program,” says Fred Gretsch, “and to share some of my thoughts about the current state of the music industry and how it can be improved. Along that line, when we were asked what we would do if we were ‘king for a day,’ I responded with what I’d learned earlier that same day about the music education program in the Nashville school system. With 84,000 students in the system, 100% of them are exposed to music and art at the elementary level, and 62% system-wide. The district employs 200 music and arts teachers, with the goal of having the best program in the world. My ‘kingly decree’ would be to implement that same music program in all 164,000 school systems in America. I got a terrific round of applause from the 1,000-plus folks in attendance.”

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A Special Card For Bill

Drummers From Across The Country Help Gretsch Celebrate Bill Hagner’s 90th Birthday

July 13 marked the 90th birthday of Bill Hagner—a gentleman who figures highly in the history of Gretsch musical-instrument manufacturing. Bill started working at Gretsch’s Brooklyn factory as a clerk in 1941 and eventually rose to the position of plant manager. He held that job during the heady days of the 1950s and early ’60s, when jazz greats like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams—as well as future rock superstars Charlie Watts and Phil Collins—all graced the Gretsch roster.

When Gretsch was sold to Baldwin in 1967, Bill stayed on. He moved to Booneville, Arkansas when the drum factory was relocated there, and later transferred to Baldwin’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters as Sales Manager. Eventually he left Baldwin, and for a while he was out of the music business altogether. But when Fred Gretsch brought the Gretsch Company back to family ownership in 1985, who better to call on to help move drum-making operations out of Arkansas and into Ridgeland, South Carolina (where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today) than Bill Hagner? Bill’s help proved invaluable in getting the operation up and running in its new home.

All in all, Bill Hagner spent fifty-eight years associated with Gretsch. His contributions over that time are a significant part of the Gretsch legacy. So it was important to Fred Gretsch to do something special to mark Bill’s 90th birthday. To help him in this project, he turned to Rob Cook—producer of the Chicago Drum Show, noted drum historian, and author of the soon-to-be-released Gretsch Drum Book.

Rob picks up the story saying, “Fred advised me early last spring that Bill had this milestone birthday approaching. Fred was spreading the word in hopes that at least ninety people would send birthday cards to Bill. I immediately thought of all the drummers coming to the Chicago Drum Show in May who would want to send their best wishes. So we created a giant birthday card that could accommodate lots of signatures. And we definitely got them, from drummers across the country—including well-known artists Bun E. Carlos and Tommy Wells.”

Special card created to mark Bill Hagner’s 90th birthday signed by over ninety drummers at the Chicago Drum Show this past May.

Ken “K.C.”Kramer (right) presented the card to Bill Hagner.

After collecting all the signatures, Rob forwarded the card to Fred Gretsch. Fred and his wife (and Gretsch Company CFO) Dinah added their own congratulatory message, and then arranged to have the card presented to Bill Hagner in person. Fred and Dinah were to be in Nashville at the summer NAMM show on Bill’s birthday weekend, so they called on Ken “K.C.” Kramer—who lives in Florida not far from Bill’s home in Fort Myers—to make the presentation on their behalf. Ken is the son of Duke Kramer, who was himself a key figure in Gretsch operations for almost seventy years.

“Bill was extremely appreciative of the card and all the well wishes that came with it,” says Ken. “He enjoyed trying to read the names and figure out who he might know. In addition to the card, my wife Gail and I gave him ninety Florida lottery scratch-offs, just for fun. He told us that this was the best birthday he’s had in many years.”

Along with the card, Bill received ninety Florida lottery scratch-off sheets to commemorate his ninety years.

For more information on Bill Hagner’s contributions to Gretsch history, be sure to check out The Gretsch Book by Rob Cook with John Sheridan. The official release of this important new book will take place on August 3, 2013 in New York City as part of the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration. The event in Manhattan is being jointly hosted by Fred Gretsch, Joe Carducci, John Palmer, Steve Maxwell’s Vintage & Custom Drums, and Rudy’s Music. Additional information on the book and the release event is at the Rebeats website.

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There’s a lot more to come in 2013 so stay tuned for more updates from our 130th Anniversary events!!

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Joe Robinson: Globe-Trotting Gretsch Guitar Great

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Traveling is part of the job for any successful musician. But Gretsch artist Joe Robinson recently put in some “above and beyond the call” mileage on behalf of Gretsch Guitars and the 130th anniversary of the Gretsch Company.

Joe Robinson and his trio celebrated Gretsch’s 130th anniversary with a performance in Tokyo.

Saturday, June 15 saw Joe performing in Tokyo, Japan at a celebration of Gretsch’s anniversary presented by the company’s Japanese distributor, Kanda Shokai. The event also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Gretsch/Kanda Shokai partnership. As usual, Joe wowed the audience with his combination of brilliant technique, tasteful musicality, and imaginative composition.

Joe took his talents 5,000 miles from Tokyo to appear at Sweetwater Gearfest in Ft. Wayne, IN. Photo: Jim Sites.

With barely enough time to catch his breath, Joe was on the road (actually, in the air) again immediately following his performance in Japan. His next stop was some 5,000 miles away, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he appeared on Saturday, June 22 at the Sweetwater GearFest sponsored by Sweetwater Sound. Joe’s presentation was part of yet another celebration of Gretsch’s 130th anniversary, which also included a performance by Gretsch artists Fountains Of Wayne. Fred Gretsch himself was on hand to introduce the performers and thank all of the Gretsch fans in attendance.

Joe’s travels will continue throughout the year, with additional 130th anniversary shows at Sam Ash Music in Hollywood on July 20 and at Guitar Center in Chicago on August 15. Fred and Dinah Gretsch will be acting as emcees for both events.

List of upcoming 130th Anniversary events.

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Fred & Dinah 130th Anniversary Tour Kicks Off With A Bang

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Brooklyn’s Street Sounds Stages Major Gretsch Day Event

Street Sounds, Brooklyn, NY

The first stop on Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary Tour was at Street Sounds in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday, June 15. 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.

Store owner Rocky Schiano began the festivities by giving the Gretsch fans in attendance a guided tour of the shop’s impressive array of Gretsch guitars. Many of those instruments were custom and one-of-a-kind models incorporating visual and functional features available nowhere else in the world. These included a new series of guitars featuring the unique designs of Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Kaves, who was introduced by Rocky to the acclaim of the locals in the crowd.

Steve Stern Custom Falcon

This presentation segued into a video about the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, introduced by Gretsch’s lead custom guitar builder Steven Stern. A special glass display case in the shop showcased one of Stern’s own custom jobs: a white Falcon with all-wood appointments and no plastic. Rocky pointed out that the guitar took four months of consultations and another twelve to construct.

Rocky then introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and Gretsch Guitars. Fred spoke about the importance of family heritage to a business, commenting on how he was the fourth generation of his family, and how Rocky and his family had a similar multi-generational involvement in their business. Fred went on to thank all the “lifers” in the room, referring to those individuals—customers and performers alike—whose personal connection to music was a lifelong endeavor.

Dinah Gretsch offered her thanks to the audience for their attendance, then went on to express her deep personal conviction that music enriches the lives of those who pursue it. She told the audience about her Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, a charitable effort that she founded to support music education in rural schools. And she encouraged all the musicians in the room to offer their time and skills to local schools as a way to promote and perpetuate the impact of music on young people.

The Foxy Studs. Photo by Mike Beitchman.

Gretsch Day at Street Sounds was full of surprises, and the first one came when Fred and Dinah brought Rocky back to the stage to receive a gift: a framed display version of the Gretsch 130th Anniversary poster. This presentation was followed by Fred’s introduction of the day’s first performers: a talented young contemporary rock group called Foxy Studs—featuring Rocky’s daughter Kristina on drums. The band’s energetic set earned enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The second surprise of the day came when Fred and Dinah Gretsch introduced a video tribute to veteran studio and touring guitarist Al Caiola. Then they introduced Al himself, who was on hand as an honored guest. Al came on stage to receive a plaque commemorating his long and distinguished musical career.

Al Caiola Sits in with Jet Weston and His Atomic Ranch Hands.

Variety was the theme of the day when it came to the entertainment, and this was made abundantly clear by the appearance of Jet Weston and His Atomic Ranch Hands. Costumed in a mix of classic western, frontier, hillbilly, and riverboat gambler garb, Jet and his band offered an eclectic mix of western swing and jazz standards. Later in their set they invited Al Caiola to join them, and the 92-year-old guitar star added his special touch to several tunes . . . including his own 1960s hit, “Theme From The Magnificent Seven.”

Rocky Presents Fred with Anniversary Cake. Photo by Mike Beitchman.

Rocky returned to the stage to tell that audience that no anniversary celebration would be complete without a cake. He and Fred Gretsch then displayed a large sheet cake decorated with the Gretsch Logo and the words “Happy 130th Anniversary.” Everyone in the crowd was invited to enjoy the anniversary treat.

Michelle Marie on Stage. Photo by Mike Beitchman.

When introducing the next act, Fred Gretsch said that it was “great to see a girl playing guitar.” The “girl” in question was Michelle Marie, and play she did, leading her own trio in a set of primarily instrumental fusion and progressive jazz compositions. Odd time signatures, stellar technique, and challenging arrangements were the order of the day.

Throughout the day Dinah Gretsch joined with Rocky to give away a selection of door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts as well as several Gretsch guitars. The day’s big winner took home a classic orange-finish Gretsch Electromatic guitar.

The day’s performances closed with an appearance by 1970s New Wave recording stars The Romantics. The group immediately launched into their signature style of pop-punk rock, playing two tunes before stopping to greet the crowd, to thank Street Sounds for inviting them, and to acknowledge Fred and Dinah Gretsch. Then it was right back into the music, rocking song after song before closing with their monster hit “What I Like About You.”

Rocky Schiano joined Fred and Dinah Gretsch in thanking everyone for attending and offering one more round of congratulations to Gretsch on its 130th Anniversary. It had been a heck of a party!

The Romantics.

Stay tuned for more photos and videos from this event!

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Ben Tucker In Memoriam

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Ben Tucker

I join with the musical community of Savannah, Georgia—and, in fact, of the world—in mourning the death of upright bass great Ben Tucker this past June 4. His loss leaves a void in the hearts of jazz fans everywhere.

Although the Gretsch Company is best known for drums and guitars, the Gretsch Family is keenly interested in all aspects of music—and in the great players, like Ben, who have blessed us by their creation of that music. In addition, my wife Dinah and I are residents of the Savannah suburb of Pooler, and we had the opportunity to get to know Ben as a personal friend. It is in that context that we will miss him the most.

Ben had a long and distinguished career, performing with stars including Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, Dexter Gordon, and Peggy Lee. He also had success as a songwriter.  His “Comin’ Home Baby,” co-written with jazz vocalist Bob Dorough, was recorded by Mel Torme, Herbie Mann, and most recently Michael Buble.

After settling in Savannah in the 1970s Ben made his living playing his upright bass—which he dubbed “Bertha” and claimed was 240 years old—at jazz festivals, in nightclubs, and for wedding receptions  and  bar mitzvahs.  As one of Savannah’s best-known working musicians, he was a beloved mainstay of the city’s musical scene. On the day of his death he was eighty-two years old . . . and he had a gig that night.

In addition to being a stellar performer, Ben was one of the most likeable individuals you’d ever want to meet. And it always seemed as though everyone did want to meet him. Any performance taking place in Savannah was likely to be as much a love-fest for Ben as it was a musical event. Ben’s long-time bandmate Howard Paul—a great jazz guitarist and president/CEO of Benedetto Guitars—memorialized Ben by saying, “When we played with Ben we could count on being interrupted at least three times in a song because Savannahians would walk up and shake his hand while we were playing.”

Losing Ben is particularly tragic because, although he was advanced in years, his death did not come as the result of failing health, sudden illness, or even what could legitimately be called an “accident.” Instead, it was the senseless result of reckless and reprehensible behavior by someone else behind the wheel of a car. So it cannot be said that Ben “left us.” The truth is he was taken from us, which makes his absence all the more painful.

Dinah and I were honored to attend the musical memorial that was Ben’s funeral. We know that Ben would have been flattered—and perhaps a bit embarrassed—by the outpouring of feeling that was expressed by those in attendance. And he would definitely have enjoyed the raucous New Orleans-style second-line parade and jazz fest that followed. I’m sure that he was there in spirit, expertly plunking his beloved “Bertha” and grinning from ear to ear.

Fred W. Gretsch

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The Fred & Dinah Gretsch 130th Anniversary Tour

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Nationwide Appearances Will Celebrate Gretsch History

This year marks Gretsch’s 130th anniversary, and the company is going all-out to celebrate this historic milestone. Special promotional events in cities across the US and Canada will showcase Gretsch guitars and drums, with concert performances by top Gretsch artists.

A special element of these events will be The Fred & Dinah Gretsch 130th Anniversary Tour. Representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch Family, Fred will be on hand to personally greet Gretsch fans, sign autographs, and relate the fascinating history of the business that was founded by his great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, in 1883.

Dinah & Fred Gretsch. Photo: Spark St. Jude/MagicOnFilm

At several of the events Fred will be joined by his wife Dinah. A notable industry figure in her own right, Dinah is the founder of the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, a charitable organization that supports music education in rural schools.

“Dinah and I are really looking forward to this tour,” says Fred Gretsch. “Among the things we love most in the world are traveling, meeting folks who appreciate Gretsch drums and guitars, and enjoying the performances of great Gretsch musical artists. And it’s a special joy for me to have the opportunity to share anecdotes and stories about my family’s 130-year history in the music business. So I want to personally invite one and all to come and enjoy these great Gretsch events.”

The Fred & Dinah 130th Anniversary Tour will start in late June, with stops at StreetSounds NYC (Brooklyn, June 15), The Sweetwater Gearfest (Fort Wayne, IN, June 22), and Bizarre Guitar (Reno, NV, June 29). Then it’s on to the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention (Nashville, TN, July 10-13), Sam Ash Music (Hollywood, CA, July 20), Rudy’s Music & Steve Maxwell Drums (New York, NY, August 3), Guitar Center (Chicago, IL, August 15), and Class Axe Guitars (Kemptville, ON, Canada, October 12).

Artists scheduled to appear at these events include The Romantics, the Michelle Marie Trio, Jet Weston & his Atomic Ranch Hands, Foxy Studs, Fountains of Wayne, the Joe Robinson Trio, Rosie Flores & The Rivetors, Mister Barrington (featuring drummer Zach Danziger), The Octanes, Steve Ferrone, Paul Pigat & Cousin Harley, and the Kimberly Thompson Quartet (featuring Beyonce drummer Kim Thompson).

For more information on the Gretsch Company and history, visit the Gretsch website.

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