Eddie Knight

I went to visit Eddie Knight at his Drum Studio in South Bend.  I called him to ask if he had an email address because Mike Kaskell in England asked me.  A Camco set with an “Eddie Knight” sticker was in England.

No, Eddie doesn’t have an email address.  He did tell me he had a leather bound catalog cover that had belonged to U.G. Leedy.  That’s like telling me he had George Washington’s uniform or Abe Lincoln’s hat.  “I’ll be there”.

South Bend is over two hours from me and it took me a few months to come up with a second reason to get to that part of my state.

Eddie and I made an appointment and I went to his studio, up 23 steps from ground level and I walked into “Oz”.

Because I am old enough to remember great old drum stores, I am familiar with the sights of old Camcos laying around and snare drums sitting on the floor and stuff just everywhere.  This was no chrome and glass and steel modern designed music store.  This was no dainty well dusted showroom.  This was not a Madison Avenue inspired anything.   This was a dyed in the wool drum studio just like they used to be.  I just wanted to breathe the air and get high on 50 years of everything.

There were more autographed pictures than I could count – stars on sets, old students on sets, black and white shots, vivid color, faded color, and old advertising pieces.  My running statement was that I was on sensory overload.

Yes, I saw great drums, but for this piece, I will stay on topic.  Eddie pulled out four leather bound Leedy catalogs – F & G.   So we talked, prior to World War I.

Two of the catalogs had the gold embossed name of “U.G. Leedy” (the much revered president), one had the name “Alfred Kuerst”.  Al, as he was known, was the VP of Leedy, really the second in command.  Before George Way got there, Al was the guy quoted in trade magazines.  He was also very popular because he paid each employee his/her wages in cash every week.   The fourth catalog read “order clerk.”

So, these were the books taken to music stores and trade shows.   The covers are permanent – the catalogs do not slip and out.   This is what I came to see and they were just the start!

Somehow George Way got these special catalogs and his widow, Elsie, gave everything to Eddie over 40 years ago.  Eddie had been a protégé of George, and George called him “Be-Bop”.

Well, Be-Bop has some other catalog treasures B and C and other Leedy catalogs.  And every one I saw looked brand new.  Leedy’s first catalog was not branded with a letter.  It has the Cyclorama address in it, so that makes it before 1903.  Therefore “B” has to have been published no sooner than 1904.   And it looks new - uncreased, no spots, no loose pages, no cuts.  Damn!

Eddie has boxes of his catalogs with many of them in plastic.  We need an archivist, please!

I had a great albeit brief visit with Eddie who has taught drummers for 50 years.  I’d like to go back, shoot the breeze and breathe the air.

His catalog collection is superb and while it was U.G. Leedy that got me there, it was Eddie Knight who kept me in riveted attention.

I never would have guessed we have a rival to the Library of Congress in downtown South Bend, Indiana.


Wilson Brothers 1922 Drum Catalog

Chicago played such a role in the 20th century history of American drum companies. Ludwig, Slingerland, Camco, Liberty, Lyon & Healy, Novak Drum Supply, and today’s featured company—Wilson Brothers. Tom Wilson stated that he became involved with drum building in 1887, and by 1907, he was a principal in Wilson-Jacobs, the predecessor manufacturer to Wilson Brothers, founded in 1917. Wilson-Jacobs sold drums to music stores and distributors for their private labels. Wilson Brothers sold directly to the public, at first, and, then, through music stores. I have no information on Tom’s other brother or brothers.

Rumor has it that Tom Wilson worked at Lyon & Healey and learned his craft there, before later buying the drum works of that prestigious organization and running Wilson Brothers until the late 1920s.

Wilson first made drums and traps, sold Leedy timpani along with his own, and later added banjos just like competitors Leedy and Ludwig & Ludwig, by 1926.

Wilson Brothers eventually had a four story plant at 218 May Street. Their statement, in our catalog, was that they were capable of building 150,000 drums a year, and that seems impressive. I have no idea how much capacity was reached, but I have seen a few Wilsons in my day. Their signature piece was their strainer—the Wilson 3 Way. The throw handle would swivel left, right or stay in the center, supposedly for the ease of the player. Even then, some of us were left handed!The 3 Way strainers seem to always be attached to the bottom hoop. Wilson’s catalog illustrated solid maple shell snare drums and one piece brass shells with a center bead. These metal snare drums could be nickel plated or be colored—ebony, maroon, cream or violet. Bass drums and wood shell snares could also have those colors. The drums could have traditional tube lugs and a Wilson designed separate tension tube lug that used thumb rods at the bottom, with a special lug lock on each lug so that the thumb rods could tension the bottom head and the top head separately (did this inspire Billy Gladstone years later?). Wilson often used the terms “Ultrafine” and “Superfine.”

I found the price list, and on it, and not in the catalog is some extra information. Wilson offered gold plating, gold-bronze plating and gunmetal shells with either gold-bronze or nickel parts. There was no mention of engraving available.

Here is a description of the 1922 catalog from a press release I found in a magazine: “with 96 pages showing 97 different sizes and models of snare drums, 98 different models and sizes of bass drums, and 5 complete drum outfits, this catalog....carries a significant message pertaining to ‘Perfecting the Art of Fine Drum Making—An Achievement Born of 35 Years of Experience in Making America’s Finest Drums.’ “ Well, with those words, a red cover catalog with a black and gold Wilson Brothers Trade-Mark with heavy stock paper with a color section, was released to the public, packed with the aforementioned drums, a lot of traps and Deagan mallet instruments. It is impressive for the time.

Tom Wilson appears to be about 50 in the picture shown in the catalog. I found one reference to Wilson Brothers assets being sold at auction in 1929 to Novak Drum Supply, and the supposition is that the company was gone by the time Leedy and Ludwig & Ludwig sold to Conn in September, 1929. I would suppose the same market forces that hurt the biggest two manufacturers, negatively affected Wilson Brothers as well.

From the look of their catalog and the press releases I found, plus the picture of the factory, they certainly looked the part of a major contender. I just haven’t seen enough of surviving product to think they were as prominent as these clues may lead us to believe. Let us know what you may have seen or heard about Wilson.


Rogers Canadian Catalog

Rogers Drums were made in three factories. The first one was in New Jersey, when the family owned the company. When Rogers was purchased by Cleveland based Henry Grossman (of Grossman Music) he moved operations to Covington, Ohio in the 1950s. In 1969, Rogers, as a division then, of CBS Musical Instruments consolidated production in Fullerton, California.

During the Covington years, finished product was shipped to Grossman Music headquarters in Cleveland for warehousing and sales. Once CBS owned Rogers, in April of 1966, the warehousing was done in nearby Dayton, Ohio.

Today's feature was created during the Covington time period when Rogers also used the Toronto firm of H&A Selmer for Canadian distribution. I've had this undated catalog for quite a few years and I would date it about 1962 since some of the pages are exactly the same as the US catalog.

The Canadian version has a few differences and pictures of sets and descriptions were minimized to save space.

The catalog is about one third the total size of the US counterpart, leaving out a number of products. What we do find are the various Rogers sets, snare drums, tom toms and basses, marching drums, Swiv-o-matic hardware, stands, cymbals and heads and percussion items. No prices are listed.

You can see the front cover - an illustration of a silhouette of a matched grip drummer. The inside front and back covers have pictures of international endorsees - Charles Botterill of England and Mark Bowden of Australia are in both the US and Canadian catalogs, but Canada's own Ron Rully and Ray Reilly are pictured with their sets. Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson are also on the back cover in gleaming black and white.

The only color shot shows us the 14 plastic wraps and two lacquers available in 1962. If I could go back in time, I would get every Mardi Gras drum I could get from the factory and warehouse. The only problem with Rogers in 1962 was that the company was in the final two years of using the beautiful but fragile drawn brass lugs. We needed another year for Rogers to introduce their nearly indestructible beavertail lugs and then the drum set war was really on.

I have not seen another Rogers Canadian catalog. Let me know if you have one or have seen one.


Barry Drum Company

I have a Facebook friend from Norway, who is a freelance writer of automotive stories and a drummer who really loves to find Barry drums. He has written to me about them, and I have been on the lookout for great examples for him. So, let’s talk about Barry drums today and their Catalog E. This Philadelphia based company was formally known as the Barry Drum Manufacturing Company and look at the rest of the catalog’s title..”Modern Drums for the Progressive Drummer.”

The Barry claim to fame was the far reaching use of aluminum as a shell material.

As drum production geared up after World War I ended, most the manufacturers used maple, walnut or mahogany for drum shells. Barry offered wood, but they showcased aluminum, using a manufacturing process for it that had been invented in the 1880s.

The inventor misspelled aluminium, and while Americans continue to say aluminum, and leave out that last letter “i“, everybody else in the world, uses the British pronunciation..Since the 60s, we have had aluminum as an available snare drum shell, but, founded in 1919, Barry made snare drums, marching drums and bass drums from aluminum, and their trademark product was the Collapsible Bass Drum. More on that in a minute.

Barry aluminum shells normally had black or white lacquers or a satin finished clear coat, but I have also seen purple, and it  looked original.. Parts were nickel plated—or gold plated. Their shell was described as die cast in one piece and the snare drums had twelve rods with air vents between each one, except for the panel with the strainer. The hoops were straight, not flange and collar hooks were used.

The Barry catalog features pedals and accessories by Barry, Leedy and Ludwig, but all the drums were from Barry. There is no mention of a solid wood shell, and, specifically, there is mention of laminated wood shells. The strainer was a unique looking piece that we picture—a round middle section and a downward locking throw arm—very compact and without vulnerable linkages and rivets.

Ah, but they had what traveling drummers needed. If you were playing in the mid 1920s, you would not have had an automobile. You were destined to ride a street car or trolley and you might have had to stand. Barry saw a niche.They created the “Collapsible Bass Drum” in three diameters. In those days,most drummers played 28 or 30 inch monsters, and, carrying them around in mackintosh bags, did little to protect the valuable cargo, already difficult to manoeuver. William A. Barry invented a 12 1/2  pound bass drum that could be taken apart and folded into a neat small elliptical shaped case.

Even the drum heads were foldable and the hoops were hinged. A player could use two cases and carry his bass, snare, cymbal, stand, pedal traps and holders, and still get on the trolley without problems.

I think we see more Barry snare drum survivors than the Collapsible Bass Drums, although they must have influenced Leedy and Walberg in the 20s to create carry all wooden bass drums that turned the instrument into a case by being hinged in the middle. The doom factor for the Barry bass drums was getting replacement heads easily.

The Catalog E. endorsers were East Coasters and two of them show up later with bigger companies. Jess Altmiller of the Fox Theater in Philly gets prominently featured with Slingerland and Benjamin Podemski, of the Philadelphia Symphony, became a Leedy endorser.

The snare drums have a crisp sound and they do turn up with some frequency. I have heard that Barry Manufacturing survived to the late 1930s, so there were 20 years of production, but I have not seen a catalog later than E, nor have I ever seen Barry tom toms. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found that Barry had a retail outlet in Philadelphia, since there is a picture of a plate glass window with their name in large letters. I can see two drums in the window, but the rest is blocked by a shot of the world’s largest metal drum, made for a local Shrine band. This possible retail side may have been what helped them to survive after the Collapsible Bass had seen it’s day.


Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer 5

Over the years, I seem to have bought and collected almost every drum catalog I could find. Not only are they great resources for parts and information, but they are also pieces of American history (I have Premier and other British catalogs, too!). Today, we journey back to Beantown, to Boston, once a mainstay of percussion building. For about 15 years, one of the recognizable companies was Nokes & Nicolai and also seen as Nokes and Nicolai. They were in a direct line of three companies that were connected with the same strainer design that resurfaced decades later. First, there was the Harry Bower Company and that begat the F.E.Dodge Company and that begat today’s organization, whose nickname was “No-Nic”. When this catalog was published, the three firms, in this direct line, had been in the drum business for 48 years.

Today’s catalog is 100 years old. It dates to 1913, one year after Messrs. Nokes and Nicolai bought the business from Dodge. The company made solid shell snare drums, brass and aluminum shelled snare drums, solid shell bass drums, bells, tympani (1913 spelling), xylophones, traps, Rogers drum heads, and they imported Zildjian cymbals and “genuine Chinese tom toms” Even back in 1912, N&N was able to use a self aligning sleeve for tuning drums—both for a thumb rod and wrench tightened rod. You can see that a number of products carried the Dodge name. And this catalog came out two years before the better known Dodge Brothers, unrelated to F. E. Dodge, built their first car.

I apologize for the marks on each page, they are from clear adhesive tape used by the former owner to keep the now delicate pages from deteriorating more. I think this company is an important ancestor in our American drum history and needs to be included.

I have seen, from time to time, Nokes & Nicolai products on eBay, and we know that, as they ended their business run, the company was sold to Liberty Rawhide of Chicago. Liberty made drum heads and snare drums, at least, for awhile, before being sold to Slingerland. That Slingerland was everywhere! H.H Slingerland Sr. ended up with old Bower/Dodge/N& N/Liberty equipment in 1928, just as they launched their drum division and before they bought Ludwig drum making equipment before their move to Elkhart two years later. A more detailed history of N&N can be found on the excellent website bostondrumbuilders.com. Lee Vinson has done a terrific job in detailing a number of companies and their products. I hope the Northeast is filled with these great drums. The rest of us have to find the estates of old vaudeville players who retired elsewhere or wait for their families to let great-grandpa’s drums be sold on eBay.

I think, for me, the interesting thing is the strainer that dates back to Harry Bower and is pictured with the Dodge name. I saw that strainer design resurrected in the 1980s when custom drum builder Joe Montineri brought it out on his snare drums. I did not appreciate, at that time, how long that basic design, had been around.

So, now, we all know a little more about Nokes & Nicolai, part of our passing parade.



1936 L&S Catalog (Leedy & Strupe)

In October, 1929, an ailing U.G. Leedy sold Leedy Manufacturing to band instrument giant C.G. Conn Ltd.  For the next 9 months,  Leedy drum building was in a state of transition. In August of 1930, the Elkhart factory was up and running. In those intervening months, Conn sent in a supervisor, Ed Cortas, and many employees came and went. Leedy himself hoped that his 100 loyal employees would have jobs in Elkhart, but many of them did not or could not or, more probably would not, move. U.G. decided to create another company called General Products. Concerned that the Depression would not bring in drum sales, Leedy wanted General Products to make other products as well. But, they would make drums. The legend has become fact. He wanted to name the company Leedy & Sons. He had two sons—Eugene and Edwin, later called Hollis. Conn had just spent $900,000 in cash to buy the Leedy name, so there could be no use of that name outside the drums now made by Conn.

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I have only seen one Strupe drum, but have seen publicity shots of others.

Mr. Leedy bought a former dairy building and started the process of turning it into a drum factory. Some of it was completed when he died in January, 1931. His widow gave this fledgling company the funds to complete the woodworking shop. Edwin joined as Secretary Treasurer. Eugene did not become involved.

Leedy and Sons became L&S and we now think that L&S also stood for Leedy & Strupe. One of the former key Leedy employees who did not leave Indianapolis, at that point, was Cecil Strupe, the engineer. He was named president of L&S. In the earliest days of production, there were also Strupe badged drums. It may have been an attempt to circumvent the Leedy name while promoting Strupe’s name since he was known to drummers thanks to frequent mention in the Leedy Topics.

Today’s catalog was made in 1936. It is the only L&S I have found. I have seen brochures, and I think this company deserves honorable mention in American Drum History. L&S drums were sold nationally by mail through Chicago Musical Instruments. Chicago Musical Instruments had formerly sold Ludwig & Ludwig drums through their catalog, but that deal soured when Conn bought Ludwig as well. So, the catalog sales company needed a new drum supplier. If you lived in Indianapolis, you could stop by the factory and buy from their showroom. Famed California jazz drummer Benny Barth, told me about that. An L&S snare was his first drum. L&S made drums, timpani, bells and other mallet instruments, but the products just always seemed a notch below Leedy in quality. You can see imperfections in the cast lugs, from the dies. The drum rods were hex headed, calling for a special key. I would say that like the Cecil Strupe designs for Leedy, we see the same kind of toggle crazy, and thin metal/weak spot strainer inventions on L&S snare drums.

The popular high end snare drum during the middle years was called the Dictator, which was probably not a wise choice during the Hitler and Mussolini years. I see example of L&S drums pretty regularly on eBay and they seem to come from all parts of the country, which may give proof to the scope of sales from Chicago.

The company was never a success, but it hung on and had an interesting ending. Strupe left the company and moved to Chicago where he went to work for WFL. Edwin Leedy sold the company to a music store owner who marketed the ready made products through his store. He changed the name to the Indiana Drum Company. At some point in the early 40s, Sears and Roebuck had a connection with Indiana Drum, using the name Drum Master and then may have bought the machinery and designs. Sears advertised that they had a factory in Chicago, and, in the one Sears Drum catalog I have seen (check out Drumarchive.com to see it), you can see L&S drums, no matter what they were called.

I am sure World War II ended Sears' need to have a drum manufacturing plant. After the war, they struck deals with Kent and Japanese manufacturers to have drum sets for sale in their catalogs.

But for 10 years, Leedy Indianapolis alums were building L&S "Drummers Equipment” and hoping for the best.