Master Musician Gets A Bang Out Of Vintage Drums

Rock Stars, Producers Consult Local Expert

January 19, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

It really irked Richard King to watch the drummer in "The Buddy Holly Story" bang away on a 1980s drum set, in a movie set in the 1950s.

Most movie-goers probably never knew the difference. But such a glaring period error couldn't escape King's eyes.

At Master Musicians in Glen Burnie, King is known as "the heartbeat of the drum department." To his credit, the shop has earned an international reputation as the place to go for old, rare, usable drums.

"We started this as a hobby," said King, 34. "It's grown into something totally unbelievable."

For six years, the vintage drum expert has bought, sold and restored literally thousands of antique drums, boasting clients like Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, Little Feat's Ritchie Hayward and Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos. Just last week, Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, faxed in a request to buy a drum set that once belonged to Buddy Rich. Palmer heard about King from a friend.

In October 1990, when the 20th-Century Fox people approachedKing about World War II-era film "For the Boys," King gladly helped Hollywood go authentic.

King told prop master Louis Fleming -- who'd heard about King from a drum-collecting movie extra -- he had justwhat Fleming needed, six 1940s-era Gretsch drum sets, valued at $10,000.

Fox offered King either money or film credits. King took the money, since virtually all his business comes word of mouth anyway.

"It would have been nice to see the credits, but we figured in the business we're in, we get repeat business and by word of mouth," he said. "The credits wouldn't have done as much good."

He framed a copy of the first check, for $3,741, from 20th-Century Fox Film Corp.

When he finally saw the movie, starring Bette Midler and James Caan, King was thrilled with its authenticity, especially with his drums in six separate scenes, appearing just as he'd sent them.

For King, whose work as a drummer for three local bands keeps him busy several nights a week, the most recent brush with fame is nothing new.

He became known as the guy who sold drums to the Rolling Stones in 1989, just before their Steel Wheels tour.

The Stones' stage manager had called a St. Louis music dealer while searching nationally for vintage drums for Watts. The Stones' drummer collects the antiques in his English castle and plays nothing else. The dealer referred the stage manager to King.

Between February and the start of the fall tour, Watts bought several snare drums from King and even invited him toa Connecticut rehearsal. Later, for $500, he bought a 1960s vintage 22-inch Gretsch bass drum, which King refurbished. Watts used it as part of a backup set during the tour.

King delivered that drum himself to JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, where the Stones rehearsed. He went backstage, met the band and saw the beat-up cowbell Watts used on "Honky Tonk Women" more than two decades ago.

"I ended up talking to all the Stones that way," King said. "They were just walking around and I talked to them. It was a real thrill."

King documents the meeting with snapshots at Master Musicians. In one, he stands beside a gaunt-looking Watts, dressed all in black with his hands shoved in his pockets. In another photo, King stands with lead guitarist Keith Richards, who is smiling and wearing sunglasses and a Ziggy Marley T-shirt. King also has a photo of bassist Bill Wyman, playing ping pongbackstage.

"They were nice guys," King said. "Mick Jagger thoughtwe were from the Gretsch drum company. He started talking about his kid wanting drums. I said, 'Give Charlie a call and he'll get in touch with us.' I've had to learn not to drool and act awe-struck."

Since the tour, Watts has become a regular customer. King sends merchandise lists to the stage manager and Watts has even referred musiciansfrom The Hollies and Bad Company to the Glen Burnie shop.

King began collecting vintage drums -- anything made between 1910 and 1970 -- when he started working at the music shop. He placed a small ad in Modern Drummer and business mushroomed. Now, about 20 to 30 people a week inquire about his stock.

The drums come from attics, pawn shops and estate sales. Once, he bought truckloads of drums from an out-of-business New York City pawn shop. From that sale, King acquired 600 drums, including a pale pink drum set once used by 1970s glitter rockers The New York Dolls. In most cases, King buys from musicians, many of whom search for vintage drums in pawn shops or newspaper ads while touring.

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