As the Gretsch Company plans its 127th year in business, one event already on the calendar is the 20th Annual Chicago Drum Show. America’s premier vintage and custom drum event, the Chicago Drum Show will be held May 15 and 16, 2010 at the Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 South Randall Rd, St. Charles, Illinois.
Fred Gretsch is the perfect candidate to make a historical presentation at the Chicago Show, since as the fourth generation of Gretsch drum makers he personally embodies a major part of American drum-making history. He also holds the enviable position of being the only man in America still actively involved with the drums that have born his family name for 127 years.
The Gretsch family dynasty began in 1883, when a young German immigrant named Friedrich Gretsch founded a little shop in Brooklyn, New York. From that day to this, the Gretsch family has focused on making drums that offer unrivaled sound and uncompromising construction quality.
Friederich Gretsch passed away suddenly while on a trip to his homeland, leaving the company to his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch—who was still in knickers at the time. Energetic as he was enterprising, Fred Gretsch Sr. built the business on a reputation for precision and quality. Two decades after assuming direction of the company, he moved the operation to a ten-story building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn in order to respond to the growing demand for more specialized instruments.
Fred Gretsch Sr. retired in 1942. His eldest son, Fred Jr., managed the operations briefly before leaving for wartime service as a commander in the Navy. Fred Sr.’s younger son Bill stayed to run the family business. Long-time Gretsch employee Duke Kramer said of Bill Gretsch that “He had a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best, and his sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they lost their best friend.”
Fred Gretsch Jr. returned from the Navy to lead the company into a new age of prosperity. The popularity of Gretsch drums grew with the explosion of rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s and ’60s, attracting famous endorsees including Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.
In 1967 the Gretsch Company was sold to Baldwin, a music industry giant. But without the family dedication that had driven the business for so many years, the company began to falter. As a testament to his passion for the family business, Fred W. Gretsch, vowed to one day regain control.
In 1985, Fred made good on his promise. He bought The Gretsch Company back from Baldwin and moved its operations to Savannah, Georgia. There the revitalized company began to offer new custom-crafted Gretsch drums. The new products were immediately successful, and The Gretsch Company once again became a leading force in the musical instrument industry
Blending an emphasis on hand-craftsmanship with constant innovation, Gretsch has pioneered new drum designs and manufacturing techniques for well over a century. These include the first ply drumshells and the use of die-cast hoops. Today, Gretsch drums are the preferred instruments of drummers looking for unique tonal quality and hand-made craftsmanship. So it’s not surprising that the Gretsch artist roster boasts some of drumming’s most respected artists, including Vinnie Colaiuta, Charlie Watts, Mark Schulman, and Phil Collins. Talented up-and-comers like Hannah Ford, who’ll be appearing at the Chicago Show as a featured clinician, also recognize and endorse the unique qualities of Gretsch drums.
Fred W. Gretsch’s presentation at the Chicago Drum Show will be a celebration of four generations of family and musical history, as well as a look forward to the next 125 years of “That Great Gretsch Sound!” Don’t miss it!