Canadian Music Week A “Must Attend” Event

June 5th, 2014

By Fred Gretsch

After attending our first Canadian Music Week (CMW) festival last month, it was made real clear to Dinah and me why so many great musicians and artists come from Canada.

For five days and nights in the first week of May, the city of Toronto was transformed into an energetic music, media, and entertainment mecca. More than 850 Canadian and international artists performed in 58 live venues throughout the city–ranging from small nightclubs to Massey Hall to the Air Canada Centre. That’s not a typo. Over 850 bands from 33 countries performed during the course of five days! Some of the must-see shows included Brody Dalle, Neko Case, City and Colour, Television, The 1975, and Ellie Goulding.

In addition to all that great live music, the CMW also included a film festival, comedy festival, four award programs (including best indie band awards), music summits, and conferences where legendary producer Quincy Jones, Chic guitarist and Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers, and Joel Zimmerman of Deadmau5 fame spoke and were interviewed.

This year CMW featured a “Spotlight on Germany” and Gretsch was proud to be a major sponsor of this event. In addition to being the birthplace of my great-grandfather and company founder, Friedrich Gretsch, Germany has always been an important market for the Gretsch Company. In fact, Germany is Europe’s #1 music market and ranks #4 worldwide for recorded music just behind the United States.

Dinah and I were invited to be guests of honor at a special May 7th “Spotlight on Germany” reception at the Marriott Eaton Centre and had a delightful time meeting various artists and industry representatives from many countries. All of the attendees were also treated to a special live performance by “The Booze Bombs,” Germany’s hottest rockabilly band. They were invited to perform at CMW by Joe Carducci, Senior Product Manager for Gretsch Guitars, who spotted them at a rockabilly festival in Arizona and made them a Gretsch-endorsed band. Guitarist Lucky Steve McBread was ripping it up on his Duo Jet and Rockin’ Bende kept a steady backbeat on his Gretsch drum set. It was a fun, high-energy show from this rockabilly band from the Black Forest of Germany and definitely an evening to remember.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch posing with “The Booze Bombs,” a German rockabilly band after they performed at the May 7th Gretsch-sponsored CMW “Spotlight on Germany” event in Toronto. From left to right: Frank Martinez, Rockin’ Bende, Fred Gretsch, Dinah Gretsch, Annie Leopardo, Lucky Steve McBread.

The rest of the week was spent seeing as many bands as possible, talking with Gretsch fans and dealers, spotting Gretsch guitars and drums being played onstage (like the left-handed green Anniversary guitar played by Joel Gibb of “The Hidden Cameras”), and soaking up the diversity and beauty of a world-class city like Toronto. It is really a cool (and clean) city.

Dinah and I have attended hundreds of music festivals, but nothing quite compares to the depth and diversity of the Canadian Music Week. This was the 32nd year of the festival and I can’t believe it wasn’t on our radar screen before now. Gretsch was proud to sponsor and participate in this year’s festival and Dinah and I plan to be back. I also encourage you to add it to your “must attend” list. The 33rd CMW festival will return to Toronto next year for another week of music, film, comedy, awards, and conferences from May 5 to 9, 2015. Try to be there if you can. It’s quite an experience.

To learn more about the Booze Bombs, visit their Facebook page.

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Honoring Excellence In Music Education

June 3rd, 2014

by Fred Gretsch

Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton (left) with Fred and Dinah Gretsch and student bandmembers holding the Grammy Signature School award.

On May 16 my wife Dinah and I had the singular privilege of presenting the GRAMMY® Foundation’s Signature Schools Enterprise Award to the Savannah Arts Academy.

Just as the GRAMMY Award recognizes excellence in recording, the GRAMMY Foundation Signature Schools program honors public high schools for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. As members of the Savannah community we were particularly pleased to present this award to the Savannah Arts Academy.

More than 20,000 public high schools nationwide have the opportunity each year to apply for consideration as a GRAMMY Signature School. Each school submits an online application and recorded performances as supplemental materials. These materials are screened and evaluated. They are then adjudicated anonymously by the GRAMMY Foundation’s blue ribbon committee of music educators and industry professionals.

Out of all the schools that applied this year, only twelve were selected as GRAMMY Signature Schools, with only seven of those additionally named as Enterprise award recipients. That category recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved, and the award comes with a $5,500 grant.

Dinah and I were thrilled when we learned that Savannah Arts Academy was one of those seven, because music education is a cause that’s incredibly important to us. We’ve both campaigned for many years to effect progress in this area. Dinah in particular has worked tirelessly as an advocate for change, including establishing the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation in 2010 to support music programs in rural schools.

The Savannah Arts Academy has put tremendous effort into a visionary new Music Industry/Pop Music Ensemble class that they’ve dubbed the “American Music Project.” This class fills a niche in the popular music idiom, and is designed to train the next members of the music industry establishment in sound design, lighting, management, performance, and dance. In fact, the program utilizes all of the school’s arts offerings in one class.

The class is student-led under the guidance of a gifted instructor/mentor. The American Music Project has twenty-one members who choreograph dances, learn and write music, arrange horns and strings for that music, lead the musical rehearsals, rehearse singers, and run sound. But in setting up this unique program they faced a serious challenge: very little equipment, and no funds with which to add any.

The GRAMMY Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Committee thought that Savannah Arts Academy had very progressive ideas for expanding extracurricular offerings. They recognized a forward-looking school that was handicapped by a lack of resources. Fortunately, they were in a position to help. They named the school as one of the Enterprise Award winners, thus supplying them with the funds necessary to purchase new sound equipment for the American Music Project.

Appreciative Crowd

The award presentation on May 16 was quite an impressive and enjoyable event. It was held on the front lawn of the Savannah Arts Academy, at 500 Washington Avenue. It proved to be a beautiful spring day, and the setting was classic all-American: a big family crowd gathered in front of an old-style red brick high-school building. More than 100 musicians performed in symphonic, jazz, and even blues bands. And I’m proud to say that several Gretsch drumkits were included in the ensemble of gear.

Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton displays the $5,500 check representing the Enterprise Award that recognized the school's innovative music program.

Finally it was time for the presentation ceremony itself. This was a chance for Dinah and me to speak to our Savannah community about the commitment of the GRAMMY Foundation—and the Gretsch family—to quality high-school music programs. It was my personal honor to represent the GRAMMY Foundation as a member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the Recording Academy, with a mission of cultivating awareness, appreciation, and advancement of the contribution of recorded music on American culture. One of the ways they do that is to support music education through programs such as GRAMMY Signature Schools.

On behalf of the Foundation and the Recording Academy I offered congratulations to the school, to the music-program instructors, to the parents of the music students, and, of course, to those students themselves. The faculty and the students were overjoyed to receive the GRAMMY award—and the cash award too, which came in the form of a giant check.

I want to encourage everyone who’s reading this to visit GRAMMYinTheSchools.com to learn how the GRAMMY Foundation supports and advocates for the inclusion of quality music education in all schools, from elementary through high school. And for those who might be interested, applications for 2015 Signature Schools award consideration are available online at that same web site. The deadline to apply is Oct 22 of this year.

A happy Savannah Arts Academy student holds the Grammy award aloft for all to see.

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Fred & Dinah Gretsch to Present Savannah Arts Academy with GRAMMY® Signature Schools Enterprise Award

May 15th, 2014

Fred & Dinah Gretsch. Photo by Jonathan Hobson.

Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch and CFO Dinah Gretsch will appear at the Savannah Arts Academy this coming Friday, May 16 to present the school with a GRAMMY® Signature Schools Enterprise Award. The presentation will take place during the Savannah Arts Academy Outdoor Concert.

Just as the GRAMMY Award recognizes excellence in recording, the GRAMMY Foundation Signature Schools program recognizes top public high schools across the country for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. And Fred and Dinah Gretsch are uniquely suited to act as presenters of this important award.

In addition to being key members of the music industry for more than thirty years, Fred and Dinah Gretsch have been—and continue to be—tireless advocates of music education and outreach programs. Fred Gretsch is a voting member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy® and both Fred and Dinah Gretsch are 2003 Heroes Award recipients from that organization. The Heroes Award (now called Recording Academy Honors) is the highest honor bestowed by a Recording Academy chapter, and is given to honor outstanding individuals and institutions in their region who have improved the environment for the creative community. In 2008 Fred and Dinah’s ongoing accomplishments earned them induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. And in 2010 Dinah Gretsch established the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to support music programs in rural schools. (For more information on Fred and Dinah Gretsch, visit gretsch.com.)

The GRAMMY Foundation was established in 1988 to cultivate the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture. The Foundation accomplishes this mission through programs and activities that engage the music industry and cultural community as well as the general public. (For more information on these efforts please visit grammyintheschools.com .)

A total of twelve schools have been named GRAMMY Signature Schools for 2014, with seven receiving an Enterprise Award. This category recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved. The May 16 presentation will honor Savannah Arts Academy for being one of those seven outstanding schools, and will include a grant of $5,500.

The presentation will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 16 on the Savannah Arts Academy front lawn, 500 Washington Ave, Savannah, GA 31405 following a concert beginning at 5:30 p.m.

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Gretsch Foundation Underwrites Much-Needed Sound System For Historic South Carolina School

May 2nd, 2014

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch Family, recently underwrote the purchase and installation of a new, state-of-the-art sound system in the auditorium of the 108-year-old Brunson Elementary School in Brunson, S.C.

“We were made aware of this need and wanted to give back to a community near our Ridgeland, South Carolina factory where we’ve been making Gretsch drums for over 30 years,” said Fred Gretsch, president of the Gretsch Foundation. “The goal of the Gretsch Foundation is to enrich lives through participation in music. This small school, known for its fine arts as well as its academics, now has a world-class sound system in their auditorium for the students, parents, and community to enjoy.”

Gretsch said he was able to use industry contacts and had Sweetwater Sounds, Inc. provide the equipment and installation advice. The school received new speakers, an audio mixer, amplifiers, monitors, plus hanging and wireless microphones.

The new system was used for the first time for the school’s recent production of the play, The Ransom of Red Chief. The show also included performances by the school’s Girls Chorus and Blue Steel, the school’s Steel Drum Band.

“Our first show with the new sound system was a big success. The parents were absolutely thrilled,” said Principal Greg Ackerman. “I really do think the sound system added to the students’ confidence. They took a lot of pride in their performance.” Ackerman also shared how important music and arts are for students and said, “People don’t realize the discipline that’s required to learn music and plays. It just makes for a better student.”

The Gretsch Foundation has a long history of helping schools and promoting music participation. 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 used guitars to schools for students and major artists to paint, decorate and auction off for fundraising efforts. It has also donated professional-level Gretsch guitars signed by musicians from bands such as R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Drive-By Truckers, Sugarland, and The B-52’s that have also been auctioned to raise funds for various music and arts education programs.

“The Gretsch family has been making drums and guitars for more than 130 years,” added Gretsch. “My wife Dinah and I represent the fourth generation of that family and believe the research that shows how participating in music helps children excel in all areas of learning. When we heard about this school’s specific need, and with all the budget cuts, we decided to step up and make a difference.”

Gretsch also said that the gift of the new sound system has perhaps sparked the generosity of others in the Brunson community. He was recently told that a parent wanted to donate 200 chairs to the school. “Maybe a seed has been planted in the community,” said Gretsch. “I couldn’t be happier for these students. They deserve it.”

Students from Brunson Elementary School's Steel Drum Band

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Gretsch Highlights From NAMM 2014

February 11th, 2014

From January 23 to 26 the music-products industry gathered at the Anaheim, California convention center for the annual winter NAMM trade show. It’s the largest display of instruments and related items in America, and it draws thousands of attendees each year. As usual, Gretsch drums and guitars figured prominently among the must-see items for those in attendance—and there were plenty of new and exciting introductions from both lines for them to check out.

In addition to the products on display, the NAMM show is also an occasion for awards and concert events—and Gretsch figured prominently there, too. So join us for a look at all things Gretsch at NAMM 2014.

A Tour of The Gretsch Drums Display

Matt Sorum's Kit

The Gretsch Drums display actually started outside the door to the exhibition room, where visitors were met with a Red Glass Glitter USA Custom kit created expressly for veteran rocker Matt Sorum. With credits that include The Cult, Guns ’N’ Roses, and Velvet Revolver, Matt is now touring with Kings of Chaos.

Immediately inside the exhibit was yet another artist’s kit—in fact, a truly iconic one. This was the classic left-handed Black Nitron setup used by Phil Collins on tours and recordings with Genesis and on his solo projects between 1989 and 2007.

Phil Collins' Kit

Appearances on seven albums with sales totaling 40 million units make this one of the world’s most listened-to drumsets.

The incredible variety of available Gretsch drum finishes was illustrated by dozens of rack toms stacked atop Phil Collins’ drumkit road cases from the last Genesis tour.

The USA Custom Ltd. jazz configuration (right) featured a 14×18 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5×14 10-lug snare, all done in Ribbon Mahogany.

From the Brooklyn series was a classic setup in Black Oyster wrap. It included a 14×22 bass drum, 8×12 rack tom, 14×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare. The drums were fitted with unique Brooklyn series 3-mm double-flanged “Stick Chopper” steel hoops, which bridge the gap between the open sound of rolled steel hoops and the rigidity and tuneability of die-cast hoops.

A sizeable Catalina outfit (left) was fitted with a new style of drum hardware for the series, including a distinctive new “gas cap” tom mount. The kit included an 18×22 bass drum, a free 7×8 rack tom along with 7×10 and 8×12 toms, 14×14 and 16×16 floor toms, and a 6×14 snare, all in a Satin Deep Cherry Burst finish.

The new Marquee series fits into Gretsch’s drum line just below the Renown series. Marquee drums feature 100% maple shells with tinted exteriors that are given a special poly finish that produces deep colors but still lets the wood grain show through. The drums come fitted with 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops. This kit includes an 18×22 bass drum, a free 7×8 rack tom along with 7×10 and 8×12 toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare, all finished in Satin Indigo.

Pictured to the right is a Catalina Club Rock kit with a classic shallow-depth/large-diameter 14×24 bass drum, matched with an 8×12 rack tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare. The mahogany shells are fitted with newly designed drum hardware and are finished in Satin Walnut Glaze. For display purposes the kit was tricked out with a Sabian Hoop Crasher atop the snare and an LP Americana Series Octo Snare Cajon on a side stand.

The Brooklyn Ltd. Vintage White kit was on display and had a classic look with a 14×22 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare. And it truly is a “limited edition” since only thirty will be sold world-wide.

This kit on the left was just to see what kind of craziness the USA Custom drum builders could come up with. Starting with the configuration: 20×20 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 12×14 floor tom fitted with snares, a regular 16×16 floor tom, and a 7×13 snare. The deep black finish is set off by two different sparkle inlays. Definitely one of a kind.

On the opposite end of the design spectrum was a USA Custom prototype vintage kit. Inspired by the great Gretsch kits of the 1940s, it featured 3-ply 9×13 and 16×16 toms, with a 6-ply bass drum and snare, all with round-over bearing edges. The hardware fittings are authentic to the period, including a rail consolette tom holder, vintage spurs, internal drum mufflers, and T-rods on the bass drum. The finish is called Capri Pearl.

The striking look of this Renown series kit (right) was created by a new Jumbo Flake vintage pearl finish combined with contrasting dark walnut bass drum hoops. The configuration included a 16×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms equipped with special Renown suspension mounts, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare.

The Catalina Ash series was re-introduced with new Catalina series drum hardware including the “gas cap” tom mount. This kit had an 18×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare—all given a Black-Natural Burst finish.

Gretsch Energy

Gretsch’s entry-level series is called Energy, and it’s been given new drum and hardware specs. The Grey Steel-wrapped kit comes with an 18×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare. Also included with the kit is a selection of Sabian SBR cymbals.

Two “walls of snares” highlighted the many offerings from Gretsch. They featured drums from the USA Custom Shop, the Brooklyn series, the Gold and Silver series, and artist models like the Stephen Ferrone signature snare, as well as drums from the Fender Custom Shop.

Unique snare selections included the Gold Series Zig-Zag Stave model and two Barn Board Stave models.

Distinctive artwork quickly identified the Vegas and Crown of Skulls maple snares (right), both in 8×14 sizes.

For those who’d like a “played hard for years” look in a brand-new drum, Relic models from the Fender custom shop were also displayed.

The Catalina Club kit in White Vintage Pearl graced the “percussion stage” at the LP Music booth. LP is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and Gretsch was pleased to be a part of the celebration. The kit was fitted with new Catalina style drum hardware, and drum sizes included a 14×18 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5×14 snare. It was also “tricked out” for the occasion with a variety of LP percussion instruments to give it added sonic versatility.

For more information about new Gretsch drums visit GretschDrums.com.  For more drum-related images from the NAMM Show, visit our drum photo gallery.

A Visit To The Gretsch Guitar Booth

The Gretsch Guitars booth was as much a Mecca for guitar fans as the drum booth was for drummers, with plenty of fabulous instruments to check out. Here’s an overview.

Brian Setzer was prominent among the many artists featured on video explaining why they play—and love—Gretsch guitars.

Gretsch Guitars is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Gretsch USA Custom Guitar Shop, so the display prominently featured guitars that are the work of the shop’s talented craftsmen.

From the USA Custom Shop were two gorgeous instruments, each master-built by Stephen Stern. The first was a ’53 6192 Electro Relic that featured a maple top and neck, mahogany back and sides, a rosewood fingerboard, Dyna-sonic pickups, and a Nitro lacquer finish.

'53 6192 Electro Relic

Ice Blue Falcon

The second was an Ice Blue Falcon NOS, with a maple top, mahogany neck and sides, an ebony fingerboard, TV Jones classic pickups, a space control bridge, and a Bigsby B-6 tailpiece. Both of these custom beauties carry a $12,500 price tag.

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Kaves Custom Designs

Kaves Custom Designs

A totally different type of guitar artistry was offered on some G-6120 models, each of which was custom-decorated with a Kaves Brooklyn finish created by graffiti artist Kaves.

No Gretsch display would be complete without a few classic models, such as the G-6134 White Penguin, the G-6138 Bo Diddley, and the G-6199 Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird.

Bevy of Gretsch Classics

Along with dozens of guitars, Gretsch basses were also on display including a G-6128B-TV Thunder Jet and a G-6073 Electrotone.

The hands-down winner for most unusual instrument on display was the 12-string bass created for Cheap Trick’s Rick Peterson. It featured four standard bass strings, each of which has two accompanying guitar strings. Every string has its own tuning peg.

The Gretsch Roots Collection (selected as a “Gotta Stock It” item at the show) offered historically authentic banjos, mandolins, resonator guitars, and flat-top acoustics, along with a variety of ukuleles.  And Gretsch was proud to have the 9100-L Soprano Long Neck Ukulele selected as a “Best in Show” item by Gayle Beacock of Beacock’s Music in Vancouver, WA.

Rockabilly teen sensation (and Gretsch artist) Wyatt Maxwell took a break from his duties as lead guitarist in Mad Max & The Wild Ones to do some tasteful fingerpicking on a new Gretsch G-5034TFT Rancher Dreadnought.

Gretsch honored many of their guitar artists by including photos of them as part of the display. These included Paul Pigat, Buzz Campbell, and Adam Burchfield—all of whom were performers at Gretsch’s Twang-o-Rama event.

A billboard-sized image of a young Chet Atkins sat high atop the Gretsch display and seemed to offer Chet’s good wishes to all who visited.

For more information on Gretsch guitars visit GretschGuitars.com.  For more guitar-related images from the NAMM Show, visit our guitar photo gallery.

Gretsch Twang-o-Rama

Anaheim, California’s popular rock club The Juke Joint was rockin’ indeed on Saturday, January 25th when Gretsch Guitars presented the Gretsch Twang-o-Rama. The evening featured seven of the hottest roots-rock and rockabilly groups in the country, as well as a last-minute super-surprise addition.  Visit the Gretsch YouTube page for videos from all the great performances.

Paul Pigat And The Memphis Kings

The show was kicked off by Canadian guitar star Paul Pigat, ably backed up by The Memphis Kings (bassist Michael Turturro and guitarist Tommy Harkenrider, joined for the event by drummer Marty Dodson). Blessed with a jazz man’s sheen, a rockabilly heart, and a hobo’s soul, there aren’t many genres of music that don’t pull at Paul’s wayfaring imagination. The immediately recognizable sound of his distinctive guitar playing has helped this unassuming Vancouver native to compile a list of credits that would be the envy of anyone in the music business. (PaulPigat.com)

Paul Pigat and The Memphis Kings

Mad Max & The Wild Ones

Next came Mad Max & The Wild Ones, a unique family band featuring the youngest artist endorsers on the Gretsch Guitars roster: brothers Wyatt (lead guitar) and Duke (vocals, harmonica, and guitar) Maxwell, along with brother Cole on drums. Accompanied on bass by Shane Kiel and fueled by equal parts teenage energy and polished talent, the group was an instant crowd-pleaser. (Mad Max & The Wild Ones)

Mad Max & The Wild Ones

Buzz Campbell

Next up was Buzz Campbell, who’s been touring with Stray Cat drummer Lee Rocker since 2004, and who has impressive credits in his own right. (He founded rockabilly favorites Hot Rod Lincoln, and played with Sha Na Na from 2000 to 2004.) Backed by drummer Ty Cox and bassist Jonny Bowler, Buzz sported a devilish grin and a happy rocker’s attitude as he demonstrated his mastery of rockabilly, roots-country, blues, and roots-rock styles. (BuzzCampbell.com)

Buzz Campbell

The Hot Rod Trio

You don’t get any more authentic in rockabilly look and sound than Southern California’s Hot Rod Trio. With over twenty years of performing together at literally thousands of shows, the group—featuring guitarist Buddy Dughi, bassist Suzy Dughi, and drummer Pete Bonny—were recently inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. Their Twang-o-Rama performance left no doubt as to how they earned that honor. (TheHotRodTrio.com)

Hot Rod Trio

Billy Zoom

Billy Zoom opted to perform in a somewhat stripped-down format with a bassist and acoustic guitarist/vocalist but no drummer. The guitar legend is best known as a founding member of the seminal American punk band X, but has also worked with rockabilly great Gene Vincent, The Blasters, Etta James, and Big Joe Turner. In honor of Billy’s longevity in the music community and his contribution to the legacy of Gretsch guitars, Gretsch unveiled the G6129BZ Billy Zoom Custom Shop Tribute Silver Jet in 2008. (BillyZoom.com)

Billy Zoom

Hard Fall Hearts

Hard Fall Hearts are Bryan Kelly (guitar and vocals), Eli Rinek (drums and vocals), and Andrew Verdugo (bass). Hailing from nearby San Diego, this punk/rockabilly outfit offered a high-powered set that combined super-speed playing, in-your-face energy, and a sound that was dark and distinct yet reverent to the roots of rock ’n’ roll. Definitely “not your father’s rockabilly band,” but a hit with the crowd nonetheless. (HardFallHearts.com)

Hard Fall Hearts

The Octanes

The Austin, Texas-based Octanes are one of America’s premier roots/rockabilly bands, and they look and sound the part. Consisting of Adam Burchfield (guitar and vocals), Drew Hays (bass and vocals), and English rockabilly veteran Brian Fahey (drums), The Octanes play mostly original material heavily rooted in hillbilly, while revving up the traditional sound with driving rhythms and a big guitar sound. (TheOctanesTexas.com)

The Octanes

The Romantics

The surprise closer for the evening’s show was The Romantics, featuring Wally Palmar (guitar and lead vocals), Mike Skill (lead guitar and vocals), Rich Cole (bass and vocals), and Brad Elvis (drums). Formed in 1977 in Detroit, the band is considered a pioneer of the American New Wave style, but was heavily influenced by 1950s American rock ’n’ roll, ’60s garage rock, and British Invasion music that was itself an offshoot of American roots-rock. Their crowd-pleasing closer “What I Like About You” was right at home in a rockabilly show, and served as a great capper to a terrific night of music. (TheRomantics.com)

The Romantics

For more great photos from the Gretsch Twang-O-Rama event, check out our photo gallery.

Gretsch Generations

Will, Rane, and Garrett Gretsch

There’s nothing more important to Fred and Dinah Gretsch than family and they are proud to represent the fourth generation of the Gretsch family in the music business. Following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather (and dynasty founder) Friedrich, his grandfather Fred Sr., and his father Bill and uncle Fred Jr., he as well as Dinah are equally proud of the succeeding generations, who are poised to carry on the family name and legacy.

And so it was that Fred and Dinah were joined at the 2014 NAMM show by their cousin Garrett Gretsch (fifth generation) and by two of their grandsons, Will and Rane Gretsch (sixth generation). In addition to attending the She Rocks event on January 24 in celebration of Dinah Gretsch’s Vision Award, the three young men were prominent figures at the Gretsch Guitars booth. Garrett also helped to represent the family at the Gretsch Twang-O-Rama concert, where he introduced members of yet another family: teenage rockabilly family band Mad Max & The Wild Ones.

Proud to be sharing the family legacy, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were happy to be joined at the NAMM Show by fifth and sixth generation Gretsch family members and are looking forward to many more such family gatherings in the years ahead.

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How The Beatles Forever Changed Gretsch

February 1st, 2014

Fond memories of February 1964 and how The Beatles forever changed the Gretsch Company

By Fred Gretsch

Check out Fred Gretsch’s interview with Lindsay Lowe of Parade Magazine!!

I remember February 9, 1964, vividly. I was a teenager living in the New York City area and for weeks, all the great AM rock ‘n’ roll radio stations like WABC with Cousin Brucie and WINS with Murry the K had been shouting “The Beatles Are Coming!” and saturating the airwaves with Beatles music. Their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” had just reached #1.

Yes, The Beatles were making their American debut in New York–still the center of the music world–and would be performing live on America’s top show for showcasing new talent: The Ed Sullivan Show. I couldn’t wait. Local media were in a frenzy and the city was abuzz in anticipation of seeing and hearing these four lads from Liverpool.

Like millions of teenagers, I watched The Beatles with my family (my three sisters, in fact) on the black and white TV set in the living room of our Forest Hills, NY home. The home my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., had built in 1916. The Beatles opened and closed the show and performed five songs live. Seventy-three million viewers also tuned in to see what the excitement was all about. The Beatles didn’t disappoint. In fact, they knocked it out of the park.

Even on a small black and white TV screen, The Beatles didn’t look or sound like any other rock ‘n’ roll group. They were cool in so many ways, but the coolest part for me was that George, the one in the middle, played a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar. I was really proud of that.

As you know, the world of music literally changed overnight as did the fortunes of the Gretsch Company. The day following The Beatles’ performance on the Sullivan show, the guitar boom of the 1960s officially started. We were flooded with orders, letters, and catalog requests – even people wanting to tour our relatively small factory. Like other musical instrument makers, we were not prepared for the British Invasion.

When I joined the Gretsch Company full time in 1965, I saw the impact Beatlemania was still having firsthand. We could barely keep up with the demand for guitars and drums and at one time there was a six-month waiting period. Six months! The two guitars George Harrison played at the time – the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and Tennessean models – were especially popular. We even moved drum production out of the Gretsch factory to a building a Gretsch cousin owned several blocks away in order to expand guitar production. Without a doubt, the mid-60s were busy and exciting times at Gretsch.

George Harrison was a lifelong fan of Gretsch guitars. Chet Atkins was a huge influence on him and was the reason George purchased a Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar in 1963. George had been playing a ’57 Gretsch Duo Jet up to that time. He bought his black Duo Jet used in 1960 from a Liverpool sailor who had purchased it at New York’s legendary Manny’s Guitar Shop. Since my summer job was helping deliver Gretsch guitars to area music stores, I probably delivered George’s Duo Jet to Manny’s. According to George, it was his sentimental favorite guitar because it was his first American guitar and his first good guitar.

Dinah and I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know George in the late 80s. Dinah wrote George a thank you letter for showing his ’57 Duo Jet on his Cloud Nine album. Two weeks later he called her to thank her for the letter, told her how much he loved Gretsch guitars, and talked about the Traveling Wilburys project he was working on with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. George even invited us to a recording session at Dave Stewart’s home studio and showed us the 20 vintage Gretsch guitars they were using on the album. He also wanted to share an idea for a special Traveling Wilburys guitar. We liked George’s idea and introduced the special-edition Traveling Wilburys TW-500 guitar a year later.

Looking back, I have fond memories of February 1964, The Beatles, and George Harrison. Next to Chet Atkins, George was the other guitar superstar that helped put Gretsch on the map and changed our company forever. The Beatles’ debut led to the formation of countless new rock n’ roll groups. Fortunately for us, and thanks to George Harrison, these new groups also wanted instruments like The Beatles played. I’m grateful George was a Gretsch guy.

Fifty years later, improved versions of George’s favorite classic Gretsch guitar models are available and remain as popular as ever. In 2064, I’m sure we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival to the U.S. I’m also sure a sixth generation family member will be running the business my great-grandfather started in 1883 and offering even better versions of Gretsch Country Gentleman, Tennessean, and Duo Jet guitars. Long live The Beatles. And long live rock ‘n’ roll!

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Celebrating The Career of An Explorer

January 20th, 2014

On The Passing of Chico Hamilton

by Fred W. Gretsch

Chico Hamilton

If I was asked to describe jazz drumming great Chico Hamilton-who died this past November 25th at the age of ninety-two in one word, that word would be “explorer.” Throughout his long and stellar career, Chico consistently explored new musical territory, new concepts in drum sounds, and new approaches to the design of the drumkit itself. And I’m proud to say that most of that career saw Chico on Gretsch drums.

Of course, there are lots of other words that can–and should–be used in connection with Chico. “Innovator,” “composer,” “teacher,” “leader,” and “pioneer” all come to mind. And I’m sure that those who knew and appreciated Chico’s gifts could add many more.

As a young drummer in the late 1940s and early ’50s Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton gained experience (and early recognition) as a sideman. Even then his versatility and creative nature was displayed, as he worked in a wide variety of musical situations. Those included serving as the driving force in sax great Jerry Mulligan’s quartet (which also featured a young trumpeter named Chet Baker), and spending eight years backing singer Lena Horne.

But it was with his own quintet, which he founded in 1955, that Chico first made his mark on the jazz scene. This was where his “explorer” nature came to the fore, as he put together a decidedly non-traditional group consisting of drums, bass, guitar, cello, and flute. Featuring compositions by all the members of the group combined with collective improvisation, the sound came to be known as “chamber jazz.” The experiment had its fans and its detractors, but no one could deny that it was totally original. In fact. The Chico Hamilton Quintet made such a name for itself that it was featured in the 1957 movie The Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

But it was a different kind of movie–a documentary titled Jazz on A Summer’s Day–that cemented Chico as a jazz star. Filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1958, it captured performances by jazz legends including Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Gerry Mulligan, and Sonny Stitt. Chico and his group added their unique sound and style to the mix of more “traditional” jazz, to wide acclaim.

Based mainly in Los Angeles for most of his career, Chico was a pioneer of what was dubbed “West Coast” jazz, also known as the “California cool” sound. But he never focused on one style for long. After establishing the “chamber jazz” style with his early quintet, he took a harder-edged direction in the 1960s. In 1966 he recorded a funky, soul-leaning jazz album called The Dealer, which introduced guitarist Larry Coryell. (Other bands led by Chico featured such future jazz stars as Ron Carter, Paul Horn, Gabor Szabo, and Arthur Blythe.)

From that time right up until his passing, Chico never stopped creating. He played and toured with a group called Euphoria in the 1980s and ’90s, and he was appearing with them at a monthly New York City residency at the time of his death. He also continued to record up until his ninetieth birthday, when he released a 22-track CD called Revelation.

Many drummers might say that Chico wasn’t a skilled technician on the drumset, in the manner of contemporaries like Max Roach or Art Blakey. But few would deny his contributions as a drumming innovator. The late Phil Grant, long-time artist relations manager for Gretsch, said of Chico, “He had a style of playing drums that was completely different from anyone else. He used timpani sticks on the drumset before anyone else. He was an individual, and his playing was unique.”

Chico also had very specific ideas about drumset design, as described by Chet Falzerano in his book Gretsch Drums: The Legacy of “That Great Gretsch Sound”: “Chico had some progressive ideas of his own for his drumset. He wanted his toms without bottom heads. Gretsch was accommodating and built him a custom set without bottom heads [in 1958) long before it became the rage in the 1970s.” (Interestingly, it was another great Gretsch drummer–Phil Collins–who helped promote that rage.) Chico continued to play his signature drumkit design throughout his career, often removing the front bass drum head as well.

In addition to sharing his musical ideas as a performer, Chico also shared them as an educator. He was part of the faculty at the Parsons New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, as well as the Mannes College of Music at the New School University, both in New York City. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2004. This led to a visit to the White House, where Chico was both an honoree and a featured performer.

In a 2008 interview in the magazine Jazz Times, Chico said, “I can play all over the world, and I don’t have to play anybody else’s music. That’s my reward. I’ve been blessed because I’ve been able to make music, and I make music for music’s sake.”

Checking Out Chico

A clip of a young Chico Hamilton in a battle with drumming legends Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton is posted on Drummerworld.com at http://www.drummerworld.com/Videos/genekrupachicolionel58.html.

You can hear the unique sound of Chico’s unique “chamber jazz” quintet featuring cello, bass, guitar, and sax playing “The Wind” (1956) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_8uztsWTOo.

In contrast, check out the high-energy title track from Chico’s 1966 album The Dealer, which introduced a young guitarist named Larry Coryell. It’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDPmO1VNVJI.

When he visited the White House in 2004, Chico demonstrated his signature mallet-on-toms style in a solo that can be enjoyed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzJ1Pls0n5Q.

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On the Passing of Sam Ulano

January 6th, 2014

One-Of-A-Kind Drummer And Educator

Drummer, teacher, and controversial drumming icon Sam Ulano, shown at his 92nd birthday celebration and drum clinic in July of 2012.

On January 1 of this year we lost a genuine drumming icon when Sam Ulano passed away at the age of ninety-three. For those who may not know Sam, he was a fixture on the New York City drumming scene for more than sixty years. He was also quite a character, and it’s hardly surprising that “Sam the showman” would make his exit on New Year’s Day.

Sam enjoyed a long and successful career as a performer, including thousands of club dates, shows, and other gigs in the New York City area. He performed or recorded with diverse artists ranging from Moondog to Johnny Lydon’s PiL. And I’m proud to say that Sam began playing and endorsing Gretsch drums in 1947—making him the longest-running Gretsch drum artist.  He was still swingin’ on his Gretsch kit in NYC clubs until shortly before his passing.

But it’s as an educator that Sam truly made his mark on the national drum scene. And he definitely did it his own way—making him equally revered and controversial. Besides his private teaching practice, he founded a drum studio in the 1950s that 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 released literally dozens of self-produced books and CDs, along with over 2,500 pamphlets that he called “Foldys.”

Sam’s publications had almost comically “lo-fi” production values, but they were nonetheless high in informational content. In what was perhaps his most controversial teaching philosophy, Sam denounced rudiments as having nothing to do with playing a drumset, since drumsets didn’t exist when the rudiments were established for marching drummers in the 1800s. Instead, Sam focused 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 a Gretsch-sponsored clinic at Manhattan’s Sam Ash Music in July of 2012. “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.”

Sixth-generation Gretsch family member Logan Thomas (at left) met with Sam at Steve Maxwell’s Vintage And Custom Drums in Manhattan this past August 3. Logan began his own drumming career with a Gretsch kit this Christmas. Also shown are Rob Cook and John Sheridan (left and right, behind Sam), authors of The Gretsch Drum Book, and Logan’s proud grandfather, Fred W. Gretsch.

I’m gratified that my grandson Logan Thomas—a sixth-generation member of the Gretsch family—had a chance to meet and speak with Sam at a Gretsch Day event at Steve Maxwell’s Vintage & Custom Drums this past August. Logan got his first drumset as a Christmas present shortly thereafter, and I know he’ll benefit from the advice that Sam gave him during their discussion at Maxwell’s.

Logan will be in good company, since Sam’s former students include noted TV drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, New York studio stalwart Allen Schwartzberg, and jazz great Art Taylor. These drummers and dozens like them benefitted from Sam’s major premise, which was 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.

Sam recommended practicing with metal sticks—or even lengths of copper pipe, as shown here.

Another controversial recommendation from Sam was regular practicing with metal sticks to improve hand and arm strength. “If I hadn’t practiced with metal sticks all these years,” he said at the July 2012 clinic, “there’s no way I could still be playing at ninety-two years old.”

Admittedly, Sam had his detractors—or at least those who would debate his opinions about rudiments. Few, if any, teachers would argue Sam’s point about the importance of reading for a drummer with professional aspirations. But many also stress the value of listening to music in order to develop an “ear” for various styles. Some teachers tend to focus on this ear training as the way to develop an authentic “feel” within any given style.

Sam Ulano might have taken issue with these points…but that’s what drumming education is all about: different approaches. Sam’s approach was a practical one, based on years of working within the music business and a desire to prepare drummers for that sort of work. You can agree with that approach, or disagree, or take some of it and leave the rest. But no matter what you do, you should absorb Sam’s fundamental, overriding message: You need to learn to play the drums. Drumming may come “naturally” to you, but to develop those natural skills you need to pursue an education on the instrument. That, I think, will be Sam Ulano’s lasting legacy.

For more information on Sam Ulano, visit samulano.com. There are also some great YouTube clips of Sam. Go to this video to learn how Sam set an early record for long-term drumming. Go to this video to hear Sam discussing how rudiments don’t serve drumset playing. And go to this video to view Sam in performance at his birthday celebration and clinic, held at Sam Ash Music in Manhattan on, July 2012 (just prior to his 92nd birthday that August).

Sam authored dozens of books, CDs, and DVDs over his sixty-year teaching career.