Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch Drums’

Gretsch Supports AROTR: America’s Largest Beatles Festival

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Bands at Abbey Road on the River played inside the Potomac Ballroom of the Gaylord Convention Center as well as outside on the pier. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

The 2012 Abbey Road on the River festival—held this past August 30-September 3 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland—is America’s largest musical celebration of all things Beatles. This five-day music festival takes place twice each year: In Louisville, Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, and in the Washington, D.C. area over Labor Day weekend. The D.C. festival includes two indoor and four outdoor stages, as well as additional rooms for speakers and film screenings.

The festival had its start in 2002 in Cleveland, Ohio, and then moved to its current locations in 2005. Since the move, Abbey Road on the River has expanded greatly, with an average of over sixty bands annually. Many are full-on tribute acts that strive to recreate as faithfully as possible the sound and image of The Fab Four at various points in their career. Other bands play Beatles music accurately, but don’t dress or act like Beatles. Still others honor the music of Lennon & McCartney and George Harrison without trying to reproduce the Beatles’ sound.

Giving their tribute to The Beatles was Jukebox, from Puerto Rico.

In addition to bands from across the USA, many come from around the world to take part in AROTR. This year’s lineup included The Beatrips (Japan), The Beafore (Germany), All You Need Is Love (Canada), Jukebox (Puerto Rico), and The Day Trippers and The LSB Experience (both from Holland). Altogether it makes for a lot of great entertainment, so it’s not surprising that AROTR draws nearly 30,000 Beatles fans from all over the globe. These fans also enjoy presentations by Beatles-related speakers, discussion panels, film screenings, and the sale of Beatles merchandise.

The drummer for The Beatrips enjoyed the sound of great drumkit provided by Gretsch Drums. Photos: Joshua Yospyn.

AROTR also draws a variety of industry sponsors. In particular, this past weekend’s event benefited from just about as much Gretsch participation as it was possible to receive. There were Gretsch drums on the stages, as well as Gretsch guitars in the hands of many players as a tribute to the instruments that helped George Harrison and John Lennon create their signature sounds.

Fred spent time visiting with AROTR attendees, signing autographs and chatting about the connection between The Beatles and Gretsch guitars. Pictured with Frank Ceresi.

And there was Fred Gretsch himself, on hand to greet Gretsch aficionados, sign autographs, and take part in the popular “Fred & Joe Show.” In tandem with Joe Carducci of Gretsch Guitars, Fred outlined the history of the Gretsch Family and its multi-generational place within the musical instrument industry. And, in keeping with the spirit of the AROTR event, Fred & Joe offered a special “Tribute To George Harrison” feature.

On Saturday, September 1 festival-goers were also given an opportunity to bid at a live auction that offered three great Gretsch guitars from the AROTR private collection. These classic models included a Country Gentleman, a Tennessee Rose, and a George Harrison Signature Duo Jet. Partial proceeds from the auction went to benefit The Desmoid Tumor Foundation and The American Red Cross.

Gretsch Electromatic G5422 TDC Guitar

Gretsch Guitars also donated a beautiful Electromatic G5422 TDC electric guitar in walnut stain to be raffled off on Saturday in support of the Red Cross. Later that evening Gretsch Guitars sponsored the Love Album Live concert, featuring All You Need Is Love, Britbeat, and The Newbees.

The mission statement of the Abbey Road on the River festival states: “Because John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr made the world a happier place, we promise to extend their vision by creating a welcoming and carefree environment for their fans to come together with friends and family to experience their gift of music, written and performed with peace, love, and non-violence at its heart. We further pledge to emulate their gentleness and compassion, and as John and George lived on their own terms, so too, do Paul and Ringo continue to live in good health and communicate their unique talents and love for humanity. It is with great respect and gratitude that we celebrate their music and
the spirit that continues to bring us all together. In their names, we pledge to have fun.”

There’s no doubt that this year’s AROTR Labor Day Weekend event lived up to that pledge.

The next Abbey Road On The River festival will be held from Thursday, May 23 through Monday, May 27, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. For more information visit abbeyroadontheriver.com.

For more information on Gretsch history as well as Gretsch guitars and drums, visit gretsch.com.

More event photos:

Fred Gretsch with John Martellaro, winner of the Gretsch George Harrison Signature Duo Jet.

The same Gretsch kit helped CB Radio’s drummer entertain the ballroom crowd. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

Fred Gretsch (at microphone) and Joe Carducci offered their popular “Fred & Joe Show” historical presentation.

Yet another Gretsch kit powered the Steve Sizemore Group’s set on the AROTR pier stage. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

Tim Seiwert of the Cincinnati-based rock band The Newbees created a left-handed version of the Gretsch kit during the band’s “All Together Now” performance. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

.

Additional photos from the event can be seen in this PHOTO GALLERY.

.

.

Spotlight: Gretsch Brooklyn Metal Snares

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

From the Gretsch Drums website:

Gretsch Brooklyn series metal snare drums add another professional and distinctive voice to the Gretsch snare line up. The straight-sided chrome over brass shell (with Gretsch center knurl pattern) is offered in two sizes, 5×14 (8 lug) and 6.5×14 (10 lug). Also offered is a hammered chrome over brass shell in 6.5×14 (10 lug). All shells include Gretsch “302” 3mm/double-flanged hoops, Lightning throw off and butt plate, “Snap-in” drum key holder, 20-strand snare wire and Gretsch Permatone drum heads. The brass shells resonate with classic, musical tones and are extremely versatile. The “302” hoops provide a timbre that is more open and ambient than traditional Gretsch die-cast hoops.

Models:

GB4160

5×14 8 Lug Chrome over Brass Snare Drum

SHELL: Rolled 1.1mm brass with center knurl pattern
HEADS: Permatone coated batter with white sound dot and clear snare-side heads
FINISH: Chrome with chrome hardware
HOOPS: Gretsch “302” 3mm, double flanged
THROW-OFF: Lightning Throw-off/Butt plate
SNARE STRANDS: 20 Strand
FEATURES: Snap-in key holder

GB4164

6.5×14 10 Lug Chrome over Brass Snare Drum

SHELL: Rolled 1.1mm brass with center knurl pattern
HEADS: Permatone coated batter with white sound dot and clear snare-side heads
FINISH: Chrome with chrome hardware
HOOPS: Gretsch “302” 3mm, double flanged
THROW-OFF: Lightning Throw-off/Butt plat
SNARE STRANDS: 20 Strand
FEATURES: Snap-in key holder

GB4164HB

6.5×14 10 Lug Hammered Chrome over Brass Snare Drum

SHELL: Rolled 1.1mm brass with center knurl pattern
HEADS: Permatone coated batter with white sound dot and clear snare-side heads
FINISH: Chrome with chrome hardware
HOOPS: Gretsch “302” 3mm, double flanged
THROW-OFF: Lightning Throw-off/Butt plate
SNARE STRANDS: 20 Strand
FEATURES: Snap-in key holder

For more details, visit Gretsch Drums.

.

.

Spotlight: Gretsch Renown Purewood Hickory

Monday, August 6th, 2012

From the Gretsch Drums website:

The Gretsch Renown Purewood Limited series continues in 2012 with American hickory wood. Highly prized for its natural strength and density, hickory is a natural extension for the Purewood series. Tonal properties for the bass drum feature tremendous low end combined with punchy attack. Tom tones have an emphasis on the higher and lower frequencies to produce a focused, lively and controlled sound. The hardness of Hickory produces a solid wood tone and crack in the snare while retaining sensitivity for all styles of playing. Shell interiors are finished naturally and shell exteriors are finished in natural gloss lacquer to enhance the unique visual characteristics of hickory. Production is limited to 35 pieces of each configuration.

Features:

100% American Hickory
Die-cast Hoops
30-degree bearing edges
Natural gloss with natural shell interior

For more information including additional photos, specs, and how to buy, visit the Gretsch Drums website.

.

.

Gretsch Helps Celebrate Sam Ulano’s Birthday

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Teaching Legend Is Going Strong At Ninety-Two

Sam Ulano

The New York City drumming community came together this past July 10 to honor and enjoy the wit and wisdom of drum teacher and icon Sam Ulano. The event—hosted by DrumSummit.com’s Peter Greco and held at Sam Ash Music on 48th Street—combined a clinic by Sam with a celebration of his August 12 birthday, when he’ll turn ninety-two.

With sixty years as a performer and teacher to his credit, Sam is equally revered and controversial. Besides his private teaching practice, the drum studio he founded in the 1950s 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’s released literally dozens of self-produced books and CDs, along with over 2,500 pamphlets that he calls “Foldys.”

Sam’s publications are almost comically “lo-fi” in production values, but they’re nonetheless high in informational content. In what is perhaps his most controversial teaching philosophy, Sam denounces rudiments as having nothing to do with playing a drumset. Instead, Sam focuses 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 his clinic. “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.”

Sam’s philosophy may not be for everyone, but it’s been enough for some pretty stellar former students including Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Tony “Thunder” Smith, Allen Schwartzberg, and Art Taylor. These drummers—and dozens like them—have benefited from Sam’s major premise, which is 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.

Another controversial recommendation from Sam is regular practicing with metal sticks to improve hand and arm strength. If metal sticks aren’t available, short lengths of copper pipe will do, as Sam demonstrated at his clinic. “If I hadn’t practiced with metal sticks all these years,” he said, “there’s no way I could still be playing at ninety-two years old.”

And play he does. Sam still gigs regularly in Manhattan clubs, focusing primarily on swing and Dixieland music. To demonstrate his playing skills, Sam was accompanied at his clinic by keyboardist Les Kurtz, saxophonist Tom Olin, and vocalists Michelle Zelkin and Diana Nikolos.

ENJOY A SHORT VIDEO OF THE SKILLFUL SAM ULANO IN ACTION

The combined clinic/birthday celebration at Sam Ash Music drew many of Sam’s current and former students, as well as professional drummers who cite Sam as an inspiration. Key among those was veteran TV and Broadway drummer Ray Marchica, who’s currently in his eighth year of drumming for the Broadway production of Mamma Mia. Ray told the audience that he’d been inspired to play the drums as a youngster, after seeing Sam perform one of his “drum stories” at a clinic presented at Ray’s elementary school.

Sam has proudly played Gretsch drums since 1947—quite possibly making him the oldest and longest-running Gretsch drummer currently active. To commemorate this long association, Dinah and Fred Gretsch sent a personal birthday card to Sam, offering the good wishes of everyone at the Gretsch Company. Dinah and Fred also sent a number of souvenir Gretsch coin banks as giveaways. The banks are reproductions of models that date back more than seventy-five years to the Great Depression, when Gretsch encouraged people to save in order to purchase musical instruments.

Also on hand was Modern Drummer magazine’s ad director Bob Berenson. Bob informed the audience that Sam’s feature in the September 2011 MD had helped to make that issue a quick and total sellout.

In addition to Gretsch Drums, Sam’s clinic was co-sponsored by Sabian Cymbals, Remo Heads, Sam Ash Music, and DrumSummit.com. For more information on Sam, visit samulano.com.

SAM ULANO SHARES HIS PHILOSOPHY ON RUDIMENTS AND A HINT ABOUT DRUM SOLOS

.

.

The Great Gretsch Jazz Drummers Summit of 1973

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

An Audio Portrait of Four Percussive Legends

by Fred Gretsch

On July 7, 1973 the Gretsch Drum Company sponsored a unique musical event: A live concert that brought together a bevy of the company’s top artists. This “summit” of Great Gretsch Drummers featured the cream of the jazz drumming world.

The host for this historic event was promoter/producer George Wein, who has been called “the most famous jazz impresario” and “the most important non-player” in jazz history. Among his many accomplishments, Wein founded the Newport Jazz Festival—probably the best-known jazz festival in America—as well as the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles and the  New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But in 1973 Wein was at the Wollman Amphitheater in New York’s Central Park, acting as emcee for the Great Gretsch Drummers summit.

The full roster included performances by virtually all of the top jazz drummers of the day. These included established star Max Roach, the then-young-phenomenon Tony Williams, and the unique drum-and-percussion collective led by Roach called M’Boom. Regrettably, those performances were not captured for posterity.

However, four other Great Gretsch Drummers on the bill were recorded. That stellar group included Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, Freddie Waits, and “Papa” Jo Jones.  Their remarkable presentations have been made available for listening at Wolfgang’s Vault HERE.

ELVIN JONES: FIRE AND PASSION

Elvin Jones

The first recorded performance is by Elvin Jones, who, by 1973, had already set the jazz world on its ear during his six-year stint in the John Coltrane Quartet. In fact, many music critics regard Elvin as the most influential drummer in the history of jazz. His revolutionary multilayered rhythmic approach transformed the drums as a traditional time-keeping instrument, serving as an inspiration for drummers seeking greater improvisational freedom.

Critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Elvin’s significance this way: “His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group.” With this freewheeling approach Elvin helped lay the foundation for the avant-garde and fusion jazz movements.

For his Gretsch Summit performance Elvin begins with a polyrhythmic exploration of the kit. Then he’s joined by Moog synthesizer player Joe Galavant and wah-wah-inflected guitarist Paul Mitsky. Their far-out, futuristic fusion jam—fueled by Elvin’s signature rolling thunder on the kit—is the edgiest and most freewheeling of the day’s performances. At the climax of the jam, Elvin lashes into the toms, driving the electronic mix to Hendrixian heights and prompting emcee George Wein to announce: “Elvin Jones, ladies and gentlemen! Strange things are happening!”

Wein then presents Elvin with his award as #1 drummer in the Down Beat International Critics Poll for 1973. In his unmistakable basso croak, Elvin responds with a gracious speech of acceptance.

MEL LEWIS: TASTE AND MUSICALITY

Mel Lewis

As co-leader of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Lewis was widely recognized for bringing a tasteful, small-group approach to his big-band drumming. In an interview, Mel once described his subtle but highly musical style as “not pushing or pulling, but supporting.”

Mel didn’t lack for technique; he could play at break-neck tempos for lengthy periods and hardly break a sweat. But he was never one for blazing fills around the drums. For him, chops had to do with control of the instrument, a sense of color, and, above all, the ability to swing. “I learned that the power of the drums was in this smooth glide of rhythm,” he once told Stanley Crouch. “It wasn’t the volume.” So Mel wasn’t flashy or loud—just tasteful, and highly musical.

When it came to sound, Mel was a purist. He insisted on playing genuine Turkish-made cymbals, favoring lightweight models that were dark and rich with overtones. His standard setup included a 21″ ride, a 19″ crash-ride, and a 22″ “swish-knocker” with rivets. The sound of these cymbals, combined with the rich, warm sound of his wood-shell Gretsch drums equipped with natural calfskin top heads produced a sonic identity that was uniquely Mel’s.

Mel opens up his Great Gretsch Summit performance slowly, using mallets and sticks to play deliberate strokes on his toms and cymbals. Extending the solo musically as well as rhythmically, he artfully orchestrates a thoughtful and dramatic piece that highlights the melodic potential of the complete drumkit.

FREDDIE WAITS: POWER AND INTENSITY

Freddie Waits

Next up was Freddie Waits. While never the jazz superstar that Elvin Jones was or that Tony Williams would become, Freddie was the embodiment of the solid, in-demand working drummer during the late 1960s and early ’70s. While in college Freddie played blues with Ivory Joe Hunter and Percy Mayfield. Later he became a “house drummer” for Motown Recording Studios in Detroit, where he worked with such legendary artists as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder. (Freddie drummed on Stevie’s first hit Fingertips.)

Freddie entered the jazz scene after moving to New York, where he became a member of the original New York Jazz Sextet. He went on to tour with Ella Fitzgerald, and to work with such other greats as Betty Carter, Donald Byrd, Nancy Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Johnny Hodges.

Freddie also devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the versatile percussion group M’Boom. The ensemble featured Max Roach, Omar Clay, Roy Brooks, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Fred King, and Ray Mantilla, all of whom contributed a tremendously wide range of ideas and influences to the group’s collective percussive identity.

For his part of the Summit, Freddie opens with an audacious eruption on the kit. Employing a take-no-prisoners approach from the outset he dives in headfirst and continues to blaze unabated over the course of eight minutes. Midway through this dynamic percussive deluge Freddie is joined by fellow M’Boom member Joe Chambers on marimba and assorted hand percussion. Together they bring the intensity of the performance to a breathtaking crescendo.

PAPA JO JONES: A SIGNATURE APPROACH

Papa Jo Jones

When Papa Jo Jones took the stage, he was the acknowledged elder statesman among the drummers on the bill—and among jazz drummers worldwide. As one-fourth of the legendary All-American Rhythm Section in the Count Basie band (with Basie on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, and Walter Page on bass) from 1936 through 1948, Papa Jo provided the swinging momentum for that legendary musical organization. In so doing, he established a standard for style and taste on the drums that influenced drummers for generations to come.

More than any other drummer in history, Papa Jo Jones developed the hi-hat into an instrument of great rhythmic and tonal variety. His hi-hat style has been characterized as swinging and driving, but never obtrusive. So it isn’t surprising that Papa Jo’s Great Gretsch Drum Summit solo spot features the hi-hat—only the hi-hat.

According to jazz author and historian Michael Steinman, “Legend has it that the young Tony Williams and the middle-aged Max Roach came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits. Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and ‘washed them all away.’” The sixty-two-year-old drumming great held the crowd spellbound with his myriad of hip approaches to playing his signature instrument.

It’s a shame that these classic performances were not filmed so that we could have a visual as well as an audio record. But if you’re a drummer—or even just a drumming aficionado—it’s really not hard to imagine what it might have been like to witness these Great Gretsch Drummers in action. Just listen…close your eyes . . . and enjoy!

Gretsch Remembers Louie Bellson

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Story reposted from 2009:

Gretsch Salutes Louie Bellson and Gretsch Drums, “Partners in Innovation”

By Fred Gretsch, 4th Generation Drum Maker

Louie Bellson’s career was remarkable for many reasons. In musical terms, few, if any drummers, could match his achievements. He began playing with Ted Fio Rito, and he replaced Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman’s band by the time he was seventeen years old. He performed and recorded with such jazz legends as Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, as well as with great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Mel Torme’, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, and Tony Bennett. Louie also led his own successful big bands and small groups for more than forty years.

In addition, Louie established himself as a gifted composer. He wrote and arranged more than a thousand tunes, including the drum-feature classic “Skin Deep,” which he made famous with the Ellington orchestra.

Louie was also a legendary clinician and educator. The eternal student himself, he was always eager to share his knowledge and his skills with young drummers.

And on top of everything else, Louie was an innovator. His vision of what a drumset could be literally revolutionized the design of the instrument, blazing a trail that would be followed by generations of creative drummers. And when Louie first sought to turn his vision into reality, he turned to the Gretsch Drum Company.

Bellson Beginnings

Gretsch Advertisement with Louie Bellson and Dick Shanahan

Gretsch Advertisement with Louie Bellson and Dick Shanahan

Louie established his lifelong pattern of constant study and self-improvement at a very early age. Besides taking lessons from the top teachers in his hometown of Moline, Illinois, as well as in Chicago, Louie played regularly with his high school big band. He also kept abreast of what the top bands in the country were playing by studying the records that were sold in his father’s music store.

In 1980, Louie told Modern Drummer author Robyn Flans, “I was aware of all the bands that were coming into the picture, like Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. I was very fortunate to sit in with those guys when they came to town-partly because they’d heard that I’d won the Gene Krupa Drum Contest [Louie won that contest in 1941 at the age of 16], and partly because my friends would yell, ‘Hey! Get my friend up there to play!’”

One such incident proved to be the turning point in Bellson’s career. When Ted Fio Rito’s band came into town, seventeen-year-old Louie sat in with the band. Fio Rito’s drummer was leaving, and the bandleader offered Louie a job on the spot. Louie opted to finish high school first, but joined the band immediately after graduating. His first job was in California, at the Florentine Gardens on Hollywood Boulevard, in 1942.

Three months later Benny Goodman heard Louie playing with Fio Rito’s band, and invited the youngster to audition for him. The next day Louie went to Paramount Studios, where Benny was doing a movie, and sat in with the Goodman Sextet. After playing only one number, Louie had the job. The seventeen-year-old wunderkind quickly established himself as a drummer to watch-no small feat considering that he was following in the footsteps of Gene Krupa.

After a year with Goodman, Louie was called into service in World War II. He was sent to the Walter Reed Hospital Annex in Washington, D.C., which had a large orchestra, a concert band, and a jazz band. These bands performed for wounded soldiers being treated at the hospital. After serving three years in the Army, Louie returned to Ted Fio Rito’s band for three months. That three-month period saw yet another historic development in Louie’s career.

It Started as an Idea

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit

Louie’s return to the Ted Fio Rito band in 1946 marked his first use of two bass drums. But he’d actually had the idea back in 1938, when he was still in high school. That idea was at least partly prompted by the fact that Louie was completely ambidextrous.

“One thing in the drummer’s favor,” Louie told Robyn Flans in 1980, “is to be able to manipulate the right hand or the left hand equally as well, and vice versa with the legs. I didn’t go out for sports much because they kept me so busy in bands while I was in school. But I did go out for track. I was an exceptionally fast runner, and my track coach, who was also the football coach, said I’d be a great halfback. I couldn’t leave band to do that, but I did fool around some with a football, and I discovered that I could kick with either foot. This caused me to sit down one day and think, ‘How would it be to have another drum over there . . . to still utilize the hi-hat, but have another bass drum?’ So I drew up a design of the double bass drumset.”

When Louie first took his design to various drum companies in 1939 and 1940, they were-to put it mildly-not very receptive. “I was just getting started as a player,” Louie told Robyn Flans in 2004. “When I approached one drum company, they told me, ‘You and Buck Rogers ought to go to the moon. You’re crazy.’”

The Gretsch Connection

It took a few years, but eventually Louie found one drum company that didn’t think he was crazy. In fact, when he approached the Gretsch Company in 1946, their craftsmen took his design as a challenge.

Gretsch’s effort to help Louie realize his vision was spearheaded by drum promotion and sales manager Phil Grant. A former percussionist with the Goldman Band in New York, Grant was also an inventor. He was as knowledgeable about drum construction as he was about drumming.

“Phil Grant was the right man for Gretsch to hire,” Louie Bellson told Chet Falzerano in his book, Gretsch Drums: The Legacy Of That Great Gretsch Sound. “He was a very fine drummer himself, and he was sympathetic to all the artists who were using Gretsch drums. He listened to what all of us had to say, and then he’d ask ‘What can we do to make the drumset better?’”

For his part, Grant had this to say about Bellson: “Louie was a great innovator and an excellent drummer. Regardless of what phase of drumming you were in, you looked up to Louie because he had hands and feet that wouldn’t stop. He was way ahead of his time with that double bass set. Since then, quite a few big band drummers have used two bass drums. But most of them didn’t know why the second one was there. It just looked good.”

A Drum Kit Is Born

Louie Bellson with a later double bass kit

Louie Bellson with a later double bass kit

The kit that Grant and the Gretsch team created with Louie in 1946 featured two 20×20 bass drums, in accordance with Louie’s original concept. But it went further than that. It also featured a unique combination of tom-toms. The center tom was a 26×18 floor tom placed directly in front of the snare drum. Symmetrically mounted on either side were 9×13 and 7×11 toms, with the whole assembly connected and supported on legs. The floor toms were 16×16 and 16×18.

The drums on the kit featured Gretsch’s cross-laminated three-ply shells, with 1/16″-thick veneers of maple on the inside and outside, with a 1/8″-thick middle layer of poplar. Gretsch laminated the plies as they molded the shell, joining them in three different places. This eliminated the need for reinforcing rings, which the craftsmen at Gretsch believed “broke up the sound waves” inside the drum. The thin shells also allowed for a very thin bearing edge, which promoted projection and resonance.

Jazz drumming great Charlie Persip was a contemporary of Louie Bellson’s, though a few years younger. Commenting on the construction of Gretsch drums in Chet Falzerano’s book, he said, “Gretsch really came up with a drum that had the right sound for the music of the day. That’s why everybody went with them. Gretsch toms sang like a mockingbird.”

The Kit on Stage

Louie Bellson with Duke Ellington
Louie Bellson with Duke Ellington

Louie’s futuristic configuration would be right at home on many stages today. But it didn’t catch on immediately in the big band era. Louie debuted the kit with Ted Fio Rito’s band in 1946, but the bandleader didn’t choose to feature it. And Benny Goodman, with whom Louie next worked, preferred a more standard drum kit. But when Louie joined the Tommy Dorsey orchestra in 1947, things were different.

“Tommy made a big thing out of the kit,” Louie told Robyn Flans, “because Tommy liked drummers. He had had Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and he wanted a guy who could swing with the band and yet be a soloist. When he saw my two-bass drum idea, he flipped out. We came up with the idea of a revolving platform. Tommy would press a button and the platform would go around in the middle of my solo. That way, people could see and understand what I was doing.”

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. Over those years Louie would continue to develop as a drum superstar, and his drum kit would continue to evolve. When he played with Duke Ellington, the bass drums were bigger, and the toms were fewer. By the advent of the bebop era in the early 1950s, the bass drums were smaller, and the toms fewer still. But he always retained the double bass design that had become his trademark.

“I had a wonderful relationship with Gretsch,” Louie told Chet Falzerano. “Twenty years, that’s a long time! Their drums always had a great sound.”

A Musical Philosophy

Speaking with Robyn Flans in 1986, Louie summed up his philosophy regarding the “big kit” design that he maintained throughout his career. “I always go by what I’m doing musically,” he said. “If I hear something, then I want to put it in.”

In 1991 Louie reminisced a bit, this time with Modern Drummer author Rick Mattingly. “When Buddy Rich first saw my 1946 set, with all those drums surrounding me, he looked at me and made a classic remark. He had his hand on his chin, like a Jack Benny pose, and he said, ‘Are you having a baby?’ But I told Buddy, ‘You know, I use all this stuff.’”

Truer words were never spoken.

Charlie Watts Will Boogie Down In New York This Weekend

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

New York City music fans, you’re in for a treat!  Great Gretsch drummer Charlie Watts is coming to town with the unique jazz instrumental group The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie. The band gets its moniker from the first-name initials of its members: pianists Axel Zwingenberger and Ben Waters, drummer Charlie Watts, and bassist Dave Green.

The band will be appearing Thursday, June 28 at Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center, in Damrosch Park, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza. Ticket info is available at  www.midsummernightswing.org and www.lincolncenter.org. They’ll then do a four-night stand at New York’s famed Iridium jazz club, running from Friday, June 29 through Monday, July 2, with two shows each night. The Iridium is at 1650 Broadway (at 51st Street). Ticket info for the shows there is available by phone at   (212) 582-2121, or at www.theiridium.com.

Boogie woogie music has been fascinating audiences with its youthful freshness for more than 100 years, making it uniquely appealing to new generations of enthusiastic musicians. But there’s more to it than that: Boogie woogie is one of the most important roots of modern popular music—especially rock ‘n’ roll. Charlie Watts himself has mentioned boogie woogie as a foundation of the Rolling Stones’ music.

Alex Zwingenberger is the key figure of the boogie woogie revival. He and his bandmates toured Europe this past March. They played several dates in Germany and in Austria, along with a memorable show at London’s Pizza Express Soho. Regarding that show, Times critic Clive Davis raved, “Jazz lover Charlie Watts looked more than happy to be sandwiched between the pianos of his old friend (and German boogiemeister) Axel Zwingenberger and our own Ben Waters. Watts has rightly won praise for his previous forays into bebop, but the visceral roar of a boogie-woogie riff is even more intoxicating.”

Charlie Watts with Fred Gretsch in Vienna

My wife Dinah and I had the great pleasure of visiting with Charlie and the band prior to one of their performances at the Weiner Metropole in Vienna. Charlie and I chatted about the 125th Anniversary Gretsch poster, and we had a good time looking at old Gretsch photos and catalogs dating back to 1912. Charlie then mentioned that he planned to call noted vintage drum dealer Steve Maxwell to arrange for a loaner Gretsch kit for the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie’s New York City dates. So look for that kit if you go to one of the group’s shows.

And by the way, if you do plan to go, get your tickets right away. When I saw the band play in Vienna, the club was literally packed with boogie woogie fans.  I’ve no doubt it’ll be the same in New York!

Gretsch Day 2012 at Street Sounds in Brooklyn

Friday, June 1st, 2012

A Huge Success!

Street Sounds and Gretsch guitars teamed up once again to present the Gretsch Fred & Joe Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival event on Saturday, June 2, 2012, from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Street Sounds music store on 9206 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

The free event featured top-notch musical performances beginning with Foxy Studs, followed by The Octanes, Paul Pigat and Cousin Harley, Nik & Sam, and headliners, the pop rock quartet Fountains of Wayne.

Fred Gretsch and Gretsch Guitars product specialist Joe Carducci presented their popular “Fred & Joe Show” and OK Go frontman Damian Kulash kicked off the evening by signing autographs for fans.  In addition, guests were treated to a hands-on guitar clinic with Gretsch Guitars Custom Shop Master Builder, Stephen Stern, as well as the opportunity to meet Gretsch Girl Kim Falcon who graciously signed her new posters for attendees.

During the evening two lucky attendees won guitars including a Gretsch Double Jet with Bigsby and a Chet Atkins Country Gentleman 12-String.  Other prizes were awarded as well.

A special thank-you to The GretschPages for streaming the event, and to Rocky and his fantastic team at Street Sounds.

Check out images from the evening below:

Street Sounds Brooklyn--Rocky & Gretsch families baked Gretsch collector cookies for event. First-come, first-served!

Fred Gretsch Gets Damian Kulash's Autograph for Granddaughters!

Gretsch Master Builder Stephen Stern Talks Gretsch Guitars

Stephen Stern Knows His Stuff

Fred & Joe - What a Team!

The Foxy Studs Kicked Off the Evening's Live Music

The Foxy Studs

Joe Introduces Our Lovely Gretsch Girl Kim Falcon

Adam Burchfield of The Octanes

The Octanes

Paul Pigat & Cousin Harley

Paul Pigat Working His Guitar Magic

Nik & Sam

Fred Gretsch with Nik & Sam

Toni from Brooklyn Wins a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman 12-String Guitar!!

Headliners Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne

Thanks Everyone! See You Next Year!