Frankie Dunlop: Gene Krupa’s Kindness to an Upcoming Drummer

Frankie Dunlop

Frankie Dunlop

SKF NOTE: I was hanging out with friends outside Clark Tuthill’s house in Centerport, NY in the late 1960s. Clark’s record player was outside too. He was listening – as was often the case – to a Thelonious Monk album. At one point, my attention was fully drawn by the sound of Monk’s drummer: the crisp snare and deep toms and bass drum were tuned to perfection. The drummer was on fire, swinging, and musical.

This was my introduction to Frankie Dunlop. The double album was “Two Hours with Thelonious” on the Riverside label – a reissue of two single albums, “Thelonious Monk in Italy,” and “Thelonious Monk in France.”

By the time I was working full-time at Modern Drummer, I had listened to Frankie Dunlop on most of his Monk dates. Some of them, I think were no longer in print. I heard a few tracks of Frankie with Maynard Ferguson. And Mel Lewis, who grew up with Frankie in Buffalo, NY, was also a great help. There wasn’t much in print on Frankie at the time – two Down Beat pieces, I believe. Mel helped by suggesting questions I might ask Frankie.

My interview with Frankie took place in New York City at my former in-law’s apartment, and also, at my home in Washington, CT. I’d have to look at the dates on the audiotapes. We may have had two sessions in NYC.

Frankie was easy to interview. My one lament is this: Frankie was a first-class impersonator. During the interview, when he was quoting Thelonious Monk, Frankie became Monk. When he was quoting Sonny Rollins, he became Rollins. And he became Mingus. If I get a chance to digitize the audiocassettes, the public can hear what I mean.

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa

I am honored that author Robin D.G. Kelley quotes from Frankie’s MD interview in Kelley’s book, “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.” It seems mine is the only known full-length Frankie Dunlop interview. I’m glad I was able to do it. I’m glad Frankie agreed to do the interview.

Here’s a snippet. Caveat: At the start of this interview Frankie said, “My earliest influence was Gene Krupa.” Enjoy.

Frankie Dunlop: When I came to New York and was playing with Maynard’s band, we played a couple of gigs in Great Neck, Long Island. And Gene Krupa was on the bill with us.

Maynard’s band played two or three numbers, and Gene Krupa was behind the curtain watching me. I wasn’t aware of it.

After the set was over, Gene said to Maynard, “Does your drummer like Slingerland drums?”

Now, I had just come to New York. I’d worked with several small bands, but I hadn’t worked with any large bands – and that was a challenge. Maynard’s band was a challenge. At that time, any drumset would have been an improvement. If it was a good drumset I didn’t care what kind it was.

But Gene Krupa was still on the Board of Directors of Slingerland Drum Company. That’s what the scene was. And they were looking for guys to advertise for the company.

And Gene said to Maynard, “I like your drummer. Budd Slingerland is looking for guys to advertise. He wants to get guys who can play and be exciting. He’ll get a set every year. We’ll take pictures.”

My drums were these little rattletraps that I’d brought from Buffalo. And Maynard said, “Hey, Gene Krupa’s over there. He wants to talk to you. He likes the way you play. Do you think you can deal with a set of Slingerland drums?”

That did me more good…. First of all, Gene said to me, “I think you play great.” I would never have expected that. So for him to say that to me, plus saying that he wanted me to advertise for Slingerland – I think that was the biggest turning point for me.

The compliment was great, and so was the fact that I was going to get a new set of drums and advertise for Slingerland. I needed that. I could never have continued to play with Maynard on the rattletraps that I was playing.


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