Archive for the ‘Gretsch News’ Category

How The Beatles Forever Changed Gretsch

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Fond memories of February 1964 and how The Beatles forever changed the Gretsch Company

By Fred Gretsch

Check out Fred Gretsch’s interview with Lindsay Lowe of Parade Magazine!!

I remember February 9, 1964, vividly. I was a teenager living in the New York City area and for weeks, all the great AM rock ‘n’ roll radio stations like WABC with Cousin Brucie and WINS with Murry the K had been shouting “The Beatles Are Coming!” and saturating the airwaves with Beatles music. Their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” had just reached #1.

Yes, The Beatles were making their American debut in New York–still the center of the music world–and would be performing live on America’s top show for showcasing new talent: The Ed Sullivan Show. I couldn’t wait. Local media were in a frenzy and the city was abuzz in anticipation of seeing and hearing these four lads from Liverpool.

Like millions of teenagers, I watched The Beatles with my family (my three sisters, in fact) on the black and white TV set in the living room of our Forest Hills, NY home. The home my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., had built in 1916. The Beatles opened and closed the show and performed five songs live. Seventy-three million viewers also tuned in to see what the excitement was all about. The Beatles didn’t disappoint. In fact, they knocked it out of the park.

Even on a small black and white TV screen, The Beatles didn’t look or sound like any other rock ‘n’ roll group. They were cool in so many ways, but the coolest part for me was that George, the one in the middle, played a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar. I was really proud of that.

As you know, the world of music literally changed overnight as did the fortunes of the Gretsch Company. The day following The Beatles’ performance on the Sullivan show, the guitar boom of the 1960s officially started. We were flooded with orders, letters, and catalog requests – even people wanting to tour our relatively small factory. Like other musical instrument makers, we were not prepared for the British Invasion.

When I joined the Gretsch Company full time in 1965, I saw the impact Beatlemania was still having firsthand. We could barely keep up with the demand for guitars and drums and at one time there was a six-month waiting period. Six months! The two guitars George Harrison played at the time – the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and Tennessean models – were especially popular. We even moved drum production out of the Gretsch factory to a building a Gretsch cousin owned several blocks away in order to expand guitar production. Without a doubt, the mid-60s were busy and exciting times at Gretsch.

George Harrison was a lifelong fan of Gretsch guitars. Chet Atkins was a huge influence on him and was the reason George purchased a Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar in 1963. George had been playing a ’57 Gretsch Duo Jet up to that time. He bought his black Duo Jet used in 1960 from a Liverpool sailor who had purchased it at New York’s legendary Manny’s Guitar Shop. Since my summer job was helping deliver Gretsch guitars to area music stores, I probably delivered George’s Duo Jet to Manny’s. According to George, it was his sentimental favorite guitar because it was his first American guitar and his first good guitar.

Dinah and I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know George in the late 80s. Dinah wrote George a thank you letter for showing his ’57 Duo Jet on his Cloud Nine album. Two weeks later he called her to thank her for the letter, told her how much he loved Gretsch guitars, and talked about the Traveling Wilburys project he was working on with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. George even invited us to a recording session at Dave Stewart’s home studio and showed us the 20 vintage Gretsch guitars they were using on the album. He also wanted to share an idea for a special Traveling Wilburys guitar. We liked George’s idea and introduced the special-edition Traveling Wilburys TW-500 guitar a year later.

Looking back, I have fond memories of February 1964, The Beatles, and George Harrison. Next to Chet Atkins, George was the other guitar superstar that helped put Gretsch on the map and changed our company forever. The Beatles’ debut led to the formation of countless new rock n’ roll groups. Fortunately for us, and thanks to George Harrison, these new groups also wanted instruments like The Beatles played. I’m grateful George was a Gretsch guy.

Fifty years later, improved versions of George’s favorite classic Gretsch guitar models are available and remain as popular as ever. In 2064, I’m sure we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival to the U.S. I’m also sure a sixth generation family member will be running the business my great-grandfather started in 1883 and offering even better versions of Gretsch Country Gentleman, Tennessean, and Duo Jet guitars. Long live The Beatles. And long live rock ‘n’ roll!

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Celebrating The Career of An Explorer

Monday, January 20th, 2014

On The Passing of Chico Hamilton

by Fred W. Gretsch

Chico Hamilton

If I was asked to describe jazz drumming great Chico Hamilton-who died this past November 25th at the age of ninety-two in one word, that word would be “explorer.” Throughout his long and stellar career, Chico consistently explored new musical territory, new concepts in drum sounds, and new approaches to the design of the drumkit itself. And I’m proud to say that most of that career saw Chico on Gretsch drums.

Of course, there are lots of other words that can–and should–be used in connection with Chico. “Innovator,” “composer,” “teacher,” “leader,” and “pioneer” all come to mind. And I’m sure that those who knew and appreciated Chico’s gifts could add many more.

As a young drummer in the late 1940s and early ’50s Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton gained experience (and early recognition) as a sideman. Even then his versatility and creative nature was displayed, as he worked in a wide variety of musical situations. Those included serving as the driving force in sax great Jerry Mulligan’s quartet (which also featured a young trumpeter named Chet Baker), and spending eight years backing singer Lena Horne.

But it was with his own quintet, which he founded in 1955, that Chico first made his mark on the jazz scene. This was where his “explorer” nature came to the fore, as he put together a decidedly non-traditional group consisting of drums, bass, guitar, cello, and flute. Featuring compositions by all the members of the group combined with collective improvisation, the sound came to be known as “chamber jazz.” The experiment had its fans and its detractors, but no one could deny that it was totally original. In fact. The Chico Hamilton Quintet made such a name for itself that it was featured in the 1957 movie The Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

But it was a different kind of movie–a documentary titled Jazz on A Summer’s Day–that cemented Chico as a jazz star. Filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1958, it captured performances by jazz legends including Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Gerry Mulligan, and Sonny Stitt. Chico and his group added their unique sound and style to the mix of more “traditional” jazz, to wide acclaim.

Based mainly in Los Angeles for most of his career, Chico was a pioneer of what was dubbed “West Coast” jazz, also known as the “California cool” sound. But he never focused on one style for long. After establishing the “chamber jazz” style with his early quintet, he took a harder-edged direction in the 1960s. In 1966 he recorded a funky, soul-leaning jazz album called The Dealer, which introduced guitarist Larry Coryell. (Other bands led by Chico featured such future jazz stars as Ron Carter, Paul Horn, Gabor Szabo, and Arthur Blythe.)

From that time right up until his passing, Chico never stopped creating. He played and toured with a group called Euphoria in the 1980s and ’90s, and he was appearing with them at a monthly New York City residency at the time of his death. He also continued to record up until his ninetieth birthday, when he released a 22-track CD called Revelation.

Many drummers might say that Chico wasn’t a skilled technician on the drumset, in the manner of contemporaries like Max Roach or Art Blakey. But few would deny his contributions as a drumming innovator. The late Phil Grant, long-time artist relations manager for Gretsch, said of Chico, “He had a style of playing drums that was completely different from anyone else. He used timpani sticks on the drumset before anyone else. He was an individual, and his playing was unique.”

Chico also had very specific ideas about drumset design, as described by Chet Falzerano in his book Gretsch Drums: The Legacy of “That Great Gretsch Sound”: “Chico had some progressive ideas of his own for his drumset. He wanted his toms without bottom heads. Gretsch was accommodating and built him a custom set without bottom heads [in 1958) long before it became the rage in the 1970s.” (Interestingly, it was another great Gretsch drummer–Phil Collins–who helped promote that rage.) Chico continued to play his signature drumkit design throughout his career, often removing the front bass drum head as well.

In addition to sharing his musical ideas as a performer, Chico also shared them as an educator. He was part of the faculty at the Parsons New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, as well as the Mannes College of Music at the New School University, both in New York City. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2004. This led to a visit to the White House, where Chico was both an honoree and a featured performer.

In a 2008 interview in the magazine Jazz Times, Chico said, “I can play all over the world, and I don’t have to play anybody else’s music. That’s my reward. I’ve been blessed because I’ve been able to make music, and I make music for music’s sake.”

Checking Out Chico

A clip of a young Chico Hamilton in a battle with drumming legends Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton is posted on Drummerworld.com at http://www.drummerworld.com/Videos/genekrupachicolionel58.html.

You can hear the unique sound of Chico’s unique “chamber jazz” quintet featuring cello, bass, guitar, and sax playing “The Wind” (1956) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_8uztsWTOo.

In contrast, check out the high-energy title track from Chico’s 1966 album The Dealer, which introduced a young guitarist named Larry Coryell. It’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDPmO1VNVJI.

When he visited the White House in 2004, Chico demonstrated his signature mallet-on-toms style in a solo that can be enjoyed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzJ1Pls0n5Q.

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On the Passing of Sam Ulano

Monday, January 6th, 2014

One-Of-A-Kind Drummer And Educator

Drummer, teacher, and controversial drumming icon Sam Ulano, shown at his 92nd birthday celebration and drum clinic in July of 2012.

On January 1 of this year we lost a genuine drumming icon when Sam Ulano passed away at the age of ninety-three. For those who may not know Sam, he was a fixture on the New York City drumming scene for more than sixty years. He was also quite a character, and it’s hardly surprising that “Sam the showman” would make his exit on New Year’s Day.

Sam enjoyed a long and successful career as a performer, including thousands of club dates, shows, and other gigs in the New York City area. He performed or recorded with diverse artists ranging from Moondog to Johnny Lydon’s PiL. And I’m proud to say that Sam began playing and endorsing Gretsch drums in 1947—making him the longest-running Gretsch drum artist.  He was still swingin’ on his Gretsch kit in NYC clubs until shortly before his passing.

But it’s as an educator that Sam truly made his mark on the national drum scene. And he definitely did it his own way—making him equally revered and controversial. Besides his private teaching practice, he founded a drum studio in the 1950s that hosted such guest artist/instructors as Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Papa Jo Jones. Sam also had the first-ever drum-oriented cable TV program, which ran from 1975 to 1981. And he released literally dozens of self-produced books and CDs, along with over 2,500 pamphlets that he called “Foldys.”

Sam’s publications had almost comically “lo-fi” production values, but they were nonetheless high in informational content. In what was perhaps his most controversial teaching philosophy, Sam denounced rudiments as having nothing to do with playing a drumset, since drumsets didn’t exist when the rudiments were established for marching drummers in the 1800s. Instead, Sam focused on reading, timekeeping, and providing the foundation for a band in a musical situation. “Your hands can’t see, hear, or think,” Sam declared at a Gretsch-sponsored clinic at Manhattan’s Sam Ash Music in July of 2012. “You do that all with your brain. That’s where you learn to play the drums. And that’s the only way you’re going to be successful as a player in the music industry.”

Sixth-generation Gretsch family member Logan Thomas (at left) met with Sam at Steve Maxwell’s Vintage And Custom Drums in Manhattan this past August 3. Logan began his own drumming career with a Gretsch kit this Christmas. Also shown are Rob Cook and John Sheridan (left and right, behind Sam), authors of The Gretsch Drum Book, and Logan’s proud grandfather, Fred W. Gretsch.

I’m gratified that my grandson Logan Thomas—a sixth-generation member of the Gretsch family—had a chance to meet and speak with Sam at a Gretsch Day event at Steve Maxwell’s Vintage & Custom Drums this past August. Logan got his first drumset as a Christmas present shortly thereafter, and I know he’ll benefit from the advice that Sam gave him during their discussion at Maxwell’s.

Logan will be in good company, since Sam’s former students include noted TV drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, New York studio stalwart Allen Schwartzberg, and jazz great Art Taylor. These drummers and dozens like them benefitted from Sam’s major premise, which was that reading is the means to success. According to Sam, drummers who can read—and who can play in many styles as a result—are more likely to get work than are drummers with great rudimental technique or blazing speed.

Sam recommended practicing with metal sticks—or even lengths of copper pipe, as shown here.

Another controversial recommendation from Sam was regular practicing with metal sticks to improve hand and arm strength. “If I hadn’t practiced with metal sticks all these years,” he said at the July 2012 clinic, “there’s no way I could still be playing at ninety-two years old.”

Admittedly, Sam had his detractors—or at least those who would debate his opinions about rudiments. Few, if any, teachers would argue Sam’s point about the importance of reading for a drummer with professional aspirations. But many also stress the value of listening to music in order to develop an “ear” for various styles. Some teachers tend to focus on this ear training as the way to develop an authentic “feel” within any given style.

Sam Ulano might have taken issue with these points…but that’s what drumming education is all about: different approaches. Sam’s approach was a practical one, based on years of working within the music business and a desire to prepare drummers for that sort of work. You can agree with that approach, or disagree, or take some of it and leave the rest. But no matter what you do, you should absorb Sam’s fundamental, overriding message: You need to learn to play the drums. Drumming may come “naturally” to you, but to develop those natural skills you need to pursue an education on the instrument. That, I think, will be Sam Ulano’s lasting legacy.

For more information on Sam Ulano, visit samulano.com. There are also some great YouTube clips of Sam. Go to this video to learn how Sam set an early record for long-term drumming. Go to this video to hear Sam discussing how rudiments don’t serve drumset playing. And go to this video to view Sam in performance at his birthday celebration and clinic, held at Sam Ash Music in Manhattan on, July 2012 (just prior to his 92nd birthday that August).

Sam authored dozens of books, CDs, and DVDs over his sixty-year teaching career.

The Gretsch Duo Jet: Still Rockin’ at 60

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

By Fred Gretsch

In January 1951, Gretsch let the music world know it was a serious contender in the quickly evolving electric guitar business when it introduced the Electromatic and Electro II models at a three-day promotional show at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel.

Meanwhile, on the west coast in Fullerton, California, the Fender Company was manufacturing a groundbreaking concept: a solid body electric guitar with a bolt-on neck. A year later in 1952, my uncle and Gretsch president Fred Gretsch Jr., was more than surprised when rival Gibson introduced the Les Paul “Gold Top” solid body electric guitar.

Seeing the sales success of these new, untraditional guitars, my uncle realized solid body guitars were more than a passing fad. He assembled his guitar brain trust of Jimmie Webster, Duke Kramer, and Phil Grant and the team worked diligently to develop the Gretsch Duo Jet, one of the most desired guitars of the 1950s that’s still going strong 60 years later.

Introduced in 1953, the Duo Jet had a cool name (“Duo” for its two Dynasonic pickups and “Jet” which reflected the most advanced aircraft technology of the day) to go along with its cool, elegant looks and great sound.

The single-cutaway Duo Jet featured a gleaming black arched top — some made from Nitron plastic drum material — with mahogany sides, back and neck. Other Gretsch firsts included truss rod adjustments through the headstock (concealed with a bullet-shaped cover), a master volume control knob on the cutaway, and a pickup selection switch. With two DeArmond Dynasonic pickups, a Melita Synchro-Sonic bridge, chrome hardware, white and black binding, and hump block inlays, the Duo Jet’s upscale black and chrome look was simply stunning.

It also lived up to its “Great Gretsch Sound” reputation thanks to the Duo Jet’s unique construction. Although it looked like a solid body, the inside was actually chambered to allow for wiring and components and to make the Duo Jet lighter and more comfortable to play. This “semi-solid” approach also gave the Duo Jet a unique sound that ranged from jangly and twangy to smooth and mellow. A perfect guitar for playing country and western, pop, and jazz music in 1953, as well as rock ‘n’ roll which was about to explode onto the music scene.

Some of the most influential guitarists who played early Duo Jets were Hank Garland, rockabilly great Cliff Gallup of Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, and the Beatles’ George Harrison. George’s ’57 Duo Jet was his sentimental favorite and he described it as his first “good guitar” when he bought it used in 1960. It’s unique tone shaped the sound and energy of the Beatles’ early recordings. We honored George’s famous ’57 Duo Jet in 2011 with a limited edition Custom Shop Tribute Duo Jet.

The popularity of the Duo Jet continues to ascend to new heights. From legends like Jeff Beck and David Gilmour, to some of today’s hottest players like Nick 13 and Alex Trimble, there’s no slowing down the Duo Jet Express. In fact, we offer more than 20 models including the George Harrison and Malcolm Young Signature models, Jet Firebirds, Silver Jets and Sparkle Jets.

In retrospect, it’s been 60 years since my uncle and his talented team wrote an important chapter in the Gretsch Company’s guitar history book: creating and marketing a successful solid body electric guitar. One only has to look at the longevity and success of the Duo Jet — which has changed very little over 60 years — to know they found the right recipe within the walls of the Gretsch Factory at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn way back in 1953.

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Christmas 4 Kids Concert & Gretsch Guitar Auction

Friday, December 13th, 2013

The 13th Annual Charlie Daniels Band and Friends Concert to benefit Christmas 4 Kids was held on Monday, November 25 at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This concert is the cornerstone of Christmas 4 Kids’ fundraising efforts. The Gretsch Foundation once again provided another classic guitar – a Gretsch Country Classic model built in 2002 and a part of the private Gretsch Foundation collection. During that time it has been loaned to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia and was on display there and also at the Hartsfield Atlanta airport. It was used only sparingly over the years. The guitar is in the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman tradition. It is a double cutaway model with specs to closely match guitars built by Gretsch in 1962.

Event MC, Charlie Chase, Presents Eric Blankenship of All Access Coach with guitar.

Congratulations to Eric Blankenship, owner of All Access Coach, the new owner of this wonderful guitar, who won the silent auction with a bid of $5,500.

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. Learn more about this great organization by visiting the web site at www.christmas4kids.org.

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Fred and Dinah Gretsch On The Cover of Georgia Magazine

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Feature Story Celebrates Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary

Fred and Dinah Gretsch, president and CFO (respectively) of The Gretsch Company, are the cover subjects of the December 2013 issue of Georgia magazine. The two music-industry icons were interviewed as part of the magazine’s feature on the company’s 130th anniversary year.

The five-page story includes historic background on the Gretsch family, and how four generations of that family have been involved with the manufacture of drums, guitars, and other high-quality musical instruments. Also noted are the many philanthropic activities that Fred and Dinah Gretsch support and participate in on behalf of music education. The article is illustrated by full-color photos of Gretsch instruments, along with photos from recent anniversary events that illustrate the family’s on-going commitment to the Gretsch legacy.

Georgia magazine is published by Georgia Electric Membership Corporation and is read by more than 1.5 million Georgians each month. For more information on the magazine visit georgiamagazine.org. For more information on the The Gretsch Company and the Gretsch family, visit gretsch.com.

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The Gretsch Drum Book Special Hardcover Collector’s Edition

Monday, November 25th, 2013

The Gretsch Drum Book, which became an in-demand item among drum history fans immediately upon its release this past August, will shortly become available in a special hardcover edition.

At once a scholarly work and an entertaining read, The Gretsch Drum Book is the work of Rob Cook—one of America’s best-known drum historians and the producer of the legendary Chicago Custom & Vintage Drum Show. With the invaluable assistance of researcher John Sheridan, Rob details the fascinating story of Gretsch Drums and the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company. It’s a story that’s inextricably linked to the history of the Gretsch Family—a history that spans 130 years and four generations. A foreward by Fred W. Gretsch adds a personal element to the family connection.

This classic hardbound version will be released in a limited edition of only 300 copies, making it a must-have for collectors and for those who revere the legacy of “That Great Gretsch Sound.” The book will be available as of January 1, 2014, and may be ordered exclusively online at GretschGear.com. Retail price is $50.
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Dinah Gretsch Receives 2014 She Rocks Award

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Gretsch Company CFO Honored by The Women’s International Music Network

The WiMN’s Front and Center interview with Dinah Gretsch.

Dinah Gretsch, executive vice president and CFO of the Gretsch Company—famous for the creation of high-quality drums and guitars—is among a select group of women honored by the Women’s International Music Network (WiMN) with the organization’s 2014 She Rocks Award. As a leader in the music industry and a keen proponent of music education, Dinah was recognized for her unique talents, accomplishments, and philanthropic works. The presentation took place at a ceremony on Friday, January 24, 2014 at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel in Anaheim, California during the 2014 NAMM musical-instrument trade show.

Dinah has been a prominent figure in the musical instrument industry for more than thirty years. That prominence was recognized in 2003, when the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) presented her with the Heroes Award, a distinction awarded to Community Leaders in the Music Industry. In 2008, Dinah was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the Georgia Music Industry

June 2010, Dinah created the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to fund music teachers, provide in-house artist programs, and supply musical instruments to rural schools. The purpose of the Foundation is “To Enrich Children’s Lives through Participation in Music.”

Dinah has enjoyed working with all of the Gretsch Drum and Guitar Artists through her thirty-plus years in the business. She has signed many of the Gretsch artists.

She is also on the boards of the Georgia Music Foundation, Loyola High School (NYC), and the Georgia Southern University Class Advisory Board. She has been a strong supporter of many children’s programs through her music career, according to her belief that music has the power to change children’s lives in a positive way.

Other 2014 She Rocks honorees include percussion icon Sheila E., Hendrix Experience CEO Janie L. Hendrix, Guitar Institute of Technology program director Beth Marlis, West Music Company president and CEO Robin Walenta, and Seymour Duncan Company custom pickup winder Maricela Juarez. “I’m very proud to recognize the legacy of these women,” comments WiMN founder and She Rocks Awards host, Laura B. Whitmore. “By inspiring and encouraging fellow women in the industry, each one of these recipients embodies the spirit of the She Rocks Awards.” Photos and footage from the inaugural awards in 2013 can be viewed at www.thewimn.com/2013-she-rocks-awards/.

The 2014 She Rocks Awards included a catered breakfast, live performances, and more. A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, aiding the organization in empowering girls and women in Girls Rock Camp programs throughout the world. For more information, go to www.thewimn.com/events/she-rocks-awards/.

For more information on the Women’s International Music Network visit www.thewimn.com.
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