Monday, March 21, 2011

The Slingerland Student Model Radio King Snare Drum

It can't be overemphasized how much Gene Krupa's association with the Slingerland Drum Company affected its bottom line. Unlike almost all of his contemporaries, Gene stayed with Slingerland throughout his career. His influence extended beyond the drum throne. Before Gene, drummers weren't even considered musicians. Gene brought the drums "out front" Even everyday folk knew who Gene Krupa was. Only the great Buddy Rich could claim a similar influence.

Bud Slingerland, and the execs at the company, were no fools. It's true that they fumbled the ball when it came to Rock music, but they had been in the forefront of big band jazz and they could read a sales sheet as well as the next guy. The name "Krupa" and the label "Radio King" meant sales and the Gene Krupa Radio King Snare Drum was the drum to play. And why not? With its steam bent solid maple shell and its Radio King snare strainer, the drum was the "cat's meow" for drummers everywhere. (See blogs Feb 27th and Dec 20th)

But there were a whole group of musicians like students, non-professionals, and weekend players who couldn't afford the Radio King. In 1948, Slingerland introduced its Student Model Radio King. The pictured drum was a different animal entirely. It really wasn't a Radio King at all. It had a 3 ply shell rather than a solid shell and it was only offered in lacquer or mahogany finishes and it originally came with nickel plated hardware. Perhaps this is the reason that Krupa's name was not linked to it all. Certainly, Slingerland hoped the buyer would associate the two.

This drum stayed in production from 1948 to 1967. In 1960, the drum simply became advertised as the Student Model Snare Drum. The drum came with stick shredder hoops that were fastened to the 8 lugs with clips. I suspect this was done to save money. This model also comes with a rapid strainer rather than a 3 point strainer. In any case, the drum sounds fine. A Radio King it's not. But it takes more than just advertising slogans to make a true Radio King.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joe Morello--Drummer

The pictured drum book by George Lawrence Stone was my first introduction to Joe Morello. The preface reads, "Dedicated to Joe Morello,Oustanding Perfectionist in Modern Drumming." This book and its companion book, Stick Control, were THE books for hand development among drummers back in the day. My teacher , Max Mariash, viewed these books as bibles for any aspiring drummer. But Joe Morello? I didn't really know much about him. Max raved about his playing, particularly his finger control. I had to find out more.

I was aware of Dave Brubeck because of the success of Take Five, a million seller jazz record. This was quite unheard of. Pop records were million sellers, not jazz tunes written in 5/4 time. Brubeck crossed over and his group appeared on various TV variety shows. I think I first saw him on one such show. I don't remember which show, perhaps Steve Allen, but it was a revelation. Joe swung like crazy, yet with a light touch. He had loads of technique which he used judiciously. Joe stayed with Brubeck until the group broke up in 1967.

In 1968, I finally saw Joe Morello in the flesh. It was a moment to remember. In the 60s, there were 2 major drum stores in Chicago, Franks Drum Shop and Bill Crowden's Drums Unlimited. The shops were close to each other....they both were on the same block downtown. They both put on drum clinics and one of them, I don't remember which one, put on a Drum Festival in nearby Grant Park. This was right at the time of the Democratic Convention. In fact, if memory serves, it was right after the convention. There had been rioting at the convention and police were extremely edgy.

In any case, 4 drummers were scheduled to appear, Sheldon Elias, a Camco clinician, Barrett Deems, Joe Morello, and Elvin Jones. They all shared the same back up musicians and they all played solos. Sheldon was first with a very tasty solo. Barrett followed with pure speed. Then Joe, looking and acting like an affable bank clerk, gave a tremendous solo. The crowd went nuts and some rushed the stage. It then started to rain, just as Elvin began to play. An enterprising fellow jumped on stage with an umbrella, and while all the musicians scattered, Elvin gave his inspired best, playing under a hand held umbrella. It was pure heaven. The police simply let things go and the event went off without a hitch

Obviously, I never forgot that moment. The opportunity to see Sheldon, Barrett, and particularly Joe Morello and Elvin Jones was a one off. To just hear and see the contrasting styles was an education in and of itself.

Soon after that, I went out and purchased two of Joe's drum books, Rudimental Jazz, and New Directions in Music, studies in 3/4 and 5/4 jazz. Both books have stood the test of time. His newer books, Master Studies 1 and 2, were really a continuation of his studies with George Lawrence Stone.

Joe Morello was a rare bird. He was a great drummer and great teacher.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Camco Tuxedo Model metal snare drum

The history of American Drum Companies is filled with an assortment of characters who helped shape the business through the decades. And one of more interesting characters was George Way. The history behind the pictured drum and the story of the Camco Drum Company really begins with him.

George was a salesman and a good one time he was the sales manager at the Conn Musical Instruments Company ( see Feb 14th blog entry). But he always had higher aspirations. He had very definite ideas about drum set design and construction. He was a tinkerer--constantly dreaming up new ideas concerning drum manufacturing. He designed a round lug called the turret lug. He also came up with elongated lug he called the tuxedo lug. Since he had a relationship with Conn, he was familiar with Leedy and Ludwig Drums. When Conn decided to get out of the drum business in 1955, George saw his chance. While Bill Ludwig was buying back his Ludwig Drum Company and Bud Slingerland bought the Leedy nameplate, George simply leased the plant where Conn had manufactured Leedy and Ludwig Drums. Thus, in 1956 the George Way Drum Company was born in Indiana.

One of the investors in the George Way Drum Company, was John Rochon, president of Camco, a small company based in Oak Lawn Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Camco specialized in bass drum pedals and drum stands. Indeed, Camco sold its products through the Rogers Drum Company. John, like George, also had higher aspirations. He wanted to sell drums, not just accessories. In the early 60s, through a series of various business moves, John Rochon became the majority stock holder in the George Way Drum Company. George was shown the door, the Indiana plant was closed, and the Camco Drum Company was born.

The drum pictured above is the Tuxedo Model metal snare drum. It was not the top of the line snare drum. That honor belonged to the Aristocrat Model, with its distinctive round lugs. This model has 8 "cheaper" Tuxedo lugs, a chrome shell, and a very cool and very functional trapezoidal snare strainer. In many ways, the features on both George Way Drums and Camco Drums are identical. The names of the models remained the same. The drum badges were of similar design, but different color.

Camco stayed in Oak Lawn for about 10 years. The Company never had a huge list of endorsers. Camco simply didn't have the promotional budget to compete with Ludwig and Slingerland. Perhaps, its most famous rock endorser was Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. On the Jazz side, Colin Bailey was often pictured in Camco's ads.

In the early 70's, the Kustom Music Instrument Company bought Camco, and moved the company to Kansas. A few years later, the operation was sold and moved again to Los Angeles. In 1979, Drum Workshop bought the remaining assets and began manufacturing DW Drums. That turret lug that George Way designed so many years ago lives on!

And what of the George Way Drum Company? George died in 1969. A few years ago an enterprising drum builder out of Vancouver Canada bought the rights to the name. Ronn Dunnett, the owner of Dunnett Custom Drums, is now building drums under the George Way nameplate. The new offerings include steam bent maple shells, copper, bronze, and brass shells, spun aluminum shells and the tried and true three ply shell. All sport a modern version of the old Tuxedo lug. As Ronn states in his ads, "The legend continues."