Archive for the ‘Gretsch Events’ Category

“Fluke” Holland: Drummer for The Man In Black

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A Rock & Roll Pioneer On Gretsch Drums

By Fred Gretsch

Fluke with Gretsch Kit

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

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

Fluke on Snare with Johnny Cash

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas 4 Kids Charity Auction

Monday, December 8th, 2014

From Christmas 4 Kids:

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

Fred Gretsch with Gary Morgan

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

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

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

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

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A Great Gretsch Weekend-Plus In Nashville

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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

Nashville Drum Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Mr. Gretsch

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

Broadkasters Are Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Harsen's Gretsch Kit.

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

All photos above courtesy of Bob Campbell.

Going To A Party

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

The Music Didn’t Stop

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

Matt and Gary Forkum with Fred Gretsch and Paul Cooper.

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Dinah and Fred Gretsch Receive Georgia Governor’s Award

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Industry Icons Honored For Contributions To The Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Fred and Dinah Gretsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinah & Fred Gretsch Among Georgia Governor’s Awards Winners

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

FROM THE OFFICE OF GEORGIA GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed information about the recipients available here.

About the Award

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

About the Award Partners

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

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

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

Monday, October 6th, 2014

RELEASE BY TRACKSAUCTION.COM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brooklyn Walking Tour: Traveling Through Gretsch History Today

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

By Fred Gretsch

On July 30, 2014 I had a unique opportunity to take a step back into Gretsch Company history. As a matter of fact, I actually took several hundred steps, as I walked the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where the company got its start. Along the way I visited several sites that mark the evolution of the company from its inception in 1883 through 1969, some seven decades later.

Gretsch drummers and history buffs joined the walking tour of historic Gretsch locations in Brooklyn.

Best of all, I had the pleasure of being joined by more than twenty drummers who are fans of Gretsch drums and their fascinating history. Since these drummers were all from the New York area, the information offered in our “Brooklyn Walking Tour” was all the more personal for them.

We started the day by meeting at Main Drag Music, which is located in the heart of the Williamsburg district—and thus in the heart of historic Gretsch territory. John Fell of Main Drag helped to coordinate the list of attendees, and he provided us all with a great base of operations. Before leaving for our walk, I spent a little time sharing specific facts and anecdotes about the Gretsch Family itself.

A History Synopsis
I began with how my great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883 when he opened a little shop at 128 Middleton Street in Brooklyn. There he and a few workmen made drums, banjos, tambourines, and other musical items.

Fred Gretsch, Sr.

When Friedrich Gretsch died suddenly in 1895, his eldest son (and my grandfather) Fred Gretsch Sr. took over the company—at the tender age of fifteen. Initially he was aided by his mother, Rosa, who was by all accounts a remarkable woman. But he showed considerable business acumen on his own, and by the turn of the century five years later he’d expanded the business significantly. By the time the 1912 catalog was published, Gretsch could justifiably claim to have “the largest musical instrument factory in the U.S.”

My grandfather ran the business with his two younger brothers—Walter and Louis—for several years. They later left to pursue other interests, while he

Fred Gretsch Jr.

continued to direct company operations. Eventually, his two sons—my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., and my father, William W.

William Walter "Bill" Gretsch

Gretsch—joined the business. My uncle took over when my grandfather retired in 1942, but he took a hiatus to serve in World War II. My father then ran the company from 1942 until his own untimely death in 1948. My uncle returned to lead the company until its sale to the Baldwin Company in 1967—which marked the close of the Gretsch Brooklyn era.

Stepping Out In Brooklyn
Through the good graces of KMC Music—the company that exclusively distributes Gretsch Drums throughout the USA & worldwide—I was fitted with a wireless headset microphone system so that I could narrate the walking tour to all of the attendees, who were themselves fitted with earphones. It was a pretty modern way to delve back into more than 130 years of history.

Gretsch Building #2 at 104 to 114 South Fourth Street. Built around 1895.

Once we all had our audio connection set, it was time to head out for our first destination:  104-114 South 4th Street, which was home to Gretsch Building #2, built circa 1895. The original Gretsch building #1, built in 1883, had been at 128 Middleton Street, about a mile away off Broadway. But regrettably, it no longer stands.

As we made our way south on Wythe Street, I pointed out how the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was a great industrial area in the years that Gretsch operated there. In fact, the area and the company share some significant dates. My great-grandfather opened his shop in 1883, the same year that the Brooklyn Bridge opened. In 1903 the Gretsch Company was incorporated, with Fred Sr. and his brother Walter as directors. In that same year the Williamsburg Bridge opened.

Today, Williamsburg has become pretty gentrified. Only a few remnants from Brooklyn’s industrial heyday remain among its trendy restaurants and residential lofts. Fortunately, some of those are the very buildings we were to visit.

Our next stop was right around the same block, facing the Williamsburg Bridge. It was Gretsch Building #3, at 109 South 5th Street. Located directly behind the South 4th Street building, Building #3 was owned by a Gretsch cousin.

By 1916 the company had to expand again, so the ten-story Gretsch Building #4 was erected at 60 Broadway.

Continuing under the Williamsburg Bridge via Berry Street, we emerged into the shadow of Gretsch Building #4 at 60 Broadway. This iconic ten-story structure was erected in 1916. It’s the classic edifice that graced the pages of Gretsch catalogs, flyers, and advertisements—and gave birth to Gretsch’s most famous instruments—for more than sixty years. The basement was used for storing parts, most notably die-cast hoops by the thousands. I vividly remember visiting that building as a youngster.

Speaking of youngsters, one tour attendee who had a special interest in Gretsch history was my young cousin, Garrett Gretsch. Representing the fifth generation of the Gretsch Family in America, Garrett is the grandson of my uncle Richard “Dick” Gretsch—a unique family figure who passed away in 2010 at the age of one hundred and one. Although he didn’t work for the Gretsch

From left, John Palmer (of KMC Music), Fred Gretsch, and drummer/author John Sheridan (in foreground) standing at the corner of Broadway and Wythe street in Brooklyn and looking up at the top of the iconic Gretsch Building #4 at 60 Broadway. (Photo by Vincent Tese.)

Company as an adult, Uncle Dick certainly would have been employed in Building #4 as a teenager. His father (and my grandfather) Fred Gretsch Sr. would likely have had him (and his two brothers) packing phonograph needles, which were hot items in the early years of the 20th century.

Although drum and guitar production originally took place at 60 Broadway, by the mid-’60s drum production had to be relocated to 109 South 5th Street in order to expand guitar production in the wake of Beatlemania. Drums came into similar demand. Those were heady days for the Gretsch Company.

Sadly, those heady days didn’t last long. As I explained in my narrative, in 1967 my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., sold the Gretsch Company to the Baldwin Piano company. That company moved instrument production from Brooklyn to Arkansas in mid-1969. However, in 1985 my wife Dinah and I were successful at returning Gretsch to family ownership. At that time we relocated drum production from DeQueen, Arkansas to Ridgeland, South Carolina, where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today.

As we all stood and viewed the building at 60 Broadway—which still bears the Gretsch name—I told my tourmates that in 1999 my cousins, my sisters, and I sold the building to a developer, who renovated it into luxury condos, adding two more stories for additional penthouses. (By 2004, a one-bedroom studio apartment at “The Gretsch” sold for $650K!)

On the way back to Main Drag Music from 60 Broadway, we stopped at an old building on Dunham Place. It featured ancient wooden double-doors that arched at the top and came to a point, looking very much like the entrance to a carriage house. I pointed out that this was yet another location that Gretsch used for the purpose of warehousing product. Standing there, you could just imagine a 19th-century horse-drawn wagon emerging from those peaked double-doors, on its way to deliver Gretsch instruments to local customers. I thought that was a pretty charming image with which to close what I hoped was an informative and enjoyable tour.

Post-Tour Gatherings
When we returned to Main Drag Music I had a great time answering questions, signing autographs, and taking photos with the drummers who had come on the tour (as well as many who hadn’t). John Palmer of KMC music acted as host, answering questions about current Gretsch products. And to top things off, a beautiful Gretsch snare drum was raffled off to a lucky attendee. (I’ll let him tell you about it in his comments below.)

Following the event at Main Drag Music, John Palmer and I moved into mid-town Manhattan, where we visited with a whole new batch of Gretsch drum enthusiasts at a reception sponsored by Steve Maxwell’s Drum Shop at 7th Avenue and 48th Street. Steve’s shop is the de facto headquarters for Gretsch drums in New York City, specializing in Gretsch USA products.

Attendee Comments
I was thrilled to be able to share such a great day with so many drummers. And I’m even more thrilled to share some of the wonderful things that they had to say about the Brooklyn Walking Tour, about Gretsch history in general, and about Gretsch drums in particular.

To begin with, Mark Giuliana, who is a Gretsch drum endorsing artist with two outstanding CDs to his credit, said: “I found Fred Gretsch’s encyclopedic knowledge very impressive and inspiring. 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 was providing—oftentimes from his own first-person experience. Specifically I 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. To be honest I learned nearly as much about the history of Brooklyn and New York City as I did about Gretsch drums. It was beautiful how Fred tied in a focus on the company with a history of the city and how the company grew and shifted with all its changes.”

Here’s what Brooklyn-based drummer Tony Leone thought of the day: “I found the Brooklyn Walking Tour to be interesting, informative, and above all inspiring. Having played Gretsch drums for over twenty-five years and having owned several ‘Round Badge’ kits and snare drums, it was great to visit the buildings where, ‘that great Gretsch sound!’ was born. Hearing Fred himself speak about his family lineage and about his time working in the factory as a kid added an air of pure authenticity. It felt like the spirits of the great Gretsch legends, like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams were walking along with us!

“When we returned to Main Drag Music after the tour I expected there would be giveaways of T-shirts, stickers, and the like. I did not expect to walk out as the winner of a new Gretsch Brooklyn Series chrome over steel snare drum. And besides being a wonderful surprise, that drum has proved to be exactly the drum I needed to add to my arsenal! It has a crack that cuts right through the volume of any mix, but it also has warmth, depth, and an extremely musical tone, with far more dynamic range than any other snare drum in my collection. I’ve taken that drum on every gig I’ve had since winning it!”

Mishka Shubaly is a modern-day renaissance man, with a new album coming out on CD and vinyl, as well as five bestselling Kindle Single stories to his credit. He comments, “I’m a huge fan of Gretsch—the story, the people, and the products. One of the things that impressed me about the Brooklyn Walking Tour was how the Gretsch story is such a deeply American story, as well as a deeply New York story: A talented, hard-working immigrant comes here and builds something that goes on to touch the entire world.

“What I found particularly interesting is how significant milestones in Gretsch history line up with events in New York City’s history. And the story’s ending is so fantastic, with Fred reclaiming the company from an investor that devalued it, and returning it to the Gretsch family. It’s like a Hollywood movie! I’d love to see the Brooklyn Walking Tour become not just a yearly thing for drum insiders but a cultural event for folks interested in New York/ Brooklyn/manufacturing history in general. It really is an amazing story, and Fred’s genuine enthusiasm is as rare as it is touching.”

John Sheridan, who, in addition to describing himself as “a player/collector/aficionado of Gretsch instruments for more than forty years,” is also the co-author (with Rob Cook) of the recently published Gretsch Drum Book, offers these kind remarks: “Along the entire tour Fred revealed interesting historical facts as well as answering a steady flow of questions from tour members, myself included. Of particular interest to me was the South 4th Street building (I lived in nearby Greenpoint for ten years and never saw that building’s exact location), as well as the Dunham Place warehouse, which I never knew existed. Fred kept us all moving and well-informed. He also carried a binder filled with archival Gretsch photographs and documents, which he freely shared with us onlookers. Bottom line:  A splendid time was had by all, with Fred W. Gretsch at the heart of it!”

Steve Maxwell is an old and dear friend as well as a great Gretsch supporter, and I’m flattered by his comments: “We had a nice reception at my shop for anyone who wanted to meet Fred, say hello, take a photo, get an autograph, and talk about Gretsch drums with the family member who’s helped to keep the business alive. He is hugely important. Though the reception was scheduled from 4:30 to 6:30, we didn’t leave until about 7:45. We had a lot of people, and it was a fun time.

“Later, Fred was kind enough to express his appreciation for what we do to support the Gretsch brand. I, in turn, am very appreciative of how the quality of the product has been so superb for so many years, and how the dedication to the brand is there because Fred’s kept it a family-owned business. It’s a great product with historical significance.”

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Gretsch Walking Tour Scheduled For July 30 in Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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POST-EVENT RELEASE . . .

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From GretschDrums.com:

Come out to the Gretsch Walking Tour on July 30th in New York City! Meet Fred Gretsch and take a walk through time in American music history. The Gretsch music instrument brand is woven into fabric of American history. The company was founded in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1883 and has been crafting world-class drum and Guitar instruments since then. Current President (and 4th generation family member) Fred Gretsch will lead an intimate walking tour through Brooklyn to tell personal stories about the family and the building sites where the instruments were made. For the tour, meet at Main Drag Music at 11:30 a.m. and the tour will begin at Noon.  Gretsch Day at Main Drag will follow the tour from 1:30-3:30 and Gretsch Day at Steve Maxwell Drums will be from 4:30-6:30. This is a free event.

Contact Main Drag Music and Steve Maxwell Drums for more details.

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