Written by Vic Salzar.
November 30, 1935 - May 5, 2018
Saddened by the news of the passing of legendary drum industry veteran, Roy Burns.
Originally a native of Emporia, Kansas, Roy Burns was one of the very few drummers whose career encompassed virtually every aspect of drumming and the music business. He was a big band drummer, teacher, author, clinician, featured soloist, studio drummer, publisher, and one of the owners of Aquarian Drumheads.
At the age of 20, and on the advice of Louie Bellson who had heard him play, Roy left Kansas to study drumming in New York. Within a year he landed the gig as Woody Herman's drummer. Roy soon became famous as a big band drummer in his early 20's performing with Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, and Woody Herman.
In the '60s, he concentrated on studio work and freelancing in the New York area. He played a number of top TV shows such as the Merv Griffin Show and the Tonight Show as well as TV and radio commercials. Roy also led his own jazz group and performed regularly at clubs such as The Metrepole and Birdland in New York. During this time Roy was in demand as a teacher. It was from his teaching that Roy was inspired to write a number of drum instruction books, several of which are considered “classics” to this day, including “Finger Control”, “Elementary Drum Method”, “Advanced Rock Drumming”, “New Orleans Drumming” and “One Surface Learning."
Roy was one of the first artists to conduct drum clinics and is credited with pioneering the concept. His background as a drummer, teacher, author and studio musician made him an ideal teacher/performer. In many instances, a Roy Burns drum clinic was the first one attended by young drummers in the U.S. and internationally. Roy was also the first American drummer to present clinics outside the U.S. in a number of countries such as, Australia, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Denmark. He literally set the standard for today’s drum clinicians.
During the '70s, Roy was also the house drummer for the Monterey Jazz Festival and backed some of the greatest names in jazz and blues.
In 1980, Roy began writing a column in Modern Drummer Magazine. Thousands of drummers read his “Concepts” column in Modern Drummer Magazine. It was one of the most successful columns in the history of the magazine and ran an unprecedented 12 years.
On June 13, 1980, Roy, along with co-owner Ron Marquez, first formed The Aquarian Accessories Company before focusing on drumhead production. Roy's experience in music and drumming combined with Ron's extensive engineering and manufacturing background helped to build an innovative company dedicated to helping drummers play music. On January 1, 1987, Aquarian first introduced their drumheads to the world.
Aquarian experienced tremendous growth in a relatively short time because of innovative ideas and unique products of superior quality. As Roy said, “In everything we do, we keep the drummer in mind. We focus on helping the drummer attain a musical sound and achieve a better performance.”
Some of Aquarian's innovations that Roy helped to develop include their Safe-T-Loc™ patented hoop which prevents de-tuning and "pull outs", their Sound Curve™ collar design which allows their drumheads to seat automatically and reduce tuning problems, and in more recent years their inHead acoustic/electronic hybrid drumhead and onHEAD portable electronic drum surface.
Thanks to his contributions, the company also boasts an impressive artist roster of endorsers like Jack DeJonette, Daniel Glass, Craig Blundell, Mike Johnston, John Vidacovich, Eric Moore, Tim Alexander, Darren King, Randy Black, Dylan Wissing, Jimmy Keegan, Gregg Potter, Rikki Rockett, Nick D’Virgilio, Seven Antonopoulos, Richie Morales, John Wackerman, Roger Taylor (Duran Duran), Tommy Clufetos, Brian Blade, Alicia Warrington, Joe Porcaro, J.D. Blair, Steve DiStanislao, Mike Bennett, Damion Reid, Chad Butler, and Danny Seraphine.
Roy Burns dedicated his life to drums and drummers. The drumming community owes this gentleman a huge debt of gratitude. I will miss my friend sorely.
Editor's note: I thought Vic said all this better than I could but I do have a personal note to add;
The first drum clinic I ever attended was given by Roy Burns at my junior high school in Jackson Mississippi in the late sixties. Needless to say, I was thrilled at Roy's solos and what he had to say was inspiring. Roy practically invented drum clinics. As a player, I was an Aquarian drum head endorser and I was also an Aquarian dealer and sold a lot of Roy's heads and other products at my drum shops. Roy's life and career is inspiring. When he got older, I asked him what was his secret to working at such an advanced age. He said, "I always leave work at 3:30". He was always quick-witted and loved hanging with and talking to drummers. He understood the "Drummer Community - the brotherhood and sisterhood and family of drummers" - long before a lot of us did. He helped to create that attitude among drummers - not as competitors but as comrades in arms - all of us slugging it out in the trenches together - and understanding each other. And he always treated everyone the same - with sincerity, honesty and genuine interest in drummers as personal friends. I am just now realizing how much he influenced me in that way. And of course he played his ass off. He was a role model for drummers and for drummers in the music industry. - George Lawrence