Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Alvino Bennett: The Road Warrior

by Fred W. Gretsch

If you’re looking for a drummer who can do it all—and, in fact, who has quite literally done it all—you need look no further than Alvino Bennett. A veteran of stage and studio, Alvino has made a career out of providing whatever a given artist needs from a drummer. And he’s done it with his own brand of style, taste, and musical skill.

To say that Alvino got an early start is an understatement. He was only ten years old when he joined the William Penn Elementary School drum and bugle corps in his home town of Chicago. Only a few years later he was playing for various local bands, and by the age of fourteen he was traveling the country on the club circuit. When he was seventeen he was spotted in a club by blues legend KoKo Taylor, who tapped him to lend his talents to her act. This led to calls from other blues and R&B luminaries including Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Cash McCall, and Mighty Joe Young.

But blues and R&B were just a part of Alvino’s skill set. In 1974 he was called to tour with the great pop songstress Minnie Ripperton. This, in turn, led to a whole new variety of projects, including recording with The Sylvers and several other Motown artists.

Then came 1978 and membership in the million-selling R&B band L.T.D. Alvino’s five-year stint in this group boosted his reputation to first-call status, and he quickly became the go-to drummer for such stars as Cheryl Lynn, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Loggins, Bryan Ferry, Robin Trower, Sheena Easton, Little Richard, Slash’s Blues Ball, Patrice Rushen, Little Richard, Soul II Soul, Chic, Bo Diddley, and many more.

In 1996, at the summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, Alvino became part of history. He was playing with Jack Mack & The Heart Attack (on Tony Williams’ Gretsch drumkit, no less!) when a bomb exploded nearby.

“We had played two or three songs when we realized that something had happened out in the park,” Alvino recalls. “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 amplifiers had gone out. But it was the bomb that went off.” (You can read the full description of this event on Gretsch.com. The blog is: The Gretsch Drumkit That Made Olympic History.)

So how do you follow being part of a historic event? You go on tour with a historic artist. Since 2002 Alvino has been anchoring the touring band for 1960s icon Dave Mason. Best known for his soulful voice and unique guitar playing, Mason is a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame alum as a member of the legendary 1960s band Traffic. His song “Feelin’ Alright” is a rock and roll anthem, and his other hits include “We Just Disagree” and “Only You Know And I Know.” He has enjoyed a lengthy solo career and continues to play to sold-out audiences—with the able support of Alvino Bennett. According to Mason, “Alvino is a treasured member of the band.”

Alvino with Fred Gretsch.

Alvino has been with Dave Mason for a long time…but he’s been part of the Gretsch family of artists even longer. As he puts it, “To be part of the Gretsch family is great. They’ve always been there for me. I played Gretsch drums as a kid and a young adult. Gerry Brown introduced me to Fred and Dinah Gretsch a year or two before they re-acquired the company, and then I re-introduced myself to them a few years later. We established a relationship in 1986, and it’s been wonderful. And I don’t say this just because I’m with them, but I love the drums.”

Audio And Video Clips

Enjoy a full-length interview with Alvino conducted in 2016 by noted drum writer/radio personality Robyn Flans.

In addition to playing for others, Alvino is a recording artist in his own right. You can listen to five separate clips from his recent solo album Journey.

Alvino doesn’t get much screen time, but his groove is undeniable in this clip with blues/rock artist Lance Lopez from October of 2016.

Solid pocket playing from Alvino is the order of the day, with Dave Mason and others at the Bluesapalooza Festival in 2010.

Alvino’s funk/rock chops are front and center on “Prisoner Of Love,” a track from guitarist Robin Trower’s live tour album This Is Now, ’74-’98.

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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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