Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch Drums’

Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Cindy Blackman-Santana: A Woman For All Seasons

by Fred Gretsch

A gifted writer named Nicole Williams Sitaraman said of Cindy Blackman-Santana: “Hearing Cindy play the drums is like a rapturous percussive tornado of sound. You just get swept away.”

That’s about the most succinct—and accurate—description of Cindy’s talent and versatility that I’ve ever heard. From the highest level of jazz improvisation to the most down-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll grooves, Cindy plays it all—and does so with a unique cross-pollination of styles. That is to say, her jazz playing rocks, and her rock playing swings. It’s a musical marriage made in heaven.

And speaking of marriage, Cindy added the “Santana” to her professional name when she married legendary Carlos Santana in 2010—following an on-stage proposal by Carlos at the conclusion of Cindy’s drum solo during a Santana Band concert in Tinley Park, Illinois. (Cindy had been sitting in with the band when Dennis Chambers took a leave of absence.)

However, long before Cindy connected with Carlos Santana, she had established herself as one of the most successful drummers around. In particular she gained recognition and respect among the drumming community as the long-time touring drummer for rocker Lenny Kravitz.

But Cindy actually started out as a jazz drummer. She grew up in a musical household where jazz was the main fare, and she had the benefit of parents who encouraged her interest in drums rather than being daunted by it. She attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied with Alan Dawson—the legendary teacher of jazz icon Tony Williams.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Cindy often cites Tony Williams as one of her greatest influences. From listening to him she learned how to be innovative and to allow the drums to speak with impact. After she moved to New York as a young woman she learned from the top jazz drummers who performed there, including Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes, and Elvin Jones. In particular, Art Blakey became a significant figure in Cindy’s life. “He was like a father to me,” she once said. “I learned a lot just watching him, and I asked him a lot of questions about the drums and music. He answered all of them. He was fantastic.”

Regrettably but predictably, Cindy initially encountered resistance as a black woman playing drums on the jazz scene. She had to deal with racial and gender bias, as well as prejudice against her musical opinions. But she had a simple response: “I learned to completely ignore all that.”

Ignoring negative opinions led Cindy to very positive musical experiences, including work with a list of stellar jazz artists like Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Don Pullen, Hugh Masakela, Pharaoh Sanders, Sam Rivers, Cassandra Wilson, Angela Bofill, Bill Laswell, and many more. In 1987 the first of her own compositions appeared on trumpeter Wallace Roney’s Verses album. This led to her debut recording as a bandleader: 1988’s Arcane, which featured a lineup of jazz luminaries including Roney, Kenny Garrett, Joe Henderson, Buster Williams, Clarence Seay, and Larry Willis.

Cindy pursued her jazz leanings until 1993, when she connected with Lenny Kravitz. She was in New York; he was in Los Angeles, so she played drums for him as he listened on the phone. At Lenny’s insistence she flew out to LA the next day. She stayed for two weeks and appeared on the video for Kravitz’s mega-hit “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” She became his touring drummer virtually from then on, apart from 2004.

Having previously only played jazz shows in clubs and small festivals, Cindy was unprepared for the experience of playing at the stadium level. Her first gig with Kravitz was at an outdoor festival for 70,000 people. “It was in the summer,” she recalls, “so most people had just t-shirts or tanks on. I just saw skin and hands all doing this wave thing. I wasn’t used to seeing that many people. I was disoriented, and my equilibrium was teetering. I had to stop looking and start focusing.”

Explaining the difference between playing rock and playing jazz, Cindy says, “My job with Lenny is to play a beat for hours, make it feel good, and tastefully add some exciting fills and colors. My job in my own band or any creative jazz situation is totally different. We may start with a groove that feels great, and I may play that for hours, too. But I’m going to explore and expand and change it—play around with the rhythm and interact with the soloists.”

Even while anchoring Lenny Kravitz’s shows Cindy has also maintained her role as a jazz composer and bandleader. Her albums have included Telepathy (1994), The Oracle (1996), In The Now (1998), Works On Canvas (1999), Someday (2001), Music For The New Millennium (2004), and Another Lifetime (2010). She also has an instructional drum video called Multiplicity to her credit.

Photo: Dino Perucci

In addition to being a fabulous drummer, Cindy Blackman-Santana is an intelligent, articulate, and gracious person. I’m proud that Cindy is a great Gretsch drum artist. I’m also proud to say that my wife Dinah and I consider her a personal friend.

More information about Cindy Blackman-Santana is available on her website. You can also find a selection of audio clips from her various albums there. In the meantime, you might also enjoy the following video clips.

Here’s a great drum solo from Cindy’s appearance at the 2009 Montreal Drum Fest, demonstrating her versatile rock and jazz abilities:

Another solo, from the 2009 Tam Tam Drum Fest.

Here’s Cindy soloing and also playing with her own band at the Leverkusener Jazztage, in 2013.

Cindy gives her own account of growing up on the drums.  This clip includes a killer brush solo.

Finally, Cindy and husband Carlos Santana performed the national anthem this past June 7 before Game 2 of the NBA finals. The performance was aired live on ABC.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Mary McClanahan: Gretsch’s Female Pioneer

by Fred Gretsch

The November 1939 edition of Metronome magazine—which, at the time, was the bible of the music business—included seven percussion-related advertisements. Each ad featured a well-known performer promoting a recent product release. There was Ray Bauduc for WFL’s “Twin Strainer” snare drum, Buddy Schultz for Avedis Zildjian cymbals, Ray McKinley for Slingerland drums, Jimmy Adams for Ludwig vibes, Chauncy Morehouse for Leedy drums, and Jack Powell for Ludwig drums.

But perhaps the most noteworthy item was placed by the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company: a full-page ad featuring Mary McClanahan, the drummer with Phil Spitalny’s Hour Of Charm All-Girl Orchestra. It reads: “’Charmed with the tone and beauty of my new Gretsch-Gladstone ensemble,’ says charming Mary McClanahan.” This was the first-ever appearance by a female drummer in a major percussion company ad.

Mary McClanahan may, indeed, have been charming. But she was much more than that. By the time she was hired by Spitalny, she was already a respected professional musician. Over 1,000 carefully screened women musicians auditioned for the twenty-two spots in Spitalny’s orchestra. There were several positions available for horn, string, and woodwind players—but only one for a drummer. That coveted spot went to Mary.

For women percussionists who feel unappreciated and unrecognized in today’s predominately male profession, think of what it was like for Mary in 1939. She had to overcome unimaginable hurdles to land the Spitalny gig, to say nothing of earning an endorsement and a full-page ad from a major drum company.

Just as one example, women encountered more difficulties than men when it came to appearance. Regardless of how far they had traveled or how little sleep they’d managed to get on a tour bus, all-girl bands had to appear onstage looking gorgeous, in long dresses and heels. (Never mind that it’s virtually impossible to operate bass drum and hi-hat pedals while wearing heels.) Ironically, while this hard-to-achieve glamour was expected of them, this very attention to appearances was one of the things that led some people to dismiss All-Girl bands as not being “serious” musicians.

By all reports, however, Mary McClanahan was indeed a “serious” musician. In fact, the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company was so impressed with her talent and fame that they not only featured her in magazine advertisements, but also on the cover of their 1941 full-line catalog. There she shared the spotlight with such male drumming stars of the era as Count Basie’s drummer Papa Jo Jones, Artie Shaw’s Nick Fatool, Horace Heidt’s Bernie Mattinson, and Xavier Cugat’s Alberto Calderon. Heady company, indeed.

We don’t know much about Mary’s career following her stint in Phil Spitalny’s orchestra. But there is one intriguing item that appeared in 1946. It’s a newspaper review of a variety show at the Esquire nightclub in Montreal, Canada, and it included the following: “Mary McClanahan, the champion girl drummer, put over an original drumming act with a great deal of savoir faire. Judging by her routine, it would seem that all the ginger-thatched Mary needs to knock out rhythm is a pair of drumsticks, as she pounded out a number of neat paradiddles on everything from an ordinary kitchen chair to the Esquire’s hardwood floor.”

Video Clip:

Phil Spitalny’s Hour Of Charm All-Girl orchestra was exceptionally talented and versatile, as is amply demonstrated in this rare 1937 movie short titled Queens Of Harmony. Mary McClanahan can be seen at the 2:30 mark, kicking off a blazing version of “Tiger Rag.”

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Stefanie Eulinberg:  Rockin’ With The Kid

by Fred Gretsch

Stefanie Eulinberg is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, she’s petite (just five feet tall), bubbly, smart, outspoken, funny, and sassy. On the other hand, she’s the hard-hitting drummer for Twisted Brown Trucker—the band behind the ultra-macho superstar known as Kid Rock.

Born on December 11, 1967, Stefanie grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. She displayed an early talent for music on a variety of instruments, including the trombone and the cornet. It wasn’t until she spent a summer at the Percussion Institute of Technology in Los Angeles that she gravitated to the drums.


Starting at the age of fifteen, Stefanie worked in cover bands all over the country. Playing different songs for a living was fun—but more importantly it gave her the opportunity to develop her drumming skills. Her influences included Jack DeJohnette, Dave Weckl, Tony Thompson, Chester Thompson, Neil Peart, Dennis Chambers, and Terry Bozzio. That’s quite an eclectic mix, and it helped her develop a slamming style that fuses Sly Stone funk with Bonham-esque heaviness.

After laboring for more than a decade in cover bands and less-than-successful “original” acts, Stefanie found herself in Milwaukee in 1998. That’s when she got a call from her friend DJ Swamp. He told her, “This Kid Rock guy in Detroit has a record out on Atlantic. He needs a drummer for his touring band…right now.” After playing phone tag for a while, Stefanie and the Kid finally connected. “We’ve narrowed it down to three drummers,” Rock told her. “You’re one of them.” (He hadn’t even heard her play yet.)

Stefanie shipped a tape overnight, and within days was the drummer in Twisted Brown Trucker. Kid Rock told her she got the job because she doesn’t play drums like a girl. (A classic understatement if ever there was one.)

In the early days, Kid Rock’s music was a testosterone-fueled brand of punk-meets-rap. In order to anchor the band, Stefanie had to make adjustments in her playing style—adapting from the fluid chops she’d used in cover bands to the rigidity of sequencer-and-click-based music. But over the ensuing years and million-selling albums, Kid Rock’s style has evolved dramatically. After fusing hip-hop and hard rock seamlessly on the 11-times platinum Devil Without A Cause in 1998, the self-described “Bullgod of trailer trash” went from rapper to country balladeer with his 2001 album Cocky. From there it’s been anything goes…and Stefanie has been going right along with it.

Kid Rock’s music now incorporates as much classic rock and country as R&B and rap. (The 2007 Grammy-nominated hit “All Summer Long” was an undisguised homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”) In addition to powering the band from the drums, Stefanie also performs as a vocalist on live shows, and she adds her talents on several other instruments in the studio.

Here’s a bit of Stefanie Eulinberg trivia that you might not know: In addition to her skills as a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, Stefanie is also a vocal actress. Along with Kid Rock and other members of Twisted Brown Trucker, Stefanie voiced a character in the Farrelly Brothers’ 2001 animated movie Osmosis Jones. She also writes theme music for the Disney studios.

Video Clips

You can see and hear dozens of examples of Stefanie’s work by searching for “Kid Rock” on YouTube. In the meantime, though, here are two clips you might particularly enjoy:

Stefanie talks about Gretsch drums (while on tour with Kid Rock in 2008).

Here’s a great clip of Stefanie rocking with the Kid on “All Summer Long” from a music awards show in 2010.

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Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Elvin Jones: The Game Changer

by Fred W. Gretsch

My most recent “Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters” articles have focused on contemporary Gretsch drummers. This time, I want to delve a bit into musical history and talk about the man who single-handedly bridged the gap between hard bop and avant-garde jazz, and changed the very nature of drumming ever after. His name was Elvin Jones.

Elvin’s influence on jazz drumming—and on jazz in general—cannot be overstated. As important a figure on drums as was his mentor John Coltrane on the saxophone, Elvin’s contributions to the art form continue to resonate with drummers more than a decade after his death in 2004. To quote one stellar jazz drummer: “Elvin was committed to playing the drums in a different way. And after he came on the scene, everyone else played differently, too.”

Elvin’s singularity dates back to his early career. After leaving the army in 1949 he played with his brother Thad Jones in a Detroit band led by Billy Mitchell. In 1955 he moved to New York, where he worked as a sideman in the bands of Charles Mingus, Teddy Charles, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis.

By 1960 Elvin was an established figure on the New York jazz scene. As such, he often took part in a unique series of events called Gretsch Nights At Birdland. These were drumming “summits,” where the great jazz drummers of the day (who were all Gretsch drum artists) would appear at the famous New York City nightclub to play separately and together. One of those sessions, which took place in April of 1960, is documented on the unparalleled jazz album Gretsch Night At Birdland. Along with Elvin, it features performances by three other great Gretsch drum artists: Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, and Charlie Persip.

But it was when Elvin joined the John Coltrane quartet (with Jimmy Garrison on bass and McCoy Tyner on piano) in 1960 that musical history was made. Elvin found a kindred spirit in Coltrane, and (with the help of bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner) the two pioneers explored the boundaries of jazz. They often played extended duet passages, driving each other on to ever-greater heights of instrumental virtuosity and creative expression.

Over the next six years the Coltrane Quartet redefined “swing”—the rhythmic feel of jazz. Elvin’s drumming evolved from the gritty hard bop of the group’s early recordings on Atlantic, to the hurricane-force implosions of A Love Supreme (recorded in 1964 and released by Impulse records in February of 1965). That recording is considered a milestone in the history of jazz, melding the hard bop stylings of Coltrane’s early career with what came to be called “modal” and “free” jazz.

Photo: Lee Tanner

Elvin’s sense of timing, polyrhythms, dynamics, timbre, and legato phrasing set a totally new standard for drumming—one that led Life magazine to tout him as “the world’s greatest rhythmic drummer.” His unique approach baffled some listeners and inspired others. And I don’t mean just other jazz drummers. His free-flowing style was a major influence on many rock drummers as well, including Jimi Hendrix’s Mitch Mitchell and Cream’s Ginger Baker. That influence has never waned; dozens of today’s top drummers speak of Elvin with reverence and awe. He continued to perform, particularly with his own Jazz Machine, until shortly before his passing.

Although Elvin was always serious about his music, he never took himself too seriously. This is illustrated by his appearance as a villain called Job Cain in the off-beat 1971 Western film Zacharia. In that film he wins a saloon gunfight—then promptly sits down at a drumkit and performs a dynamic solo! (You can still catch that flick sometimes on late-night cable. It’s a hoot.)

Hear Elvin with the classic mid-1960s John Coltrane Quartet playing “Impressions”—including a duet segment where Elvin and Coltrane play together. 

For a purely audio treat, you can listen to Elvin’s complete 1969 album Poly-Currents.

You can see Elvin’s gunfight and drum solo in the 1971 off-beat Western Zacharia.

Elvin simply burns in an unusual two saxes/bass/drums quartet format in 1973.

Elvin explains the concept of polyrhythmic styles, and demonstrates his solo technique, circa 1979.

Here’s Elvin in a clip from 1979 playing with his own quartet. His playing with the band is powerful enough…but the solo….!

Finally, hear Elvin’s own words about his drumming and the way music changed, as part of a terrific 1979 documentary called Different Drummer: Elvin Jones.

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Remembering Bill and Sylvia Gretsch

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

A Tribute To A Remarkable Couple

By Fred W. Gretsch

September is an especially significant month in my family’s history. September 10 is the date on which my father, William “Bill” Gretsch passed away in 1948. And September 14th is the anniversary of my mother Sylvia’s birth in 1917. Both of these remarkable individuals played a major role not only in my life, but also in the legacy of the Gretsch Company.

Gretsch has always been a family business. My great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883. Upon his sudden passing in 1885 his son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over–at the age of fifteen along with his mother, Rosa. Fred Sr. brought his sons Fred Jr. and William into the business when they each turned ten years of age—around 1915 and 1916, respectively. (A third brother, Dick Gretsch, did not join the business and lived until the age of 102 and influenced the business as the best Gretsch cheerleader of all time.) Fred Jr. and Bill started at the bottom, of course, packing phonograph needles in boxes on the weekends, 100 years ago now.

By 1933 my father was a young man looking to make his mark in the music business that his grandfather had started and his father was now running. Thinking that that the company’s office in Chicago offered more room for his younger son’s energies than did the staid headquarters in Brooklyn, Fred Sr. transferred Bill to Chicago. Two years later, he met Maxine Lois Elsner.

My mother was a bright and ambitious person in her own right. In 1935 she filled out a questionnaire upon entering Northwestern University, outlining her plans for the future: “When ten years old, I started taking lessons in dramatics. From then until now I have studied speech with the idea of making it my career. I chose Northwestern University because of its superior speech division and its radio courses. When I finish college I plan to do both writing and speaking for radio.”

Perhaps it was Maxine’s insistence about pursuing her career that attracted Bill. When they first met he was not himself interested in getting married. So the couple dated for two years—largely by telegram correspondence, since Maxine was at Northwestern and Bill was in Chicago. During this period Bill gave Maxine the pet name of “Sylvia”—a name by which she became known to friends and family thereafter.

Bill and Sylvia on July 12, 1940

My mother graduated from Northwestern University on June 10, 1939, with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech. After a brief tenure as a high school speech teacher in Webb City, Missouri, in June of 1941 she became a copy writer at radio station KWFT in Wichita Falls, Texas. By October of that year she had taken a job as editor of Western Hotel and Restaurant Reporter, the west’s oldest hotel magazine.

But by this time my father had had enough of job-related separation from Sylvia. So around the time of his birthday in 1942 he called her on the phone, telling her, “You know what I want for my birthday? I want you.” The two were married in California, Missouri, on December 14, 1942—the day after my father’s birthday.

In that same year my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., retired from the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company. My uncle, Fred Jr., became president in New York, while my father ran the company’s office in Chicago. But America had just entered World War II, and shortly thereafter my uncle left to serve in the navy. So my father moved his family to New York, where he took over as president of Gretsch.

My father brought the Gretsch Company into the war effort with enthusiasm. Under his supervision Gretsch made thousands of “entertainment kits” for the Red Cross to ship to servicemen overseas. Those kits included harmonicas, ukuleles, and ocarinas. The factory also manufactured non-musical war-related products, including wooden parts for gas masks.

According to Duke Kramer, who served as a Gretsch executive for almost seventy years, “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best . . . and [he had] a genius for constructive counsel. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they had lost their best friend.”

Bill Gretsch and his family, the Christmas before his passing. (I'm the smiling youngster in the center.)

Of course, when my father passed away my mother lost more than her best friend. She lost her husband and the father of her four small children (my sisters—Katherine, Charlotte, and Gretchen—and me). In February of 1950 my mother started working for the Gretsch Company on various projects. The first was an editorial for a music publication, which she wrote on behalf of Fred Gretsch Jr. She also worked on a guitar booklet and a manual for retailers.

A Gretsch Family Portrait. From left Dick, Bill, Bill's wife Sylvia, Fred Sr., and Fred Jr.

With the support of the extended Gretsch family—including my grandfather, my uncle, and their respective families—this extraordinary woman provided a loving and nurturing environment that allowed my sisters and me to pursue our dreams through childhood and into our adult years.

One of my personal dreams was to bring the Gretsch Company back into family ownership after it was sold to the Baldwin Company in 1967. In 1984 I was able to realize that dream—largely through the inspiration I received from the examples of my father and my mother. That, in turn, led me to consider how I might best honor their memories.

Fred Gretsch with University of Michigan Tribute Marching Drum

Throughout the decades in which my father worked at Gretsch—the 1920s, 30s, and 40s—jazz and big band music were the popular styles of the day. But there were also marching bands, concert bands, and other musical organizations, many of which were connected to schools and other educational institutions. My father was a strong believer in the value of music education. In 1946 he personally established a scholarship for a talented clarinet player at the University of Michigan. (In the mid-1950s a complete set of marching drums, finished in the school’s colors, was donated to the Michigan band by the Gretsch Company in honor of my father.)

Since a focus on music education was a large part of my father’s business philosophy, it seemed to me only fitting to memorialize him and my mother in a way that would support that philosophy. With that in mind, several years ago my wife Dinah and I established the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Its mission is to provide financial support for projects that promote music education in a variety of ways.

One of those projects was the construction of the Sylvia and William Gretsch memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College (my own alma mater) near Chicago. This studio is a central element of the extensive music-education program offered at Elmhurst.

More recently, the foundation provided a grant for a five-year program at Georgia Southern University, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Bullock County (Georgia). In this program, GSU students studying to become music teachers actually serve as teachers for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive music lessons.

I think of my father and mother every day. Their lives revolved around music, as does mine. It’s simply a Gretsch family tradition, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

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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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