When you think of Memphis, do the words “world famous” cross your mind? If not, then let me help you. There is Beale Street, fantastic musicians, Sun Studio, Stax Records, Civil Rights museum, b.b.q. and Graceland. I could continue with this list but I’ll get to the actual story.
Nestled in the heart of Midtown Memphis, located in the ever popular Cooper-Young district, there is a special place with deep ties to music. With its flat white exterior, and black awning, 878 S. Cooper Street is home to none other than the world famous Memphis Drum Shop.
Established in the fall of 1987 at its original location, 1999 Madison Avenue, Owners Jim and Nancy Pettit moved M.D.S. to its new location in 1991. The current building was once at one time the local beloved Peabody movie theater. At first M.D.S. was a corner stop shop, very popular for local drummers and their needs. However, over the years, M.D.S. has transformed its location into a mishmash of vacant lots & structures. This medley has grown to claim the entire end cap of a city block. Wow! Of course with growth and modern day technology, this full service local Memphis business has become a leading company in music and most importantly, the drumming community across the globe.
If you have been to M.D.S. recently, then you can understand how jaw dropping it is once you enter through the front door. It is in orderly fashion and the cleanest pro 5star drum shops I have ever been in. M.D.S. would pass any surprise inspection given by top brass of any military branch (being ex-military, I can attest to that).
It’s definitely snap-n-pop inside. Chrome, brass, bronze, gold, sparkles, glitter, and even the matte finishes illuminate at their best. It’s like being in a museum. You’re a little apprehensive to try things out, because you don’t want to be the person to smudge the bountiful items on display. But, by all means, get your mitts on it, with permission and supervision of course, ha!
In addition, M.D.S. is beautifully decorated. From floor to ceiling there are drum displays, signed pictures of past clinicians, signed drum heads & framed posters, a history of the cymbal display, other drum memorabilia, and marble and granite tables. All this is just in the customer restroom! Just kidding, but it is pleasant as well. But honestly, the main underlying motif of the shop is African and local mid-south art. Honestly, the average everyday customer does not have a clue what it takes or took to display works of art as unimportant background scenery.
Jim & Nancy Pettit have been gracious to Memphis and its drummers for almost three full decades. There is a lot being done by the duo that goes unnoticed. Sometimes it includes just being attentive to individual staff members, volunteering services, or donating to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. M.D.S. is definitely a pillar and self-sustaining business that flourishes in a challenged city.
For you drum nerds (including me), the layout of the shop is impressive! M.D.S. has two major show rooms for drum sets and snare drums such as, Dunnett, Yamaha, Ludwig, D.W., C&C, Gretsch, Pearl, Sakae, George Way, Tama, and Craviotto. There is a massive percussion room for all your worldly music needs, conjoined with a top of the line electronic section featuring Roland and Yamaha and the like. There is a cymbal vault under lock and key displaying Paiste, Sabian, Zildjian, Meinl, Bosphorus and a cast of others. Sticks, yes they got ’em! Vic Firth, Promark, Vater, RegalTip, Zildjian also including most brushes and mallets from each line. There is also a Remo & Evans drumhead stash that is equally impressive (but not seen by the public). In addition, the storage capability in M.D.S. is massive. How else would you cater to all the drummers in the world?
Queue Bill Frazier. He is the drum shop’s 28-year employee and manager. He has his hands in everything from “drum” repair to ordering and invoicing, and could manage any fortune 500 company if he wanted to (though, I don’t think he would stoop so low). Or would he? Bill leads up the staff at M.D.S. and is on top of making sure customers are taken care of in the shop, over the phone and online. Really, what good is an ample stock if you can’t move it? Jim & Nancy have staffed their shop accordingly with certain talent and expertise to remedy that.
A “people over profit” mindset seems to work wonders for M.D.S. and its staff. This philosophy is like stepping back into a Mayberry full-service gas station experience for customers. I don’t know about you, but I love personal service! In times of cutbacks, recession, closures, relocations and chain store dabblers, M.D.S. has bought, built, expanded, hired, thrived and supplied for all drummers everywhere.
In an advancing tech. age, M.D.S. seems to have a “cyber Monday” everyday. Now, they won’t go overkill on saturation advertisement, or offer a 15% discount on top of already competitive prices, or mail out monthly catalogs with gimmick filled internet deals, and certainly they will not make fake promises! All their staff and gear is in-house, on location, and ready to equip you with your drumming needs. Now, this I can guarantee, when you do business with M.D.S. in-store, on-line, or via-phone, it will be an honest purchase. You won’t get the run around with these guys.
The memphisdrumshop.com website is easy to use, and unique in a way drummers can appreciate. Once you buy a specific cymbal, snare drum, drum set, or even the last hi-hat stand in stock, that specific brand/model is completely removed from their website until re-stocked. I personally find this to be a wonderful feature. It eliminates multiple buyers and the dispute of who bought it first. Back orders exist, but not to the point where your money is held in limbo for months at a time, and you’re left wondering “when will my order process and arrive?” Will M.D.S. make everyone happy? Probably not, but they have thought out scenarios, learned how to trouble shoot them, and remain on point to satisfy the majority of all customers and drummers.
No one knows what the future holds for M.D.S. but I assure you it will not close its doors due to economic reasons. The best and continued free advertisement they get is from lifelong drummers like me, and from teachers, students, bands, and employees past and present. Some of the aforementioned are dabblers, hobbyist, weekend warriors, and everyday drummers, who grace Memphis with their talents, keep the music industry rolling and create music for the world. Players like Tom Lonardo, Timmy Jones, George Sluppick, Steve Ebe, Marshall Richardson, Rodd Bland, Chuck Fields, Steve Potts, Robert Hall, Myron Howell, Stanley Randolf, and Greg Morrow may not all be mainstream-famed-names, but they all have M.D.S. running through their veins and, unbenownst to them, they promote the shop through deep roots tied to the city.Being a one time Memphisresident, liaison and ambassador of goodwill towards the drumming community, I make my tri-yearly visit to M.D.S. and gladly contribute to their endeavor.
For those who have never experienced the Memphis Drum Shop, I highly encourage you to do so. Online visits and perusing are practical in this day and age, but it really does not do the shop justice. For the lucky ones who have been there, we will be able to reflect on our awe inspiring visits.
You never know what you might take away with you as you leave the front door. You may have caught a glimpse of a rare original Gladstone or Ludwig Triumphal snare drum. Maybe you heard a conversation about the drummers of The Royal American Showmen, or stumbled upon the 1st and 2nd issue of Not So Modern Drummer sitting on a countertop.
None the less, you will find yourself exiting with a smile on your face, perhaps with the notion of renaming M.D.S. your very own “drum heaven”, “drum mecca”, ”heaven on earth”, or whatever you want to call it. Just don’t call it Graceland…. That’s in a whole different part of town.
John Salazar is a lifelong & independent drummer living in Nashville, Tn. with his wife and kids. He is a passionate drum geek, a former Memphis Drum Shop employee, and a U.S. ARMY veteran.