Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Radio King Chrome Shell snare drum

The Ludwig Drum Company and the Slingerland Drum Company were both based in the Chicago metro area. Ludwig was in the city proper and Slingerland was in Niles, a northwestern suburb. The companies were relatively close to each other, about 10 miles apart as the crow flies. Both Bud Slingerland and Bill Ludwig knew each other and they shared a history of competitiveness.

Slingerland, largely because of Gene Krupa, ruled the roost in the 1930s and 40s. It seemed like almost everyone, particularly big band drummers, played Slingerland Drums. Bill Ludwig did his best to compete, signing such drum stars as Buddy Rich in the late 40s. But the Slingerland Radio King snare drum was the desired drum of choice. The solid maple shell was practically a work of art and the hardware was second to none.

The 1960s saw a seismic shift in the cultural scene, largely due to the Beatles and the British Invasion. Rock was the "Now Sound" and Ludwig, unlike Slingerland, was quick to jump on the trend. Ludwig featured prominent jazz and rock players in their advertisements and catalogs. Slingerland, on the other hand, stressed their stable of Jazz Drummers. Indeed, even as late as 1968, Slingerland featured one (1) rock drummer in their catalog, Tom Schiffour of the Shadows of Knight.

But it was in the arena of snare drum sales that these two giants went toe to toe. Ludwig pitched the metal Supraphonic 400 (see blog entry Jan. 5th 2011) as their best selling snare drum. Slingerland countered with the snare drum you see pictured above, the Radio King Chrome shell snare drum.

The ad copy Ludwig and Slingerland used for their respective drums tells volumes about the marketing direction each company pursued. The ad for the Ludwig Supraphonic 400 describes it as " totally modern in sound and concept." The drum was " just plain explosive, offering instant response and undistorted snare action." "Its one piece Acousti-Perfect shell, made of heavy gauge metal with flanged hoops and a center bead for triple strength, was the utmost in modern snare drum design."

Slingerland countered by praising the Radio King as " a swinging drum with a solid brass shell and no sound distorting center bead." The drum was described as " a real buy" in the Slingerland catalog. This Radio King came in an 8 or 10 lug version with brass stick saver hoops that were guaranteed not to rust or break for life. The Ludwig Supraphonic 400, in contrast, was originally made of brass, but by the early 60s, the company simply started making them of any metal that was available at the time.

The results of this sales competition were somewhat lopsided. It can be argued, and quite convincingly I believe, that the Ludwig Supraphonic 400 was the most popular snare drum of the 1960s. It was offered as standard equipment with the Classic, Downbeat, New Yorker, and Traveler drum kits. Its recorded history is well known among drum aficionados.

And the Slingerland Radio King chrome snare drum? Well, history has not been kind to this model. Slingerland fumbled the ball badly with this drum. The ad campaign stressed its history rather than " the sound of today." Ludwig was quick to recognize that rock music was no passing fad and that to ignore its sales potential was foolish.

When all is said and done, this Radio King remains a fine, but neglected drum. But no apologies are needed. The Radio King chrome snare drum can hold its own in any musical situation. Incidentally, stick shredder hoops can used in place of the stick savers. This makes it a different animal. In any case, the drum sounds terrific.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Leedy and Ludwig Broadway New Era Snare Drum

In 1950, the Conn Musical Instruments Company, owner of both the Leedy and Ludwig Drum lines decided to combine the two under one nameplate. Both lines were nearly identical, except for slight differences in strainers and lugs, and both came off the same production line. To the cost conscious Conn executives, it simply made good economic sense. Thus, the Leedy and Ludwig Drum Company became a reality.

The swing era was slightly past its heyday in the 1950s. Yes, Big Bands still toured, but Be-bop was the hot new thing. Drum Companies attempted to cash in with new drums and new slogans---anything to make an aspiring drummer part with his hard earned cash. At the same time, many drummers, perhaps inspired by the new progressive jazz sound, started to turn to smaller drum kits and snare drums.

The 4 x 14 Snare drum had been around since the 1920s, but in the late 40s early 50s, the Gretsch Drum Company, created the 4 x 14 Max Roach Snare Drum. According to Gretsch, this was the snare drum for hip drummers. The 4 x 14 offered " greater articulation , clarity, and faster response."

Soon, every other Drum Company in America followed suit. WFL Drums offered the Buddy Rich 4 x 14 and 3 x 13 Be Bop model. Slingerland Drums introduced its Bop model in 1948.. And in 1950, Leedy and Ludwig offered the snare drum pictured above.

The Leedy and Ludwig Broadway New Era Snare drum has 16 side by side beavertail lugs, double flanged hoops, and the Pioneer strainer. The drum came with either chrome or nickel plating. This beauty is chrome plated. Like most of the Leedy drums of the period, the craftmanship is second to none.

The Leedy and Ludwig Drum Company closed their doors in the mid 50s. But the 4 x 14 BeBop model lived on in the inventory of other companies. The name was simply changed as the 1950s merged into the 60s. Camco Drums had its 3 x 13 Jazz model. Gretsch Drums had its Progressive Jazz model. Ludwig changed the name of its 4 x 14 to the Downbeat model and the 3 x 13 to the Piccolo model. Interestingly enough, the Rogers Drum Company offered a 4 x 13 single tension model known as the Classmate, which was a student model snare drum. In the early 70s, Slingerland named its 4 x 14 the Buddy Rich model.

Today, nearly every Drum Company offers a 4 x 14 Snare Drum in its catalog. Drummers play these drums in a variety of settings. No longer is the 4 x 14 considered mainly a Jazz model. Indeed, my Leedy and Ludwig Broadway New Era 4 x 14 was played by a drummer in a Rock a Billy band before I purchased it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Leedy Broadway Standard Snare Drum

The story of the Leedy Drum Company is convoluted and intrinsically connected to the histories of both the Ludwig Drum Company and the Slingerland Drum Company. It would take a small book to give the complete picture, but I will try to give a general overview. For a more complete and exhaustive story, the reader should seek out the excellent book, The Great American Drums, by Harry Cangany.

The Leedy Drum Company story begins with Ulysses Grant Leedy. It was he who started it all in 1895 in Indianapolis. The company motto was, "The Worlds Finest Drummers Instruments," and Ulysses was very successful throughout the roaring 20s. But the crash of 1929 changed everything and Leedy sold his company to the Conn Musical Instruments Company.

At the same time, Bill Ludwig Sr., who owned the Ludwig and Ludwig Drum Company, was also affected by the crash. He also decided to sell to Conn Instruments, but he retained a small interest in the company.

In 1936, Bill Sr., having had quite enough of the Conn executives, sold his share and started the WFL (William F. Ludwig) Drum Company. Meanwhile, Conn made both Leedy Drums and Ludwig and Ludwig Drums out of the same factory in Indiana.

The pictured drum was the flagship Snare Drum of the Leedy Drum Company. This Beauty, called the Broadway Standard, dates from the late 1940s. She has 16 Beavertail lugs, thick Stick Shredder hoops, and the Broadway Snare Strainer. The craftmanship of this drum is beyond compare. A number of famous players used these drums including Sonny Greer with Duke Ellington and Zutty Singleton with Louis Armstrong.

In 1951, Conn merged both lines and the Leedy and Ludwig Drum Company was born. This lasted until 1955, when Bill Ludwig bought his old company back, dropped the WFL moniker, and named his company simply, The Ludwig Drum Company.

Meanwhile, Bud Slingerland, not wanting to be left out, purchased the Leedy Drum Company from Conn and began to market them as a separate line. This was not a success and soon Leedy Drums faded into obscurity.

But the line didn't die. Collectors sought these drums out and drummers who played them, swore by them. Ginger Baker, while with Cream, endorsed Ludwig, but played a Leedy Snare Drum.

In more recent times, Fred Gretsch, of the Gretsch Drum Company, bought the line and the Broadway Standard Snare Drum lives again. The new Leedy motto is, "For Drummers Who Care." Tre Cool, the drummer with Green Day, plays Leedy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ludwig Barrett Deems Model Snare Drum

Barrett Deems billed himself as " the World's Fastest Drummer." He played with many of the top names in Jazz, including Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Red Norvo, and Art Hodes. In the 1950's, he joined Louie Armstrong's Band and, along with recording numerous albums with him, appeared with Louie in the film High Society (1956) which starred Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly.

In the early 1960's, Barrett left Armstrong and settled down in Chicago. He backed visiting jazz musicians when they came through town and he formed his own big band. During the 1980's, he played regularly with his band at local clubs. I remember seeing Barrett at the Jazz Showcase checking out Louie Bellson when Louie appeared there.

Like many drummers of the time, Barrett switched drum companies at will. He endorsed Ludwig, Slingerland, Premier, and Corder. While he was with Ludwig, the company named the above pictured drum after him. Sporting 8 classic lugs and the tried and true P83 snare strainer, this beauty has a 3 ply mahogany/poplar shell. In 1960, when Barrett moved on to another company, Ludwig simply renamed the drum, calling it the Jazz Festival Model.

For all intents and purposes, that would have been the end of the story. But the story doesn't end there........not by a long shot.

In 1963, a young drummer from Liverpool, along with his manager, walked into Drum City in London and cut a deal with the owner, Ivor Arbiter, to buy a set of drums. Ringo decided on Ludwig Drums and wanted the Black Oyster Wrap. He bought the Ludwig Super Classic Kit, but instead of buying the Ludwig Supraphonic 400 snare drum, which came standard with that set ( See January 5th blog entry), he opted for the Jazz Festival Snare Drum in a matching color. It was this drum that Ringo played on many of those famous songs that the Fab Four recorded in the 1960's.

Thus, the Jazz Festival, formerly known as the Barrett Deems model, occupies a very lofty place in Drum and Pop Music History. It's somewhat ironic that the Jazz Festival Snare Drum is best known for its use by the drummer in the greatest, and most influential band, in Rock Music History.

By the way, Ringo still owns that snare drum that he bought so many years ago.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Buddy Rich Model Super Classic Snare Drum

The great Buddy Rich endorsed and played different drums from various companies throughout his playing career. He was one of the few drummers who received free drum kits and cash payments for his endorsement.

At one time or another, he endorsed Rogers, Vox, Ludwig, Fibes, and Slingerland, but he spent most of his career switching between Slingerland and Ludwig, always searching for the perfect snare drum and playing whatever drum suited his fancy.

In 1946, the WFL/Ludwig Drum Company aggressively courted him and wooed him away from Slingerland. The Ludwig execs felt the need to sign him to combat the influence that Gene Krupa had with Slingerland. Krupa played Slingerland Drums his whole life and sold many drum kits to aspiring big band drummers.

Ludwig rolled out the red carpet and featured him on the cover of their 1948 and 1949 catalogs. They featured him in adverts as their number one Drum star. I posted one of these on an earlier blog. (See blog entry Sept 10, 2010). They also named two snare drums after him, the 5.5 x 14 Buddy Rich Super Classic and the 3 x 13, or the 4 x 14, Buddy Rich Be-Bop model.

The pictured drum is the Buddy Rich Super Classic in a White Marine Pearl wrap. It's a 3 ply mahogany/poplar/mahogany mix. The drum comes with the P-87 strainer, also referred to as the Classic strainer. The Super Classic originally came with calf heads, but Remo Weather Kings do quite nicely. In fact, with the literally hundreds of drum head choices now available, one could make the Buddy Rich Super Classic a very versatile snare drum. It's a fine snare drum and, like most Ludwig Snare Drums of the time, it's solidly built.

Buddy stayed with Ludwig from 1946 to 1959 until the Rogers Drum Company signed him as an endorser. He played Rogers until 1966, then spent about 6 months with Vox, then Fibes for a short time, and finally returned to Slingerland. He spent 10 years with Slingerland and returned to Ludwig in 1977. During his last years, he played a restored set of 1940's Slingerland Radio Kings.

Buddy Rich was a one of a kind. Truthfully, any snare drum that bears his name occupies a special place in Drum History.