In 1979 I was in 4th grade and I saw KISS perform in New Haven, Connecticut on the Dynasty Tour. In May of 2012 I got a call that Ace Frehley was looking for a drummer. I made a few calls & found a guitarist I had played with who was friends with Ace’s bassist. He put in a call and a week later I was in NYC auditioning with the band. Two weeks after that I got a call, “Rest easy bro, you got the gig.”
Our first show was at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square, NYC. Being from Connecticut, that was perfect, New York was always a special place for me & considering it was the home of KISS and my family was going to be able to come see the show, it couldn’t have been more perfect. It did get more perfect when Anton Fig, who played on all of Ace’s solo releases and 2 KISS records, showed up and sat in. But that’s another story.
Two weeks before the show, our bassist Anthony casually tells me “Oh by the way you need a kit that you can leave with us. We use all our own backline at every show.” Ace has a truck with all our gear & it gets driven to every show we do no matter where it is. Awesome, because now I get to play the same kit every night, my kit, Ludwigs. The only problem is that I didn’t have a second big rock kit. I had been using a recently acquired 1976 clear Ludwig Vistalite set, 26, 14, 16, 18. But I didn’t want that kit going out on the road being 36 years old & basically plastic.
I called Kevin Packard at Ludwig & he generously offered to make me a kit, but I needed it in 2 weeks and that wasn’t enough time. So I started looking for kits. The one I kept coming back to was the steel kit that Bonham used in the late 70’s. They were around but they were not cheap. So I decided to put a wood kit together & cover it in “chrome”. Now all I needed was the shells. Phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, Craigslist….ah, the vintage drum search. I love this sh*t. I already had a 16x16” 1968 shell. But I still needed the rest. The first drum I found was a 1963 14x28” BDP kick that has belonged to a high school in New York. Half of the wrap was faded to an almost brown color but that didn’t matter to me because I was gonna recover it. It had the old style t-rods and bowtie lugs. When I got the drum home, I took off the heads, one of which was the original Weather Master, it was like opening a time capsule. The bearing edges were perfect and the shell was flat and round. It was so crisp & clean. These things really are antiques, beautifully crafted. I almost felt guilty knowing I was going to beat the hell out of this thing. Next, I found a 10x14 rack tom that was a 70’s Granitone drum. Now I needed an 18”. Sutter had referred me to one guy, that guy referred me to another & he referred me to another. So after 2 weeks of phone calls, Facebook messages and referrals, I’m talking a guy named Randy from Rockford, IL who turned out to be a friend of Bun’s. We talked for about an hour on all things drum related and at the end of the conversation he said “yeah, I know I have an 18 somewhere around here. I’ll find it & get a box & ill send it to ya.” He mentioned that it may have been painted black inside, but that was fine with me. I love vintage drums & I can be a purist, but the main reason I play old Ludwigs is the sound. 3 ply’s and 2 glue hoops are enough for me. Now, I had quite a collection of shells here. One pre-Beatles 28” kick with Reso-coat (which Frankie Banali recently told me was the ceiling paint at the Luddy factory), a clear coated maple, a Granitone tom & what I assume was once clear maple, now underneath a coating of black spray paint. I was a little concerned about the tones matching. In the end it was no problem at all. Along the way I ordered large bowtie lugs from Ludwig for the toms. Yeah I know, extra holes, so what it looks awesome.
I had everything shipped to my folks’ place in CT. That way I was close to New York where the gear was kept and I also had a access to the tools in Dad’s garage. Now I needed to prepare these guys for the transformation. The 18 showed up with no wrap, the 16 & 14’s came right off. The kick was a bit of a chore. But I rocked the heat gun in the garage one afternoon for a couple hours and eventually all you could smell was the sweet scent of mahogany & melted plastic. One thing that was interesting was that they wrapped the shell with the covering & then sealed the shell, so the covering goes right inside the seam of the shell.
I didn’t want to cover this kit alone. I definitely needed help. I wished I knew a guy like Mark Carter who used to wrap drums at Creative Music in Wethersfield, CT. Wait, why not call Mark? So I did. He was alive & well still working on drums for customers from his home, since the store had closed many years ago. Creative Music was owned by Bob Gatzen. To me this was my local drum shop, but the more I have traveled I realize how lucky I was to have this place in my back yard. Bob was a developer for Noble & Cooley, Evans, Calato & Zildjian. There was always some prototype thing in the back room that he would encourage me to check out. And the guys that worked in this shop, Mark, Johnny McIlhoney and Geoff Brown....they were drummers. WORKING drummers. They had practical experience & could help me when I was breaking things left and right. They showed me how to tune drums and pick out cymbals. When I kept blasting through my kick drum heads, Mark told me to go get mole skin & cut a circle of it out & put it on the head. “Mole skin?” Sounded gross. But I did it & it worked. A few years later kick pads started appearing on the market. All the guys were great but Mark Carter was the “drum guru”. He could fix anything and he always had a solution. I’d bring him something to fix & he’d look at for a second, an then throw out a “price”. “Get me a pack of smokes and a Dr. Pepper”. After a few years, I started getting a pretty good idea of what he would charge, I would go to the convenience store first & then to the drum store.
I started telling a few drummer friends that I was coming back & Mark was going to be helping me recover the kit. The response was always the same “Carter is gonna be at your parents house? What time? I’m coming over.” We started Sunday around noon and the last drum was finished about 10pm, grommets and all. The coolest part of the experience for me was having all those guys in my garage working on drums. I got to hear the history of the drum shop and about all the crazy stuff they used to do there in between customers. Mark thanked me for getting everyone together. The pleasure was all mine. After we finished we sat around and looked at the work we had done and deemed it good. As I walked Mark to his car, I did what any self-respecting drummer would do. I handed him a Starbucks gift card and a case of Dr. Pepper. Thanks Mark.
I’ve been a back a few times since then and every time I go back we all get together. Have a few drinks, talk about drums, life, drums….you know.
©2012 Matt Starr