Traveling is part of the job for any successful musician. But Gretsch artist Joe Robinson recently put in some “above and beyond the call” mileage on behalf of Gretsch Guitars and the 130th anniversary of the Gretsch Company.
Joe Robinson and his trio celebrated Gretsch’s 130th anniversary with a performance in Tokyo.
Saturday, June 15 saw Joe performing in Tokyo, Japan at a celebration of Gretsch’s anniversary presented by the company’s Japanese distributor, Kanda Shokai. The event also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Gretsch/Kanda Shokai partnership. As usual, Joe wowed the audience with his combination of brilliant technique, tasteful musicality, and imaginative composition.
Joe took his talents 5,000 miles from Tokyo to appear at Sweetwater Gearfest in Ft. Wayne, IN. Photo: Jim Sites.
With barely enough time to catch his breath, Joe was on the road (actually, in the air) again immediately following his performance in Japan. His next stop was some 5,000 miles away, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he appeared on Saturday, June 22 at the Sweetwater GearFest sponsored by Sweetwater Sound. Joe’s presentation was part of yet another celebration of Gretsch’s 130th anniversary, which also included a performance by Gretsch artists Fountains Of Wayne. Fred Gretsch himself was on hand to introduce the performers and thank all of the Gretsch fans in attendance.
Joe’s travels will continue throughout the year, with additional 130th anniversary shows at Sam Ash Music in Hollywood on July 20 and at Guitar Center in Chicago on August 15. Fred and Dinah Gretsch will be acting as emcees for both events.
Brooklyn’s Street Sounds Stages Major Gretsch Day Event
Street Sounds, Brooklyn, NY
The first stop on Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary Tour was at Street Sounds in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday, June 15. 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.
Store owner Rocky Schiano began the festivities by giving the Gretsch fans in attendance a guided tour of the shop’s impressive array of Gretsch guitars. Many of those instruments were custom and one-of-a-kind models incorporating visual and functional features available nowhere else in the world. These included a new series of guitars featuring the unique designs of Brooklyn-based graffiti artist Kaves, who was introduced by Rocky to the acclaim of the locals in the crowd.
Steve Stern Custom Falcon
This presentation segued into a video about the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, introduced by Gretsch’s lead custom guitar builder Steven Stern. A special glass display case in the shop showcased one of Stern’s own custom jobs: a white Falcon with all-wood appointments and no plastic. Rocky pointed out that the guitar took four months of consultations and another twelve to construct.
Rocky then introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and Gretsch Guitars. Fred spoke about the importance of family heritage to a business, commenting on how he was the fourth generation of his family, and how Rocky and his family had a similar multi-generational involvement in their business. Fred went on to thank all the “lifers” in the room, referring to those individuals—customers and performers alike—whose personal connection to music was a lifelong endeavor.
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. She told the audience about her Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, a charitable effort that she founded to support music education in rural schools. And she encouraged all the musicians in the room to offer their time and skills to local schools as a way to promote and perpetuate the impact of music on young people.
The Foxy Studs. Photo by Mike Beitchman.
Gretsch Day at Street Sounds was full of surprises, and the first one came when Fred and Dinah brought Rocky back to the stage to receive a gift: a framed display version of the Gretsch 130th Anniversary poster. This presentation was followed by Fred’s introduction of the day’s first performers: a talented young contemporary rock group called Foxy Studs—featuring Rocky’s daughter Kristina on drums. The band’s energetic set earned enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The second surprise of the day came when Fred and Dinah Gretsch introduced a video tribute to veteran studio and touring guitarist Al Caiola. Then they introduced Al himself, who was on hand as an honored guest. Al came on stage to receive a plaque commemorating his long and distinguished musical career.
Al Caiola Sits in with Jet Weston and His Atomic Ranch Hands.
Variety was the theme of the day when it came to the entertainment, and this was made abundantly clear by the appearance of Jet Weston and His Atomic Ranch Hands. Costumed in a mix of classic western, frontier, hillbilly, and riverboat gambler garb, Jet and his band offered an eclectic mix of western swing and jazz standards. Later in their set they invited Al Caiola to join them, and the 92-year-old guitar star added his special touch to several tunes . . . including his own 1960s hit, “Theme From The Magnificent Seven.”
Rocky Presents Fred with Anniversary Cake. Photo by Mike Beitchman.
Rocky returned to the stage to tell that audience that no anniversary celebration would be complete without a cake. He and Fred Gretsch then displayed a large sheet cake decorated with the Gretsch Logo and the words “Happy 130th Anniversary.” Everyone in the crowd was invited to enjoy the anniversary treat.
Michelle Marie on Stage. Photo by Mike Beitchman.
When introducing the next act, Fred Gretsch said that it was “great to see a girl playing guitar.” The “girl” in question was Michelle Marie, and play she did, leading her own trio in a set of primarily instrumental fusion and progressive jazz compositions. Odd time signatures, stellar technique, and challenging arrangements were the order of the day.
Throughout the day Dinah Gretsch joined with Rocky to give away a selection of door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts as well as several Gretsch guitars. The day’s big winner took home a classic orange-finish Gretsch Electromatic guitar.
The day’s performances closed with an appearance by 1970s New Wave recording stars The Romantics. The group immediately launched into their signature style of pop-punk rock, playing two tunes before stopping to greet the crowd, to thank Street Sounds for inviting them, and to acknowledge Fred and Dinah Gretsch. Then it was right back into the music, rocking song after song before closing with their monster hit “What I Like About You.”
Rocky Schiano joined Fred and Dinah Gretsch in thanking everyone for attending and offering one more round of congratulations to Gretsch on its 130th Anniversary. It had been a heck of a party!
Stay tuned for more photos and videos from this event!
I join with the musical community of Savannah, Georgia—and, in fact, of the world—in mourning the death of upright bass great Ben Tucker this past June 4. His loss leaves a void in the hearts of jazz fans everywhere.
Although the Gretsch Company is best known for drums and guitars, the Gretsch Family is keenly interested in all aspects of music—and in the great players, like Ben, who have blessed us by their creation of that music. In addition, my wife Dinah and I are residents of the Savannah suburb of Pooler, and we had the opportunity to get to know Ben as a personal friend. It is in that context that we will miss him the most.
Ben had a long and distinguished career, performing with stars including Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, Dexter Gordon, and Peggy Lee. He also had success as a songwriter. His “Comin’ Home Baby,” co-written with jazz vocalist Bob Dorough, was recorded by Mel Torme, Herbie Mann, and most recently Michael Buble.
After settling in Savannah in the 1970s Ben made his living playing his upright bass—which he dubbed “Bertha” and claimed was 240 years old—at jazz festivals, in nightclubs, and for wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs. As one of Savannah’s best-known working musicians, he was a beloved mainstay of the city’s musical scene. On the day of his death he was eighty-two years old . . . and he had a gig that night.
In addition to being a stellar performer, Ben was one of the most likeable individuals you’d ever want to meet. And it always seemed as though everyone did want to meet him. Any performance taking place in Savannah was likely to be as much a love-fest for Ben as it was a musical event. Ben’s long-time bandmate Howard Paul—a great jazz guitarist and president/CEO of Benedetto Guitars—memorialized Ben by saying, “When we played with Ben we could count on being interrupted at least three times in a song because Savannahians would walk up and shake his hand while we were playing.”
Losing Ben is particularly tragic because, although he was advanced in years, his death did not come as the result of failing health, sudden illness, or even what could legitimately be called an “accident.” Instead, it was the senseless result of reckless and reprehensible behavior by someone else behind the wheel of a car. So it cannot be said that Ben “left us.” The truth is he was taken from us, which makes his absence all the more painful.
Dinah and I were honored to attend the musical memorial that was Ben’s funeral. We know that Ben would have been flattered—and perhaps a bit embarrassed—by the outpouring of feeling that was expressed by those in attendance. And he would definitely have enjoyed the raucous New Orleans-style second-line parade and jazz fest that followed. I’m sure that he was there in spirit, expertly plunking his beloved “Bertha” and grinning from ear to ear.
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.
New Styling. Enhanced Features. The Same Great Gretsch Sound.
Some Change is Good
The concept of the Renown redesign was to give the series fresh visual appeal and enhance sonic performance, while preserving its classic Gretsch vibe and spirit. The newly designed round, two-toned badge features gleaming silver artwork embossed over a black nickel background.
Some Things Didn’t Need to Change
The Renown has always been revered for its rock-solid craftsmanship and excellent sonic performance. Gretsch still uses the proven and unique Renown formula that combines North American Rock Maple with a slightly softer maple species. Each drum is expertly completed with smooth 30 degree bearing edges and Gretsch’s exclusive Silver Sealer interior finish. Heavy-duty Gretsch die-cast hoops are fitted to all tom and snare shells and classic Gretsch lugs adorn each drum. This Gretsch-engineered shell/hoop combination produces explosive attack and power that is rich with warm, low-end timbre.
For all the details including kit configurations and finishes, visit GretschDrums.com.
Like the rest of the music world, I’m saddened by the passing of jazz piano great Mulgrew Miller. Although the Gretsch brand is best known for drums and guitars, the Gretsch Family is keenly interested in all aspects of music—and in the great players, like Mulgrew, who have blessed us by their creation of that music.
Along with his personal accomplishments as a soloist and bandleader, Mulgrew lent his instrumental prowess to several groups as a sideman. Perhaps most notable of these was his tenure as pianist in the Tony Williams Quintet from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s. It was while he held this chair that he appeared with Tony at Gretsch’s 110th anniversary dinner and concert at the NAMM show in Anaheim in 1993. My wife Dinah and I met him there, and we came to appreciate him as a warm, gentlemanly individual as well as a prodigious talent. We visited with Mulgrew many times in the ensuing years, and we always enjoyed spending time with him.
For those who might not have seen or heard Mulgrew with Tony’s quintet, I recommend the links below, which showcase the group at a live show in New York in 1989. The clips also feature Tony’s great drumming on his legendary yellow Gretsch drumkit. Both gentlemen are gone now, but their musical legacy lives on for us to hear and enjoy.
This coming July 13th is an important date to me. It’s the 90th birthday of Bill Hagner—a gentleman who figures highly in the history of Gretsch musical-instrument manufacturing. In fact, for many years Bill was personally responsible for seeing that that manufacturing was conducted smoothly and efficiently.
Bill started working at Gretsch on December 1, 1941—six days prior to Pearl Harbor day. In a 2009 interview with Gretsch Family publicist Rick Van Horn, Bill recalls, “I had just finished high school, and I answered an ad in the paper for someone to work in the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. I was essentially a clerk. One day I went in to the office of Phil Nash, who was a vice president, and he said to me, ‘I want to tell you something right from the start: Someday this is going to be big company. So I advise you, if you have any interest [in a career], learn what you’re doing and stay with it.” Bill took Mr. Nash’s advice to heart.
Because he was working for Gretsch in 1941, young Bill had the opportunity to interact with my grandfather Fred Gretsch Sr. during the last year that Grandpa was running the company. In that same 2009 interview Bill tells the following story about one such interaction: “Fred Gretsch Sr. came in one day and showed me a little piece of chrome-plated metal, about three inches long. He said, ‘I took this off of a can opener. Some day you’re going to need a piece just like this to use as a throw-off for a snare strainer.’ That’s the foresight this man had.”
One of Bill’s early jobs was to prepare the payroll for the factory workers. All jobs were done as “piece work” at the time, and Bill had to review and approve individual pay slips for each job. When he didn’t understand an operation that was being paid for, he’d go to the worker and say, “Explain what you’re doing to me.” In that way he eventually became knowledgeable about every operation taking place—preparing him to become plant manager down the road.
During World War II American industry turned much of its efforts toward war-related production, and Gretsch was no exception. Speaking of these days in Chet Falzerano’s Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound,” Bill recalls, “We manufactured musical instruments during the day, till 5:00 p.m. Then I set up a night shift to work till 1 a.m. making wooden parts for gas masks. We made one-inch-wide hoops, like for a bass drum, but only ten to twelve inches in diameter. They were used in the bottom and top sections of the gas mask. Those were the only war products that we made. We also manufactured musical instruments for the government.”
Bill remained with Gretsch after the war, eventually becoming plant manager at the Brooklyn factory at 60 Broadway. The 1950s and early 60s were heady days for Gretsch drums, with great endorsers like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams on the jazz side, and future superstars Charlie Watts and Phil Collins on the rock side. Those drummers would visit the factory, and Bill would give them the grand tour, showing them every detail of how their drums were made.
When my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., sold the company to Baldwin in 1967, Bill stayed on. He eventually moved to Booneville, Arkansas when the drum factory was relocated there. But after operations were established by Baldwin, they brought in their own people to run things. Bill found himself transferred to Baldwin’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters as Sales Manager.
Bill Reading Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound” by Chet Falzerano
In Chet Falzerano’s book Bill recalls, “[Baldwin] really didn’t have anybody familiar with the drum situation. From there on it went downhill. About a year later Baldwin’s vice president in charge of all their factories came to me in Cincinnati and said, ‘You know Bill, I have to apologize. I should have let you run [the Booneville factory] the way you ran it in Brooklyn.’ It was really a nice thing to say, but it was too late.”
Bill eventually left the Baldwin Company, and for a short time he manufactured his own line of drums. But marketing problems impeded his start-up efforts, and his venture was not successful. So for a while he took his talents out of the music business completely.
Meanwhile, under Baldwin’s management Gretsch’s fortunes continued to decline. By 1983 they were looking to sell the company altogether. Baldwin’s loss became my gain in January of 1985, when we formally closed a deal that returned the Gretsch Company to family ownership. This was the realization of a dream for me.
Shortly thereafter I wanted to move drum-making operations out of Arkansas and into Ridgeland, South Carolina—where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today. Who better to help me in that effort than Bill Hagner? I got in touch with Bill, who was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the time. He offered his services to help in the move of both machinery and inventory. That help proved invaluable in getting the drum-making operation up and running in its new home.
All in all, Bill Hagner spent fifty-eight years associated with Gretsch. His contributions over those years are a significant part of the Gretsch legacy. So, on behalf of the Gretsch Family and all Gretsch fans everywhere, I want to say, “Thanks, Bill…and Happy Birthday!”
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.