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Fred Pierce’s Studio Drum Shop

Overland, Missouri

Interview by Patrick Berkery
Photos by Madison Thorn

For forty-five years, Fred Pierce has been serving drummers of the St. Louis area in a cozy space he bought outright back in 1972 after moving from Nashville.

In Music City, Pierce was a working musician during the ’60s, serving as a staff drummer for the Glaser Brothers publishing company while playing with everyone from George Jones to Kinky Friedman. In St. Louis, he’s established one of the longest-operating dedicated drum shops in the country, one that’s outlasted the local drums-only competition (Drum Headquarters, which closed after thirty years in 2011) while holding its own against several nearby Guitar Centers.

Pierce shares with MD his observations on nearly half a century in business, beginning with the story of one particular young customer who’d go on to drumming superstardom….

Dave Weckl grew up in this store. His dad started bringing him here when he was thirteen. And I’ve stayed friends with him over the years. He’s just a very cool guy. He was very dedicated—I mean, to the max. You could tell right away: This guy was going to go somewhere. He was a little different. He didn’t take lessons in the store, but he’d go down in the basement and work on stuff. And look where he is now. Who’s a better player? I don’t know.

Your hand-percussion market here is not like in L.A. or New York. You have to know these things. You don’t want to have fifteen or twenty cajons sitting on the floor, or some high-end Gon Bops that list for $1,000 apiece—that’s not gonna happen here. A professional set of congas here in St. Louis is an LP Aspire. It’s a funny thing, but that’s just the way it is.

You’ve got to have eye candy, sure. But you’ve got to have a store full of stuff that people can afford. I’ve got a four-piece Pearl Masterworks kit, Artisan series—just four drums—and it lists for $8,100. Beautiful drums, but okay, who buys that? It’s not the local working or part-time musician. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good-sounding drumset nowadays. And let’s face it, if you’re only making $75 or $100 a night playing, and the price of sticks just went up again, how’s a working musician [supposed to] afford to do all this?

Not only does Fred Pierce sell Pearl drums, he’s endorsed them. Pinned to a wall in his shop, among signed pictures of drum legends like Ed Shaughnessy, Bernard Purdie, and Roy Burns, is a page from Pearl’s 1973 catalog featuring the pro drummer turned shop owner. Pierce was making a living on stage and in the studio until back problems forced him off the road soon after this shot was taken. “I moved back to St. Louis, and a friend of mine who was the drum guy here was going to California to work for Drum Workshop,” Fred recalls. “He handed me a list and said, ‘Okay, you’re the drum guy in St. Louis now.’ So I started the shop. I might be the oldest guy in America right now still running his own drum shop.”

You’ve got to have a good relationship with your distributors. That’s the key right there. It’s paying your bills when they’re supposed to be paid. Take early-pay discounts: 1 or 2 percent early pay, and it doesn’t sound like much, but over a year it adds up to something. And reps can really steer you in the right direction. Stagg cymbals is a big seller. They sound great and they keep improving. I took them on about six years ago—nobody had ever heard of them. So I took a chance with them.

One of the hardest things I had to learn was that you can’t be everything to everybody. It’s just not going to happen. There’s always going to be someone that comes in who you just can’t please. Some people come in, and, just because they’ve read about some cymbal or drum online, now they think they know everything there is to know about everything. And they start telling you what works and what doesn’t work. And you’ve got to be careful what you say there. It’s sticky business.

Fifty years is my goal. Why not? I can work here and I don’t have to draw a salary. I own the building—that’s key. The magic word to me is fun. If I ever get to the point where I’m not having fun running the store, I’ll quit. I’m seventy-eight and it’s still fun. I like the interaction with people. I love not seeing a guy for twenty years, and he says, “I’m just getting back into it,” and I can help him do that. I’m still out playing three times a week, and I think that helps business. I’m still out on the scene. I know what’s working, what isn’t working. I’m meeting other musicians. I feel part of something. I’m not the kind of guy that can just sit down and watch TV all day. It’s a good goal, fifty years.