Archive for the ‘Music Industry Events’ Category

The Fred & Dinah Gretsch 130th Anniversary Tour

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Nationwide Appearances Will Celebrate Gretsch History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gretsch’s Double Anniversary Party!

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Any anniversary celebration is special. But when it’s a double anniversary, that’s extra-special. And when one of those anniversaries marks 130 years . . . well, that’s unique.

So it was with the Gretsch 130th Anniversary celebration, which was held this past May 4 at Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor in Bloomingdale, Georgia. The location was appropriate, since Bloomingdale is just “down the road a bit” from Pooler, which is where Fred and Dinah Gretsch (company president and CFO, respectively) reside. And the Gretsch USA Custom Drums factory is located just across the river, in Ridgeland, South Carolina.

The setting for the event had a somewhat rural feel, with a big white tent covering the table area and the aroma of authentic southern barbecue in the air. And despite grey skies and occasional showers, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the 100-plus guests in attendance.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch display the cake commemorating their wedding anniversary.

The event was made all the more special by the fact that it also celebrated Fred and Dinah’s wedding anniversary. Friends, business associates, and a substantial array of family members were on hand to help the anniversary couple commemorate this unique occasion. Guests were presented with personalized I.D. badges on classic Gretsch-logo lanyards. Each badge also contained a special 130th Anniversary pin as a token of the family’s appreciation.

Dinner began with a benediction delivered by Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and the Benedictine military school in Savannah. A long-time friend of the Gretsch family, Archabbot Nowicki regularly sends them photos of Gretsch drums and guitars that he sees on his travels around the world.

Guests then enjoyed a down-home barbecue meal provided by Mac’s Place (attached to the Pickin’ Parlor). Dessert consisted of three special cakes: two in celebration of the Gretsch Company’s anniversary and one for Fred and Dinah’s wedding anniversary.

Fred Gretsch (center with wife Dinah) represents the fourth generation of the Gretsch family business. The generations continue with (from left) cousin Paul Getchell, granddaughter Abbey Gretsch, grandson Will Gretsch, daughter Lena Thomas, and grandson Logan Thomas.

Comments made by Fred and Dinah during the event highlighted their pride in the Gretsch family’s history. As Fred put it, “I’m a fourth-generation member of the family business. My grandfather first brought me to the factory in the 1950s. I started working full-time in 1965, and I’m still here some forty-eight years later.  Dinah’s business skills and warm, outgoing personality have made her an integral part of the Gretsch operation—and my indispensable partner—for thirty-four years. And for more than nineteen years Dinah and I have been ably supported by our daughter Lena Thomas, who is a skilled administrator and operations guru. Between Lena, Dinah, and me, that’s just over 100 combined years of ‘sweat equity’ in the family business. And I’m pleased to report that the sixth Gretsch generation includes sixteen-plus grandchildren, many of whom are pursuing educational tracks that will help them continue the family legacy for years to come.”

Of course, no Gretsch celebration would be complete without music, and the 130th Anniversary event was no exception. Once all the guests had finished dinner and dessert, everyone moved into the Pickin’ Parlor—a stage venue that brought performers and audience together in an intimate setting.

The musical husband-and-wife team of Richard Smith and Julie Adams provided stellar entertainment for the event.

First on the bill was the husband-and-wife team of Richard Smith and Julie Adams. Richard is a finger-picking specialist in the style of (and heavily influenced by) legendary Gretsch guitar artist Chet Atkins. He was ably accompanied on cello and vocals by his lovely wife, and together they delivered a varied and highly entertaining set of pop standards, country favorites, and instrumental classics. Richard made a point of telling the audience about one of the guitars he was playing: a custom-built prototype created in association with the late, great Paul Yandell (Chet Atkins’ long-time bandleader and confidant), who died in 2011. Only the second one built (the first went to Paul), the guitar was loaned to Richard for this occasion by the current owner . . . Fred Gretsch himself.

Next up was a truly international trio led by Australian-born guitar phenom and Gretsch artist Joe Robinson, backed by Brazilian bassist Marcelo Bakos and Portugese drummer Tito Pascoali. Joe’s original music knows no stylistic limitations, as evidenced by a set that ranged from Zappa-esque progressive rock to a lush solo rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”—with funk, reggae, and pop stops along the way. Virtuoso playing was the order of the day, and the 100-plus guests rewarded the performers with rousing ovations.

After a brief break Joe Robinson and Richard Smith returned to the stage for an impromptu jam session. Seated side-by-side, the two stellar guitarists took turns accompanying each other, with one taking the lead while the other offered musical support. Joe displayed his own brand of deft finger-picking, and when he and Richard launched into the classic Chet Atkins instrumental “Happy Again,” everyone in the room smiled as one, basking in the talent of these two tremendous players.

After leading his own trio in an exciting performance, guitar star Joe Robinson (left) joined Richard Smith for an impromptu finger-picking session that brought the house down.

Good company, great food, and terrific musical entertainment . . . what more could you ask for to celebrate the history—and the ongoing legacy—of the Gretsch Company, the Gretsch Family, and “That Great Gretsch Sound.”

Additional photos from the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration may be seen in this online album.

Additional video clips from the evening’s entertainment can be seen at the Gretsch Company’s YouTube Channel.

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Gretsch’s New Anniversary, Professional, and Center Block Guitars

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Gretsch Guitars Press Release:

In celebration of Gretsch’s 130th anniversary, the iconic guitar company is releasing two limited anniversary models, a new addition to the Professional Collection, as well as the new Center Block series.

Custom Shop Anniversary Models

Custom Shop 130th Anniversary Hollow Body

To commemorate Gretsch’s 130th anniversary, the Gretsch Custom Shop introduces the beautiful new U.S. Custom Shop 130th Anniversary Hollow Body guitar. Its 2 1/2″-deep single-cutaway three-ply maple body has a 15 1/2″ lower bout, arched top and back, and trestle bracing. The guitar is a striking beauty with its two-tone gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish in Metallic Gold on the top and Black on the back and sides, with multiple silver-sparkle bindings. The three-piece maple neck has a 12″-radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium vintage frets, mother-of-pearl Neo-Classic™ “thumbnail” inlays and polished aluminum nut; and a mother-of-pearl Gretsch 130th Anniversary headstock logo. Other premium features include dual TV Jones® Filter’Tron™ Classic pickups, a black pickguard with 130th Anniversary logo, “G” Arrow control knobs and chrome hardware, an Adjusto-Matic™ bridge with pinned ebony base and Bigsby® B6C tailpiece, and Gotoh® open-back tuners. The guitar comes in a deluxe black faux-alligator skin TKL hard-shell case with a Gretsch 130th Anniversary leather strap, embroidered  utility bag and certificate of authenticity signed by Gretsch Custom Shop Senior Master Builder Stephen Stern.

G6118T-LTV 130th Anniversary Jr.

Gretsch is proud to introduce a beautiful new Professional Collection guitar—the G6118T-LTV 130th Anniversary Jr. model—as part of its anniversary celebration. Its 2 1/4″-deep single-cutaway three-ply maple body has a 14″ lower bout, arched top and back, and spruce “ML” bracing. Especially striking is the nitrocellulose lacquer finish, which is Black on the top and Metallic Gold on the back and sides, with single-ply binding. Other premium features include a three-piece maple neck; 12″-radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, pearloid Neo-Classic “thumbnail” inlays and bone nut; Anniversary model plaque and pearloid Gretsch logo on headstock; and dual TV Jones® Power’Tron™ pickups. The guitar also has a metallic gold pickguard, “G” Arrow” control knobs and chrome hardware, an Adjusto-Matic™ bridge with pinned ebony base and Bigsby® B3CB tailpiece, and Sperzel® locking tuners. Available in right- and left-handed models, and deluxe hard-shell case included.

Professional Collection

G6128T-DCM Duo Jet

The Gretsch Professional Collection now also includes the striking new G6128T-DCM Duo Jet™, which features a double-cutaway chambered mahogany body finished in black and a three-ply arched maple top finished in Dark Cherry Metallic with single-ply binding. The one-piece mahogany neck has a single-ply bound headstock with pearloid Gretsch logo, 12″-radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and pearloid Neo-Classic “thumbnail” inlays, a bone nut and a zero fret. Other features include dual High Sensitive Filter’Tron pickups, “G” Arrow control knobs and chrome hardware, Adjusto-Matic bridge with pinned ebony base and Bigsby B3C tailpiece, Grover® Sta-Tite™ tuners and Schaller® strap locks. Deluxe hard-shell case included.

Center Block Series

Gretsch is extremely proud to introduce the Center Block series, which feature a long spruce center block. The center block runs the entire length of the body and imparts several sonic advantages. First, it minimizes body-resonant feedback and creates a more “high gain-friendly” performance. Second, it’s made of spruce, which produces a spirited, lively tone. Third, the center block itself is chambered at the lower bout to minimize weight. Fourth, the pinned wood bridge base extends over the sides of the center block about 5/8″ on either side, transferring string-vibration energy to the two f-hole-vented body chambers to produce a full-bodied tone.

G6137TCB Panther Center-Block

The brand-new Professional Collection Center Block model, the G6137TCB Panther Center-Block, features a beautiful 1 3⁄4″-deep double-cutaway three-ply maple body with a 16″ lower bout, arched top and back and elegant f holes. Other premium features include a three-piece maple neck, 12″-radius bound rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and pearloid Neo-Classic “thumbnail” inlays, single-ply bound headstock with pearloid Gretsch logo, and dual High Sensitive Filter’Tron pickups. The guitar also has a top- mounted output jack, “G” arrow control knobs and chrome hardware, an Adjusto-Matic bridge with pinned rosewood base and Bigsby B6C tailpiece, Grover Sta-Tite tuners and Schaller strap locks. Available in Black and White. Deluxe hard-shell case included.

G6139CB Falcon Center-Block Single Cutaway

The Gretsch Professional Collection introduces an innovative new version of the venerable Falcon design with the arrival of the G6139CB Falcon Center-Block Single Cutaway guitar. It features a beautiful 1 3⁄4″- deep single-cutaway three-ply maple body with a 16″- lower bout, arched top and back, multi-ply sparkle appointments and oversized f holes. Other premium features include a three-piece maple neck; 12″-radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, pearloid Neo-Classic “thumbnail” inlays and multi-ply sparkle appointments; Gretsch “winged/vertical” sparkle logo; and dual High Sensitive Filter’Tron pickups. The guitar also has jeweled-arrow knobs and gold hardware, an Adjusto-Matic bridge with pinned ebony base and Cadillac® “G” tailpiece, Grover Imperial™ tuners and Schaller strap locks. Available in White with Gold Sparkle appointments and Black with Silver Sparkle appointments. Deluxe hard-shell case included.

G6139T-CBDC Falcon Center-Block Double Cutaway

The Gretsch Professional Collection introduces another new Falcon, the G6139T-CBDC Falcon Center-Block Double Cutaway guitar. It features a beautiful 1 3⁄4″-deep double-cutaway three-ply maple body with a 16″ lower bout, arched top and back, multi-ply sparkle appointments and oversized f holes. Other premium features include a three-piece maple neck; 12″-radius ebony fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, pearloid Neo-Classic “thumbnail” inlays and multi-ply sparkle appointments; Gretsch “winged/vertical” sparkle logo; and dual High Sensitive Filter’Tron pickups. The guitar also has jeweled-arrow knobs and gold hardware, an Adjusto- Matic bridge with pinned ebony base and Bigsby B6G tailpiece, Grover Imperial tuners and Schaller strap locks. Available in White with Gold Sparkle appointments and Black with Silver Sparkle appointments. Deluxe hard-shell case included.

For more information on these and other Gretsch guitars and accessories, visit the Gretsch Guitars website.

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Music Icons Meet In Brooklyn

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Charlie Watts and Fred Gretsch Celebrate Each Other’s Anniversaries

This past December 8 saw a unique meeting between two icons of the music industry—both of whom were celebrating very special anniversaries.

Legendary drummer Charlie Watts was performing at the brand-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The seventy-one-year-old Watts and his compatriots in the Rolling Stones were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary as “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Fred W. Gretsch and his wife Dinah attended the Stones concert as a way to celebrate two anniversaries of their own: fifty years of association with Charlie Watts as a Gretsch drums endorser, and Gretsch’s 130th anniversary as a musical instrument manufacturer, which the company will mark in 2013.

The location of the meeting held a special poignancy for Fred and Charlie both, since the Barclays Center is only a short distance away from the original Gretsch factory at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn. As a boy, Fred spent many a summer there working for his uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr. And it was in that very factory that the drumkits used by Charlie in his early career with the Stones were built. (The program for the Barclays Center show, titled 50 & Counting: The Rolling Stones Live included thanks from Charlie to Gretsch Drums and to Fred Gretsch.)

Fred Gretsch and Charlie Watts backstage.

At the Brooklyn show Fred and Dinah had a chance to visit backstage with Charlie, and to exchange reminiscences about Charlie’s long and storied career on Gretsch drums. This was their second meeting this year; they’d gotten together this past March when Fred and Dinah were vacationing in Europe and Charlie was performing in Vienna, Austria with an eclectic group called The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie.

While backstage at the Barclays Center Fred and Dinah also chatted with Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell. This was another reunion of sorts; they had connected in 2008 when Chuck served as the musical director and bandleader for the Gretsch Big Event. That was a concert held at New York City’s Highline Ballroom to celebrate Gretsch’s 125th anniversary.

The Stones’ “50 & Counting” mini-tour started in November with two shows at London’s O2 arena. The show at the Barclays Center was the first on the US leg—and their first in the US since 2006. It is scheduled to be followed by performances at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on December 13 and 15. But another, very special appearance was added to their agenda: the 12/12/12 benefit concert at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. On that show the band will be joined by such stellar artists as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, and The Who to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Enjoy A Night of Music!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Elmhurst College Presents The Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble In Concert

by Fred W. Gretsch

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

I’m pleased to invite anyone in the Chicago area to attend a concert showcasing Elmhurst College’s Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble this coming November 13. The group will be performing as part of the college’s Electric Guitar Ensembles Concert, which will also feature the Electric Guitar Collective, a group open to all electric guitar students. Under the capable direction of faculty member Mike Pinto, both groups will perform a variety of music, including jazz, Latin, pop, and rock.

Since the early 1990s the Gretsch Family has been pleased to fund student scholarships in music and music business at Elmhurst College, and to support the development of a state-of-the-art recording studio there named in recognition of my parents, William and Sylvia Gretsch. And as a proud Elmhurst College alum myself, I was personally honored in 1993 when the college’s unique guitar ensemble program was designated as the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.

While virtually all other ensemble opportunities for electric guitarists have only one guitar chair, the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble features five electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer. This provides a unique opportunity for guitarists to learn to play with each other, emphasizing blend, balance, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. (It also makes for a unique concert performance.) The Ensemble recently recorded and filmed one of their arrangements in the Gretsch studio, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year. The video can be seen at Elmhurst College Music’s YouTube page.

The Electric Guitar Ensembles Concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on November 13 in the Mill Theatre, 253 Walter Street in Elmhurst. Admission is free. For more information, call (630) 617-3390.

Savannah Folk Music Festival a Great Success

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

FROM THE SAVANNAH FOLK MUSIC SOCIETY:

The Annual Savannah Folk Music Festival began with a huge crowd in attendance at 7 pm on Friday, October 12 in Ellis Square with”FOLKFEST” showcasing Savannah Folk Music Society Members. The large audience, seated all around ELLIS Square and in the courtyard at City Market, was entertained with a variety of different styles of music from the many genres that make up folk music.  Savannah Folk Music Society President Chris Desa opened the show and Jim McGaw, Lauren Lapointe, Cynergy, and Pace Brothers performed for and were applauded by an appreciative audience of local area residents and out of town visitors who enjoyed the show.  The best part was the ticket price. . . “ F R E E“.

Noteworthy Art and More Auctions, Friday, October 12 & Sunday October, 14 (Ellis Square & Grayson Stadium)

Chris Desa and Fred Gretsch with Alison Krauss & Union Station signed Gretsch Guitar Auctioned During Festival

All 14 guitars, generously donated by the GRETSCH FOUNDATION and some of which were artfully transformed by local Savannah artists (see below), were sold at silent auction during the Friday and Sunday events.  One brand new playable Gretsch Historic Series guitar, signed by all performers at the Sunday concert was auctioned and sold on October 14 at Grayson Stadium.

Youth Songwriting Competition, Saturday, October 13

The Youth songwriting competition, with $1,000 in prizes sponsored by Portman’s Music Superstore was held at Stewart Hall, First Presbyterian church where 3 finalists performed their original songs.  Declan Berkley of Savannah won First Prize – a $500 gift certificate for his song “North Pike Island”, Catherine Altomare also of Savannah placed second and received a gift certificate of $300 and Kent Woods of Ridgeland, SC was third and received gift certificate of $200.

Blues Guitar Workshop with Doug Macleod, Saturday, October 13

Immediately following the songwriting competition, a two-hour acoustic blues guitar workshop was hosted by headliner DOUG MACLEOD with about 12 local guitarists and listeners in attendance.  It was a great opportunity for attendees to spend quality time and learn from one of the best blues performers in the country.

Old Time Country Dance, Saturday, October 13

Savannah Arts Academy gym was decorated with numerous colorful quilts in preparation for the Festival Dance, which was again very well attended by nearly 250 people.  The “Curley Maple” Band provided excellent music throughout the evening which veteran dance caller Janet Shepherd relied on to “call” and guide novices and veterans alike through a myriad of contras, squares, waltzes, and circle dances.

Concert at Grayson Stadium, Sunday, October 14

The Sunday Festival Concert began on schedule in Grayson Stadium with Deidre McCalla, Curley Maple, Al Petteway & Amy White, and Doug Macleod each performing two sets for the benefit of audience members who could attend only a portion of the concert.  It was a treat to see long time fans of the performers position themselves at vantage seats in the stands to get a close up view.  Every artist gave a stellar performance to an appreciative and attentive audience scattered all over the stands behind home plate at Grayson Stadium.

The Youth Songwriting Competition winner Declan Berkley performed his winning song “North Pike Island” on stage at the Sunday Concert.

Overall, the festival was a great success and next year we will be back again in our usual location at Grayson Stadium said Chris Desa.  The collective efforts of SFMS leadership, members, volunteers, and numerous sponsors is greatly appreciated.

Major Festival Sponsors

City of Savannah Leisure Services Bureau: Dept of Cultural Affairs

The Gretsch Foundation

Portman’s Music Superstore

Quality Rock Q 105.3

Brighter Day Natural Foods

For more information about the Savannah Folk Music Society, call (912) 898-1876 or visit www.savannahfolk.org.

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Four of the beautiful art guitars auctioned during the festival:

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Chick Webb: The Savoy King

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Visit The Savoy King website for more information.

Reflections On A Little Giant

by Fred W. Gretsch

I recently learned that a film titled The Savoy King: Chick Webb And The Music That Changed America has been selected for the 50th annual New York Film Festival. . . The documentary brings alive the untold story of drummer/bandleader William Henry “Chick” Webb, the “little giant” who taught himself to drum and taught the rest of the world to swing. I earnestly encourage anyone with an interest in drumming, in jazz, or just generally in music to attend a screening if at all possible.

Music and film critic Garry Giddins wrote, “The Savoy King is a wonderful film—dynamic and true to the spirit of its subject. If Chick Webb’s life had been a novel, filmmakers would have lined up to option it. Through genius and a fabled will, Chick became a true titan in American music. This remarkable story of an indispensable man is one of the great musical documentaries of our time.”

Chick Webb and Gretsch Drums

This historic shot has been colorized to approximate the look of Chick Webb and his Gretsch-Gladstone kit in 1937. Note how the kit is mounted on a rolling console frame.

The occasion of this important film screening got me to thinking about the historic connection between Chick Webb and Gretsch drums. The fact is, Chick was probably the first real drumming star to be promoted as a Gretsch artist. The 1939 Gretsch catalog features a great photo of Chick—touted as “the king of the drums”—enthusiastically swinging behind a Gretsch-Gladstone drumkit.

That 1939 catalog was the first to include Gretsch-Gladstone drums. They were a collaboration between the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company (then run by my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr.) and legendary Radio City Music Hall drummer and inventor Billy Gladstone. Billy had devised a tuning system for snare drums that allowed tensioning of the batter head, the bottom head, or both—all without lifting the drum off its stand.  According to Chet Falzerano in Gretsch Drums: The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound,” Gretsch-Gladstone drums debuted in 1937 and shortly became the choice of prominent drummers of the day. And the “paramount endorser among this group” was Chick Webb.

If Gretsch-Gladstone drums were unusual, Chick’s kit was downright unique. It was a combination of drums and “traps”—percussive sound effects including temple blocks—all mounted on a rolling console frame. The bass drum was 28″ in diameter; the “rack” tom was 9×13, and the floor tom was 14×16. Zildjian cymbals–one large on Chick’s right and one small on his left–were hung on loop hangers from gooseneck stands attached to the bass drum. The drums were covered in a striking oriental pearl finish inlayed with contrasting green sparkle “chicks” around the center of each drum.

Chick was touted as “king of the drums” on the cover of the 1939 Gretsch Drums catalog.

The unique nature of Chick’s drumkit mirrored his unique qualities as a drummer. No less a drum giant than Buddy Rich revered Chick, saying that Chick “represented true hipness. His playing was original, different, completely his own. If he were alive now, most drummers would be trying to figure out why they decided to play drums. That’s how good he was.”

Chick’s Extraordinary Background

Chick’s abilities as a drummer were made all the more astounding by the fact that he was physically handicapped.  Shortly after his birth (in 1905 in Baltimore) he contracted spinal tuberculosis. The debilitating illness left him with a hunchback and little use of his legs. Doctors suggested that he take up drumming as a remedy for stiff joints.  Chick worked as a paperboy to earn enough to buy a drumset that was fitted with special custom-pedals so that he could reach them. He taught himself to play, and he made his professional debut at the age of eleven.

Chick’s diminutive size sometimes made him hard to see behind his large drums.

When Chick was seventeen he moved to New York, where he started playing with such jazz notables as Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, and Duke Ellington. At less than five feet tall, he could barely be seen when seated behind his drums. But he could certainly be heard. His forceful sense of swing, accurate technique, control of dynamics, and imaginative breaks and fills gained him the respect of his peers and the admiration of fans. As a result, by 1926 Chick was leading his own band. Although he was unable to read music, he easily memorized the arrangements played by the band. This, in turn, allowed him to direct performances from a raised platform in the center of the ensemble, giving cues with his drumming.

Chick’s band alternated between road tours and long-term stands at New York City clubs through the late 1920s. In 1931, his group became the house band at Harlem’s legendary Savoy Ballroom. There the band delighted dance-crazy audiences with songs like “Stomping At The Savoy” and “Blue Lou.”

Legendary Band Battles

The Savoy regularly featured “battles” between the name big bands of the day, with Chick Webb’s band taking on the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. On one such occasion in 1937, Chick’s band faced the high-flying Goodman band at its peak, with popular superstar Gene Krupa in the drummer’s chair. According to all reports, Chick’s band left Benny’s group drained and defeated. And as for the drumming, Gene Krupa himself put it succinctly: “Chick cut me to ribbons.”

Chick’s Later Career

Another colorized shot depicting Chick in 1938 with his vocal “discovery”—a then-teenaged Ella Fitzgerald.

In 1935, Chick hired a seventeen-year-old vocalist who’d just won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater. Her name was Ella Fitzgerald, and Chick recognized her amazing talent immediately—to the point that he rebuilt his show around her. They formed a powerful partnership and recorded over sixty songs in the next three years. These included “A Tisket-A-Tasket,” which remained at the top of the charts for seventeen weeks in 1938.

The fame of Chick Webb and his band continued to grow, fueled by the group’s reputation as a giant-killer in the Savoy battles and a continuous string of record hits like “T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” and “Liza.” But sadly, Chick’s always-precarious health began to give way, and he started to have difficulty finishing performances.

Despite his health problems, Chick continued to tour and record with his orchestra in order to keep them employed during the Depression. But in June of 1939 he became seriously ill, and he entered Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After undergoing a major operation, he passed away on June 16, 1939, at the age of thirty-four. His last words reportedly were, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.”

With the passing of Chick Webb the world lost a legend…and Gretsch lost an association that was more than just an endorsement deal.  Still, though Chick is gone, his legacy remains. Drummers everywhere who appreciate the history of the instrument know that Chick Webb stands as one of the great innovators. According to Barry Ulanov in A History Of Jazz In America, he was, “perhaps the greatest of jazz drummers—a gallant little man who made his contribution to jazz within a framework of pain and suffering.”

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Gretsch Supports AROTR: America’s Largest Beatles Festival

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Bands at Abbey Road on the River played inside the Potomac Ballroom of the Gaylord Convention Center as well as outside on the pier. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

The 2012 Abbey Road on the River festival—held this past August 30-September 3 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland—is America’s largest musical celebration of all things Beatles. This five-day music festival takes place twice each year: In Louisville, Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, and in the Washington, D.C. area over Labor Day weekend. The D.C. festival includes two indoor and four outdoor stages, as well as additional rooms for speakers and film screenings.

The festival had its start in 2002 in Cleveland, Ohio, and then moved to its current locations in 2005. Since the move, Abbey Road on the River has expanded greatly, with an average of over sixty bands annually. Many are full-on tribute acts that strive to recreate as faithfully as possible the sound and image of The Fab Four at various points in their career. Other bands play Beatles music accurately, but don’t dress or act like Beatles. Still others honor the music of Lennon & McCartney and George Harrison without trying to reproduce the Beatles’ sound.

Giving their tribute to The Beatles was Jukebox, from Puerto Rico.

In addition to bands from across the USA, many come from around the world to take part in AROTR. This year’s lineup included The Beatrips (Japan), The Beafore (Germany), All You Need Is Love (Canada), Jukebox (Puerto Rico), and The Day Trippers and The LSB Experience (both from Holland). Altogether it makes for a lot of great entertainment, so it’s not surprising that AROTR draws nearly 30,000 Beatles fans from all over the globe. These fans also enjoy presentations by Beatles-related speakers, discussion panels, film screenings, and the sale of Beatles merchandise.

The drummer for The Beatrips enjoyed the sound of great drumkit provided by Gretsch Drums. Photos: Joshua Yospyn.

AROTR also draws a variety of industry sponsors. In particular, this past weekend’s event benefited from just about as much Gretsch participation as it was possible to receive. There were Gretsch drums on the stages, as well as Gretsch guitars in the hands of many players as a tribute to the instruments that helped George Harrison and John Lennon create their signature sounds.

Fred spent time visiting with AROTR attendees, signing autographs and chatting about the connection between The Beatles and Gretsch guitars. Pictured with Frank Ceresi.

And there was Fred Gretsch himself, on hand to greet Gretsch aficionados, sign autographs, and take part in the popular “Fred & Joe Show.” In tandem with Joe Carducci of Gretsch Guitars, Fred outlined the history of the Gretsch Family and its multi-generational place within the musical instrument industry. And, in keeping with the spirit of the AROTR event, Fred & Joe offered a special “Tribute To George Harrison” feature.

On Saturday, September 1 festival-goers were also given an opportunity to bid at a live auction that offered three great Gretsch guitars from the AROTR private collection. These classic models included a Country Gentleman, a Tennessee Rose, and a George Harrison Signature Duo Jet. Partial proceeds from the auction went to benefit The Desmoid Tumor Foundation and The American Red Cross.

Gretsch Electromatic G5422 TDC Guitar

Gretsch Guitars also donated a beautiful Electromatic G5422 TDC electric guitar in walnut stain to be raffled off on Saturday in support of the Red Cross. Later that evening Gretsch Guitars sponsored the Love Album Live concert, featuring All You Need Is Love, Britbeat, and The Newbees.

The mission statement of the Abbey Road on the River festival states: “Because John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr made the world a happier place, we promise to extend their vision by creating a welcoming and carefree environment for their fans to come together with friends and family to experience their gift of music, written and performed with peace, love, and non-violence at its heart. We further pledge to emulate their gentleness and compassion, and as John and George lived on their own terms, so too, do Paul and Ringo continue to live in good health and communicate their unique talents and love for humanity. It is with great respect and gratitude that we celebrate their music and
the spirit that continues to bring us all together. In their names, we pledge to have fun.”

There’s no doubt that this year’s AROTR Labor Day Weekend event lived up to that pledge.

The next Abbey Road On The River festival will be held from Thursday, May 23 through Monday, May 27, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. For more information visit abbeyroadontheriver.com.

For more information on Gretsch history as well as Gretsch guitars and drums, visit gretsch.com.

More event photos:

Fred Gretsch with John Martellaro, winner of the Gretsch George Harrison Signature Duo Jet.

The same Gretsch kit helped CB Radio’s drummer entertain the ballroom crowd. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

Fred Gretsch (at microphone) and Joe Carducci offered their popular “Fred & Joe Show” historical presentation.

Yet another Gretsch kit powered the Steve Sizemore Group’s set on the AROTR pier stage. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

Tim Seiwert of the Cincinnati-based rock band The Newbees created a left-handed version of the Gretsch kit during the band’s “All Together Now” performance. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

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Additional photos from the event can be seen in this PHOTO GALLERY.

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