Remo Belli 1927–2016
Remo Belli started out like most of us: a humble drummer, looking to make a difference on the scene. Even he could not have predicted that, in time, that scene would encompass all of humankind. In this special tribute, players and industry peers share their unique insight into the man who, more than anything, just wanted to hear the sound of people hitting drums.
Remo Belli’s passing truly marks the end of an era. I join the world of drummers and percussionists in mourning this great man, and send condolences to his family and team of workers. Drumheads were just the start for Remo. His vision for the healing power of the drum may well prove to be his greatest legacy. We can all look forward to his dream being realized. Meanwhile, I will always miss his genius and enthusiasm. Thank you, Remo, for all that you gave to the world of music.
When we think about what has happened culturally with music, from jazz to rock ’n’ roll to electronic music and everything in between, we often celebrate the musicians. But we sometimes forget that most of the evolution that happens musically is only possible through innovations made in the tools available for making music. There are a few true innovators in that regard. Remo Belli was one of them. I’m very grateful for what he has given us, and I’m proud to be associated with his name.
Remo was not only an icon but a visionary. His work with his wife, Ami, in the field of music and wellness was instrumental in increasing the understanding and furthering the research in that field—to the benefit of all.
Remo and RZ [Sabian founder Robert Zildjian] were great friends, a friendship that went all the way back to when Remo was a gigging musician in Los Angeles. When Remo launched his company, RZ helped out with advice, contacts, and experience—and even let Remo sleep on his hotel-room sofa during his first few trips to the Frankfurt trade show. They made each other laugh, and is there anything better than that?
I’ll always remember with a smile a day that I spent with Remo and Ami in Mexico hiking up the pyramids of Teotihuacan. I learned a lot that day, not just from what he said, but from how he and Ami lived their life together. A very impressive couple. We will miss his friendship and his vision, in business and in life.
President and CEO, Sabian
I feel blessed to have known Remo for nearly twenty years. Throughout that time he was one of the most energized and inspired people in the industry. Regardless of the circumstances, when you saw him he was bursting with energy and enthusiasm to share the latest product developments and instruments. It was incredibly inspiring to see someone so passionate and focused, right through into his late seventies. We’re now losing the very founders of the industry that we know today. We owe them a lot and have many lessons to learn by looking at their struggles, persistence, innovations, and achievements. There will always be a special place in my heart for Remo Belli.
I only got to meet Remo once, when I visited the factory to see the production process. Luckily for me, he was with the wonderful Louie Bellson, and the three of us had a short chat. A fantastic couple of guys. I remember my first, admittedly cheap, awful kit came fitted with vellum heads, and every night was a fight with the tuning key before and after a gig. When Remo came up with the synthetic drumhead, life for drummers changed completely. All of a sudden the drums sounded just like they did the last time you played them, no worries of temperature and humidity changes that had to be addressed with the calfskin heads, and the blessing of not having to detune the heads after a show. So, Remo, up there in drummers’ heaven, thanks from us all.
The first time I met Remo Belli was around 1975, at Bob Henrit’s drum store in London. I was fairly unknown to the general public at the time and rather young. I had some questions about the consistency of double-ply heads, namely Emperors and Pinstripes, which, if my memory serves me correctly, had just come out on the market. Even though he didn’t know who I was, Remo was very gracious, and we spoke for a little while. Just a few years later I was taken on as one of the few full endorsers by Remo, and I’ve now enjoyed over thirty-five years of playing his wonderful heads. We didn’t see much of each other over the years, except at the trade shows, and I would bump into him in our mutual favorite restaurant in Sherman Oaks and chat. He was always gracious and welcoming. We have lost another legend who helped shape our industry with innovation. Buon viaggio, Remo!
Remo Belli brought the perfect sound and quality into the drum world. That’s why he will remain in our “drum heads” forever!
Remo Belli was a visionary for what he created for himself and those around him in drumming, and he changed the sound of the instrument across all genres of music for many years to come.
Remo Belli was a very good friend to me and to my father, Bud Bissonette, for many years. I first met Remo in 1982, when I was with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band, and that year he gave me my Remo drumhead endorsement and asked me to play at Remo Hands On Day in Los Angeles. I’ll never forget it; we had a blast together, and that was the day that Remo introduced his Pre-Tuned Drum series. My dad always told me how great Remo was to both him and my mom, Phyllis—who played jazz vibraphone in my dad’s band back in Detroit in the early ’50s—whenever they would go up to the new Remo headquarters in Valencia, California, to pick up my drumheads. One of my greatest memories of Remo was hanging out with him at the amazing NAMM Show party that he threw at the Hilton Ballroom with tons of great bands. That was the last time I saw Jeff Porcaro play with Toto. It was also the debut of the new Toto song in 7/8, “Jake to the Bone.” Remo hired Toto and many great bands to play at his party—he was so amazing! Thanks for the great memories.
Remo Belli changed drumming and music forever. He was an industry pioneer and a beloved personality who has left a staggering legacy. I’ve been seeing the Remo logo on drumheads since I was two years old, and I’ve seen them practically every day of my life since. It’s hard to imagine a world without Remo Belli.
As a kid I used to put up all those Remo ads on my bedroom wall—I can picture the Buddy/Bellson and Cobham ones right now—and it was the logo most implanted in my brain
over the hours and decades of hitting the heads. To this day I still get that happy feeling when I see a stick-tattooed, brush-blackened Coated Ambassador worn down to the clear ply in the center. It’s the quintessential look of drumming to me, from a player’s perspective, and Remo Belli made that.
Remo had a longstanding relationship with the Zildjian family. He first became a Zildjian artist when on the road with Anita O’Day in the ’50s. Shortly afterwards he opened a drum shop and became the largest Zildjian account on the West Coast.
But Remo always seemed to be a man on a mission. He was intrigued by solving problems, which made him a natural entrepreneur. He wanted to solve the problem of the calfskin drumhead, and in doing so he forever changed drumming and created a business that has dominated the drumhead category. But for Remo money and success were never the real drivers. He was more driven by vision. Indeed, Remo has been called one of the greatest visionaries in the music industry.
The vision Remo shared with his wife, Ami, was the connection between music and health and wellness. Together they funded early research to validate music therapy. Intrigued that the brain was hardwired for music, Remo and Ami understood how music could help treat autism, Alzheimer’s, strokes, etc. Thanks to Remo, music therapy has now been embraced by hospitals and by rehab and nursing facilities—which could be considered one of Remo’s greatest accomplishments.
Without Remo Belli, we might all still be playing calfskin drumheads—not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, any of us who have ever played outdoors, in the heat, cold, or intense humidity, know the inconsistent results that kind of head can produce in less than perfect environments. Remo came up with a logical, affordable, and musical solution for all drummers, regardless of style. I remember purchasing my first Remo head at age eleven, and marveling at how much better it sounded than my standard-issue Sears and Roebuck snare drum head. Thank you, Remo, for your huge contribution to our industry. You were and still are greatly appreciated, and you’ll be enormously missed.
As a Remo endorser since the early 1980s, I had the honor and pleasure to meet and spend time with Mr. Belli on numerous occasions. Not only was he always incredibly gracious and generous, he also showed a genuine interest in me, my music, and my thoughts and opinions on his products—even his wines! He was a true gentleman and a unique innovator, visionary, businessman, and musical contributor in our industry. He will be greatly missed.
Remo Belli fit ten lifetimes’ worth of accomplishments, inventions, and innovations into a single one. What a forward thinker! To have great ideas is one thing, but to act on them and execute them completely is another. Remo did that! I’ll always remember how sweet he was to me at events and gatherings. I am proud to be part of his legacy.
I’ve played Remo heads for more than forty years, though unfortunately I never got to meet Mr. Belli. I’m not too fussy about gear, but a drumhead can sometimes feel more important than the actual drum—and if I end up on a gig with the snare drum covered by something other than a Remo Coated Ambassador, something feels odd to me. The sound and the bounce is wrong.
It’s important to note that before getting into manufacturing, Remo was a great drummer and an important part of the West Coast jazz scene. He changed the world of percussion with the synthetic drumhead. His passion was to enhance everyone’s life by participating in drumming. In the early days of Drum Workshop, he always took time to give us encouragement and advice. When we would often be way past due in payments, he would personally call—not to ask for payment, but to find out if everything was okay. He is a true legend in our industry.
President, Drum Workshop
The Gretsch family joins everyone in the drum and percussion industry in mourning the passing of Remo Belli. As a veteran of that industry myself, I had the pleasure of knowing Remo for many years on a personal and professional basis. My wife, Dinah, and I shared visits with him at trade shows and other drumming events, and we always enjoyed our time together.
But Remo’s connection to the Gretsch family goes back much further. My uncle Fred Gretsch Jr. was a little more than twenty years older than Remo. When Remo was touring as the drummer for Anita O’Day and bandleader Billy May in the 1950s, Uncle Fred was running the Gretsch business. He welcomed Remo into the fold as a Gretsch drum artist. In fact, Remo’s smiling face graces the cover of the 1954 Gretsch drum catalog—right next to Louie Bellson, and in the company of other drum greats like Art Blakey, Jo Jones, and Shelly Manne.
Just a few years later, when Remo went into business himself, Uncle Fred supported his efforts by becoming a major customer for his Weather King synthetic drumheads. Remo heads are still factory-installed on Gretsch drums today.
Fast-forward to when I entered the drum business fifty years ago. Returning the favor that my uncle had done for him, Remo, who was a little less than twenty years older than me, served as a mentor to me, offering sound business tips and valuable personal advice. Over the ensuing years I came to cherish his friendship, his guidance, and his unparalleled professional example. I will miss those things—and Remo himself—tremendously.
Fred W. Gretsch
President, the Gretsch Company
From the product itself to the people behind Remo, there is no other like it. I’m so thankful to be able to call Remo family, and that would never have been possible without the mastermind behind the company, Remo Belli.
Remo Belli built a company full of integrity, passion, and consistency. He was a gentleman who surrounded himself with the finest people that carry the virtue and vision that make Remo products the industry standard. I am honored and grateful to have known Remo Belli and to be a Remo artist.
For me, three images/memories stand out. First, seeing the mighty Remo crown on Ringo’s Beatles bass drum head in 1964. Second, having a tour of the factory with the great man in the mid-’80s, when I first signed with the company (and using the wonderful metal Spoxe in my kits). And, finally, his commitment to wellness and community action through the HealthRHYTHMS programs. Thank you, Mr. Belli.
There are a few icons within every industry that contribute so greatly to its advancement as to leave a deep and lasting legacy to be revered by generations to come. Remo Belli was one such icon within our industry, as he literally changed the world of drumming forever. He was truly a warm and wonderful man who founded and led a great company. I’m extremely honored to have known him, as are many others at Pearl worldwide. The strong partnership between Pearl and Remo is many decades old, and we are very proud that on most every drum we sell, you will find the name Remo.
President and CEO, Pearl Corporation
Remo Belli leaves a legacy with not only the music community but the entire world—much like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. To have had the pleasure to be in his presence since my high school days, when I got to hang out at the original factory, to later being signed to Remo Inc. as one of the company’s early world percussion endorsers, is an absolute honor. Though an innovator and inventor, Remo was more “the Most Interesting Man in the World” than mad scientist. He was a connoisseur, he did everything with class and style, and he will be greatly missed!
Remo Belli forever changed the music industry with his innovative products, but he also influenced modern music itself, because his drumheads transformed the sound of our instrument and shaped drumming styles by association. His legacy has influenced all of us in more ways than we can imagine. Thank you, Remo!
I consider myself lucky to be a part of the Remo family for more than a decade as an endorser. Remo Belli was an innovator, a great man, and a legend in this business. His company set the bar for the production and distribution of the modern-day drumhead, and remains the leader today. We can all thank Mr. Belli for that. Rest in peace, Remo, and thank you for allowing the drumming community to carry on your legacy every time our drums sing with your heads.
It was my honor to know Remo Belli professionally and personally for more than thirty years. I respected him as an innovator and a businessman. I admired him as a visionary who saw unlimited potential for percussion to be a part of music, of wellness, and of life in general. And I envied the indefatigable joie de vivre that sustained him for so many years. Remo was one of the “founding fathers” of the percussion industry, and he will be missed by all of us who hit things with sticks.
Rick Van Horn
I never met Mr. Belli, but I would’ve thanked him for his tireless contribution to the art of drumming, and for allowing me to represent the finest name in drumheads.
Remo Belli was a music visionary who realized early on that music education through drumming improves wellness. He was also a cherished lifelong friend and mentor to me. Remo’s contributions have made the world a much better and more musical place to live. He will never be forgotten. Thanks, Remo. RIP.
President and CEO, Roland Corporation US
Remo Belli committed himself and his company to provide drummers the world over with quality products and programs while striving to expand the acceptance of rhythm, and in particular drumming, as an integral component of an individual’s wellbeing. Through his ongoing efforts, the professional, the enthusiast, children, the elderly, those at risk, and people faced with emotional and physical challenges have been brought to the joy of drumming. He made the world a better place and touched many lives with the activity of drumming as a life enhancement tool. It was a true pleasure knowing Remo Belli over the past twenty-five years as a visionary, boss, and mentor. I will miss him.
Vice president of sales and marketing, Remo, Inc.