Archive for the ‘Music Industry News’ Category

Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Phil Collins: The Unmistakable Man

by Fred W. Gretsch

Considering the enormity of Phil Collins’ success as a solo artist in the 1980s and 90s, it might surprise some people to learn that he first came to musical prominence as the drummer in an equally successful band almost a decade earlier. That band was Genesis, and their unique brand of early progressive rock was powered by Phil’s innovative style and unmistakable sound.

Phil joined Genesis in 1970 for their third album, Nursery Cryme, and he went on to help catapult the band to international fame. His drumming combined a great feel (based heavily on his love for groove-based ’60s soul music) with quick footwork, uniquely effective accents, and burning fills that left drummers shaking their heads in amazement and admiration. When original lead singer Peter Gabriel left the group in 1975 Phil stepped out front to take Gabriel’s place. His drumming chores on live performances were taken over first by Bill Bruford and later by Chester Thompson, but Phil continued to provide the dynamic drumming on all Genesis recordings throughout the band’s lengthy career.

Phil also holds the distinction of having created and played what may be the most universally recognized drum fill in the history of popular music: the classic descending-toms break in his mega-hit “In The Air Tonight” (from his 1981 solo album Face Value). That fill alone—probably the most air-drummed of all time—sets Phil squarely in the pantheon of drumming greats. And although not many people know it, Phil played drums on the famous Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which spent the early weeks of 1985 at the top of the charts and has been a holiday staple ever since.

Phil's Gretsch Kit

Throughout most of his career Phil performed his dynamic drumming on a Gretsch drumkit that was, to put it mildly, different from the kits of his contemporaries (and remains so to this day). First off, it was a “lefty” kit, owing to Phil’s left-handedness as a player. Next, it featured a bevy of single-headed rack and floor toms that produced the deep, powerful attack that contributed to Phil’s trademark sound. Phil tended to sit low, so the kit seemed to surround—and nearly obscure—him as he played. But his talent and creativity—and the kit’s Great Gretsch Sound—always commanded his audiences’ attention.

Sadly, health issues led Phil to retire from drumming in 2011. Fortunately, recordings and videos of his playing with Genesis, with other performers, and as a solo artist abound today. Those recordings serve as a testament to Phil’s personal drumming prowess—and his contribution to drum history itself.

Phil On Display

A full-concert clip from 1973 documents Genesis’s early incarnation as a progressive/“art” rock band, largely due to the theatrics of singer Peter Gabriel. But it also showcases Phil Collins’ contribution to the group’s seminal sound.

By 1987 Genesis was a very different group, with Phil out front on vocals. But he always returned to the drumkit at every show, as on this live concert from England’s Wembly stadium. Check out his drumming duet with Chester Thompson about 3/4ths of the way through the show.

The original “official” video for Phil’s 1981 super-hit “In The Air Tonight” seems a little dated today…but the classic drum fill sounds as powerful as ever.

An absolutely fabulous full-concert clip of Phil playing with a crack band in Paris at the height of his solo career. Phil opens the show on drums, and later participates in a terrific drum feature with second drummer Ricky Lawson and percussion great Luis Conte.

On Phil’s “First Farewell Concert” tour in 2004, Phil and Chester Thompson performed a dynamic drumming duet that must be seen and heard to be believed.

Oh What A Night…With Doyle Dykes!

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Saturday night, August 1, was a musically magical night in of all places, Bloomingdale, Georgia, a quiet southern community just west of historic Savannah. Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor hosted a special evening featuring the stylings of Doyle Dykes, “one of the finest fingerpicking guitarists around” as described by the late Chet Atkins. The sold out show was attended by area music lovers–several never having seen Doyle perform before–and none of whom left the event disappointed.

Doyle Dykes. Photo courtesy of Don Aliffi.

For most of the evening, Doyle performed masterfully with his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar to which he had added an LR Baggs acoustic pickup.  He also used a recently-acquired Gretsch 12-string electric. Doyle graciously shared some nice comments about his Gretsch instruments with the audience and also called area resident Fred Gretsch up on stage to talk about Fred’s 50 years in the music business (which is being celebrated throughout 2015).

Also joining Doyle during Saturday night’s show were Keith Miller and his son Nathan from Summerville, South Carolina. Quite a skillful ukulele player, Nathan delighted the audience with a song he composed while visiting a little German village and inspired by their daily church bells. Watch his performance.

Doyle with Dinah & Fred Gretsch along with Keith and son Nathan Miller

What a night and what a terrific time with one of the best cross-genre
fingerstylists today! If you don’t yet know Doyle, you need to visit his website and Facebook page to learn more.  And watch Doyle’s tribute to Chet Atkins from the Pickin’ Parlor.

While out in the Savannah area, add some great music to your evening.  Check Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor’s schedule for upcoming events.

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Special thanks to Chris and Missy and to Jim Wethington for posting videos from the show!

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A Brooklyn Bash!

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Celebrating Fred Gretsch’s Fifty Years In The Music Business

This past May 30 saw a very special event in Brooklyn, New York: a celebration of Fred W. Gretsch’s fiftieth anniversary in the music industry. Representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch family business, Fred’s career began on March 2, 1965. Today he remains at the helm of the Gretsch Company—and as such is one of the very few individuals in the musical-instrument industry still actively involved with the brand that bears his name.

It’s entirely appropriate that the celebration of Fred’s anniversary was held in Brooklyn, because that’s where the Gretsch Company was located from its inception in 1883 until 1969. In those years the company manufactured great drums, guitars, banjos, and other instruments under the watchful eyes of Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather (Friedrich Gretsch), grandfather (Fred Gretsch Sr.), father (William “Bill” Gretsch), and uncle (Fred Gretsch Jr.). The iconic Gretsch Building that housed the factory still stands today at 60 Broadway, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

And so it was that Gretsch fans, artists, and music-industry colleagues from across the country came to Brooklyn to help Fred and his family celebrate this auspicious occasion. And it all started with…

Gretsch Day At Street Sounds

Brooklyn’s Street Sounds.

Street Sounds is located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. Touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” (for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

This beautiful guitar was created by Stephen and the Gretsch Custom Shop.

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation. Rocky greeted the crowd, and then introduced Gretsch Guitar product manager Joe Carducci, who served as emcee for the day’s festivities.

Emcee Mr. Joe Carducci.

Following a video presentation highlighting Gretsch history, Joe introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the importance of family, commenting on how he and Dinah shared a multi-generational involvement in business with daughter Lena, and pointing out that there were fifth- and sixth-generation Gretsch family members in attendance at the event. Dinah Gretsch offered her thanks to the audience for their attendance, then went on to express her deep personal conviction that music enriches the lives of those who pursue it.

Fred Gretsch had a moment to chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set after their performance.

Fred enjoyed a chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by Justin Keenan and Ben Fraser—two members of an Australian quintet called The Go Set. Switching between acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin, the talented duo impressed the crowd with their melodic stylings. Their closing number, “Liberty Bell,” was offered as a tribute to the spirit of America.

Stephen Stern presented Fred with a congratulatory banner.

Senior master builder Stephen Stern was on hand to represent the Gretsch Custom Shop.  He presented Fred with a specially-created banner featuring the Custom Shop logo and the signatures of all of the talented artists and builders at the shop itself.

You couldn’t get more “local Brooklyn” than the next band on the bill. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) Their energetic set of punk-infused R&B included numbers by Jimmy Eat World and Alicia Keys, as well as a unique arrangement of the classic Jackson 5 tune “I Want You Back.” Pretty impressive, considering that it was their self-described “first time playing out.”

Brooklyn-based Off The Roof featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums.

Mark Nelson (center) and Mike Nieman of Gretsch Drums presented Fred with a limited-edition snare drum.

Mark Nelson and Mike Nieman, representing the Gretsch drum-making operation, made the next presentation to Fred Gretsch. Appropriately enough, it was the prototype of a limited-edition snare drum model called the FredKaster ’65 FG. Only fifty of these unique 7×14 commemorative drums will be offered for sale in the US. Fred’s drum came with its head signed by everyone involved in the manufacturing and sale of Gretsch drums.

The Nashville Attitude may be from Staten Island, New York, but they have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

State Island's The Nashville Attitude have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

You might not think of New York City as a hotbed of country music, but Staten Islands’ The Nashville Attitude would prove you wrong. Fronted by the vocals, guitar, and banjo of Marc Vincent Sica (with Elvin Cartegena on guitar and Ian Underwood on bass) the group stormed through a set of foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ tunes, including an ever-accelerating version of Johnny Cash’s classic “Rock Island Line” that challenged the stamina of drummer Dave Strickland.

The legendary Duane Eddy was a surprise guest.

The next scheduled act was Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands. But before they began, Joe Carducci introduced a surprise artist: the legendary “father of twang,” Duane Eddy. After modestly acknowledging the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer sat in with Jet and the band, adding his special touch to several tunes . . . including his 1960s hit, “Rebel Rouser.”

Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands are a throwback to the great western swing bands—and a real crowd-pleaser.

Then Jet and his boys returned to play an entertaining set of their trademark western swing and standards. Following a crowd-pleasing sing-along rendition of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” Jet offered musical tributes—first to Dinah Gretsch by singing the classic “Dinah…Is There Anyone Finer?” and then to Fred Gretsch in the form of special lyrics added to Roy Hamilton’s 1958 hit “Don’t Let Go.”

New York state senator Marty Golden (at right) offered a proclamation from the senate honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family connection to Brooklyn.

NY senator Marty Golden offered a proclamation honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah back up as well. Golden then read a senate proclamation that highlighted the history of the Gretsch Company and its connection to Brooklyn, and went on to salute Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth anniversary.

Todd Taylor and bassist Mike Moody.

Joe Carducci could barely contain his enthusiasm when introducing the next artist, citing him as “the Guinness World Record Holder as the fastest banjo player on the planet!” This was Todd Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation.

A stunned Kentucky Parkis—an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass in the Little Kids Rock music-education program—took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar, presented to her by Dinah Gretsch.

Kentucky Parkis took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar.

Throughout the day Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as several Gretsch guitars. The day’s big winner was Kentucky Parkis, an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass guitar in the Little Kids Rock music-education program. Literally in tears of surprise and happiness at her good fortune, Kentucky took home a classic orange-finish Gretsch 5420 guitar worth over $1,200.

The performances closed with an appearance by The Empty Hearts, an all-star band featuring Wally Palmar (the Romantics) on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica; Elliot Easton (the Cars) on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Babiuk (the Chesterfield Kings) on bass and vocals; and Clem Burke (Blondie) on drums and vocals. Clem played on a totally appropriate Gretsch Brooklyn Series kit for the occasion.

The Empty Hearts closed the show with a bang!

Offering what they themselves describe as “simple, straightforward, soulful rock ’n’ roll informed by ’60s garage rock and British Invasion sounds,” the group’s set combined original tunes from their new self-titled album with hit songs from each of their bands—including a joyous closing rendition of the Romantics’ “What I Like About You” that left the crowd screaming for more.

Joe Carducci concluded the celebration by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of congratulations to Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth Anniversary. A good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for videos from the event to be posted soon!

A Very Special Party

This specially decorated cake greeted guests at the Gretsch dinner party.

The day-long public celebration at Street Sounds was followed by a private party under a sparkling white tent at the nearby Dyker Beach golf course. The guest list included four generations of the Gretsch Family, along with Gretsch artists, industry colleagues, and other people near and dear to the hearts of Fred and Dinah Gretsch.

Dinah Gretsch served both as hostess and emcee for the evening’s festivities.

The party was presided over by Dinah, who opened the festivities by saying “We’re here to celebrate my greatest hero: Fred Gretsch.” Dinah then introduced a video program containing congratulatory messages from family, friends, and artists all over the world, as well as from the Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum, Elmhurst College, Berklee College of Music, the Little Kids Rock program, and Modern Drummer magazine.

A particularly moving moment in the evening came when Dinah read a paper composed by grandson Logan Thomas. Written for a school assignment called “My Definition Of A Hero,” it eloquently described how and why Logan’s grandfather, Fred Gretsch, met that definition.

David Wish of Little Kids Rock presented Fred with a framed concert photo.

Later in the evening a succession of guests offered personal anecdotes and appreciative words in tribute to Fred. These included David Wish, founder of the Little Kids Rock program, who saluted Fred as a mentor and supporter of LKR’s goal “to bring music to every single child in this country.” Dave then presented Fred with a framed photo of an LKR concert, emblazoned with a congratulatory message from the 195,000 children in the LKR program.

A special 50th anniversary “trophy” was commissioned by Dinah to honor the man she called “My hero: Fred Gretsch.”

Terry Dennis, who has worked with Fred and Dinah Gretsch in a design capacity for more than twenty years, created a one-of-a-kind commemorative “trophy” to be presented to Fred from Dinah. The award’s design was based on imagery from historic Gretsch catalogs.

Duane Eddy described how he was first introduced to Fred and Dinah in 1991—by George Harrison. Andy Babiuk cited Fred’s “persistence,” including how Fred relentlessly pursued him about writing a book on Paul Bigsby. Tony Oroszlany, president of Loyola High School in New York (Fred’s alma mater) saluted Fred for his ongoing support of the school. Street Sounds owner Rocky Schiano recalled “getting a history lesson about Brooklyn from Fred” during a stroll through the Williamsburg section. Bill Acton, of Fender’s Gretsch Specialty Team, stated how it was an honor to partner with Fred in marketing Gretsch guitars world-wide, describing him as “the nicest man in the business to work with.” Dave Waters, also of the Fender/Gretsch team, noted that of all major American guitar companies, only Gretsch has someone with the brand’s name running the company. And guitarist Elliot Easton related how he and Fred met and bonded over a bit of guitar minutiae: the fact that in the early 1990s, out of all left-handed guitar models only Gretsch’s featured control knobs that also worked “lefty.” Elliott—a left-handed player—particularly appreciated this attention to detail. This led to a friendship that ultimately generated a signature guitar model that he and Fred designed together.

Finally, Dinah brought Fred himself up to the podium—where he received a lengthy standing ovation from all in attendance. Discarding the written comments that he had prepared, Fred said instead, “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t add any more in words…but please know how much is in my heart. I thank you all.”

Then, with a twinkle in his eye and excitement in his voice, Fred added, “Now let’s have cake!”

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Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award and Sponsor First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts Celebration at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch are presented the Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award to recognize their support of the John A. Calabro Music and Arts Program at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. From left to right: Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, Dean of the Academic Board; Colonel (Retired) Robert L. McClure, President and CEO, West Point Association of Graduates; Dinah Gretsch, and Fred Gretsch. Photo by Kristin Sorenson, VP of Development, WPAOG.

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Fred and Dinah Gretsch were presented the General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award for helping sponsor the First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. The April 10 event, coordinated through the Department of English and Philosophy and the Cadet Fine Arts Forum, showcased cadet creativity and talent in music, photography, film, poetry, prose, and fine art.

This year’s event began a new tradition of honoring the late retired Colonel John A. Calabro, Jr., a 1968 USMA graduate and former Academy Professor of English, and Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the West Point Association of Graduates. Calabro, a revered Soldier and scholar, was also an accomplished musician, creative writer, and fine artist, and a strong advocate for the important role the arts played in the overall development of officers. He was a longtime friend of Fred Gretsch, President of the Gretsch Foundation.

“John Calabro was a true Renaissance man, a lifelong learner, and an ideal blend of ‘Athens and Sparta’ here at West Point,” said Gretsch. “We’re very proud that the Gretsch Foundation can support the Music and Arts Program named in John’s honor, and be associated with the United States Military Academy, one of the most respected and historic brands in America for over 200 years.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gretsch were invited to attend the inaugural event at West Point and spent the day touring the museum and many historic buildings at the nation’s oldest continually occupied military post. They enjoyed having lunch with over 4,400 cadets at the Academy’s famous mess hall on the first floor of Washington Hall.

“It was a wonderful experience. How can you not be impressed with the history and tradition of America’s most esteemed military academy,” said Dinah Gretsch. “And the talent and creativity we saw in the cadets, both women and men, at the celebration and awards ceremony was outstanding. The Gretsch Foundation is happy to honor John Calabro’s legacy with this sponsorship.”

The sponsorship not only makes the John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony an annual event, but also includes an outreach program that will connect members of the Cadet Jazz Forum, the USMA Band’s Jazz Knights, and students from local middle and high schools through music appreciation and performances. This year’s ceremony included a performance by the Jazz Ensemble, a band comprised of USMA cadets and students from West Point Middle School and James I. O’Neill High School.

About the Gretsch Foundation:

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, has a mission of enriching lives through participation in music, and has long been involved in music education through its sponsorship of concerts, festivals, clinics, workshops and direct assistance to schools.

In addition to providing music scholarships at Berklee College of Music, Elmhurst College, Georgia Southern University, and the University of West Georgia, the Foundation’s unique GuitarArt program donates guitars to schools for students and major artists to paint, decorate and auction off for fundraising efforts. Please visit www.guitarart.org for more information.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . And Hitters

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Charlie Watts: The Foundation

by Fred Gretsch

Virtually every serious music fan knows that great Gretsch drummer Charlie Watts has been the rhythmic foundation of the Rolling Stones for over fifty years. While not noted as a drumistic technician, Charlie is universally recognized as the rock that anchors “The World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band”—and also as the subtle force that swings it. That’s why Charlie was inducted into Modern Drummer magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2006, and why he was named as one of the Top Ten World’s Best Drummers in Rolling Stone magazine’s Readers Poll in February of 2010.

Charlie’s status as a rock-drumming great is somewhat ironic, because he doesn’t play drums like a rock drummer. When he was ten years old he discovered jazz—Miles Davis and John Coltrane in particular. Soon after that he began to explore the idea of becoming a drummer. He had no formal lessons; instead he credits the great drummers he saw in London’s jazz clubs as the people who taught him how to play drums properly. He used the jazz chops he learned as a teenager to invent his own unique style of playing rock ’n’ roll. When he plays, his movements are elegant in their simplicity yet soaring in their impact. None of his gestures are wasted; all are necessary.

Bringing the sensibilities of a jazz drummer to rock music has always been at the heart of what makes Charlie one of the most respected musicians in the world. That respect has resulted in his being called on to contribute to projects by Jack Bruce, B.B. King, Alexis Korner, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, AC/DC, Ben Sidran, and many more.

Charlie’s love for jazz has led him to either lead or take part in a number of musical projects of his own. In 1985 he formed the Charlie Watts Orchestra, a 32-piece band that toured the U.S. and ultimately released an album called Live at Fulham Town Hall. In 1991 he formed The Charlie Watts Quintet to pay homage to the small-group jazz that first grabbed him while he was growing up in London. Over the next five years they released a series of stellar recordings, including From One Charlie, Tribute To Charlie Parker, Warm And Tender, and Long Ago And Far Away. Next came a heartfelt collaboration with friend (and studio drumming great) Jim Keltner. Titled simply The Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project, it was a tribute to their favorite drummers, with each track titled after a different hero.

Charlie’s most recent side project—The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie—takes its name from the first initials of the four members of the band: Axel Zwingenberger, Ben Waters, Charlie Watts, and Dave Green. After forming in 2009, they quickly established a reputation for themselves at the forefront of boogie woogie music. In July of 2012 the band released a CD called Live In Paris, which includes a mix of originals, improvisations, and blues and boogie woogie standards. With a format of two pianos, bass, and drums, it’s about as big a departure from The Rolling Stones as you can imagine.

Charlie has also recorded with Zwingenberger and Green on a trio-format album titled The Magic Of Boogie Woogie. The three talented musicians express the swinging magic of blues and boogie woogie in full glory. It’s the first time that Charlie’ drum artistry is featured in such an intimate setting. Facts about the album—as well as some great musical clips—are available at www.boogiewoogie.net.

My wife Dinah and I have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Charlie on a number of occasions. In March of 2012 we had the opportunity to hear him play with The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie when the group was performing in Vienna, Austria. Later that same year we got to see and hear Charlie in his primary role, when the Rolling Stones played the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York in celebration of their fiftieth anniversary.

The location of that meeting held a special poignancy for us and for Charlie, since the Barclays Center is only a short distance away from 60 Broadway—the site of the former Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. It was in that very factory that the drumkits Charlie used in his early career with the Stones were built. The program for the Stones’ Barclays Center show, titled 50 & Counting: The Rolling Stones Live, included thanks from Charlie to Gretsch Drums. On our part, we thank Charlie for representing Gretsch drums with such artistry and grace for more than fifty years.

You can find dozens of Rolling Stones performance clips on YouTube. But to hear Charlie in particular talking about his Gretsch touring drumkit, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PZug4854sI.

Charlie discusses his own history and his love for swing music at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_6z9oqet8.

Charlie talks about the nature of the Rolling Stones and why he enjoys playing with the band at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZtZ3EDPls8.

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Great Gretsch Educators . . . Mike Johnston

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Mike Johnston: 21st Century Digital Teacher

by Fred Gretsch

Many Gretsch drum artists are also excellent teachers. But Mike Johnston puts things the other way around. While a fine performer in his own right (with years of touring credits that include recording artists Simon Says and Filter), Mike is currently focusing on his career as an educator. And he’s primarily doing it the way you might expect in this digital age: online, via his educational website Mikeslessons.com.

As Mike himself explains, “When I was touring I’d put videos on YouTube for my students while I was out of town. I figured that when I came home I’d have seventy or so views from those students. But my clips would get 20,000 views in a weekend. Things kept growing, and when they got a million views I realized that there must be a need for online lessons. At the time DVDs with any kind of educational content cost $40—and sometimes a drummer might want just one chapter. So I thought, ‘What if I film everything in five to ten minute chunks?’ You could get just one rudiment…or just one funk pattern…or just the songo. So that was the concept.”

Since that time Mike’s concept has been wildly successful, propelling him to celebrity teacher status around the world. And he comes by that status legitimately, having himself studied privately for fifteen years with some of the greatest educator/drummers of our time, including Pete Magadini and great Gretsch drummer Steve Ferrone.

Since establishing his website Mike has expanded his offerings beyond pre-recorded lesson clips. He now presents thirty-six “live” online drum lessons monthly. In addition, he hosts ten International Drum Camps each year at the Mikeslessons.com facility in Folsom, California.

Mike is also highly in demand as a clinician. He spent most of 2012 touring the United States giving clinics at various music stores, and he performed both days at the 2012 Meinl Drum Festival in Germany. All of this activity earned him nominations for Educator/Clinician of the Year by Modern Drummer magazine in 2011 and 2012.

Although he spends most of his efforts teaching online, Mike hasn’t abandoned the more traditional forms of drumming education. He’s also the author of a critically acclaimed instructional book called Linear Drumming. About the book, Mike himself says, “It’s a collection of my favorite linear patterns. It covers three different subdivisions and uses them as fills and grooves. Each page is built around a simple system.”

You can get more information about Mike and his teaching program at (big surprise) Mikeslessons.com. But for just a taste of what Mike has to offer there, check out any of the many clips available on YouTube. Here are a few to start with:

“The Simple Show-Off Lick”

“Breaking Down Polyrhythms”

“Improving Bass Drum Speed”

Mike has also contributed several educational articles to Modern Drummer and DRUM! magazines.  Here’s a YouTube clip based on one of those articles (“The 45-minute practice routine”).

And finally, some great clips of Mike discussing Gretsch drums and his teaching program are on his artist link at Gretschdrums.com.

All of us at Gretsch are proud to have such an energetic and forward-looking educator on our artist roster.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Chick Webb: The Little Giant

by Fred W. Gretsch

The inaugural article in this new series featured Tony Williams, who was indisputably one of the most innovative and influential drummers in jazz. This time, we’ll take a step further back and examine the career of Chick Webb, who, as the editors of Modern Drummer stated in 2006’s The Drummer: 100 Years Of Rhythmic Power And Invention, “set the standard for how a drummer should drive a band.”

William Henry “Chick” Webb was a small man who possessed an unconquerable spirit and an astounding musical talent. For many jazz fans, he remains arguably the greatest swing drummer to have ever played the instrument. His accomplishments as a musician are all the more impressive because he had to overcome significant physical handicaps in order to achieve them. A childhood accident crushed several vertebrae in his back, and he never grew to full size. He also suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, which left him a hunchback, with a large face and broad shoulders.

Chick was born in 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland. He bought his first set of drums with his earnings as a newsboy there, and he began playing in bands on pleasure boats at the age of eleven. After moving to New York in 1925, he led bands in various clubs before settling in for long regular runs at Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom, beginning in 1931.

Chick powered that band ferociously from behind a custom-made Gretsch-Gladstone drumkit that’s depicted on the cover of the 1939 Gretsch Drums catalog. It was a console-type kit that moved on wheels. A trap table, including temple blocks, was set in the center across the bass drum. Surrounding the table were his snare (with wooden rims) made personally by Billy Gladstone, a 9×13 tom-tom on the bass drum, and a 14×16 floor tom. The striking finish featured a white pearl covering inlayed with green-sparkle “chicks” around the center of each drum. The bass drum head was painted with a massive crown, depicting Chick’s status as “The Savoy King.”

Chick used this unique setup to create complex and thundering solos that paved the way for later drum greats like Buddy Rich (who studied Chick intensely) and Louie Bellson. He couldn’t read music, so he memorized each high-energy arrangement flawlessly. Those arrangements, along with a crisp ensemble sound and Chick’s drum pyrotechnics, became the band’s signature style. In 1935, Chick hired a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald and rebuilt his show around her. In return Ella provided Chick with his biggest hit record, “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” in 1938.

How important is Chick Webb to drumming history? According to drum historian Chet Falzerano in his book Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of That Great Gretsch Sound: “Webb’s prowess as a big band drummer during the 1930s was best summed up by Buddy Rich. ‘He represented true hipness. His playing was original, different, completely his own. Only about a half-dozen of the top drummers since then have anything resembling what he had.’”

Falzerano goes on to describe a legendary battle of the bands at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom between Chick’s band and Benny Goodman’s, when drum superstar Gene Krupa was playing for Goodman. “Gene got to the heart of the matter when he said, after the battle, ‘I’ve never been cut by a better man.’ Before the night was over Gene stood up on Benny’s stand and bowed to Chick, as if to say, ‘You’re the king.’”

The band’s fame continued to grow, fueled by its reputation as a giant-killer in the Savoy battles and a continuous string of Decca 78s that featured such irresistible numbers as “T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” and the B-side of “Tasket,” titled “Liza.” But Chick’s frail health began to deteriorate, and in 1939 he passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After his death Ella Fitzgerald fronted the band until it finally broke up in 1942.

Regrettably, the primitive recording techniques of the 1930s could not adequately capture Chick Webb’s spectacular technique and wide dynamic range. Still, some re-mastered recordings and radio broadcasts do exist to help us appreciate the talent of the man who was one of the first Gretsch drumset endorsers—and who indisputably earned his nickname of “The Little Giant.”

Here are a few YouTube links to check out:

A classic recording of “Stompin At The Savoy”.

A performance of “St. Louis Blues” taken from a radio broadcast from the Savoy Ballroom in early 1939.

A 1937 recording of “Harlem Congo” (from The Smithsonian Collection/Big Band Jazz [From The Beginnings To The Fifties] Volume ll).

Chick’s importance to jazz history is also made clear in a feature film titled THE SAVOY KING: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America. Check out the full film if you can. In the meantime, watch an excerpt clip.

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Gretsch News From NAMM: A Report On What’s Changing And What’s Not

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Shortly after the turn of the new year it was announced that the license to manufacture and distribute Gretsch drums had been acquired by Drum Workshop. Not surprisingly, this set off a storm of rumor and speculation about the future of the brand and of the drums themselves.

In order to address the concerns of the drum community, a presentation for the music-industry press was held on Friday, January 23 at the NAMM musical instrument trade show in Anaheim, California. There, comments were offered by key figures from both companies, including DW founder Don Lombardi and Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch.

Don was careful to stress the respect that he and everyone at DW shares for the legacy of Gretsch drums, as well as for the passion for quality displayed by the folks who make them at the Ridgeland, South Carolina factory. He stated unequivocally that there are no plans to make any changes to that manufacturing operation.

For his part, Fred Gretsch stated that throughout the 132 years of Gretsch history, the goal of the Gretsch Family has been to manufacture the best drums in the world, and today the family is pleased to have a new partner in that effort. He went on to note the strong parallels between Gretsch and DW, including that fact that, like Gretsch, DW is “a family-owned company run by people who have a genuine understanding of–and respect for–the art of top-quality custom drum manufacturing.”

Fred concluded by saying, “I’m confident that this new partnership will generate continued expansion of the world-wide market for Gretsch drums, while honoring the time-tested design and unique legacy that are so much a part of ‘That Great Gretsch Sound.’”

In addition to the press presentation, the continuity of Gretsch drum production was dramatically illustrated by a display of beautiful kits and snare drums. These included:

A new Broadkaster kit finished in Satin Copper Lacquer.


A Brooklyn Classic configuration in Satin Dark Ebony.

A flagship USA Custom kit finished in Dark Walnut Gloss.


A kit from the new Renown Walnut series, in natural gloss. It features 6-ply walnut-maple-walnut shells.


Wood Burned Snare Drums developed in conjunction with drum star Matt Sorum and hand-crafted by artist Mathieu Jean.

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