(L-R) Steve Maxwell, Fred W. Gretsch, Rob Cook, Logan Thomas (Fred's Grandson)) and John Sheridan
I love going to New York; great place to visit, etc. I guess that should read I love living in a small town in central Michigan and being able to go to New York now and then. There are a lot of great cities I love to visit; Chicago, L.A., Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Rio.... all with their own special beauty, charm, and sense of adventure. But New York is the one that makes you feel like you are in the city. The perfect setting for this particular adventure because it is the city most closely associated with Gretsch drums. The famous "Gretsch Building #4" in Brooklyn became such an icon that when it was recently given a complete remodeling, the big sign on top that you can clearly see from the Williamsburg bridge was restored although there are no Gretsch musical instrument activities there; it is now condominiums. And where better to have this little party than at "the great American drum shop," Steve Maxwell's in the heart of Manhattan? I'd like to thank Steve, KMC Music (distributor of Gretsch drums), and Fred W. Gretsch (Fred Gretsch Enterprises) for letting me share the stage they set to celebrate Gretsch's 130th Anniversary.
Steve's shop is at the corner of 7th Avenue and 48th St; one of those corners that is fun to loiter on if you can stand the jostling because it's one of those places that does not let you forget you are in New York. It's only a few steps from Times Square, the theater district, Grand Central Station, and until recently was the center of musical instrument retailing with Manny's Music, Sam Ash, and all the smaller retailers elbowing for space on 48th Street. In the tradition of the great drum shops of Chicago like Frank's and Crowden's, you duck into a doorway off the crowded sidewalk and into an elevator. Steve's main showroom, offices, and outfit demo rooms are on the third floor. On special event days like this, all visitors are also allowed on the 4th floor which is really special; a Craviotto room, a Gretsch room, a room full of incredibly rare vintage kits, and more. I arrived way early. Actually I was there an hour before the shop opened, but Steve's manager Jess also was way early and let me in to hang out while he got ready for the day. Steve soon arrived and took me up to the 4th floor with him to open everything up. After a quick tour, Steve stepped behind the bar and made me an expresso and we chatted about the music business. That, for me, was one of the high points of my whole weekend. I grew up in a retail environment and have spent my whole adult life in the music business. I'm 62, so I have a lot of old-school sensibilities when it comes to retailing. Franks Drum Shop in Chicago was, in my opinion, the closest you could ever get to perfection in a drum shop. It had a few peers that were close; Ippolito's in NYC, Mo's in Vegas, and Pro Drum in Hollywood. Steve Maxwell's reminded me a lot of those shops. Great location, great staff, great repair facility, incredible inventory. But actually what was memorable for me about visiting this time was the chat with Steve. We are on the same wavelength when it comes to views on the current state of the music industry; the box stores, Chinese manufacturing, corporate politics and misdeeds.... Steve spent a good part of his adult career in the corporate world, so he understands what is behind a lot of the smoke and mirrors of today's music retailing but he has chosen to do business the old fashioned way- very refreshing! I don't mean for this to be a Maxwell commercial; certainly there are other shops such a Fork's Drum Closet in Nashville Memphis Drum Shop, and Pro Drum in Hollywood (and of course there are others) still doing it the right way. They have knowledgeable and honest people presenting quality gear at reasonable prices. They take trade-ins, have teaching studios, do rentals and repairs, present clinics. I also see shops trying to take shortcuts. One shop threw in a million-dollar inventory and brought in a huge roster of stars to draw in the public. That is backwards. When you have a world class operation word gets around and everyone, stars included, comes. I used to love hanging at Franks because I learned so much and always saw some famous people. Those famous people were not part of a marketing plan- they loved to hang there as much as I did. No name dropping necessary.
The "event" was scheduled to start at 2, but by noon the place was happening. All the rest of the day it was shoulder-to-shoulder. In retrospect it reminds me a lot of a marathon.... there were lots and lots of little events, memorable vignettes that are still coming back to me. Bill Gretsch and Sally Gretsch, cousins of Fred W. showed up and were great fun to talk to. Bill's father had been a bookbinder in Manhattan, doing the kind of hand binding that is becoming increasing rare these days. There was a lot of book signing as people had John, Fred, and I sign their copies. Also a lot of picture taking, particularly after Fred and Logan arrived. I managed to have the photo above taken when I presented Steve, Fred, and John with their special copies of the book. I'd sent three copies to the small bindery in Mississippi where they were hand bound in leather covers. There was another flurry of photos when Sam Ulano was wheeled in. I was on Sam's mailing list in the 1960s, never dreamed I'd actually get to meet the guy. He is still gruff. Yelled at me for not being able to read. Softened a bit when I gave him a copy of The Gretsch Drum Book. It was wonderful. I met a lot of new people, renewed some old acquaintances, told a lot of stories and picked up a few new ones. Before I knew it, the crowd had thinned and those of us left took advantage of the bottles of red wine Steve had broken out. This was when I had a chance to visit with the KMC crew. KMC was well-represented by people from corporate as well as manufacturing; John Palmer, Paul Cooper, Steve Nigohosian among them. Great bunch of people. These are the people who are building, marketing, and representing Gretsch in today's marketplace and their partnership with Fred seems to be working quite nicely.
After a couple hour break (during which I found my hotel- one of those "Pod" places ideal for my budget) the party resumed in the guitar version of Maxwell's, Rudy's Music in Soho. Fred presented nice certificates to Rudy and Steve between performances by the Kimberly Thompson Quartet (jazz) and the CAAS Cats (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society). All in all, a very classy presentation. Congratulations to Gretsch, Steve, and Rudy! It was very gratifying to be allowed to play a part in all of this and to have the book so well received. Steve pretty much sold through the supply I'd sent him and the early reviews have been very good.