If the walls at the Professional Drum Shop could talk, they’d have some tales to tell. There’s the time some new guy in town named Joe Porcaro needed five timpani ASAP—on credit; the afternoon in 2016 when Steven Tyler, Matt Chamberlain, and Jimmy Paxson were all in the store at the same time, beating on vintage 2002 Paiste cymbals (the Aerosmith lead singer eventually walked out with them); and plenty of surreal scenes in between. The store, which Bob Yeager opened on June 1, 1959, along with Chuck Molinari, has catered to beginners and A-listers alike, surviving changing tastes and recessions to remain one of the most beloved drum shops in the country. Yeager’s stepsons Jerry and Stan Keyawa began working at the shop as kids in 1967, and took over in 1987 after their stepdad passed away. Since walls can’t talk, Jerry gave us the story on Pro Drum Shop.
My stepdad, Bob Yeager, was working with Remo Belli and Roy Harte at the Drum City around the corner. In 1958, Remo put the drumhead on the market and left. And then Bob and Roy, who owned Drum City, got into a spat over business and our stepdad pretty much said, “I’m going to open up a drum shop and put you out of business.” So right around the corner in 1959 this place opened up. We’ve been in the same spot the whole time. They’d just built the building, and we were the first ones in. The rent was $150 a month for 4,000 square feet. It ain’t $150 bucks anymore. [laughs] We still rent it from the same family.
We built that monster kit for Hal Blaine. Howie Oliver, who was the manager at the time, started to build the set. Stan and I were pretty much the gophers—get the screwdriver, get this, get that. We ended up building just eight or nine more. Two for Hal, one for Ringo, Karen Carpenter got one…. When Hal was on The Ed Sullivan Show with all those tom-toms, that’s when the drum companies saw it and went, “Hey, we should make lots of drums and sell them.” The following year, every [manufacturer] had one, so there was no need for us to make them anymore.
Bob was always so good about giving things to people on credit. He’d just say, “Pay me when you can.” But when the ’80s rolled in, things got weird. Everyone was on cocaine, and drugs were running rampant. That’s when Stan and I had to start repossessing our equipment. Bob had a Lincoln Continental with the suicide doors. We’d drive around in that with baseball bats, looking like gangsters. And we were going into studios getting our equipment back. We’d go in right in the middle of a take. It was pretty insane. But that’s what you had to do. We had to pay our rent, and people weren’t paying their bills.
Simmons wanted us to be the exclusive seller on that first kit, the SDS 1. But they wanted us to buy forty of those units. They were almost $3,000 apiece—our cost. To buy forty of those, that could’ve bankrupted us if it didn’t go well. So we declined. At that time, Guitar Center had twenty stores nationwide. They did it, and they put two kits in each store, and that thing took off. Everyone went electronic. Then Simmons wouldn’t sell it to us, because they offered us the exclusive and we turned it down, understandably. About a year went by; they said we could buy them, so we bought three or four of those units. A month later they came out with the new model—half the cost and it does twice as much. We got thrown an anchor. We had to sell [the original sets] below cost. We said, “We’re not going with electronics anymore. That’s it.” We haven’t had an electronic kit in the store since.
We cater to beginners to the pros. We treat everyone the same. They’re not getting shunned if they’re not a big name. We’re here to advise you. Everyone wants to know, “What’s the best-sounding set of drums?” I always say, “The one with the best player behind it.” I’ve seen Elvin Jones come in here on a piece of crap and sound amazing. I worry more about your playing than the equipment you’re playing on. So many times parents come in and they’re shocked by the cost. I say, “Just go this route for now with a budget kit, then go top of the line on the next round if they’re still playing.” I’ll tell you who’s got a better warranty, who’s going to take care of you, who will not discontinue drums so quickly. We’re personable and honest with the customers. We pour out the Kool-Aid and they come back. A lot of Kool-Aid went out, and it’s worked.