There have been old drums floating around for decades, but when did some of them stop being relics and become venerated vintage instruments? And how did that happen?
I believe the year was 1987. There were a few outlets sending out photocopied lists of available drums, but in those pre-internet days, with no pictures to see, collectors had to develop a network of trusted sellers. While there was interest in classic drums in different areas of the U.S., there was one guy who brought us all together and became the point man. That’s John Aldridge.
John is currently the drum tech for REO Speedwagon’s Bryan Hitt. But for the past thirty years, he’s been a top authority on the Ludwig Black Beauty snare and other vintage brass drums. Aldridge also spearheaded the movement to reintro-duce ornate engraving on metal shells and hoops.
Back in 1987, John was a schoolteacher who played drums. He called me from Oklahoma one night to introduce himself and to find out what we had in common. I had been on a buying spree of old drums that I was going to showcase in a store I was about to open. John asked if I had bought any old Ludwigs. I said no and asked, “Why would I want to buy drums from a company that’s still in business?” That was when he told me about his love for the Ludwig Deluxe, which is better known as the Black Beauty.
John’s reputation grew. He went from being a teacher and drummer to becoming an entrepreneur. He published magazines and newsletters, which created a network for subscribers to connect with buyers and sellers of vintage drums and parts. Aldridge also moved his family to Nashville, where he continued to build his engraving business, sold vintage gear, expanded his publications, and started a line of boutique drums called NSMD.
Aldridge engraved for Ludwig, Slingerland, Drum Heaven, DW, and Tama, as well as for friends who sent requests. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur, especially in the drum industry. John will tell you about the rollercoaster ride he’s been on. But along the way, he helped resurrect the nearly lost art of hand engraving, and drums bearing his work are as coveted as the old Ludwig Standards that inspired him to pick up tools in the first place.
As John was getting his businesses going, he decided to document his knowledge into the first book for vintage drum enthusiasts. The book, Guide to Vintage Drums, inspired a whole new group of drummers to learn about and preserve the great instruments of the past, like the Ludwig Black Beauty, the Slingerland Radio King, and the Rogers Dynasonic.
Aldridge eventually sold his publishing business and stopped making his tribute to the Black Beauty so he could return to Oklahoma and focus on his family, his engraving business, and being the drum tech for REO. John and I reconnected recently during the band’s 56 City tour, and looking over Hitt’s kit made me realize how masterful Aldridge is at building drum racks too! It’s obvious that even if he’s scaled back on the number of ways he’s influenced the vintage drum industry, he’ll continue to influence the rest of us in profound ways.