Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch Drums’

Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Phil Collins: The Unmistakable Man

by Fred W. Gretsch

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

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

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

Phil's Gretsch Kit

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

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

Phil On Display

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

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

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

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

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

Gretsch Greatest Hits…And Hitters

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Keith Carlock: Mr. In-Demand

by Fred W. Gretsch

It’s almost easier to talk about what Keith Carlock hasn’t done than what he has. Since graduating from the prestigious music program of the University Of North Texas in 1992, the Greenville, Mississippi native’s career has been one exciting gig after another—and often more than one at a time. Along the way his unique blend of technical ability, southern-infused looseness, unshakeable groove, and intense musicality has established him as one of today’s most in-demand drummers.

Photo: Tom Schwarz

That demand has come from a veritable “who’s who” of the musical world. It started in 1998 when Keith took over the drum chair for the original Blues Brothers Band (from the great Steve Jordan) and also began a long association with fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz. In 2000 Keith gained international attention for his playing on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature. Working again with Steely Dan on their 2002 record Everything Must Go, Keith played drums on every track—no small feat, considering that the Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are legendary for using multiple drummers on their records.

In fall of 2003 Keith was invited to join Sting’s touring band in support of the Sacred Love tour, which kept Keith on the road into 2005. In the ten years since then he’s recorded and/or toured with John Mayer, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, Leni Stern, David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Wayne Krantz, Harry Belafonte, Oz Noy, Clay Aiken, Rascal Flatts, Paula Abdul, and Grover Washington, Jr.

As the latest testament to his status as “the guy to call,” in January of 2014 Keith replaced the legendary Simon Phillips in the drum chair for Toto. He helped record the band’s Toto XIV album and has been wowing audiences on their recent tour dates.

In explaining what makes Keith Carlock so valuable as a drummer, guitarist Wayne Krantz says, “Keith is as advanced technically as anyone I’ve ever played with, but his technique always serves the music. When he plays he’s not mathematical. He’s very spiritual.” Avant-jazz guitarist Oz Noy puts it even more succinctly: “Within one bar of the groove, I can tell it’s Keith. There’s nobody out there who sounds like him.”

Keith has also made a name as an educator. In 2005 he embarked on his first clinic tour of eight US cities, performed at the Modern Drummer Festival and Montreal Drum Fest, and appeared at various other events around the world. Since that time he’s somehow managed to maintain a busy clinic calendar in addition to his staggeringly busy touring and recording schedule.

Perhaps Keith’s most impressive educational effort is his 2011 DVD titled The Big Picture: Phrasing, Improvisation, Style & Technique. In it he explains and demonstrates creative and technical concepts, illuminated by specific exercises, many of which are transcribed in an accompanying printable PDF eBook. Keith also plays to tracks from Oz Noy and from his own group, Rudder, dissecting his drum parts and relating each of his performances to the educational themes of the DVD.

When it comes to his Gretsch drums, Keith himself says, “I’m playing the Brooklyn Series, which are great-sounding drums. They’re similar to USA Customs, with a few little differences. They have their own round badge, and the shells are combined maple/poplar woods that produce a very distinctive, low-end open tone. The rims aren’t die-cast; they’re thinner and lighter. I think this helps the heads breathe a little more so I get a lot of sustain. I play a 20″ or a 22″ kick, depending on the music, and 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms. My snare varies with the situation, but I’m particularly fond of Gretsch’s chrome-over-brass model.”

Photo: Tom Schwarz

Carlock Performance Clips

Keith’s playing with TOTO (live, including a stunning solo) is showcased.

A great funky groove track with Oz Noy, Will Lee, and John Medeski.

A clip taken from a 2012 clinic in Korea focuses on Keith’s imaginative and technically awesome soloing abilities.

And for all you Gretsch drum fans, here’s a clip of Keith demo-ing a new Brooklyn Series kit. Just Keith and a great-sounding drumkit!

Many more tracks are available on YouTube, and are well worth your time to research.  And don’t forget to visit Keith’s website.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

The Creation of The Double-Bass Drumkit

by Fred W. Gretsch

Double-bass drumkits are pretty common these days, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the introduction of the double-bass kit was a pretty revolutionary step in the history of drumming.

Ah, but who was the drummer who took that step? And what drum company created that kit for him?

Your answers to those questions probably depend on how old you are and how much you’ve studied the history of drumming. But trust me when I tell you that although early double-bass drumming is largely attributed to drummers like Ginger Baker (of Cream), Keith Moon (of The Who), and even Peter Criss (of KISS) in the 1960s and ’70s, the fact is that the creation of the double-bass kit took place a generation earlier—in 1946, to be exact. And it took place in the Brooklyn, New York factory of the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company.

Big-band music was the dominant musical style in 1946, and drummers in those bands were often featured—thanks largely to the influence of the legendary Gene Krupa.  Wanting to take advantage of this, a young drumming phenom by the name of Louie Bellson had an idea for a drumkit that would be totally new and exciting—both visually and musically. For one thing, it would include two bass drums. This was unheard of in a time when four-piece kits were the standard.

Louie approached several different drum companies, and was flatly turned down. But when he brought his idea to the drum craftsmen at Gretsch, they were as excited as he was. They took Louie’s design concept as a challenge, and they promptly created a set that remains unduplicated to this day.

Louie’s revolutionary kit featured two 20×20 bass drums topped by a unique combination of tom-toms. The center tom was a 26×18 floor tom. Mounted on either side were 9×13 and 7×11 toms, with the whole assembly connected together and supported on legs. The floor toms were 16×16 and 16×18. Nothing like this had ever been seen before.

The kit was debuted by Louie with the Ted Fio Rito band in 1946. Shortly thereafter Louie moved to Benny Goodman’s band. Goodman wasn’t enamored of the big kit, but when Louie moved once again—this time to the band of Tommy Dorsey—the massive kit became a centerpiece. Dorsey was a savvy showman, so he put Louie and the kit on a revolving platform. When Louie would play a solo, Dorsey would revolve the platform so that the audience could see Louie’s feet. To coin a phrase: The crowds went crazy.

Louie’s revolutionary kit established him as one of the most creative and imaginative drummers on the big-band scene. It also launched a twenty-year association with Gretsch drums. “I had a wonderful relationship with Gretsch,” Louie told Gretsch Drums author Chet Falzerano. “Twenty years, that’s a long time! Their drums always had a great sound.”

So the next time you’re marveling at the sound and fury of your favorite double-bass drummer, take a moment to thank two pioneering drum innovators: Louie Bellson and Gretsch!

While no recordings of Louie playing on his original double-bass kit exist, check out this rare clip of Louie playing his solo composition “Skin Deep.” By the time this was recorded in 1957 he’d altered his kit design, but he was still kickin’ it on Gretsch!

In this clip from the Tonight Show (hosted by Steve Allen in 1956) Louie is again featured on his Gretsch double-bass kit, this time trading licks with drum greats Lionel Hampton and Don Lamond.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Hannah Welton: Powering Prince’s 3rd Eye Girl

by Fred W. Gretsch

Watching Gretsch drummer Hannah (Ford) Welton perform as the backbone of Prince’s 3RDEYEGIRL (the legendary artist’s explosive four-piece rock band), you’d likely get the impression that Hannah is a dynamic and talented young rock drummer. And you’d be partly right.

The fact is, Hannah is a multi-faceted performer who’s been a significant figure on the drumming scene for quite a while now. She came to the attention of the drumming community in her early teens, largely as the result of innate talent combined with a lot of hard work and study.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Hannah was immersed in the performing arts from a young age, gravitating toward the drums by age seven. At the age of twelve she moved to Chicago, where she studied and performed with legends and mentors such as Peter Erskine, Danny Seraphine, Johnny Rabb, Paul Wertico, and Gretsch artist Stanton Moore. At the same time she launched her professional career, playing in a blues band with her trumpet-playing father.

After a childhood focused on classic rock influenced by the powerful sound of John Bonham and Led Zeppelin, Hannah expanded her scope through study at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. There she played in the school’s Latin Ensemble and Big Band Orchestra, and also studied in the Vocal Jazz Department. In addition, she had the opportunity to play with top touring musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Butch Miles, and Jeff Berlin.

It wasn’t long before Hannah had established her own rock trio—The Hannah Ford Band—in Chicago. She also performed and recorded with a Milwaukee-based crossover Christian band called Bellevue Suite. From 2006 through 2011 Hannah received a variety of accolades and awards, while making a name as a clinician at events like the Chicago Drum Show. Capitalizing on her arts background, she landed the role of L. A. Coulter, the on-stage drummer in the 2011 Chicago Royal George Theatre run of the Whoopi Goldberg-produced musical White Noise.

Hannah was on a Guitar Center clinic tour when she heard from Prince’s representatives that he had seen her videos on YouTube and wanted her to come to Paisley Park Studios to jam. After joining Prince’s New Power Generation band in the summer of 2012, Hannah made her national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live in October, performing “Rock N’ Roll Love Affair.”

In November of 2012, after receiving direction from Prince, Hannah and her husband Joshua Welton set out to find the best female guitarist in the world. Shortly thereafter, they discovered Donna Grantis and invited her to jam. The musical camaraderie between Prince, Hannah, Grantis, and Danish bassist Ida Nielsen led to the birth of 3RDEYEGIRL. In 2013 Hannah anchored the band on their Spring tour and appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, performing the new song “Screwdriver” and the classic early Prince song “Bambi.” Hannah and the band soon followed up with their debut album titled Plectrum Electrum.

One of the things that I admire about Hannah is that she could just as easily be the subject of one of my “Great Gretsch Educators” blogs. From early on in her career she’s made a point to share her talent and knowledge. In addition to the in-store clinics and drumming events at which she’s appeared, she has also created her own “Peace Love And Drums” solo show. The idea behind this unique presentation is to share her experiences as a young musician and take her audience through the multifaceted world of music and drumming—and at the same time to inspire the audience to “dream big.”

Hannah’s main theme is the importance of music in our world today—especially in the lives of young people (a topic that’s near and dear to the Gretsch Family, as well).  Hannah reaches out to kids in the audience and shows them how much fun music can be, the places it can take them, and the long-term benefits it can bring. At the same time, Hannah impresses adults in the audience with how important it is that they continue to support music programs in the local schools and communities.

You can learn more about Hannah at her web site: Hannahforddrums.com. And you can see and hear her on YouTube. Here are a few notable clips:

A 2011 clip of Hannah in clinic at the Memphis Drum Shop illustrates her improvisational soloing technique.

Hannah gets funky—and talks music and drumming—with bass star Nik West on this snippet from Drum Channel.

Hannah’s faculty recital performance at the 2012 KoSA drumming camp.

A clip of Hannah playing “fixurlifeup” with Prince is on her website.

Another performance—this one live in 2013 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . And Hitters

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Charlie Watts: The Foundation

by Fred Gretsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great Gretsch Educators . . . Mike Johnston

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Mike Johnston: 21st Century Digital Teacher

by Fred Gretsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Simple Show-Off Lick”

“Breaking Down Polyrhythms”

“Improving Bass Drum Speed”

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

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

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

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Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Chick Webb: The Little Giant

by Fred W. Gretsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few YouTube links to check out:

A classic recording of “Stompin At The Savoy”.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new Broadkaster kit finished in Satin Copper Lacquer.


A Brooklyn Classic configuration in Satin Dark Ebony.

A flagship USA Custom kit finished in Dark Walnut Gloss.


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


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

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