A brief history of the battery: NPR

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Today’s common drum kit is only 100 years old, even though drums have been around for millennia. It fell out of favor with the advent of drum machines and sampling. For many, there is no substitute.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hollow logs, stretched animal skins …

(DRUM EXTRACT)

SIMON: Historian and drummer Daniel Glass says humans have been punching things since the dawn of time.

DANIEL GLASS: The idea of ​​hitting something loud and getting immediate volume out of it is irreplaceable. It’s so primitive. It’s so primitive.

(DRUM EXTRACT)

SIMON: What do these drums say? Oh, BJ Leiderman, who writes our musical theme – nothing replaces the pounding on old-fashioned drums, even in the digital age. Allyson McCabe reports.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: Brendan Canty started playing drums in his early teens. He remembers buying his first set from a band member for $ 25.

BRENDAN CANTY: There weren’t any cymbal stands. But he did come with some really bad trash type cymbals. And since I didn’t have cymbal stands, I just tied them to a string and hung them from the ceiling. So when I hit them they would fly away and try to behead me on the way back.

MCCABE: Canty continued to risk his life until one of his bands released a recording. It was then that he pressured his father for an upgrade.

CANTY: He said OK. And we went scouring the paper for weeks and weeks until we found a gorgeous 1964 Gretsch Maple set in brown sheen. The guy wanted $ 400 for that. And my dad said he only brought 250 (laughs).

(EXTRACT FROM THE FUGAZI SONG, “WAITING ROOM”)

MCCABE: This vintage drum kit helped Brendan Canty put punk legends Fugazi on the map.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “WAITING ROOM”)

FUGAZI: (Singing) I’m a patient boy. I wait. I wait. I wait. My time is like water in a sewer.

MCCABE: The earliest examples of drums that have come down to us date back to the 6th century BC But the drumming as we know it today is only 100 years old. In 1918, the Chicago-based Ludwig Drum Company launched the Jazz-Er-Up, an all-in-one ensemble with a single bass drum and pedal, snare drum, two cymbals, and a wood block. It was an important innovation. But historian Daniel Glass, a much sought-after session drummer who performed with Bette Midler, Brian Setzer and others, said at the time that the drummer’s function was not just to play rhythm in a band.

GLASS: It was also to accompany on stage dancers or pieces of comedy or, as the radio begins to evolve, sound effects for the radio or sound effects for silent cinema.

MCCABE: Perched behind the movie screen, drummers were playing wooden blocks and whistles to signal the approaching train of the damsel in distress.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SOUNDS OF THE TRAIN)

MCCABE: Before too long though, Glass says drummers have assumed a more visible role in popular music.

GLASS: As the 1930s and the big band era evolved, the drums could really come out a bit more and be a bit more present.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG BY BENNY GOODMAN, “SING, SING, SING”)

MCCABE: In 1935, Gene Krupa joined Benny Goodman’s Orchestra – setting a new standard for drummers with his flamboyant showmanship and an ensemble that included tunable toms and a foot-operated high hat cymbal.

GLASS: People don’t realize that between 1935, when the Benny Goodman Orchestra blew up on the scene, and 1964, Gene Krupa was the most popular drummer in the world.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG BY BENNY GOODMAN, “SING, SING, SING”)

MCCABE: What happened in ’64?

(EXCERPT FROM THE TV SHOW, “THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW”)

ED SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles.

(APPLAUSE)

BILL CARDWELL: Ringo performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. It was my introduction to the drums.

MCCABE: Bill Cardwell continued to play drums in bands using a kit not much different from Ringo’s. By the end of the decade, rock drummers had assembled massive kits with two bass drums and percussion racks. Then the drum machines arrived.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “FAMILY AFFAIR”)

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) It’s a family affair.

MCCABE: So in the 1980s when Cardwell started restoring vintage batteries, he said customers were scarce.

CARDWELL: They were just interested in cheap batteries that they could buy for their kids.

MCCABE: But as Cardwell gained more experience, he discovered that the sound of a drum depended a lot on the materials and process used to make it. Cardwell therefore began to use vintage specifications to create new batteries. The C&C Drum Company, which he co-owns with his son, now provides a mix of beginner drummers, big indie groups like Arcade Fire and musical legends including Ringo himself.

CARDWELL: The drums were originally supposed to create a groove – define a backbeat, be the conductor of a band – because that’s what sets the tempo of the band. And it kinda lost that at one point. And the musicians decided to get back to it. It’s like they’ve listened to their parents’ records and – yeah, that’s what the music should be.

MCCABE: Former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty has never stopped hammering those old-fashioned skins. And he’s restoring his Gretsch set of 64 for his teenage son.

CANTY: He has this very beautiful terror. It is truly heartwarming to see this battery powering another generation of creativity.

(EXTRACT FROM YOUR MOTHER AND I SEPARONS THE SONG, “BIG BEACH PARTY”)

MCCABE: For NPR News, I’m Allyson McCabe.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG, “BIG BEACH PARTY”)

YOUR MOTHER AND I ARE SEPARATE: (Singing) Having fun at the luau, having fun at my place, having fun on the beaches, having fun at the (unintelligible). It’s big – it’s a big party. It’s a big – it’s a big party.

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