Monday, March 7, 2011

The Camco Tuxedo Model metal snare drum

The history of American Drum Companies is filled with an assortment of characters who helped shape the business through the decades. And one of more interesting characters was George Way. The history behind the pictured drum and the story of the Camco Drum Company really begins with him.

George was a salesman and a good one time he was the sales manager at the Conn Musical Instruments Company ( see Feb 14th blog entry). But he always had higher aspirations. He had very definite ideas about drum set design and construction. He was a tinkerer--constantly dreaming up new ideas concerning drum manufacturing. He designed a round lug called the turret lug. He also came up with elongated lug he called the tuxedo lug. Since he had a relationship with Conn, he was familiar with Leedy and Ludwig Drums. When Conn decided to get out of the drum business in 1955, George saw his chance. While Bill Ludwig was buying back his Ludwig Drum Company and Bud Slingerland bought the Leedy nameplate, George simply leased the plant where Conn had manufactured Leedy and Ludwig Drums. Thus, in 1956 the George Way Drum Company was born in Indiana.

One of the investors in the George Way Drum Company, was John Rochon, president of Camco, a small company based in Oak Lawn Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Camco specialized in bass drum pedals and drum stands. Indeed, Camco sold its products through the Rogers Drum Company. John, like George, also had higher aspirations. He wanted to sell drums, not just accessories. In the early 60s, through a series of various business moves, John Rochon became the majority stock holder in the George Way Drum Company. George was shown the door, the Indiana plant was closed, and the Camco Drum Company was born.

The drum pictured above is the Tuxedo Model metal snare drum. It was not the top of the line snare drum. That honor belonged to the Aristocrat Model, with its distinctive round lugs. This model has 8 "cheaper" Tuxedo lugs, a chrome shell, and a very cool and very functional trapezoidal snare strainer. In many ways, the features on both George Way Drums and Camco Drums are identical. The names of the models remained the same. The drum badges were of similar design, but different color.

Camco stayed in Oak Lawn for about 10 years. The Company never had a huge list of endorsers. Camco simply didn't have the promotional budget to compete with Ludwig and Slingerland. Perhaps, its most famous rock endorser was Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. On the Jazz side, Colin Bailey was often pictured in Camco's ads.

In the early 70's, the Kustom Music Instrument Company bought Camco, and moved the company to Kansas. A few years later, the operation was sold and moved again to Los Angeles. In 1979, Drum Workshop bought the remaining assets and began manufacturing DW Drums. That turret lug that George Way designed so many years ago lives on!

And what of the George Way Drum Company? George died in 1969. A few years ago an enterprising drum builder out of Vancouver Canada bought the rights to the name. Ronn Dunnett, the owner of Dunnett Custom Drums, is now building drums under the George Way nameplate. The new offerings include steam bent maple shells, copper, bronze, and brass shells, spun aluminum shells and the tried and true three ply shell. All sport a modern version of the old Tuxedo lug. As Ronn states in his ads, "The legend continues."

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