Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Top: Bad Co.'s first effort.
This is one of two identical Ludwig drum sets used by Simon Kirke of Bad Company on albums and tours during the early 1970ís.
Courtesy of Donn Bennett Drum StudioAlbums courtesy of Epilouge Productions. From: http://www.htsaudio.com/exhibit/badco.htm
Bottom: Chuck Ruff in more recent times. Still playing Gretsch, although that looks like a convenient to move Bop Kit.

As I posted here last year, ALBUM OF THE WEEK: BAD CO., I was a big fan of this first album from Bad Co. and of their drummer Simon Kirke, It was pop for sure, but it was hard rocking pop. It wasn't Led Zeppelin, but Zeppelin did think Bad Co. was cool enough to put on their Swan Song label and hooked them up bigtime as they started out.

At the time, whenever you saw Bad Co. playing on a TV show or televised concert, Simon was playing a Ludwig kit in black covering. With a 26" bass drum, a 14" wing tom, a 6 1/2" Supraphonic and a 18" floor tom (as pictured above), he was a mountain of groove. Simon's fills and grooves were not complex, but were highly memorable and often are an integral part of recalling how the song goes. With a set that would do his friend John Henry Bonham proud.

Of course, most of us kids assumed that Kirke played Ludwigs on the album. Just as we did with other artists and their instruments.

The internet is now awash with stories of endorsers who used other companies products to record but were silent or misrepresented what brand and gear they actually used behind closed doors. One such rumor is Buddy Rich using a Fibes fiberglass snare for a time when he was endorsing one brand or another. Don't know if it's true personally but there are plenty of books and blog posts and information on the internets about the drums of Buddy Rich.

So when Bad Company's first album came out, I was in my first real rock and roll band at the time. I say "first real" because we actually had a guitar player and bassist who could play a song THE WHOLE WAY THROUGH and because IT ACTUALLY SOUNDED LIKE THE SONG. We were playing both old rock classics (most less than 10 years old) and the newer stuff.

The first song we played was the then constant radio rotation "Can't Get Enough". And it didn't sound half bad. It sounded decent enough that the folks came running out of the house to our garage stage now that some evidence of talent had surfaced in the rock bands I had been trying to put together the previous year.

My Dad had been forced to endure me cranking up the stereo in his car and listening to the songs of Bad Company, which were in constant rotation. I tried to explain to him the previous bands the fellas had been in, and why that was cool, and the Led Zep connection, but this was lost on dear old Dad. But he had heard Can't Get Enough ENOUGH times to recognize us playing it.

We were just a standard guitar, bass, drums and vocalist setup, but that song always brings back that memory of that Sunday afternoon in the fall in my parent's garage playing our first real tune. All the way through.

I'd been playing drums for about 4 years at this point, and taking lessons on set from the legendary late Joe Raynor and playing in all of the school bands, so I knew how to play the kit fairly well, particularly within a pop rock and hard rock context.

So I played Ludwig and Rogers drums back then at my house (my aunt was in the music biz and got deals on new stuff for us). I'll have to admit, part of the reason I played those brands was because the drummers I liked who sounded great on recordings were playing those instruments. Or so I thought.

I can't say I played Ludwigs at that time because Simon Kirke did, but artists of the day like Bonham and Ringo and so many others certainly did. We know Bonham was a man of his bond using the drum brand that he endorsed to record. But I did play Ludwigs and part of the deal was that I liked their sound on recordings that I thought featured Ludwig drums.

My first drum, a snare, was a Rogers, and although I greatly enjoyed the sound and solid construction of Rogers drum kits, I really liked the louder sound and increased sustain I was able to get from the Ludwigs for some reason. I pretty much always used either a Rogers Powertone and Dynasonic snare in those days, and never owned a Ludwig snare until my twenties when I had been playing for over 10 years.

I'll note that, however, some of the most awesome drums I ever heard were by Eric Johnson's drummer Tommy Taylor on the 1986 album TONES. I saw them live several times then, and know people who know his drummer, and he did use the vintage 70's Rogers kit he had on stage every night and in the studio. The sound processing for their live shows supporting TONES was excellent, and the Rogers kit sounded huge and thick and the soundman really knew what he was doing at the Rockefellers shows I saw back then.

But back to Kirke.

I read in an interview several years ago that the first Bad Co. album was recorded on a Gretsch bop kit, meaning a tiny 14" x 18" bass (vs. his Ludwig 14" x 26" "on stage" kit) and smaller toms and snare. This interview occurred after he had quit endorsing Ludwig and moved to DW (I think).

Other internet rumors and maybe written interviews have surfaced over the years about Jeff Porcaro using Gretsch drums in live and in the studio with Toto and in his many studio recording gigs. Problem is, he was a longtime and quite high profile Pearl Drum endorser during these times. All of his live gigs were with Pearl kits.

Maybe it was written in their contracts that they could use other drums in recordings, as long as they didn't reveal it. Or maybe they just did what they wanted, damn the contract. Simon Kirke didn't say in the interview I read, and the late Mr. Porcaro is in no position to comment.

Porcaro's loss to the drumming community is immense and irreplaceable. I can't imagine the beauty and great playing that would've come from that young man in all the years since he passed on.

I've read over the years that many drummers used Gretsch drums on their recordings. You can do the googling with all this info and read the stuff for yourself and see what you think.

At the time, I wouldn't have believed that Simon could get the immense SOUND from a tiny bop kit that fills Bad. Co's first album. But now that I somewhat understand recording and mic placement and effects and such, I see how they could get a SOLID and BIG sound from a quality tiny drumset. GIGO. Garbage in means Garbage out. But obviously the Gretsch were gold and not garbage, because they sound awesome in recordings from the 60's, 70's and 80's.

Gretsch drums were unique in their shell compostion. Their shells came from Jasper Wood Products, and were composed of a unique blend of 3 plys: Maple, Gumwood, Maple.

That's it, the actual drumshell, I think, that made what the ads called "That Great Gretsch Sound".

Oh, the bearing edges certainly had a great deal to do with the sound, and I believe that the sizes of the drums and the bearing edges and so forth are slightly larger than other drums of their era, and that sometimes this makes fitting certain brands of drumheads difficult. I think there are specific drum heads made to take into account the variance in shell size or whatever it is that causes the problem.

Fibes used the Jasper shells in their Austin era reinacarnation, lasting from the mid-90's to the mid-2ooo's. After Jasper went out of business and closed, Fibes got some shell making machines and were making shells out of the same 3 ply maple/gum/maple setup and I couldn't tell the difference in the Jasper Fibes or the Austin Fibes drums.

I don't follow the drum product market enough anymore to know who is making what kind of shells and of what material. But the wood type, shell integrity, the shell thickness, the bearing edges, hardware placement and other factors all effect how a drum sounds, and more importantly, how a kit of drums sounds when played together.

Now I don't know if the Gretsch rumors are true about Porcaro or even if Simon Kirke is being righteous. I don't know them or their lives or anything about them. I simply throw this topic up for discussion. It's been covered in many threads on many different drum forums past and present, ad nauseum, and maybe I'll post some links to some of the longer if not passionate discussions regarding this issue in the future if anyone is interested.

I do know I played several Gretsch kits, one of them being exceptional. It was a 70's kit, covered in black nitron, with a 14" x 24" bass, 9" x 13" tom and 16" x 16" floor with a non-matching natural finish 14" x 6 1/2" Gretsch snare. It had three really really really old "K" Zildjian crash/ride cymbals and was infinitely playable. I made several very serious offers to buy that kit, all rejected.

So I'll never forget how great that kit I played sounded. Resonance with a classic tone. Sonors come close, but really only Fibes Jasper, Dunnett and Tempus drums have either equaled or surpassed That Great Gretsch Sound.

Gretsch apparently also makes their own shells now, of the same time honored Jasper formula. I have not played any of the non-jasper Gretsch, but by all reports they sound good and look great. Some claim they don't have the same pizzaz as the Jaspers, but then again these people seem to have the ears of a dog when talking about drum tone, a individualized perception at best.

I'd love to have a classic or modern Gretsch kit made like the one that
Chuck Ruff played with The Edgar Winter Group on the classic Frankenstein from 1972. Visions in my mind of this band appearing on Midnight Special or ABC's In Concert recalled his nice white nitron Gretsch kit, and how he played the heck outta it during the drum solo phase of Frankenstein. I thought it a classy kit.

Ruff's kit was a 14" x 24", 9" x 13" and 16" x 16" and some kind of snare, also using the three crash/ride cymbal formula that the kit I played used.

I've since seen videos of The Edgar Winter Band performing way back then, and my memories of Ruff's kit has been correct all of these years.


  1. In the Modern Drummer interview Kirke say Gretsch drums 12'' top 22'' bass drum 14'' floor tom.

  2. In the Modern Drummer interview Simon Kirke says he recorded most of the Bad Company stuff on a Gretsch kit with 22'' bass drum 12'' tom 14'' floor tom.

  3. Neal, thanks for stopping by! You could very well be right, and I'll assume you are if quoting an MD interview. I guess I "mis-remembered". In any event, that was a great sounding kit and it musta been a helluva 14" floor tom to get some of those deep licks he got on the floor tom.

    I had a 14" loner gretsch floor tom, blue sparkle, round badge, very nice wood whatever it was but it sounded fabulous and deep like a 16". I foolishly sold it for a lot of money. I should have held onto it and built a recording kit out of it.

    And I'd probably use a 22" as well.