Posts Tagged ‘Alvino Bennett’

The Gretsch Drumkit That Made Olympic History

Monday, August 8th, 2016

By Fred Gretsch

As the world focuses on the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I’d like to share a story that took place the last time that the Summer Olympics were located in the Americas. North America, in fact, exactly twenty years ago.

It was 1996, and the games were being held in Atlanta, Georgia. As always, the athletes of the world had assembled to compete in dozens of events. Also as always, thousands of people had come to view those competitions. And in the evenings, after the competitions had concluded, those thousands of people were enjoying concerts in Centennial Olympic Park, which served as the “town square” for the Olympics.

On the evening of July 27 there was a midnight concert scheduled, featuring Jack Mack & The Heart Attack. This high-energy R&B band was anchored by long-time Gretsch drummer Alvino Bennett. Prior to coming down to Atlanta for the show, Alvino called the Gretsch office to say that the band wasn’t carrying a drumkit for their tour, and to ask if Gretsch might be able to loan him one for the Atlanta show. My wife Dinah and I had a great relationship with Alvino, and as it happened it was Dinah that he spoke with when he called.

Dinah was eager to help Alvino, and she also realized that having a Gretsch kit seen and heard at the Olympics would be a pretty historic situation. So she decided to loan Alvino an already historic set of drums: the iconic yellow kit played by drumming legend Tony Williams during the latter part of his career. When Alvino called, that kit was proudly on display in the Gretsch museum at the company’s headquarters in Pooler, Georgia.

Tony Williams' iconic yellow Gretsch drums are on display at Gretsch Company headquarters in Pooler, Georgia.

As most drummers know, Tony Williams was arguably the single most influential drummer of the 20th century. Initially identified as a “jazz” drummer—mainly because he arrived on the scene as a member of Miles Davis’s legendary 1960s quintet—Tony quickly demonstrated that he was not to be pigeonholed within any style. His playing encompassed elements of jazz, rock, R&B, and Latin music. He combined these with formidable technique and unbridled passion to create dynamic performances that electrified audiences around the world—and sent millions of drummers racing to their practice rooms. Many of today’s greatest drum figures cite Tony Williams as their most important influence.

Fred Gretsch and Alvino Bennett in 2012.

“I was so honored,” says Alvino today. “The Gretsches didn’t have to loan me that particular kit; they could have given me any drumkit. But they gave me Tony Williams’ drums—that yellow drumkit that was so identified with Tony himself.”

So there was Alvino Bennett, playing with Jack Mack & The Heart Attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics, sitting behind a historic drumkit that had been previously owned and used by an even more historic drummer. But the history doesn’t stop there.

Many people might remember the significance of the date—July 27, 1996—but for those who don’t, Alvino picks up the story, saying:  “We were on stage, and I was playing Tony’s drumkit, which was a big thrill for me. We’d only played two or three songs when we realized that something had happened out in the park. I was sitting directly under the Jumbotron that showed everything that was going on. It was moving. We saw the audience running in all directions. We thought one of the big power amplifiers for the sound system had gone out. We were sitting there wondering what was happening when all these authorities came up to us yelling, ‘Get off the stage. A bomb has gone off!’”

Hearing those terrible words would likely send anyone running to seek safety. But Alvino Bennett isn’t just anyone. He’s a drummer. He continues the story, saying, “There I was, thinking, ‘This is the kit that Tony Williams played; they’re his drums. And I’m responsible for them.’ So I started trying to take the drums down and get them someplace safe. Then a security person walked up and said, ‘Get your ass off stage.’ I told him, ‘I’ve gotta get my drums off first. These are really historic drums.’ I was trying to explain the situation to him. And finally he said, ‘Listen partner . . . These drums, or your life? You think about it for a few seconds.’”

Alvino laughs, and then says, “I actually did think about it. I thought, ‘If anything happens to these drums I’m going to feel really bad. All of us in the musical world love Tony Williams, and I’ve got his drums!’ But the security guy insisted, so I had to go. In fact, we had to leave everything on stage, because the investigators had to do their sweep of the whole Centennial Park area. We went back to the hotel, and it was surrounded by TV trucks, as well as ATF, FBI, and other agencies. We gave interviews that were broadcast from the Atlanta stations all over the country. And all the time I was still thinking, ‘God I hope those drums are gonna be okay.’”

Fortunately the drums were okay, and after all the investigations were concluded they were returned to Gretsch headquarters. They’re still displayed there today, representing a combination of musical, sports, and political history unrivaled by any other drumkit ever made.

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Gretsch 2012 NAMM Show Highlights

Monday, February 6th, 2012

2012 NAMM Show at the Anaheim Convention Center

The 2012 NAMM musical-instrument show took place January 19 through 22 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. This annual event, sponsored by the International Music Products Association, is America’s largest trade show for the showcasing of musical instruments and accessories. This year’s show was the 110th edition, and attendance reached a record high. A whopping 95,709 visitors filled the halls with an all-new level of energy and excitement.

Gretsch Drums and Gretsch Guitars were a major reason for that excitement, with plenty of new products to display. In addition, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were on hand—joined by other members of the Gretsch family—to lend their special personal touch to all of the Gretsch-related activities.

Gretsch Drums On Display

Gretsch Drums had plenty of great new gear to showcase at this year’s NAMM show. Here are just a few highlights.

Fred Gretsch and New Brooklyn Series Kit

The focus of the 2012 NAMM display was the launch of the new Brooklyn Series. Made in Gretsch’s US factory, the new series is a tribute to the city in which the Gretsch Company got its start back in 1883.  And who better to help introduce the new series than Fred Gretsch himself?

Among the beautiful new Brooklyn series kits in the Gretsch booth was a classic five-piece configuration with a Smoke Grey Oyster Nitron wrap. The drums feature Gretsch maple/poplar shells with classic 30-degree bearing edges and the legendary Silver Sealer on their insides. Toms and snares come fitted with new “302” model 3mm double-flanged hoops, which are reminiscent of hoops used by Gretsch up until the mid-1950s.

Gretsch Brooklyn Display

These hoops have the same height profile as the classic Gretsch die-cast hoop in order to provide a playing experience that feels the same as traditional Gretsch USA Custom drums. All other drum hardware components—including lugs, claws, brackets, and spurs—are the same as those used on USA Custom kits. And perhaps best of all for Gretsch “purists,” the return to Brooklyn means a return to a round badge. The Brooklyn Round Badge has a black/pewter color scheme with a classic embossed Gretsch design.

Brooklyn Jazz Kit

Aficionados of jazz will recognize this classic configuration. It’s a Brooklyn Series kit in small “bop” sizes, finished in a mahogany lacquer.

Gretsch Snares

This bevy of beautiful snare drums includes one wood-shell (top left) and three metal-shell (bottom row) Brooklyn Series models, along with two brand-new Brushed Brass snares that feature a hand-brushed finish that creates a distinctive two-toned vintage patina effect.

A just-for-fun monster setup showcased a Gretsch USA Custom kit with a Chrome Nitron finish mounted on an ultra-customized Gibraltar rack.

The distinctive Gretsch Renown 57 kit debuted last year, with a design inspired by the great American car manufacturers of the 1950s. The new Motor City Red finish introduced for 2012 was so hot that the kit had to be displayed behind a plastic shield!

Gretsch Energy Kit

This eight-piece, double-bass kit is from Gretsch’s new affordable Energy Series. “Quick”-sized toms on GTS mounts produce maximum tone, cutting attack, and thunderous low end. Classic Gretsch features include 30-degree bearing edges, 5-lug configurations for the 8”, 10”, and 12” rack toms, and Gretsch-style lugs.

For more highlights-related photos, please visit our photo gallery here.

Goings-On at Gretsch Guitars

Gretsch Guitars Main Display

There’s nothing like a room full of the world’s finest guitars to attract the attention of NAMM show-goers. So there was no shortage of visitors to the Gretsch Guitars exhibit. The fact that Fred Gretsch was also often on hand to greet and chat with Gretsch guitar fans made this year’s exhibit even more special.

Although Gretsch is best known today for the manufacture of great guitars, the company got its start in 1883 making an even more traditional type of American instrument: banjos—as demonstrated by Fred Gretsch.

Fred Gretsch on the Banjo

Not long afterward came mandolins, flat-top guitars, ukuleles, and other instruments that contributed to what we now call “roots” or “Americana” music. Gretsch celebrated this important contribution to American history with a display of authentic recreations of those classic instruments.

Gretsch Roots Disply

When it comes to a recognizable guitar sound, there’s no mistaking the unique twang of rock pioneer Duane Eddy. A long-time user and aficionado of Gretsch guitars, Duane was honored at this year’s NAMM show by having his signature guitar as the focal point of the Gretsch contemporary guitar display.

And a great Gretsch name also returned with the re-introduction of the Rancher acoustic guitars. The richly resonant Rancher first appeared in the early 1950s with its highly distinctive triangular sound hole and sweepingly elegant pickguard. Gretsch proudly re-introduced the model at the show with a great new five-instrument selection of body sizes, styles, and features.

For more highlights-related photos, please visit our photo gallery here.

Gretsch Artists In The House!

A welcome visitor to the Gretsch Drums booth was great Gretsch drummer Stanton Moore. Van Romaine was also on hand to greet and sign autographs for Gretsch drum fans.

Steve, Will, Dinah & Rane

Gretsch artists are considered “part of the family” by Fred and Dinah Gretsch. So it was a family gathering when touring and studio star Stephen Ferrone (far left) stopped by the drum exhibit to sign autographs for show-goers, and to visit with Dinah Gretsch and sixth-generation family members Will (left) and Rane Gretsch.

Gretsch Guitars sponsored a number of artists in live performances throughout the NAMM show. These included guitar stars like Paul Pigat and Duane Eddy, as well as roots musicians Nik & Sam.

Stellar among all the Gretsch artists was Australian guitar phenom Joe Robinson. After breaking onto the scene at the age of sixteen as the youngest-ever winner of Australia’s Got Talent, Joe has gone on to become one of the most exciting and promising young artists on the scene today. His combination of compositional skill and unbelievable technical abilities had jaws dropping at each of his performances.

Fred and Friends

When your name is on the finest drums and guitars in the world, you tend to enjoy the company of others who share a similar status. So it was with Fred Gretsch at the 2012 NAMM Show.

Before the start of the show on Friday, January 20, Fred had the opportunity to share a convivial breakfast with Robert Zildjian and his wife, Willi. After working for many years in the family business that bears his name, Robert Zildjian left in the early 1980s to found his own company: Sabian Cymbals. With generations of business as well as family history behind each of them, Fred and Bob enjoyed swapping stories at breakfast.

Fred and Jeff Pevar

Later in the show Fred enjoyed a visit at the Gretsch Guitars booth from Jeff Pevar. In addition to being a first-call guitarist for artists like David Foster, Rikki Lee Jones, and David Lindley, Jeff is the “P” in CPR, a band in which he plays with rock icon David Crosby and keyboardist/composer James Raymond.

Big Doings At Bigsby

Bigsby Booth

This year saw the Bigsby Vibratos booth taken to a whole new level. The display featured new custom-built vintage-style vibrato cases (like the ones Paul Bigsby made all those years ago) as well as two racks of guitars supplied by thirteen different manufacturers—showcasing the wide array of makes and models that sport Bigsby Vibratos. Visitors to the booth repeatedly expressed how surprised they were at the number and variety of different guitars with Bigsby tailpieces.

Bigsby also set some new records at the show. A total of thirty-two different guitar manufacturers were utilizing Bigsby Vibratos, not only on guitars displayed in their booths, but also in the hands of their performing artists on stage. This was an incredible 39% increase over 2011. In addition, 160 individual Bigsby Vibratos were on display in various booths throughout the exhibition halls—an astounding 44% increase over the number at last year’s show.

Supporting the USPTO

Bigsby Helps Out at USPTO Booth

For the second straight year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) exhibited at the NAMM Show in an effort to encourage patent and trademark protection and discourage copying within the music industry. Bigsby was happy to aid in this effort by providing a display board that was originally created for the USPTO Trademark Expo in Alexandria, Virginia this past year.

A Celebration of 129 Years

There’s nothing like an anniversary to inspire a celebration. So, to mark the 129th year of business for Gretsch, Dinah and Fred Gretsch invited a group of family, friends, artists, and business partners to a dinner party on Saturday, January 21. The event was held at the Jazz Kitchen restaurant within the Downtown Disney complex in Anaheim.

At one point during the evening Fred and Dinah rose to toast those in attendance, thanking them for helping to make Gretsch an ongoing success. Fred pointed out that between his forty-seven years in the music business and Dinah’s thirty-three, it added up to eighty years of experience…during which time, he said, “We’ve partnered with the best.”

Fred with Alvino Bennett, Mark Schulman, and John Palmer

Gretsch artists in attendance at the dinner included drummers Mark Schulman, Stephen Ferrone, and Alvino Bennett, “roots” musicians Nik & Sam, and guitarists Duane Eddy, Paul Pigat, and Joe Robinson. At Dinah Gretsch’s request Joe pulled out an acoustic guitar and entertained the guests with one of his recent compositions.

When Joe had concluded, Dinah Gretsch expressed her pride in the youth associated with Gretsch. “We need youth and passion to continue the business for the next hundred years,” she concluded. “It’s all about passion for what we do.”

For all highlights-related photos, please visit the photo gallery here.