Archive for the ‘Music Industry Events’ Category

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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Great Gretsch Weekend in Nashville

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The weekend of this past July 13 and 14 saw a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events in Nashville, Tennessee, otherwise known as “Music City USA.” And Gretsch was an important participant in all of them.

NAMM In Nashville

To begin with, there was the summer NAMM show, an annual trade show conducted by The National Association of Music Merchants. That organization is a not-for-profit association created to strengthen the global musical instruments industry, while promoting the pleasures and benefits of making music to people of all ages. NAMM is comprised of more than 9,000 member companies in eighty-seven countries around the world.

Each summer’s NAMM show brings many of the world’s top musical instrument manufacturers to Nashville to display their wares. This year’s show, presented July 12 through July 14 at the city’s downtown convention center, featured 372 exhibitors from across the globe.

As you might expect from its Nashville setting, the summer NAMM show tends to be heavily populated by manufacturers of guitars and guitar accessories—and heavily attended by guitar aficionados. So it was the perfect place for The Gretsch Company to showcase its Bigsby brand of True Vibratos.

Paul Bigsby was a musician, a guitar-maker, and an inventor. In 1951 he presented the first Bigsby True Vibrato to guitar pioneer Merle Travis—immediately revolutionizing guitar design. From that day to this, Bigsby Vibratos have been making major contributions to guitar history.

They’ve been featured continuously on Gretsch guitars since 1955, and they’ve been heard on recordings in almost every musical genre from punk to folk and from country to rock. Versions are now available to fit almost every brand and model of guitar on the market.

Visitors to the Gretsch/Bigsby booth during the three days of the summer NAMM show had the opportunity to examine all of the Bigsby True Vibratos first-hand. But visitors on Friday, July 13 got a special treat: the opportunity to meet and speak with Fred W. Gretsch himself. Representing the fourth generation of Gretsch musical instrument makers, Fred greeted and signed autographs for Gretsch fans from across the country.

Also on hand at the booth was Gene Haugh, a long-time Gretsch guitar craftsman who was instrumental in the development of the famous Chet Atkins “Super Chet” signature guitar model.

Gretsch guitar craftsman Gene Haugh (left) and Gretsch Company representative Adam Seutter (center) were joined by Fred W. Gretsch at the Gretsch Company booth at the summer NAMM show in Nashville.

These Bigsby True Vibrato tailpieces were the focal point of the Gretsch Company booth.

Gretsch drums were at the show in spirit if not in fact, as represented by this T-shirt sporting the classic Gretsch drum logo.

The Gretsch Company also holds title on another classic American drum brand: Leedy. This custom-crafted Leedy snare drum is a faithful reproduction of a vintage Leedy model.

For more information about Bigsby True Vibratos visit www.bigsby.com. For more information about NAMM visit www.namm.org.

Closing Ceremonies For The Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player Exhibit At The Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum

Just three blocks away from the Nashville Convention Center is the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, which is home to a variety of unique historic exhibits.

On this particular weekend the Hall was holding a series of events to mark the closing of one such exhibit: a fond and fascinating look at the life and career of Chet Atkins. Titled Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, it paid tribute to the versatility and vision of the legendary guitar artist, with historic information, personal memorabilia, performance clips, and guitars of all descriptions on display.

After opening on August 12, 2011, the exhibit was originally scheduled to run through June 11, 2012 but was extended due to popular demand. Throughout its duration it was accompanied by an ongoing series of educational and performance programs. By the time of its closing on July 15, 2012 it had hosted more than 300,000 visitors.

The Gretsch Company was the title sponsor for the Chet Atkins exhibit. Gretsch enjoyed a long and fruitful association with Chet, during which he helped design and popularize several guitar models that are still best-sellers today.

At a reception held prior to the public opening of the Chet Atkins exhibit in August of 2011, Fred Gretsch, said, “As a guitar manufacturer Gretsch is proud of its long association with Chet. As a family, we cherish the special relationship that we had with such a fine individual. We’re honored to be the title sponsor for the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s tribute to Chet, and we share the Hall’s commitment to ensuring that his unrivaled legacy will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.”

A highlight of the exhibition’s opening weekend came on Saturday, August 13, 2011, when Steve Wariner and Chet Atkins’ daughter Merle read a proclamation bestowing the final “Certified Guitar Player” honor on Paul Yandell, who was Chet Atkins’ bandleader, friend, and confidant for more than thirty years. Chet coined the term “Certified Guitar Player” to describe an artist who personified the ultimate in performance skill and musical quality. Only four other guitarists—Wariner, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel, and John Knowles—had received such recognition from Chet. It was a bittersweet tribute, as Yandell was ill and would pass away only a few months later.

A Quick Walk Through The Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player Exhibit

The exhibit featured multiple screens showing clips of Chet from throughout his career.

By the mid-1950s Chet had established himself as one of the most successful guitar soloists of all time—earning him the name of “Mr. Guitar.” And in 1954 he began his long association with the Gretsch company.

Pictured below and on the left is a 1959 Gretsch Country Gentleman that was one of Chet’s primary guitars throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Chet modified it with a Super ’Tron neck pickup and an internal phase shifter. On the right is a 1954 Streamliner special-order model that became the basis for the legendary Gretsch Chet Atkins Signature (6120) hollow-body guitar.

In addition to his performing skills, Chet enjoyed success as an executive with RCA Records. Below is a letter written to Chet in 1968 by then-Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch Jr., congratulating Chet on his appointment as vice president at RCA.

Chet was a skillful and talented producer. In addition to signing and producing many top country artists, he also branched out into the pop field. This photo below shows him in the studio with crooner Perry Como in 1973.

Of course, it was as a performer that Chet made his greatest impact…and earned his greatest rewards. Below are the Grammys he won in 1967 for his Chet Atkins Picks The Best album and in 1971 for his recording of “Snowbird.”

Chet was an inveterate “tinkerer” whose hobbies included photography and ham radio in addition to electronics and recording. The exhibit included a faithful display of Chet’s home workshop, just as it was left upon his passing in 2001.

Closing Luncheon

To commemorate the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit at its closing, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum hosted two special events. The first was a private luncheon held on Friday, July 13, 2012 and attended by a select group of individuals who had been instrumental in the establishment of the exhibit.

Attendees included Hall board chairman Steve Turner and museum director Kyle Young, as well as exhibit sponsors Fred and Dinah Gretsch (and their grandson Logan Thomas), Merle Atkins Russell (Chet’s daughter), Marie Yandell (widow of Paul Yandell), and CGP guitarist John Knowles.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch and grandson Logan with Merle Atkins Russell, daughter of Chet Atkins.

As a gesture of thanks for the Gretsch Company’s support of the exhibit, Kyle Young presented Fred and Dinah Gretsch with a scrapbook containing photos and other material documenting every stage of the exhibit’s creation.

Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum director Kyle Young (left) and board chairman Steve Turner (rear) presented Fred and Dinah Gretsch with a scrapbook documenting every step of the creation of the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit.


Friends & Flamekeepers Concert

The second special closing event took place on Saturday, July 14 in the Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater. A concert “Chet Atkins: Friends And Flame Keepers,” featured a stellar group of performers. Some were veteran artists who had enjoyed personal relationships with Chet; others were rising stars who were influenced by Chet and are carrying on and expanding his unique fingerstyle guitar technique. The lineup included John Knowles, Muriel Anderson, Meagan Taylor (great-niece of Chet Atkins), Ben Hall, Thom Bresh, Brooks Robertson, and Gretsch guitar artists Guy Van Duser and Joe Robinson.

Anecdotes and stories about Chet Atkins were plentiful, and the musical performances were heartfelt and beautiful. It was an amazing—and entirely appropriate—tribute to the memory of a man who had such an important impact on guitarists everywhere.

A full-length performance video of the Friends & Flamekeepers concert may be viewed HERE.

For additional information on the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum visit Countrymusichalloffame.org. For more information on Gretsch and its association with Chet Atkins, visit gretsch.com.

Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention

While the Summer NAMM show and the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum events were taking place in downtown Nashville, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society was holding its 28th annual convention at the Music City Sheraton Hotel & Convention Center just outside of town. From July 11 through 14 attendees enjoyed fully-packed days and nights of the music of the legendary guitarist.

Through 2000, Chet Atkins himself participated in the CAAS conventions, and his presence was warmly appreciated by the members. Since his passing in 2001, the Society has continued to preserve his legacy and to encourage young and old alike to keep his music alive and appreciate the many contributions he made to the guitar and the music of America.

Current CAAS president Dr. Mark Pritcher, his wife Carol, and an able staff of dedicated volunteers keep the organization running and growing. Although membership is around 1,000, this year’s CAAS convention welcomed over 1,500 avid Chet Atkins fans.

The convention hosted a variety of guest artists who performed concerts, played at intimate close-up sessions, and conducted top-notch workshops for attendees. Performances ran concurrently on two stages and in nearby meeting rooms. The main stage hosted concerts each night until late evening. In between all of these activities, retailers, collectors, and guitar makers displayed instruments, recordings, and memorabilia for sale. Personal interaction between established artists, professional and hobbyist musicians, and just plain fans was a great part of the fun for everyone in attendance.

A particularly popular feature at the convention was the Gretsch guitar display (presented in cooperation with Broadway Music of Nashville.) Not only did the display showcase a bevy of beautiful instruments, it also presented ongoing performances by great Gretsch guitar artists including Pat Corn, Bobby Gibson, and Richard Kiser. And, to the delight of convention goers, Fred W. Gretsch dropped by the display on Friday, July 13 to introduce some of the performers. Fred then stayed to chat with fans and sign autographs—which he did on programs, T-shirts . . . and one brand-new Gretsch guitar!

From left: Pat Corn, Bobby Gibson, and Richard Kiser performed at the Gretsch Guitars display.

Fred Gretsch was on hand to autograph programs, T-shirts...and this Gretsch guitar.

Veteran Gretsch guitar craftsman Gene Haugh (who helped develop the “Super Chet” model) admired the display of beautiful new Gretsch guitars.

The Gretsch Family and Gretsch Guitars have been major supporters of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society for many years. As a result, coming to the CAAS convention has become a regular family event for Fred and Dinah Gretsch—as well as for their grandson Logan, who was at the show this year.

Logan Thomas, grandson of Fred and Dinah Gretsch

When asked how he was enjoying the convention, the articulate twelve-year-old replied, “This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve come here, and it’s always great. But it’s especially great for me this year, because I’ve been studying the guitar myself for the past year. One of my favorite players is Joe Robinson, and he’s playing at the convention, which is really cool.”

In addition to pursuing his musical goals, Logan is also an athlete, playing quarterback for his team at Thomas Heyward Academy in his home town of Ridgeland, South Carolina. Ridgeland is also home to the Gretsch USA drum manufacturing operation. As a sixth-generation member of the Gretsch family, Logan occasionally helps out at the factory. As he proudly explained, “I’ve been helping move things around to make more space for The Vineyard.” Logan’s reference is to Gretsch’s unique collection of vintage drum shells from the 1980s and earlier, which are used to create historically authentic custom drumkits.

Chet Atkins Tribute Concert

The CAAS convention came to a rousing conclusion on Saturday, July 14 with a gala Chet Atkins tribute concert. This show featured special guests from the Nashville pantheon of performers, as well as international guest artists. Most of these had taken part in earlier convention activities, and many had also appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s “Friends & Flamekeepers” tribute concert. Like that earlier event, this concert showcased fingerstyle guitar playing by newcomers and established stars alike.

The evening’s many fond recollections of Chet Atkins were joined by remembrances of Paul Yandell, whose long association with Chet—as well as his own noteworthy musical accomplishments—had made him an important figure on the Nashville scene for decades. The verbal and musical tributes offered to these two guitar giants gave a very personal quality to each performance.

Family and friends at the CAAS closing concert, from left: Judy Edwards, Nokie Edwards, Deed Eddy, Gretsch guitar great Duane Eddy, Dinah and Fred Gretsch, and Logan Thomas.

Special moments abounded during the concert. Just a few of those included:

The introduction of Fred Gretsch by CAAS president Mark Pritcher, and Fred’s comments regarding Paul Yandell and Chet Atkins, both of whom had long associations with Gretsch guitars.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch and grandson Logan presenting a 1959 Gretsch 6119 guitar to lucky raffle winner Jimmy Lapham, who came to the CAAS convention from Camilla, Georgia.

Fifteen-year-old Australian phenom Josh Needs playing an original composition on a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar that had been given to the CAAS by guitar great Scotty Moore—who had himself been given the guitar by Chet Atkins.

Gretsch artist and guitar icon Duane Eddy presenting a custom replica of Buddy Holly’s guitar to long-time Ventures lead guitarist Nokie Edwards. Nokie was being honored with the Buddy Holly Legacy Award, presented by the Buddy Holly Education Foundation in recognition of outstanding artistry.

Rising Gretsch guitar star Joe Robinson wowing the crowd with his unique combination of blazing technique and musical creativity on an original tune appropriately titled “It’s Not Easy.”

After relating how they each had learned Chet Atkins’ “Happy Again,” a moving trio performance of the tune by John Knowles, Thom Bresh, and Brooks Robertson.

Gretsch artist Guy Van Duser—and the entire concert audience—performing “We Love You Chet,” an original tune composed in tribute to the guitar great.

In addition to the artists named above, the roster of performers at the CAAS closing concert included Shane Adkins, Rick Allred, Craig Dobbins, Phil Hunt & Eddie Estes, Pat Kirtley, Jimmy, John, and Morning Nichols, Ben Owings, Eddie Pennington & Paul Moseley, and Sean Weaver.

For more information on the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, go to ChetSociety.com.

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Gretsch Helps Celebrate Sam Ulano’s Birthday

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Teaching Legend Is Going Strong At Ninety-Two

Sam Ulano

The New York City drumming community came together this past July 10 to honor and enjoy the wit and wisdom of drum teacher and icon Sam Ulano. The event—hosted by DrumSummit.com’s Peter Greco and held at Sam Ash Music on 48th Street—combined a clinic by Sam with a celebration of his August 12 birthday, when he’ll turn ninety-two.

With sixty years as a performer and teacher to his credit, Sam is equally revered and controversial. Besides his private teaching practice, the drum studio he founded in the 1950s 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’s released literally dozens of self-produced books and CDs, along with over 2,500 pamphlets that he calls “Foldys.”

Sam’s publications are almost comically “lo-fi” in production values, but they’re nonetheless high in informational content. In what is perhaps his most controversial teaching philosophy, Sam denounces rudiments as having nothing to do with playing a drumset. Instead, Sam focuses 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 his clinic. “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.”

Sam’s philosophy may not be for everyone, but it’s been enough for some pretty stellar former students including Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Tony “Thunder” Smith, Allen Schwartzberg, and Art Taylor. These drummers—and dozens like them—have benefited from Sam’s major premise, which is 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.

Another controversial recommendation from Sam is regular practicing with metal sticks to improve hand and arm strength. If metal sticks aren’t available, short lengths of copper pipe will do, as Sam demonstrated at his clinic. “If I hadn’t practiced with metal sticks all these years,” he said, “there’s no way I could still be playing at ninety-two years old.”

And play he does. Sam still gigs regularly in Manhattan clubs, focusing primarily on swing and Dixieland music. To demonstrate his playing skills, Sam was accompanied at his clinic by keyboardist Les Kurtz, saxophonist Tom Olin, and vocalists Michelle Zelkin and Diana Nikolos.

ENJOY A SHORT VIDEO OF THE SKILLFUL SAM ULANO IN ACTION

The combined clinic/birthday celebration at Sam Ash Music drew many of Sam’s current and former students, as well as professional drummers who cite Sam as an inspiration. Key among those was veteran TV and Broadway drummer Ray Marchica, who’s currently in his eighth year of drumming for the Broadway production of Mamma Mia. Ray told the audience that he’d been inspired to play the drums as a youngster, after seeing Sam perform one of his “drum stories” at a clinic presented at Ray’s elementary school.

Sam has proudly played Gretsch drums since 1947—quite possibly making him the oldest and longest-running Gretsch drummer currently active. To commemorate this long association, Dinah and Fred Gretsch sent a personal birthday card to Sam, offering the good wishes of everyone at the Gretsch Company. Dinah and Fred also sent a number of souvenir Gretsch coin banks as giveaways. The banks are reproductions of models that date back more than seventy-five years to the Great Depression, when Gretsch encouraged people to save in order to purchase musical instruments.

Also on hand was Modern Drummer magazine’s ad director Bob Berenson. Bob informed the audience that Sam’s feature in the September 2011 MD had helped to make that issue a quick and total sellout.

In addition to Gretsch Drums, Sam’s clinic was co-sponsored by Sabian Cymbals, Remo Heads, Sam Ash Music, and DrumSummit.com. For more information on Sam, visit samulano.com.

SAM ULANO SHARES HIS PHILOSOPHY ON RUDIMENTS AND A HINT ABOUT DRUM SOLOS

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The Great Gretsch Jazz Drummers Summit of 1973

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

An Audio Portrait of Four Percussive Legends

by Fred Gretsch

On July 7, 1973 the Gretsch Drum Company sponsored a unique musical event: A live concert that brought together a bevy of the company’s top artists. This “summit” of Great Gretsch Drummers featured the cream of the jazz drumming world.

The host for this historic event was promoter/producer George Wein, who has been called “the most famous jazz impresario” and “the most important non-player” in jazz history. Among his many accomplishments, Wein founded the Newport Jazz Festival—probably the best-known jazz festival in America—as well as the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles and the  New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But in 1973 Wein was at the Wollman Amphitheater in New York’s Central Park, acting as emcee for the Great Gretsch Drummers summit.

The full roster included performances by virtually all of the top jazz drummers of the day. These included established star Max Roach, the then-young-phenomenon Tony Williams, and the unique drum-and-percussion collective led by Roach called M’Boom. Regrettably, those performances were not captured for posterity.

However, four other Great Gretsch Drummers on the bill were recorded. That stellar group included Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, Freddie Waits, and “Papa” Jo Jones.  Their remarkable presentations have been made available for listening at Wolfgang’s Vault HERE.

ELVIN JONES: FIRE AND PASSION

Elvin Jones

The first recorded performance is by Elvin Jones, who, by 1973, had already set the jazz world on its ear during his six-year stint in the John Coltrane Quartet. In fact, many music critics regard Elvin as the most influential drummer in the history of jazz. His revolutionary multilayered rhythmic approach transformed the drums as a traditional time-keeping instrument, serving as an inspiration for drummers seeking greater improvisational freedom.

Critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Elvin’s significance this way: “His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group.” With this freewheeling approach Elvin helped lay the foundation for the avant-garde and fusion jazz movements.

For his Gretsch Summit performance Elvin begins with a polyrhythmic exploration of the kit. Then he’s joined by Moog synthesizer player Joe Galavant and wah-wah-inflected guitarist Paul Mitsky. Their far-out, futuristic fusion jam—fueled by Elvin’s signature rolling thunder on the kit—is the edgiest and most freewheeling of the day’s performances. At the climax of the jam, Elvin lashes into the toms, driving the electronic mix to Hendrixian heights and prompting emcee George Wein to announce: “Elvin Jones, ladies and gentlemen! Strange things are happening!”

Wein then presents Elvin with his award as #1 drummer in the Down Beat International Critics Poll for 1973. In his unmistakable basso croak, Elvin responds with a gracious speech of acceptance.

MEL LEWIS: TASTE AND MUSICALITY

Mel Lewis

As co-leader of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Lewis was widely recognized for bringing a tasteful, small-group approach to his big-band drumming. In an interview, Mel once described his subtle but highly musical style as “not pushing or pulling, but supporting.”

Mel didn’t lack for technique; he could play at break-neck tempos for lengthy periods and hardly break a sweat. But he was never one for blazing fills around the drums. For him, chops had to do with control of the instrument, a sense of color, and, above all, the ability to swing. “I learned that the power of the drums was in this smooth glide of rhythm,” he once told Stanley Crouch. “It wasn’t the volume.” So Mel wasn’t flashy or loud—just tasteful, and highly musical.

When it came to sound, Mel was a purist. He insisted on playing genuine Turkish-made cymbals, favoring lightweight models that were dark and rich with overtones. His standard setup included a 21″ ride, a 19″ crash-ride, and a 22″ “swish-knocker” with rivets. The sound of these cymbals, combined with the rich, warm sound of his wood-shell Gretsch drums equipped with natural calfskin top heads produced a sonic identity that was uniquely Mel’s.

Mel opens up his Great Gretsch Summit performance slowly, using mallets and sticks to play deliberate strokes on his toms and cymbals. Extending the solo musically as well as rhythmically, he artfully orchestrates a thoughtful and dramatic piece that highlights the melodic potential of the complete drumkit.

FREDDIE WAITS: POWER AND INTENSITY

Freddie Waits

Next up was Freddie Waits. While never the jazz superstar that Elvin Jones was or that Tony Williams would become, Freddie was the embodiment of the solid, in-demand working drummer during the late 1960s and early ’70s. While in college Freddie played blues with Ivory Joe Hunter and Percy Mayfield. Later he became a “house drummer” for Motown Recording Studios in Detroit, where he worked with such legendary artists as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder. (Freddie drummed on Stevie’s first hit Fingertips.)

Freddie entered the jazz scene after moving to New York, where he became a member of the original New York Jazz Sextet. He went on to tour with Ella Fitzgerald, and to work with such other greats as Betty Carter, Donald Byrd, Nancy Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Johnny Hodges.

Freddie also devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the versatile percussion group M’Boom. The ensemble featured Max Roach, Omar Clay, Roy Brooks, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Fred King, and Ray Mantilla, all of whom contributed a tremendously wide range of ideas and influences to the group’s collective percussive identity.

For his part of the Summit, Freddie opens with an audacious eruption on the kit. Employing a take-no-prisoners approach from the outset he dives in headfirst and continues to blaze unabated over the course of eight minutes. Midway through this dynamic percussive deluge Freddie is joined by fellow M’Boom member Joe Chambers on marimba and assorted hand percussion. Together they bring the intensity of the performance to a breathtaking crescendo.

PAPA JO JONES: A SIGNATURE APPROACH

Papa Jo Jones

When Papa Jo Jones took the stage, he was the acknowledged elder statesman among the drummers on the bill—and among jazz drummers worldwide. As one-fourth of the legendary All-American Rhythm Section in the Count Basie band (with Basie on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, and Walter Page on bass) from 1936 through 1948, Papa Jo provided the swinging momentum for that legendary musical organization. In so doing, he established a standard for style and taste on the drums that influenced drummers for generations to come.

More than any other drummer in history, Papa Jo Jones developed the hi-hat into an instrument of great rhythmic and tonal variety. His hi-hat style has been characterized as swinging and driving, but never obtrusive. So it isn’t surprising that Papa Jo’s Great Gretsch Drum Summit solo spot features the hi-hat—only the hi-hat.

According to jazz author and historian Michael Steinman, “Legend has it that the young Tony Williams and the middle-aged Max Roach came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits. Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and ‘washed them all away.’” The sixty-two-year-old drumming great held the crowd spellbound with his myriad of hip approaches to playing his signature instrument.

It’s a shame that these classic performances were not filmed so that we could have a visual as well as an audio record. But if you’re a drummer—or even just a drumming aficionado—it’s really not hard to imagine what it might have been like to witness these Great Gretsch Drummers in action. Just listen…close your eyes . . . and enjoy!