Gary Chester: Calfskin Heads, Vintage Drums, Studio Sounds

SKF NOTE: I found the full transcript from my interview with Gary Chester, published in the April 1983 Modern Drummer. The transcript is 64 typed pages, using one-and-a-half spaces between sentences. On a manual typewriter! It is about twice as long as a typical MD feature interview at that time, suggesting Gary shared words of wisdom beyond those in his interview.

garychester1Scott K Fish: It seems like all the engineers and producers want all drummers to sound the same. It wasn’t like that in the ’50s and ’60s. Do you remember when that started happening?

Gary Chester: I was the only drummer that stayed with calfskin heads. I loved calfskin heads because I’m a brush player. I love brushes and I love calf. The whole set was calfskin. As soon as I started to record, I used plastic.

I had three set of drums. When I was hot, two of them were stolen. I had one set for rock, one set for “white” music – which is what I call Robert Goulet, or Perry Como, or the Jack Armstrong All-American trying to be rock ‘n’ roll. I had three good sets. All Ludwig.

I love Ludwig. I wouldn’t use anything else. They gave me a $1500.00 set in 1963 when I opened a TV show with Gene Pitney in Chicago. I never bothered them for another set because I don’t need a new set. I love what I’ve got. The old vintage drums, for me, are the greatest.

I usually used calf, but then in the studios, what you’re talking about was about ’74, ’75, ’76.

Around in that area the snare drum was lost. There was no highs on the snare drum anymore. Some guys muffled it down so bad, or took the snares off it so it sounded like a tom-tom. That originated in Philadelphia with what they called the “fatback,” the 2 and 4 really fat.

But there was no texture, no coloring, no emphasis, no highs on any of the playing. That’s what I miss. The drums now sound like sets of five tom-toms.


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