In Search of Levon’s Ludwigs

SKF NOTE: I liked everything about The Band from the moment I first heard The Weight on some student’s record player in my high school cafeteria. The gist of The Band’s bio was, these were accomplished musicians in upstate New York, renting, living, and writing songs in a house they called Big Pink .

At the time, 1968, theirs was my dream scenario. I was usually in one band or another with high school friends, but our groups never stuck together. I learned early that a band is as good as its weakest member. Just one uncommitted player will, sooner or later, cause our bands to disband.

The Band, it seemed to me, were strong musicians individually. They all played several instruments very well, and they all sang great. Each musician was unique. When you heard them play or sing you knew who they were.

When The Band released their second album — called The Band — I loved it. The songs were great, and the photos inside the album jacket reinforced my dream scenario for the musical life. One photo taken inside Big Pink showed guitarist Robbie Robertson sitting on a chair, holding a Fender Telecaster guitar with drummer Levon Helm behind a Gretsch bass drum, a snare drum, and a hi-hat. They’re rehearsing!

There were photos of The Band’s in-house studio — cool! — and Levon Helm with what looked to be an antique Ludwig drumset with wooden drum rims! Like young drummers everywhere, I suppose, I wondered if those old Ludwig‘s were the secret to Levon’s great drum sound on record.


So in 1978 I wrote the letter posted here to Ludwig Educational Director Karl Dustman. I’m guessing my letter was preparation for a Levon Helm interview for Modern Drummer.

Karl’s answer is disappointing. I remember expecting someone at Ludwig would have a pretty good idea, if not exact knowledge, of Levon’s drumset: “We don’t know for sure, Scott, but it looks like the drums Ludwig was making circa 1935.”

In his defense, Karl makes a good point: “Perhaps a picture of the set would also help us identify anything special about it.” Of course, I remember wondering why no one at Ludwig was either aware of Levon’s set or apparently unable to get a hold of The Band to look at it.

Just over two years later, when I started at Modern Drummer, Karl and I developed an excellent working relationship. He was one of the industry good guys. And when I left MD to work for Gretsch, Karl was at Gretsch before me. We worked together there for about one year.

Finally, I remember a conversation up the road with Karl about our written exchange about Levon’s drums. My thinking in 1978 was: Maybe Ludwig can again start making drumsets like Levon’s. If not, why not use Levon’s wooden hoop Ludwig‘s in advertising? Karl’s response? Ludwig is not going to advertise drums it doesn’t sell.


About Scott K Fish
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