The drum shop is a special place. When I started on my way to becoming a professional drummer, I studied at Jack and Johnie’s Drumshop in Kansas City. Jack Miller and John Terry were two of the best drummers in Kansas City during the 1950s. John Terry still teaches and plays in L.A.
Not only did I take lessons at Jack and Johnie’s, but I would also hang around for the entire day, talking—and sometimes practicing—with other students. We would exchange information, discuss equipment, and occasionally ask Jack or John to settle a difference of opinion.
The traditional drum shop is a friendly place. At Henry Adler’s shop in New York City (no longer there), I met and talked with many famous drummers. I once watched Buddy Rich pick out a pair of hi-hats in the back room of Henry’s store. After he found a pair he liked, he played a five-minute solo, just on the hi-hats. Henry and I were the only ones there, and it was a thrilling experience.
Louie Bellson used to drop in at Henry’s whenever he was in town. He would talk to everyone, give advice, and sometimes grab a pair of sticks and demonstrate his point on the ever-present practice pad on the counter.
In many ways, Bob Yeager’s Pro Drum Shop in L.A. is typical of the traditional drum shop. Unlike many large music stores, this shop has a complete repair department. The Pro Drum Shop also stocks obsolete parts, just in case your set isn’t new and the manufacturer is no longer in business. In addition, this store offers a large selection of books, music, and learning materials.
No one is ever in a hurry in a drum shop. If you want to take extra time to select sticks or pick out a cymbal, that’s okay. There are no high-pressure or heavy sales tactics. The owner will have time to give advice and help whenever it is needed.
Much can be learned in a drum shop. In many cases, the owner is also a drum teacher. He or she is as interested in drumming as you are. Group discussions about technique, tuning, playing styles, and music in general are commonplace. Where else can you hang out with a group of drummers in a friendly atmosphere? You may also learn something in an easy and non-stressful way.
Drum shops come in all sizes. Ed Hameric started Atlanta Pro Percussion in a very small store. Today, it is one of the largest in the country. His stock of drumsets and cymbals is as complete as any I have seen. Ed still plays every week, promotes clinics constantly, and is as interested in drumming as he ever was.
Drum shops often offer very specialized equipment not found in the average full-line music store. The Modern Drum Shop in New York City is a favorite hangout for pros. Owner Joe Cusatis (an old friend) makes his own drums, sticks, and other items found nowhere else. Joe, like most drum shop owners, is happy to provide personalized service for any drummer with special needs.
Drum shops also promote clinics. It takes time, effort, and money to have clinics on a regular basis. Often, these clinics will feature top drummers and percussionists. But many shops also promote clinics by great young players who may not yet have established a big name. These clinics tend to be less of a show, more down to earth, and often more educational. Clinics of this type are most often held in the store. Drum Headquarters, in St. Louis, Missouri, is a good example. The people there ask clinicians to do two clinics, -because they can only accommodate so many people at one time. This allows everyone to be close to the artists, and makes for an intimate and friendly atmosphere.
Once in a great while, a person who is not a drummer will run a drum shop. Bill Crowden’s Drums Ltd. in Chicago is a good example. Bill doesn’t claim to be a player, but he loves the drum business and drummers. He sells drums, cymbals, and books, and he regularly promotes clinics. He also has a great collection of rare old pedals, snare drums, and unusual instruments from all over the world. I sometimes feel that somehow Bill “thinks” like a drummer.
Most drum shops have a pot of coffee going or available all the time. Sometimes it is not the greatest coffee—especially late in the day—but it’s the thought that counts.
I should add that there are a great many full-line music stores that have excellent drum departments. Usually, it is a separate area in the store devoted just to percussion. In a great many cases, these departments are carrying on the tradition of the drum shop. They have their own little world amidst the guitar and keyboard areas. The people who run these departments are just as dedicated as those in the established traditional shops.
One of the great advantages to traveling with a group or band is the opportunity to visit drum shops in various cities and parts of the country. The people at drum shops are always happy to see you, whether you’re a “big name” or not. There are so many drum shops across the country that I can’t possibly mention them all. As my examples in this article, I’ve only referred to a few that are run by friends of mine. However, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who runs a drum shop is a friend of mine.
Every drum shop is a labor of love. Drum shop owners are not in it just for the money. Their hearts are in it. The people who start drum shops are drummers, not people with business degrees. They enjoy being around drums and drummers. All drum shops contribute something special to that unusual fraternity that is like no other: the special fraternity of drummers. Drum shops help to bring drummers together. Visit your local drum shop or favorite drum department soon. The people there will be glad to see you.