If you need to get a hold of the guy in charge of 2112 Percussion in Raleigh, North Carolina, just ask for Tony Williams. Seriously. And yes, the store is named after the 1976 Rush album. Located a few miles outside the center of the capital city, the newly expanded 2112 Percussion is the only drum retail shop in North Carolina and is worth a special trip.
Proprietor Tony Williams has the shop running at all hours from Monday through Thursday, while Tony’s partner, Chris Henderson, with the help of 2112’s crack staff , keeps it cranking the rest of the week. Tony’s a working drummer who plays as many as a hundred shows a year during weekends with the Atlanta-based ’80s tribute band the Breakfast Club. He often books orders and checks in with customers on long drives to gigs. Meanwhile, Chris, who was largely responsible for a recent redesign that doubled the store’s floor space, manages online sales via Reverb.com, among other responsibilities.
During recent conversations, Williams and Henderson were warm, expansive, and charmingly modest about the store, which Tony describes as “the Cheers of drum shops.” The comparison is apt. Founded in 1986 by the late Steve Johnson, 2112 was originally run out of a storage facility in the “boonies” of Zebulon, North Carolina. Johnson would place ads in the local classifieds touting his used drum gear, and interested buyers would track him down for an appointment. His great selection and willingness to make deals soon had Johnson conferring with manufacturers about featuring new products. When a distribution rep told Steve that a retail establishment needed a front door, Johnson quickly rented a unit with the accessory, and the modern era of 2112 was born.
When Johnson passed away in 2016, long-time managers Tony Williams and Chris Henderson took up the baton and have overseen an expansion during a time when the general retail market for drum gear is contracting. Here the two of them weigh in on where they’ve brought the shop.
“Williams: I met Steve Johnson, the original owner, when he first started the shop in the late ’80s. I would go into the store a lot in my teens and felt like I was part of the whole family. It wasn’t just another store. This had the biggest effect on me. All the guys in there played, not just locals but people like singer Kelly Holland and drummer Jason Patterson from Cry of Love and drummer Kenny Soule from Nantucket—bands touring all over the world. I was just a young punk kid with blue hair, and they would treat me like I had something going on. It’s always just been that kind of home feeling. We try to keep that original charm going.
Henderson: Steve was one of a kind. He had a real knack for talking to people and always made his customers feel welcome as soon as they walked through the door. If he was working out a deal with someone on a kit, he would usually go into his high-pressure car salesman role, which of course was all in good fun and totally hilarious to witness if you happened to be in the shop at the time. His one-liners became so synonymous with a visit to the shop; there were T-shirts made and a board on the wall displaying “Steve’s Top Ten List.”
Williams: Our used inventory is definitely a lot heavier than you see at other music stores. But it’s not just about used gear—it’s also the used parts. If you come in and you need a particular lug, we likely have that lug in the back. It might take a little digging, but we can usually hook everybody up. If you come in five minutes before closing and your pedal is broken, we can get that set up for you. My business partner, Chris Henderson, has that MacGyver quality about him. We’ll get you through your gig no matter what!
Henderson: I think our selection of parts and ability to make on-the-spot repairs in most cases really help us to stand out. Having an experienced staff of working drummers, who are knowledgeable about the gear and can provide service, is really important. Customers look for opinions and advice, and they tend to want it from drummers with firsthand experience.
Williams: Over the last thirty years, it’s been tough at times. We’ve had the big-box stores coming in. We had the economy crash in 2008. Steve Johnson always did whatever it took to make it. We offer lessons and a Rock School program, which still bring in revenue even when retail is slow. The music scene around the Raleigh area has changed a lot over the years—but there are still a ton of drummers in the area. We’ll take it!
Henderson: In June we expanded the floor space significantly, which allowed us to spread things out and make a little better sense of the layout. We now have a dedicated room for our used gear, as well as a room for new hardware, pedals, and thrones. It’s nice to have the extra space, but it didn’t take long for us to fill it up. We’re in an older building close to downtown, and the area is growing and changing rapidly. More than likely, we will be in a new location before too long.
Henderson: We don’t do a huge amount of online sales, but every little bit certainly helps. We tend to concentrate on vintage gear, parts, and items that might be more unusual and can attract a larger viewing online. We take in a ton of trades, so quite often we will have single toms or random parts come in, and they seem to sell quicker online. We sell a fair amount of vintage snare drums and cymbals online as well.
Williams: We’ve had some amazing visits and workshops here. Jim Chapin came through several times and would give unforgettable lessons here. He told a bunch of great Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa stories. I can’t remember what he used to drive, but man he drove it hard. We had to pick him up one time because his poor car caught on fi re on the way to the store.
Todd Sucherman was awesome—a monster player, smart, funny, and very down to earth, and somehow he has time to keep up with everyone online. Shortly after I started working at 2112 he just randomly called the store and said he was in town playing with Styx and wanted to know if any of us wanted to come to the show. He didn’t need anything at all and didn’t know any of us. That really stuck with me. We also had Marco Minnemann come to the shop at 2 A.M. after his gig to buy a couple of snares!”
“When you’re looking to try some new heads,” suggests Williams, “pull out heads you’re already familiar with straight from the box and then pull out some you’re wanting to try, and give them the tap test to see how they compare. You’re not going to be able to tell the exact sound until you get them on the drum, but this method gets you in the ballpark. The tap test can also help when picking out a full set of tom heads (especially with 2-ply heads) to make sure they’re consistent and to make your job tuning easier. Say you have 10″, 12″, and 16″ setup. You could get a real lively 10″ and 16″, but get a 12″ that’s a dud, and you’d have to work harder to get them to sound good together.”