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Vintage View - Accessories Part 1

In June, I was sitting in a recording studio with Brian Bennett, Clem Cattini and a whole host of other session musicians. One of the things that linked us was that we all dated from a time when the genre of ‘session musician’ existed and was a legitimate career path.

A film maker called Alan Boyd has been making a film about British recordings from the sixties called ‘One More Time’ for a while and I’m lucky enough to be in it along with worthy people like Ray Russell, Mike Moran, Clem, Brian and Mo Foster. 

But that’s not what I’m writing about. We were all talking on camera, more or less in a semi-circle, around Brian’s newish Gretsch kit. For those that don''t know, all of Brian’s vintage drums, records, music and a lot of other memorabilia were burned in a fire a year or two ago and sadly the only drums he now owns are these Gretsch. But to get to the point Clem and I were sat next to them and I noticed he had something vintage on his bass drum. It is called a ‘centre-spur’ aka ‘front hoop anchor’ which, as its name suggests, clamps to the front hoop where the bass drum touches the floor. This was a piece of equipment which became the sine qua non for British drummers at a time before Protection Racket (or anybody else) made more or less portable rugs to keep our bass drums from moving forward. To be honest in the days of highly-polished stages centre spurs didn’t work too well although they did arrest forward movement enough for you to be able grab the hoop at the end of each song and drag the whole thing backwards. This usually left deep scratches from the spikes in the stage - much to the consternation of the stage manager. 

Gretsch Cyclops

Believe it or not, at the beginning of the sixties when I was with Adam Faith, I actually had my own ridiculously high riser which I couldn’t get onto without a strategically placed stool. It went everywhere with me, although since no one ever thought to put a carpet on it, the roadie would simply put nails in at the beginning of every week when we were working consistently in another UK Variety Theatre, simply to hold the Trixon bass drum in a convenient playing position. The idea of sacrilegiously putting six inch nails into the highly-polished floors of concert halls like London’s Festival Hall, Croydon’s Fairfield Hall, and even the prestigious Albert Hall was much frowned upon - but it didn’t stop it happening. However you couldn’t do it without being heard, so the only way to disguise the unmistakable sound of nails being hammered into a stage was for the drummer to play the drums loudly and incessantly [think Moonie] at the same time that the roadie ruined the stage for ever. So to get to the point this month with your permission gentle reader I thought I’d see if I could do a whole Vintage Views on accessories, starting with the centre spur I first mentioned in the third paragraph. 

In a previous life I wrote in my ‘A to Z of drums’ that: 

“Accessories were generally anything connected with a drum kit which isn''t actually a drum. This generic term includes cymbal stands, hi-hat pedals, bass drum pedals, snare drum stands, tom stands, stools, sticks, brushes. In short anything you can hold, stamp on, sit on, or legitimately attach to your set.”

The Ching Ring

Ludwig’s bass drum anchor first appeared in their 1960 catalogue (nickel plated and priced at $4.50) and since everybody seemed to offer one, my suspicion is they were made by one company – maybe Walberg and Auge. However I’m pretty sure mine had Ludwig stamped on it. The pressed steel unit clamped to the bass drum hoop with a couple of minuscule wing bolts and had a pair of spikes sloping forwards and touching the floor. These could be very slightly adjusted up and down to ineffectually cope with uneven stages but in most cases they never were and simply stayed on the bass drum when you put it away in its vulcanised fibre case, where they often went on to puncture the bottom of it. There were rubber feet sticking up on the opposite ends of these spikes away from the floor which could be switched over to touch the stage more benignly. Needless to say these were seldom used and certainly didn’t help the situation for guys playing anything other than dinner jazz. 

Of course other drum companies followed suit and Gretsch had their own slightly more solid version called ‘Cyclops’ which had just one solid threaded spike tapped into theirs. Eventually Ludwig changed theirs too to make it more substantial and better engineered by putting a pair of spiked rods into welded bosses on what looked like, and probably was, part of a hoop-mount cowbell clamp mounted upside down.   

As I said they didn’t work too well but Ringo and Joe Morello had one and they looked as cool as…If you were serious you had to have one. 

Camco's Cymbal Sizzler

There was an alternative attachment a few years later which did the same job as the centre-spur and this was a piece of cable which joined to a couple of opposing tensioners on your bass drum and went around the base of your stool. Believe it or not this was awarded a patent in the US. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising when you discover an exercise bike which provided power for an electric drum kit mounted to it also had its own US patent! 

One of the things we all found room for in our sets was a hoop-mounted cowbell. Everybody had one just in case, but only used it as an after -thought.  The first ‘real’ ones we could get were made by ASBA which were deemed to have a more authentic sound because they seemed to be played by proper Latin-American musicians. I had a British-built bell which had more of a ‘clack’ sound than a ‘clong’ which I replaced with a more acceptable Ludwig once they arrived in the UK around 1964. This was the one I used on Unit 4 + 2’s ‘Concrete and Clay’.  

The other thing we all had was a ‘Ching-Ring’ which was something patented in 1965 by Ralph Kester whose real claim to fame some time later was a metal nesting drumset called Flat Jacks which was the subject of its own Vintage View some time ago.  This attachment was used by John Bonham and has been much copied. But for those who don’t know it, it was a lightweight circle of metal with a series of eight tambourine jingles loose-riveted to it which attached to the centre-rod of a hi hat and produced ‘that’ sound every time the cymbals came together. Ralphs version wasn’t strong enough to be hit by a stick (although God knows we tried) but modern versions are made from sterner stuff and are capable of taking the odd bash with a stick.

Jeff using the Pearl rack and RIMS

Along the same lines was an implement which turned a regular cymbal into a ‘sizzle’ cymbal. Often this would go some way to making a very ordinary cymbal like (say) an Ajax, sound like it might have some tenuous affinity with one cast from bronze in Turkey! George Way made one with an adjustable throw-off called a ‘cymbal sizzler’. It had two diametrically opposed lightweight adjustable arms with 3 loose rivets screwed to each located by a threaded washer onto the threaded part of the cymbal tilter. Thus by placing one or both of the arms on your cymbal with your drum stick as you played it gave you lots of sizzle, a little bit of sizzle or no sizzle at all. It was a great idea which I’m not convinced has had its day. 

Locking nuts for tension screws came later and thus were enthusiastically embraced by owners of Ludwig 400s but these things were something of an acquired taste. The first regular drum company which fitted them was Sonor and theirs were locking washers which arrested the tension screw so the drum didn’t detune. I had them when they arrived from Pearl but gave them up when inexplicably and unusually I began to break heads. I always felt that this was because with the nuts locked-up tight the head invariably broke where my left and right sticks hit the head. I deduced that if they weren’t locked and therefore able to detune under pressure the head wouldn’t break.    

80's Clip On External Damper

RIMS were invented by Gary Gauger in 1979 and a great many drummers like me liked the idea of  them and invested in them for all our drums.  Before they came out all mounting brackets were attached directly to the shells where they would have a detrimental influence on the sound. RIMS stands for ‘Resonance Isolating Mounting System’ and is simply a way of mounting drums to holders (or legs) without anything touching the shell of the drum, thereby killing its resonance.  This isolation was achieved by loosely mounting a rail and a plate to which the holder bracket was attached to the tension screws through durable rubber rings.   

Gary Gauger was actually a proper jazz drummer who also played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and this was his baby. He wasn’t alone in recognising that drum mounting systems were choking the sound of drums but he was the first to do something about it. He succeeded with the help of Russ Kunkel and Jeff Porcaro and since every manufacturer worth his salt has borrowed his out-of-patent idea the principle has become highly significant in modern drum history.

Jeff was instrumental in pioneering something else too – the Drum Rack. These could loosely be described as an accessory  and were in the beginning largely the province of touring drummers with drum techs to pack them away and ‘humpers’ at the gig to carry them.  They were first prevalent in the twenties and thirties when ‘Traps’ were attached to them.  (Traps was short for contraptions and consisted of all the accessories of drumming which were used by the drummers of the pre-swing  era: temple blocks, wood blocks, cowbells, klaxons, bells and train-whistles. All these were attached to a set of bent tubes which curved around the bass drum and had a tray on top for bits which couldn’t be mounted like castanets, ratchets, coconut shells (for horse’s hooves, guiros and shakers.) 

The ''Frisco Double Pedal

Of course bass drums benefit most from damping and while there have in the past been big external dampers as well as adjustable contraptions inside to do this made by Trixon, Gretsch, Sonor and others, a strip of felt running from top to bottom of the batter head certainly gets the job done. However lots of guys removed the front head, stuffed their drums with pillows (or even duvets), or cut a large hole in the front head, or used two regular heads and cut down unwanted resonance by filling the drum with shredded strips of newspaper. These holes in the head changed the feel of course and made the drum more difficult to play but what difference, since you were already hammering away on drums covered with tea towels to get that fashionable soggy sound, the fact you were having difficulty playing the bass drum wouldn’t matter too much.  

I mentioned gaffer tape and its appearance in the music world changed the sound and the look of drums for ever.  If you (make that the record producer) didn’t like the sound of a drum (or even a cymbal) you simply stuck tape all over it and it changed immeasurably – sometimes for the better!  What it did was make it more microphone-friendly because it didn’t ring. 

There was a time when a container of talcum powder to kill the sound of springs on bass pedals and everything else was de riguer, not to say essential, if you were going into the studios to make an album. You simply sprinkled it all over the squeaky bits and for the moment that was normally enough for you to make the album.  Of course it didn’t do the pedal any good in the long run.

Palmer Double Pedal

Speaking of pedals, this would be as good a place as any to mention the double bass version which burst onto the scene in the seventies, but the earliest one I can find was the ’Frisco Double’ which was around in 1924. I had always used two bass drums but, for the same reasons already stated about drum racks, it helped if somebody else carried them. In the end I began to use a double pedal but, as with a great many other drummers, it only came into play when you were ‘building a shed’ at the very end of a song. An American company called Zalmer were the first to re-enter the fray in the early seventies with their ‘Twin’ pedal.  The pedal’s linkage uniquely used a microphone goose neck to join the master pedal to the slave and I saw my first in Frank Ippolito’s shop in New York when it first arrived there around 1975. 

The accessory which has contributed most to changing my life though is not high-tech at all. It’s common or garden sticking plaster. I say common or garden but actually what I’ve been using since mid-1984 when I joined the Kinks is not.  However, like many drummers of my ilk who were touring incessantly I had problems with blisters which often became open wounds in my fingers and hands after long tours playing three days on and one day off.  At the end of a tour I’d have debilitating problems and my hands would need a rest to get over it. Of course I did all the obvious things once the problems began: sticking plaster on the abraded part, or even ‘NuSkin’ painted on the exposed flesh which really hurt. There were no drum gloves in those days and even had there been I wouldn’t have used them – I always felt it was like having a bath with your boots on. The only thing I didn’t do was the obvious one – to put sticking plaster on my fingers hands before the trouble began!  But it had to be the right sticking plaster which I discovered in a pharmacy in New York.  It was made by Johnson and Johnson, called ‘Elast Fab’ and was woven and thick enough to cushion the trauma of the impact caused by the drumstick. I’ve had no blister problems for 32 years. 

Bob Henrit

July 16

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