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The Holy Grail of the Percussion World, Part 1
Guest post for Ladies and Gentlemen... The Beatles, by Russ Lease
William F. Ludwig himself put it best when he said, “On February 9th, 1964, a new musical event burst from the TV screens across America. The Beatles had arrived, featuring Ringo Starr and his Ludwig Black Oyster drums. Literally overnight everyone wanted a drum set like Ringo’s. The drum boom was born!”
Lots of things changed that night, especially for the impressionable school-aged kids who are now in their mid-forties and older. It’s uncanny how many middle-aged musicians as a whole and drummers in particular, point to that one hour in time as being the defining moment in their professional career. As for me, that was the night I became a drummer. Maybe not in talent, at the tender age of seven, but certainly in mind and spirit. That night also lit a passionate fire inside of me that would manifest itself in now what has been a twenty-five year fixation to collect personal one-of-a-kind Beatles memorabilia. The collection includes clothing, stage suits, contracts, correspondence and the like.
The Ed Sullivan drum head is head #2 in the series of seven drop-T heads. It was hand painted by Eddie Stokes in London in January, 1964 specifically for the Beatles first American visit. Stokes worked for Ivor Arbitor at Drum City and was employed part-time to hand paint band logos for the drum retailer. It was also Stokes who had painted the first Beatles drop-T head. In addition to creating the logo heads for the Beatles themselves during the '60s, Eddie Stokes was asked to paint a handful (estimated at 3 to 5) of Beatle heads for use as display or for promotional purposes. Some were used in the Sound City or Drum City stores (both owned by Arbiter). Some were used for cinema promotion and one was done for Madame Tussaud’s in London. In virtually every known case though, some extra promotional graphic was also painted on the head in addition to the Beatle logo.
Nowadays, of course, it is standard practice for drum manufacturers to display their brand logos blazoned across the front of the bass head. Up through the early ‘60s, that was just not customary, although it was being done on a limited basis. The common practice of this, believe it or not, can be traced back to Ringo Starr himself. A Ludwig advertising sticker was affixed to the front the Beatles first “drop-T” head at Ringo’s urging to emphasize his pride at owning his first set of Ludwig drums. Unfortunately, parts of the sticker kept flaking off due to the constant pounding of the drum. For this, the second head, Ringo wanted the Ludwig logo even larger and more prominent. Also, the decision was made this time to hand-paint the logo on more permanently. It was this head that was seen by William F. Ludwig on the Sullivan show that February night. This was the first time he had seen the Ludwig name on the bass head. From that night on, the requests poured in to Ludwig for the front displayed brand name. Although they weren’t geared up for such a demand at the time, quick adjustments were made and from that point on all drum kits that went out the door at Ludwig, went with the brand name on the front head. A short time late this was standard practice industry wide.
It was decided that the Beatles would travel to America as light as possible for their first visit. The decision was made that Ringo would travel without his drum kit. Only his snare drum and cymbals would make the trip along with the new front drum skin. A new set of drums would be purchased when they arrived in the States. The reason for this was that a second kit was going to be needed in any case. Once the Beatles returned from America, filming was going to commence on their film, A Hard Days Night. One drum kit would be needed on the film set and, since the soundtrack was going to be recorded at the same time during breaks in the schedule, a second kit would be needed at Abbey Road. The powers that be concluded it was easier to pick up the new set in America, rather than carry the old one over.
After the Beatles two-week American visit was over, the skin went back to Abbey Road Studios where it was last seen in early 1964 before disappearing entirely, not to be publicly seen again until the 1984 auction.
On September 14, 1994, my world changed again. I found myself in the unlikely position of being one of the last two bidders in a London auction for one of the most significant pieces of Beatle memorabilia ever sold.
Russ Lease, of Columbia, Md., has been collecting one-of-a-kind Beatle memorabilia for well over twenty years and has built an extensive collection with collection partner, Ron Wine of Hanover, Pa. Russ also does consulting work for some of the major auction houses. Russ can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.beatlesuits.com.