Archive for the ‘Gretsch Events’ Category

The Gretsch Drumkit That Made Olympic History

Monday, August 8th, 2016

By Fred Gretsch

As the world focuses on the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I’d like to share a story that took place the last time that the Summer Olympics were located in the Americas. North America, in fact, exactly twenty years ago.

It was 1996, and the games were being held in Atlanta, Georgia. As always, the athletes of the world had assembled to compete in dozens of events. Also as always, thousands of people had come to view those competitions. And in the evenings, after the competitions had concluded, those thousands of people were enjoying concerts in Centennial Olympic Park, which served as the “town square” for the Olympics.

On the evening of July 27 there was a midnight concert scheduled, featuring Jack Mack & The Heart Attack. This high-energy R&B band was anchored by long-time Gretsch drummer Alvino Bennett. Prior to coming down to Atlanta for the show, Alvino called the Gretsch office to say that the band wasn’t carrying a drumkit for their tour, and to ask if Gretsch might be able to loan him one for the Atlanta show. My wife Dinah and I had a great relationship with Alvino, and as it happened it was Dinah that he spoke with when he called.

Dinah was eager to help Alvino, and she also realized that having a Gretsch kit seen and heard at the Olympics would be a pretty historic situation. So she decided to loan Alvino an already historic set of drums: the iconic yellow kit played by drumming legend Tony Williams during the latter part of his career. When Alvino called, that kit was proudly on display in the Gretsch museum at the company’s headquarters in Pooler, Georgia.

Tony Williams' iconic yellow Gretsch drums are on display at Gretsch Company headquarters in Pooler, Georgia.

As most drummers know, Tony Williams was arguably the single most influential drummer of the 20th century. Initially identified as a “jazz” drummer—mainly because he arrived on the scene as a member of Miles Davis’s legendary 1960s quintet—Tony quickly demonstrated that he was not to be pigeonholed within any style. His playing encompassed elements of jazz, rock, R&B, and Latin music. He combined these with formidable technique and unbridled passion to create dynamic performances that electrified audiences around the world—and sent millions of drummers racing to their practice rooms. Many of today’s greatest drum figures cite Tony Williams as their most important influence.

Fred Gretsch and Alvino Bennett in 2012.

“I was so honored,” says Alvino today. “The Gretsches didn’t have to loan me that particular kit; they could have given me any drumkit. But they gave me Tony Williams’ drums—that yellow drumkit that was so identified with Tony himself.”

So there was Alvino Bennett, playing with Jack Mack & The Heart Attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics, sitting behind a historic drumkit that had been previously owned and used by an even more historic drummer. But the history doesn’t stop there.

Many people might remember the significance of the date—July 27, 1996—but for those who don’t, Alvino picks up the story, saying:  “We were on stage, and I was playing Tony’s drumkit, which was a big thrill for me. We’d only played two or three songs when we realized that something had happened out in the park. I was sitting directly under the Jumbotron that showed everything that was going on. It was moving. We saw the audience running in all directions. We thought one of the big power amplifiers for the sound system had gone out. We were sitting there wondering what was happening when all these authorities came up to us yelling, ‘Get off the stage. A bomb has gone off!’”

Hearing those terrible words would likely send anyone running to seek safety. But Alvino Bennett isn’t just anyone. He’s a drummer. He continues the story, saying, “There I was, thinking, ‘This is the kit that Tony Williams played; they’re his drums. And I’m responsible for them.’ So I started trying to take the drums down and get them someplace safe. Then a security person walked up and said, ‘Get your ass off stage.’ I told him, ‘I’ve gotta get my drums off first. These are really historic drums.’ I was trying to explain the situation to him. And finally he said, ‘Listen partner . . . These drums, or your life? You think about it for a few seconds.’”

Alvino laughs, and then says, “I actually did think about it. I thought, ‘If anything happens to these drums I’m going to feel really bad. All of us in the musical world love Tony Williams, and I’ve got his drums!’ But the security guy insisted, so I had to go. In fact, we had to leave everything on stage, because the investigators had to do their sweep of the whole Centennial Park area. We went back to the hotel, and it was surrounded by TV trucks, as well as ATF, FBI, and other agencies. We gave interviews that were broadcast from the Atlanta stations all over the country. And all the time I was still thinking, ‘God I hope those drums are gonna be okay.’”

Fortunately the drums were okay, and after all the investigations were concluded they were returned to Gretsch headquarters. They’re still displayed there today, representing a combination of musical, sports, and political history unrivaled by any other drumkit ever made.

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Young Thumbs Keep Chet Atkins’ Music and Legacy Alive

Monday, August 1st, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

There was a noticeable and refreshing youth movement at this year’s 32nd annual CAAS (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society) Convention held July 13-16 in Nashville. According to John Knowles CGP, there was one young performer at last year’s event, but this year’s lineup expanded to more than eight young performers on stage – some not even old enough to drive.

Many of these young men and women, who came from all over the U.S. – as well as Denmark, New Zealand, and Japan – visited the Gretsch Room to plug in and play a Gretsch Chet Atkins model guitar. Not only was I impressed with their mastery of Chet’s fingerstyle playing technique, I was also impressed by their deep knowledge of Chet Atkins’ music and legacy. Many of them even include Chet quotes on their business cards and websites.

Parker Hastings

One Young Thumb who caught my eye and ear was Parker Hastings from Richmond, Kentucky. Parker, who turned 16 during the CAAS event, has won not one, but two Gretsch guitars through the International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Competition, which is held each year in Powderly, Kentucky. In 2014, he was the youngest person to be crowned Grand Champion, winning both traditional and contemporary categories, and won a Chet Atkins 6120 electric guitar. Parker was also inducted into the National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame in 2014 by winning their “Horizon Award” and recently received their “Thumbpicker of the Year” Award in 2015. He has played at numerous Chet Atkins Tributes and recently performed a fingerstyle guitar demonstration with John Knowles at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that explored the acoustic and electric guitar styles of Chet Atkins. (Read a special Gretsch interview conducted with Parker during the CAAS event. I know you’ll be impressed with this rising young guitar star.)

Katelyn Prieboy

Another Young Thumb, 19-year-old Katelyn Prieboy, performed for the first time at CAAS and delivered an impressive “Chet Set” on her Gretsch 6120. The Belmont University student was inspired to play the guitar by Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley. Paisley led her to discover Garth Brooks, whose duets with Steve Wariner opened her eyes to Steve’s music and, according to Katelyn, used Google and YouTube to discover this guy named Chet that Steve Wariner was always talking about. Once Katelyn found her way to Chet Atkins, she was hooked. She got her first thumbpick and a Gretsch guitar, because she says that’s the way to get Chet’s tone, and has been working the past four to five years to learn Chet’s technique and style.

So, why the increase of young guitar players performing at CAAS this year? You can start with two of Chet’s CGP award recipients: John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel. In an effort to fill the CAAS pipeline with young, teenage pickers and introduce them to the music of Chet Atkins, they formed the Young Thumbs group. Through a dedicated Facebook page, social media, and events like CAAS, these young musicians can meet and connect with other young guitarists. It was cool seeing these Young Thumbs socializing, jamming, and exchanging guitar licks and tips in the hotel lobby over the four-day event. Chet would’ve loved seeing that.

Kirby Easler

In addition to talented teenagers, there were plenty of young “twenty-something” performers that impressed me as well, including Kirby Easler, Brooks Robertson, Dan Bankhurst, and my and Dinah’s friend, Joe Robinson, who showed up with his Gretsch Country Gentleman and wowed the audience with a terrific 45-minute set. While in Nashville, Joe also participated in the Gretsch Sounds/Guitar Pull performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Joe was onstage with Tommy Emmanuel (playing Chet’s famous “Dark Eyes” prototype Gretsch guitar), fingerstyle legend Eddie Pennington, and Striking Matches, the impressive guitar duo of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman. The artists performed a superb mix of Chet songs, thumbpicking classics, and fresh, original songs. It was a classy way to bring the “American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection” exhibit to a close.

Joe Robinson

All told, it was a great week in Nashville for fans of Chet Atkins and Gretsch guitars. I believe Chet would be pleased that his music and fingerpicking style of guitar is being passed down to so many young, talented players today. He would also be happy that many of his friends – especially John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel – are investing so much of their time to mentor, guide, and help these young artists succeed. After all, Chet did the same for John and Tommy years ago. They obviously learned from the best and are now “paying it forward” to the next generation of guitar players. That’s how Chet would want it.

Evan Twitty

Tanner Duckworth

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Six Degrees of Separation–Gretsch Style!

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Question: What does a nearly century-old guitar have to do with a college in the Chicago area, a country music artist from New York, and a classic building in Williamsburg?

Answer: More than you might think.

In a classic example of “six degrees of separation,” a Rex brand “parlour guitar” made in the early 1900s was recently purchased at an estate sale. Parlour guitars” were affordable models designed for personal use in the days when families played music at home for recreational purposes.

Rex Parlour Guitar

Rex Guitar Headstock

Rex guitars were originally made in the Gretsch Musical Instruments factory at 60 Broadway, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and distributed by the Gretsch Company from the early 1900s through the late 1930s.  The Gretsch Company was a fixture in Brooklyn from 1883 until it was sold in 1967. Though the factory is no longer there, the Gretsch building still is. Currently housing some pretty upscale condos, the building is celebrating its centennial this year.

Gretsch Catalog Page From Early 1900s Catalog

Gretsch Factory Building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn

The buyer of this Rex parlour guitar was Mark Vincent Sica, who is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist in the New York City-based country music band Nashville Attitude. In 2015 Nashville Attitude performed at the Street Sounds guitar store in Brooklyn, at the store’s annual Gretsch Day event. (Street Sounds, owned by Rocky Schiano, is America’s largest retailer of Gretsch guitars, and Mark Vincent Sica is a Gretsch guitar artist.) That particular year’s Gretsch Day had a special theme: celebrating Fred Gretsch’s 50th year in the musical instrument business. Fred is the fourth-generation president of the Gretsch Company, which was founded in Brooklyn in 1883.

Nashville Attitude's Mark Vincent Sica

Fred Gretsch & Rocky Schiano in 2015

Fred Gretsch is a 1971 graduate of Elmhurst College, which is located in the suburbs of Chicago. This past May he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the college in recognition of his and his family’s long-time generous support of Elmhurst’s music and music business programs, as well as the annual high-school band competition portion of the Elmhurst Jazz Festival.

Fred Gretsch Elmhurst Commencement 2016

But Fred Gretsch isn’t the only Elmhurst alum to feature in this little story. A gentleman by the name of Edward Paetzold graduated from the college in 1918, some ninety-eight years ago. (Possibly around the same time that Mark Vincent Sica’s guitar was made in the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn.)

Edward Paetzold 1918

Elmhurst Commencement 1918

Edward Paetzold is the grandfather of a lovely lady named Lynne Riordan—who happens to be married to a New York-based vocalist and guitarist by the name of…wait for it…Mark Vincent Sica.

And this entire story came to light this past June 4, when Mark and Lynne attended the 2016 Gretsch Day at Street Sounds in Brooklyn, and related the tale to Fred Gretsch himself.

You can’t make this stuff up!

Gretsch Day at StreetSounds 2016

Fred Gretsch at StreetSounds Event

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Chet Atkins’ Little Black Book (of Songs)

Monday, June 27th, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

From the outside, it looks like an everyday, ordinary pocket-sized memo book. The kind you can still buy at any office supply store. Its black leather cover is worn around the edges and it’s scuffed from years of being put in coat pockets, briefcases, suitcases – and even guitar cases. Just like the man who bought it, the book’s cover is understated and unassuming. But once opened, you’re given a fascinating glimpse into the musical journey of the book’s original owner: Chet Atkins.

Chet bought this memo book in 1950 when he played with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters act on KWTO, a radio station in Springfield, Missouri. You see “Chester A. Atkins, Feb. 12, 1950, Springfield” written in pencil on the first page. Chet started out using this book to select songs for the daily morning radio show, and the many public appearances Chet and the Carter family made across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

When Chet first created his list, the songs were typed on loose-leaf paper and organized in alphabetical order. Many included the songwriter and if it was licensed through BMI or ASCAP. As new songs were added, Chet wrote them down by hand with whatever ink pen or pencil he had on him at the time. Some of the songs were written neatly, others hurriedly, and some included the key they were played in. It’s also heartwarming to see several scribbled pencil drawings throughout the book made by Chet’s young daughter, Merle.

“Caravan” and “Country Gentleman” were two popular songs Chet added; young daughter, Merle, made the pencil drawing. Photo by Ron Denny.

In addition to being a master guitarist, Chet was famous for the vast number of songs and song styles he could play. There are 475 songs listed in this book alone. 475! And they include a wide range of genres: classical, blues, country, ragtime, bluegrass, pop, and even Spanish-influenced. It’s mind blowing.

It’s also a treat seeing songs listed that played a part in launching the successful Gretsch – Chet Atkins guitar endorsement in the mid-1950s. “Mr. Sandman” and “Silver Bell,” two instrumental hit singles from 1955, were hand-written in the book along with “Country Gentleman,” a signature song that became both Chet’s nickname and the name of his top-of-the-line Gretsch guitar model introduced in 1958.

You also recognize dozens of songs in the book that made their way onto Chet’s RCA Victor albums of the 1950s and early 1960s. These songs would have been recorded on a variety of Gretsch Chet Atkins Model guitars built at our Brooklyn factory: 6120s, prototype 6120s custom-built for Chet, and, of course, his iconic 1959 Country Gentleman, considered the most recorded guitar in music history.

Chet liked surprising his friends with little gifts and tokens of appreciation, and no one was more surprised than his longtime bandleader and confidant, Paul Yandell, at the 1996 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. After awarding John Knowles with a CGP (Certified Guitar Player) Award, Chet pulled the black book out of a hat, which had been placed on a stool onstage, and presented it to an unsuspecting Paul.

Paul’s wife, Marie, and son, Micah, have been friends of mine for years, and shared that Paul had no knowledge of the song book until Chet gave it to him and told him the story behind it. When Paul got home that night, he sat down and looked through the book page-by-page, astonished at all the songs Chet had played through the years.

Marie also shared that the book was a sentimental treasure to Paul, and felt Chet gave it to her husband in appreciation of the deep friendship the two guitarists had formed from playing together for more than 20 years. Micah added that it represented the bond, respect, and love his father and Chet had for each other. They were as close as two brothers, and his father always looked up to Chet and considered him a father figure.

Chet Atkins and Paul Yandell performing together in 1979.

The book is an interesting diary of the most important decade in Chet Atkins’ musical career. In the summer of 1950, just a few months after creating his song book, Chet was lured to Nashville and never looked back. In the 10 years that followed, Chet established himself as a successful recording artist, producer, and record executive; created the sophisticated “Nashville Sound;” and had his name on a popular line of Gretsch guitars. He also earned the nickname of “Mr. Guitar.”

Chet influenced and inspired thousands of young guitarists. In fact one of the songs Chet typed in the book, “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” was heard on the radio one night by a young guitarist in Kentucky. Chet’s song changed the teenager’s life, and he became obsessed with Chet’s trademark fingerpicking style and bought as many Chet Atkins records as he could afford. The name of that Kentucky teenager was Paul Yandell.

How fitting that 40 years later, Chet would entrust Paul with his old song book which included not only “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” but dozens of other songs Chet and Paul had performed together for decades. What a gesture of friendship and love to the man Chet described as not only a great guitar player, but also someone who knew everything Chet had done and could do it better. Classic Chet.

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Darrel Higham: Rockabilly Brit

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Darrel Higham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gretsch Day 2016 At Street Sounds

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

A very special event took place in Brooklyn, New York on June 4: the annual Gretsch Day at Street Sounds. Located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn (and touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

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

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, which is based in Corona, California. The director of the Custom Shop, master guitar builder Stephen Stern, was on hand to describe some of the unique models on display. Meanwhile a video program on-screen throughout the day showcased Gretsch guitar artists Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian Setzer, Stephen Stills, and many others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd performed with the able accompaniment of bassist Mike Moody.

For the next artist, Joe Carducci invited Dinah Gretsch up to handle the introduction. Dinah, in turn, enthusiastically cited that artist’s credits, which include six Grammy nominations and a Guinness World Record as “the fastest banjo player on the planet.” This was Todd “Banjo Man” Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation as a speed demon—although at one point he modestly told the audience “I do play slow…sometimes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More photos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED TO THE GRETSCH YOUTUBE CHANNEL FOR PERFORMANCE VIDEOS.

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Welcome Back, Vinnie Colaiuta!

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Gretsch Drums announced today that Vinnie Colaiuta has returned!

Via Gretsch Drum’s Facebook page:

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

Vinnie Colaiuta. Photo: Michael Corral

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

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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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