Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch’

Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Matt Sorum: The Quintessential Rocker

by Fred Gretsch

Look in the dictionary under “rock drummer” and you’re likely to see a picture of Matt Sorum. With a long and stellar career playing with a “who’s who” of bands and artists, Matt literally defines the genre.

Born in Orange County, California in 1960, Matt gravitated to the drums early. By the age of fourteen he was playing with his own band at The Whisky-A-Go-Go and Crazy Horse West in Los Angeles, alongside the likes of Van Halen and Devo. He went on to develop his skills, supporting artists like Belinda Carlisle (of the Go-Gos), Shaun Cassidy, and Solomon Burke. This earned him a reputation as a first-call drummer for virtually any gig…which, in turn, brought him in contact with singer/songwriter Tori Amos. Matt and Tori formed a synthpop group humorously dubbed Y Kant Tori Read. Two years later the group signed with Atlantic records. Tori went solo shortly thereafter, but the effort brought Matt into the world of recording…and he hasn’t looked back since.

In 1989 Matt joined The Cult to tour in support of their fourth studio album, Sonic Temple. On the final show of that tour, Matt was spotted by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan. He was invited to join GN’R in 1990, forming what subsequently became one of the most powerful and enduring rhythm sections in rock.

Matt’s tenure with GN’R lasted seven years, during which he recorded the massively successful albums Use Your Illusion I and II (1991) and The Spaghetti Incident? (1993). He also was part of two side projects: Slash’s Snakepit and Neurotic Outsiders. (Matt’s work with Guns N’ Roses earned him induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2012.)

In 2001, Matt rejoined The Cult to perform on their reunion album, Beyond Good and Evil (2001) and on the tour that followed. Then in 2002 he re-united with Slash and Duff in the hard rock Grammy Award-winning supergroup Velvet Revolver (which also included guitarist Dave Kushner and former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland.) The band released two successful studio albums: Contraband (2004) and Libertad (2007) and became a sensation at music festivals around the world.

Even with all the craziness of touring with Velvet Revolver, Matt found the time to record his first solo record, Hollywood Zen—which featured him singing lead as well as playing guitar and drums. On the live drumming front, he joined what critics dubbed “LA’s coolest cover band”: Camp Freddy, with Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro. That band’s shows became famous for guest appearances including Ozzy Osbourne, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Juliette Lewis, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.

Matt enjoyed the “band with guests” format so much that in 2012 he founded a project initially dubbed the Rock N Roll All-Stars, but ultimately named Kings of Chaos. The group’s core lineup includes Matt’s former GN’R bandmates Duff McKagan on bass and Gilby Clarke on guitar, then features a revolving lineup of members of Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Extreme, ZZ Top, and more. Since 2012 the band has played shows in Australia, South Africa, and Central America as well as the US.

Most recently Matt has been touring as part of the Hollywood Vampires—yet another supergroup, this time featuring Alice Cooper (vocals), Joe Perry (of Aerosmith; lead guitar), Tommy Henricksen and Johnny Depp (rhythm guitar/vocals), Robert DeLeo (of Stone Temple Pilots; bass), and Bruce Witkin (keyboards/vocals).

In addition to all of his musical endeavors, Matt is an active supporter of animal-rights causes, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), AnimalsAsia, and The Dolphin Project. In a recent YouTube post Matt said, “My main stance is against [animal] abuse and wildlife in captivity. I care for all animals, but I focus on things I can bring attention to and hopefully help solve some of the issues. I can’t preach my particular beliefs, but what I can do is stand [against] certain situations that are blatantly barbaric practices, like circuses, whale and dolphin entertainment, and poaching.”

Matt is also a co-founder of Adopt the Arts whose mission is to bring together well-known artists, public figures, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and the general public to save the arts in America’s public schools.

Matt is a relatively new member of the Gretsch roster of drum artists. But considering his talent, his impressive musical credits, and his involvement in so many worthy social causes, we’re proud to welcome him into the family!

Video Clips

Matt’s trademark hard-rock groove is displayed on the Rolling Stones classic “Brown Sugar,” performed with the Hollywood Vampires at the Rock In Rio festival in 2015.

Playing with Velvet Revolver at a huge outdoor music festival in Germany in 2007.

Matt shows a slightly different side of his playing—but still with his trademark rock drive—playing in the studio with the Buddy Rich Big Band for the Burnin’ For Buddy album. The song is “Beulah Witch.”

Matt discusses his drumkit setups over the years.

Stay connected with Matt via his various social media channels:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

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The Gretsch Drumkit That Made Olympic History

Monday, August 8th, 2016

By Fred Gretsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Gretsch and Alvino Bennett in 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young Thumbs Keep Chet Atkins’ Music and Legacy Alive

Monday, August 1st, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

There was a noticeable and refreshing youth movement at this year’s 32nd annual CAAS (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society) Convention held July 13-16 in Nashville. According to John Knowles CGP, there was one young performer at last year’s event, but this year’s lineup expanded to more than eight young performers on stage – some not even old enough to drive.

Many of these young men and women, who came from all over the U.S. – as well as Denmark, New Zealand, and Japan – visited the Gretsch Room to plug in and play a Gretsch Chet Atkins model guitar. Not only was I impressed with their mastery of Chet’s fingerstyle playing technique, I was also impressed by their deep knowledge of Chet Atkins’ music and legacy. Many of them even include Chet quotes on their business cards and websites.

Parker Hastings

One Young Thumb who caught my eye and ear was Parker Hastings from Richmond, Kentucky. Parker, who turned 16 during the CAAS event, has won not one, but two Gretsch guitars through the International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Competition, which is held each year in Powderly, Kentucky. In 2014, he was the youngest person to be crowned Grand Champion, winning both traditional and contemporary categories, and won a Chet Atkins 6120 electric guitar. Parker was also inducted into the National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame in 2014 by winning their “Horizon Award” and recently received their “Thumbpicker of the Year” Award in 2015. He has played at numerous Chet Atkins Tributes and recently performed a fingerstyle guitar demonstration with John Knowles at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that explored the acoustic and electric guitar styles of Chet Atkins. (Read a special Gretsch interview conducted with Parker during the CAAS event. I know you’ll be impressed with this rising young guitar star.)

Katelyn Prieboy

Another Young Thumb, 19-year-old Katelyn Prieboy, performed for the first time at CAAS and delivered an impressive “Chet Set” on her Gretsch 6120. The Belmont University student was inspired to play the guitar by Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley. Paisley led her to discover Garth Brooks, whose duets with Steve Wariner opened her eyes to Steve’s music and, according to Katelyn, used Google and YouTube to discover this guy named Chet that Steve Wariner was always talking about. Once Katelyn found her way to Chet Atkins, she was hooked. She got her first thumbpick and a Gretsch guitar, because she says that’s the way to get Chet’s tone, and has been working the past four to five years to learn Chet’s technique and style.

So, why the increase of young guitar players performing at CAAS this year? You can start with two of Chet’s CGP award recipients: John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel. In an effort to fill the CAAS pipeline with young, teenage pickers and introduce them to the music of Chet Atkins, they formed the Young Thumbs group. Through a dedicated Facebook page, social media, and events like CAAS, these young musicians can meet and connect with other young guitarists. It was cool seeing these Young Thumbs socializing, jamming, and exchanging guitar licks and tips in the hotel lobby over the four-day event. Chet would’ve loved seeing that.

Kirby Easler

In addition to talented teenagers, there were plenty of young “twenty-something” performers that impressed me as well, including Kirby Easler, Brooks Robertson, Dan Bankhurst, and my and Dinah’s friend, Joe Robinson, who showed up with his Gretsch Country Gentleman and wowed the audience with a terrific 45-minute set. While in Nashville, Joe also participated in the Gretsch Sounds/Guitar Pull performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Joe was onstage with Tommy Emmanuel (playing Chet’s famous “Dark Eyes” prototype Gretsch guitar), fingerstyle legend Eddie Pennington, and Striking Matches, the impressive guitar duo of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman. The artists performed a superb mix of Chet songs, thumbpicking classics, and fresh, original songs. It was a classy way to bring the “American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection” exhibit to a close.

Joe Robinson

All told, it was a great week in Nashville for fans of Chet Atkins and Gretsch guitars. I believe Chet would be pleased that his music and fingerpicking style of guitar is being passed down to so many young, talented players today. He would also be happy that many of his friends – especially John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel – are investing so much of their time to mentor, guide, and help these young artists succeed. After all, Chet did the same for John and Tommy years ago. They obviously learned from the best and are now “paying it forward” to the next generation of guitar players. That’s how Chet would want it.

Evan Twitty

Tanner Duckworth

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Six Degrees of Separation–Gretsch Style!

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Question: What does a nearly century-old guitar have to do with a college in the Chicago area, a country music artist from New York, and a classic building in Williamsburg?

Answer: More than you might think.

In a classic example of “six degrees of separation,” a Rex brand “parlour guitar” made in the early 1900s was recently purchased at an estate sale. Parlour guitars” were affordable models designed for personal use in the days when families played music at home for recreational purposes.

Rex Parlour Guitar

Rex Guitar Headstock

Rex guitars were originally made in the Gretsch Musical Instruments factory at 60 Broadway, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and distributed by the Gretsch Company from the early 1900s through the late 1930s.  The Gretsch Company was a fixture in Brooklyn from 1883 until it was sold in 1967. Though the factory is no longer there, the Gretsch building still is. Currently housing some pretty upscale condos, the building is celebrating its centennial this year.

Gretsch Catalog Page From Early 1900s Catalog

Gretsch Factory Building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn

The buyer of this Rex parlour guitar was Mark Vincent Sica, who is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist in the New York City-based country music band Nashville Attitude. In 2015 Nashville Attitude performed at the Street Sounds guitar store in Brooklyn, at the store’s annual Gretsch Day event. (Street Sounds, owned by Rocky Schiano, is America’s largest retailer of Gretsch guitars, and Mark Vincent Sica is a Gretsch guitar artist.) That particular year’s Gretsch Day had a special theme: celebrating Fred Gretsch’s 50th year in the musical instrument business. Fred is the fourth-generation president of the Gretsch Company, which was founded in Brooklyn in 1883.

Nashville Attitude's Mark Vincent Sica

Fred Gretsch & Rocky Schiano in 2015

Fred Gretsch is a 1971 graduate of Elmhurst College, which is located in the suburbs of Chicago. This past May he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the college in recognition of his and his family’s long-time generous support of Elmhurst’s music and music business programs, as well as the annual high-school band competition portion of the Elmhurst Jazz Festival.

Fred Gretsch Elmhurst Commencement 2016

But Fred Gretsch isn’t the only Elmhurst alum to feature in this little story. A gentleman by the name of Edward Paetzold graduated from the college in 1918, some ninety-eight years ago. (Possibly around the same time that Mark Vincent Sica’s guitar was made in the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn.)

Edward Paetzold 1918

Elmhurst Commencement 1918

Edward Paetzold is the grandfather of a lovely lady named Lynne Riordan—who happens to be married to a New York-based vocalist and guitarist by the name of…wait for it…Mark Vincent Sica.

And this entire story came to light this past June 4, when Mark and Lynne attended the 2016 Gretsch Day at Street Sounds in Brooklyn, and related the tale to Fred Gretsch himself.

You can’t make this stuff up!

Gretsch Day at StreetSounds 2016

Fred Gretsch at StreetSounds Event

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Chet Atkins’ Little Black Book (of Songs)

Monday, June 27th, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

From the outside, it looks like an everyday, ordinary pocket-sized memo book. The kind you can still buy at any office supply store. Its black leather cover is worn around the edges and it’s scuffed from years of being put in coat pockets, briefcases, suitcases – and even guitar cases. Just like the man who bought it, the book’s cover is understated and unassuming. But once opened, you’re given a fascinating glimpse into the musical journey of the book’s original owner: Chet Atkins.

Chet bought this memo book in 1950 when he played with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters act on KWTO, a radio station in Springfield, Missouri. You see “Chester A. Atkins, Feb. 12, 1950, Springfield” written in pencil on the first page. Chet started out using this book to select songs for the daily morning radio show, and the many public appearances Chet and the Carter family made across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

When Chet first created his list, the songs were typed on loose-leaf paper and organized in alphabetical order. Many included the songwriter and if it was licensed through BMI or ASCAP. As new songs were added, Chet wrote them down by hand with whatever ink pen or pencil he had on him at the time. Some of the songs were written neatly, others hurriedly, and some included the key they were played in. It’s also heartwarming to see several scribbled pencil drawings throughout the book made by Chet’s young daughter, Merle.

“Caravan” and “Country Gentleman” were two popular songs Chet added; young daughter, Merle, made the pencil drawing. Photo by Ron Denny.

In addition to being a master guitarist, Chet was famous for the vast number of songs and song styles he could play. There are 475 songs listed in this book alone. 475! And they include a wide range of genres: classical, blues, country, ragtime, bluegrass, pop, and even Spanish-influenced. It’s mind blowing.

It’s also a treat seeing songs listed that played a part in launching the successful Gretsch – Chet Atkins guitar endorsement in the mid-1950s. “Mr. Sandman” and “Silver Bell,” two instrumental hit singles from 1955, were hand-written in the book along with “Country Gentleman,” a signature song that became both Chet’s nickname and the name of his top-of-the-line Gretsch guitar model introduced in 1958.

You also recognize dozens of songs in the book that made their way onto Chet’s RCA Victor albums of the 1950s and early 1960s. These songs would have been recorded on a variety of Gretsch Chet Atkins Model guitars built at our Brooklyn factory: 6120s, prototype 6120s custom-built for Chet, and, of course, his iconic 1959 Country Gentleman, considered the most recorded guitar in music history.

Chet liked surprising his friends with little gifts and tokens of appreciation, and no one was more surprised than his longtime bandleader and confidant, Paul Yandell, at the 1996 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. After awarding John Knowles with a CGP (Certified Guitar Player) Award, Chet pulled the black book out of a hat, which had been placed on a stool onstage, and presented it to an unsuspecting Paul.

Paul’s wife, Marie, and son, Micah, have been friends of mine for years, and shared that Paul had no knowledge of the song book until Chet gave it to him and told him the story behind it. When Paul got home that night, he sat down and looked through the book page-by-page, astonished at all the songs Chet had played through the years.

Marie also shared that the book was a sentimental treasure to Paul, and felt Chet gave it to her husband in appreciation of the deep friendship the two guitarists had formed from playing together for more than 20 years. Micah added that it represented the bond, respect, and love his father and Chet had for each other. They were as close as two brothers, and his father always looked up to Chet and considered him a father figure.

Chet Atkins and Paul Yandell performing together in 1979.

The book is an interesting diary of the most important decade in Chet Atkins’ musical career. In the summer of 1950, just a few months after creating his song book, Chet was lured to Nashville and never looked back. In the 10 years that followed, Chet established himself as a successful recording artist, producer, and record executive; created the sophisticated “Nashville Sound;” and had his name on a popular line of Gretsch guitars. He also earned the nickname of “Mr. Guitar.”

Chet influenced and inspired thousands of young guitarists. In fact one of the songs Chet typed in the book, “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” was heard on the radio one night by a young guitarist in Kentucky. Chet’s song changed the teenager’s life, and he became obsessed with Chet’s trademark fingerpicking style and bought as many Chet Atkins records as he could afford. The name of that Kentucky teenager was Paul Yandell.

How fitting that 40 years later, Chet would entrust Paul with his old song book which included not only “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” but dozens of other songs Chet and Paul had performed together for decades. What a gesture of friendship and love to the man Chet described as not only a great guitar player, but also someone who knew everything Chet had done and could do it better. Classic Chet.

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Darrel Higham: Rockabilly Brit

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Darrel Higham.

The recent Gretsch Day at Street Sounds in Brooklyn was made particularly special by the headlining appearance of rockabilly guitarist and singer Darrel Higham. While all of the other acts on the day’s roster were based in the New York City area, Darrel came all the way from the UK to entertain the crowd. So how did a native of Bedford, England get involved in a decidedly American style of music like rockabilly?

“It goes back to when I was a child in the mid-’70s,” Darrel replies, “flipping through my mom and dad’s record collection.  I discovered an album called Singing To My Baby by a singer and guitarist named Eddie Cochran.  It was the only album released during his lifetime. The front cover had two head shots of Eddie, and between them a picture of him holding this beautiful orange guitar—a Gretsch 6120. I fell in love with the guitar. From that moment onwards I grew up wanting to be Eddie Cochran. And thirty-six years later I still have the same feeling.”

Darrel had the look, the feel, and—most importantly—the authentic rockabilly sound. He credited a large part of that authenticity to the great sound of his Gretsch guitars.

Rockabilly was a pioneering style of the 1950s that influenced every genre of rock that came after. But it’s not exactly at the forefront of popular music today in terms of current recordings and radio airplay. Where does Darrel perform, and how much opportunity does he have to be a torchbearer for the style?

“I’ve been playing since I was about fourteen years old,” says Darrel.  “I’ve always been able to keep my head above water by playing professionally, which I consider a blessing. I’ve toured the world, and I’ve met some fantastic people through being a musician—and through my love of Eddie Cochran and rockabilly and Gretsch guitars.

“Rockabilly is a form of music that—once it left the southern states of America and spread around the world—had a profound effect on young musicians wherever they heard it. Of course those musicians then had their own interpretations of it. So now there are different styles of rockabilly depending on what countries they’re emanating from. There’s British rockabilly, Japanese rockabilly…German…French, and so on. Everyone plays it the way they hear it.

“The fact is,” Darrel continues, “rockabilly has morphed into something bigger over the years. It’s like any form of music: It goes through phases. Sometimes it modernizes, and then it harks back to its roots and perhaps regresses. Rockabilly is, essentially, a retro music. But when contemporary musicians experiment with it, it can be very progressive. We have guitar players like Brian Setzer, Reverend Horton Heat, and Paul Pigat—who can do such wonderful things with the music. Players from other genres will hear someone like Brian or Paul and think, ‘My goodness, rockabilly is to be taken seriously.’”

How did Darrel connect with the Gretsch company as an artist endorser?

Fred Gretsch was pleased to have UK rockabilly star Darrel Higham headlining Gretsch Day 2016.

“I bought my first Gretsch guitar in 1989, when I was nineteen years old,” Darrel explains. “I played that on everything I did until it got stolen in the late ’90s. I went through a brief period of not using Gretsch guitars, and then I went back to them—and it just felt like I was home again.

“Starting in 2008 I was working with my wife, Imelda May. We were doing a lot of TV and radio appearances. I was using Gretsch guitars exclusively, and I just felt that with what we were doing I might be able to contribute in some way to the brand. So I wrote to [Gretsch Guitars national sales manager] Joe Carducci. He put me in touch with the Gretsch people in London, and it went from there. I’d already bought a Black Falcon, and I had a 6120 Custom Shop model. So I basically had the guitars I needed, and I was using them on everything I was doing.”

Darrel concludes by saying, “Playing a guitar and being a musician is no different from being an athlete. It’s all about confidence. If you have confidence in the instrument that you’re playing and you feel that you can play to the best of your ability with that instrument…that’s half the battle. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re walking onto; doesn’t matter how many people you’re playing for…ten, twenty, two hundred, two thousand, ten thousand. And I’ve played in front of all of those numbers in my career. As long as I’ve got my 6120 with me, I feel like I can get away with it. I’m armed and dangerous.”

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Gretsch Day 2016 At Street Sounds

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

A very special event took place in Brooklyn, New York on June 4: the annual Gretsch Day at Street Sounds. Located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn (and touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

A large section of the wall at Street Sounds was devoted to a display of Gretsch Custom Shop guitars—each one a unique creation.

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, which is based in Corona, California. The director of the Custom Shop, master guitar builder Stephen Stern, was on hand to describe some of the unique models on display. Meanwhile a video program on-screen throughout the day showcased Gretsch guitar artists Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian Setzer, Stephen Stills, and many others.

After saying hello to the assembled audience, Rocky Schiano then introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the long heritage of Gretsch guitars, as exemplified by the Bachman-Gretsch Collection of vintage Gretsch guitars—which is currently on exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. As Fred described, the seventy-five guitars on display provide a visually stunning window into the evolution of the instrument, from the early 1930s to the early 1980s. The full collection of over 300 guitars was amassed in the 1970s and ’80s by Canadian guitarist and songwriter Randy Bachman (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive). It was purchased in 2008 by the Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch Family.

The first act of the day was a highly unusual instrumental trio called Big Lazy.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by a band called Big Lazy. In keeping with the Gretsch Day’s nickname—“Twang-O-Rama”—this Brooklyn-based trio certainly looked like a rockabilly band. For one thing, guitarist Stephen Ulrich (who said he had grown up “in the shadow of the Gretsch factory”) was using a classic 1955 Duo Jet with a decidedly twangy character. But they quickly proved to be something totally different. Their all-instrumental set featured an eclectic mix of movie themes (including “Mission Impossible” in 5/4), middle-eastern melodies, and even an atmospheric rendition of The Beatles’ “Girl.”

State senator Marty Golden (right) congratulated Fred and Dinah Gretsch, then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to promote music-making among young people.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah Gretsch back up as well. Golden then congratulated Fred and Dinah on the Gretsch Company’s long history—especially its connection to Brooklyn. He then presented a plaque to Rocky Schiano saluting his efforts to encourage young people to play music.

Off The Roof is a Brooklyn-based punk-infused contemporary rock band.

The “local Brooklyn” theme continued with the next band on the bill, who were introduced by legendary custom-pickup designer Tom “TV” Jones. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s 20-year-old daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) They offered an energetic set of punk-infused contemporary rock that wowed the audience.

Rocky Schiano was obviously emotional when introducing the next artist—who, he said, “Inspired me to go out and play live.” That artist was John “The Cat” Gatto, former lead guitarist for New York-area rock legends The Good Rats.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

John’s blazing guitar solos were a high point of the group’s performance.

Playing with the support of a very talented Good Rats tribute band from New Jersey, “The Cat” reprised several of the songs made famous by the Rats during their heyday in the 1970s. His guitar solos were a highlight of the set. Then, in a surprise closer, the band finished with a rousing rendition of The Monkee’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

While all this great music was going on, Fred Gretsch was spending most of his time behind the Street Sounds sales counter, where he chatted with fans, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. Quite a few of those were on the backs of Gretsch guitars that were either brought just for the occasion, or purchased in the store that day.

Throughout the day Gretsch Guitars national sales manager Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as ukuleles and guitars. Lots of event attendees went home with smiles on their faces and goodies under their arms.

Todd performed with the able accompaniment of bassist Mike Moody.

For the next artist, Joe Carducci invited Dinah Gretsch up to handle the introduction. Dinah, in turn, enthusiastically cited that artist’s credits, which include six Grammy nominations and a Guinness World Record as “the fastest banjo player on the planet.” This was Todd “Banjo Man” Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation as a speed demon—although at one point he modestly told the audience “I do play slow…sometimes.”

The Michelle Marie trio took things in an entirely different musical direction—heavy on creativity and complex composition.

In a classic example of contrast, Todd Taylor was followed by New York-based progressive jazz guitarist Michelle Marie, playing with her trio. Known for her eclectic style, complex compositions, and impressive technique, Michelle came on with an uncharacteristic opener: A hard-rocking version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” on which Michelle sang lead as well as playing guitar. Then it was on to a series of deep and rhythmically intricate compositions full of time and feel shifts that showcased her drummer and bass player as well as herself.

With the help of two dedicated rockabilly players from New York City, Darrel played a set full of classic Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins tunes—and a few originals, as well.

The 2016 Gretsch Day at Street Sounds closed with an appearance by rockabilly star Darrel Higham, who came all the way from the UK to perform at the day’s event. Relaxed and personable when speaking at the microphone, Darrel was a bundle of fiery energy when playing and singing. With a look, style, and feel directly out of rockabilly originators Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Carl Perkins, Darrel proved that he was the genuine article. He was ably accompanied by a drummer and bass player from the NYC area, and the audience responded to their set with enthusiasm and appreciation.

(Check out this full-length interview with Darrel Higham.)

Joe Carducci concluded Gretsch Day 2016 by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of thanks to Fred and Dinah Gretsch for their ongoing support. A good time was had by all.

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More photos:

This giant “record” adorns the wall at Street Sounds, proclaiming ownership by the Schiano Family.

The irrepressible Joe Carducci served as emcee for the day. Joe is the national sales manager for Gretsch Guitars.

A high-quality Gretsch USA drumkit was provided for use by all of the day’s acts.

Yet another part of the wall featured a collection of beautiful “standard” professional models.

The buyer of the White Falcon guitar on the counter waited three weeks to pick up the guitar just so that Fred Gretsch could personally autograph it.

Rocky Schiano and Stephen Stern detailed this unique “aged” Custom Shop creation.

Joe Cimino (at left) flew all the way from Palm Beach, Florida to attend the Gretsch Day event. To make it even more special, he purchased a Gretsch Electromatic guitar and asked Fred Gretsch to autograph it.

Modern Drummer magazine editor-at-large (and Brooklyn native) Billy Amendola stopped by to say hello to Fred Gretsch.

Legendary guitar pickup-builder Tom “TV” Jones was called up to introduce Off The Roof.

STAY TUNED TO THE GRETSCH YOUTUBE CHANNEL FOR PERFORMANCE VIDEOS.

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Welcome Back, Vinnie Colaiuta!

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Gretsch Drums announced today that Vinnie Colaiuta has returned!

Via Gretsch Drum’s Facebook page:

We are proud to announce that legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta has come home to Gretsch Drums. Without question, Vinnie is one of the world’s most respected and admired drummers. Throughout his prolific, 4-decade career, his artistry has inspired and entertained legions of drummers and music fans alike. Vinnie will be taking his newly redesigned, Gretsch USA Custom Kit finished in a one-of-a-kind Cobalt Blue Lacquer with Vinnie Colaiuta signature badges out on the road with Sting on his upcoming, 19-city “Rock Paper Scissors” tour with Peter Gabriel which kicks off June 21st in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome home, Vinnie.

Vinnie Colaiuta. Photo: Michael Corral

Gretsch Drums recently restored Vinnie’s 90s signature Gretsch kit.  Experience unboxing his kit with him now!

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