By Nelson Hawkins
Back in the day before our world was turned upside down by the events of 9/11, a commonly asked question was "Where were you when JFK was shot?” On November 22, 1963 I walked out of a music store in a small Kansas town where I had just picked up a brand new set of Ludwig drums that had been on back order for weeks. They were black oyster pearl which was a new and unique wrap to me but only a few months later Ringo appeared with the Beatles for their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show with a similar set up and color, and a classic was born. I commented to friends that he must have really good taste. HA! In getting these new drums I was more excited than a kid on Christmas morning.
I carefully packed the drums into my car and walked next door to get change for a phone call (cell phones were way in the future). Entering the hotel I noticed a group of people gathered at the lobby desk listening intently to a small transistor radio. As I got closer a young woman turned to me with a shocked expression on her face and said, "The President has been shot! Someone shot JFK in Dallas!" What had begun as one of my happiest of days suddenly turned bittersweet.
Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? “I was buying a drum set, of course!”
I returned to my apartment and set up my new drums in front of our little television set. As I watched, the events unfolded -the swearing in of LBJ in the plane on the tarmac at the Dallas airport with Jackie Kennedy still wearing her blood splattered dress standing beside them and, later, Lee Harvey Oswald's capture and assassination by Jack Ruby, and then finally the sad funeral procession to the slow, somber beat of muffled drums, with the image of JFK’s son, little John John, saluting his fallen father as the caisson passed by.
This single event had the largest impact on the people of our country since the bombing of Pearl Harbor and everyone seemed to be dazed by it. I was taking a drawing class at the time and I decided to somehow depict the event in pen and ink. I incorporated President Kennedy's famous quote "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!" in a collage, along with quick sketches of JFK and little John John saluting. Ironically, I ran out of room when I was doing the lettering and had to spell "Your" as "Yor" to make it fit in the space.... and then repeated it. I recently found the old drawing, now beginning to fade after 50 years. I framed it and hung it to commemorate the upcoming anniversary.
I have taken care of these drums and, as a result, have been able to continue playing them for many years. Once I had to rent them out to pay the bills. I've stored them in friends' homes and even slept behind them on stage one night when we were stranded in a club during a snow storm. They have been great travelers and have been set up on many stages throughout the country. Along with helping me make an extra income through out the years, they have provided me with hours of fun and allowed me a way to express myself.
This Hollywood set up came with two 8 x 12 mounted toms, one of which I traded or sold many years ago. I found a beautiful 9 x13 BOP tom which I mounted and used for a time. I traded it and went back to playing the four piece set that I currently use: a 14 x 20 bass drum, the original 8 x 12 mounted tom and a 16 x 16 floor tom. Although I have owned many snare drums, this 5 x 14 Ludwig Supraphonic 400 is my favorite and has a good story. I bought it from a fellow who claimed to have won it in a poker game while he was working as a hand during a wheat harvest in western Kansas. My cymbals are Zildjian and, befitting the story, I use a “ghost” pedal.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.