The entire percussion community suffered a loss this past April 21, when Steve Weiss, founder of the Pennsylvania-based percussion retail business that bore his name, lost his long battle with prostate cancer.
In high school Weiss studied with Philadelphia Orchestra percussionist Mickey Bookspan. Later, while working for the Reading Railroad, he began collecting and then renting out percussion instruments. As his rental business grew, he became an authorized dealer for Ludwig/Musser and Slingerland/Deagan, the two major percussion manufacturers of the 1970s.
“What I treasured the most was not the business relationship but rather our friendship,” remembers Michael Balter, an early mallet supplier to Steve Weiss Music. “He could bring a smile to my face, and I always knew there was a friend on the other end of the phone.
As the business grew through word-of-mouth and then mail order customers, Weiss became a regular fixture at the PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) exhibit area. Known for his eye-catching tie-dyed shirts and ear-catching comments, he often described his PASIC booth as his “annual garage sale.”
“The first time I met him,” recalls Aquarian founder Roy Burns, “Steve was wearing a tuxedo T-shirt, which really cracked me up. He was obviously a character. There was no one else like him. When they made Steve, they broke the mold! Once you got past his idiosyncrasies, he was a very heartfelt guy and a nice person. But he was a demon in business! He worked really hard and was very successful. Steve was able to tune in to what the young percussion players were interested in. He had boxes and boxes of stuff in his trade show booth, and he was selling it like crazy—just like a flea market! He had a sixth sense about what percussionists would like and what they would respond to.”
In 1998, Steve Weiss Music moved to its current location in suburban Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, which includes a 13,500-square-foot store and a nearby 22,000-square-foot warehouse, which was added in 2004. Steve’s own personal collection of instruments occupied about 2,000 square feet. Although the business continues to be state-of-the-art, with computerized shipping records and inventory control and a website that replaced the company’s mail-order catalogs, Steve kept a typewriter on his desk and picked up the phone to call people rather than rely on emails or texts.
Last November, the Percussive Arts Society honored Weiss with the President’s Industry Award. Although he was unable to attend the convention in Indianapolis, his video presence greeted the audience, many of whom remembered the equipment they had purchased from Steve Weiss Music.
Upon hearing of his passing, one customer posted on Facebook that he looked around his music studio, seeing all the equipment purchased from Steve Weiss Music, and tears came to his eyes. “Few individuals leave such a lasting legacy.”
“Steve Weiss weaved his life into so many others’ in a profoundly impactful way, and he was a tremendous blessing to me personally,” adds Zoro, author of the book Commandments of the Half-Time Shuffle. “He was a magnificent human being who demonstrated excellence in all he did. It was an honor to know him and a privilege to call him a friend. I am grateful to have been a recipient of his friendship and goodness!”
Nicknamed “King Gong,” Steve Weiss helped spread the joy of percussion to student and professional drummers from around the world. From rentals to retail, from catalogs to websites, from flea markets to trade shows, Weiss was a pioneer in percussion whose legacy will continue every time an order is filled. Lauren Vogel Weiss
Author’s Note: Although I had the honor of being mistaken for Steve’s wife on more than one occasion (no, you did not just buy a gong from my husband at PASIC!), I am not related to him. But I was privileged to have known him for over thirty-five years, first as a friendly retail competitor, and then as a just another member of my extended percussion family.