Ron Spagnardi – Taking a Chance on Fish

The April 1978 Modern Drummer with my first two feature interviews and cover story.

SKF NOTE: This post was first published November 30, 2018. It was my 99th Piscataquis Observer newspaper column.

Looking back almost forty years I can’t imagine not crossing paths with Ron Spagnardi, founder and publisher of Modern Drummer magazine. We were both drummers, entrepreneurs. Ron in New Jersey, me in New York. At about age 34, Spagnardi saw the success of a ten-year old magazine devoted to guitarists, Guitar Player, and wondered, Why not publish a magazine devoted to drummers?

Next, Ron bought two small subscription ads. One in Down Beat magazine, and one ad in the New York Musician Union Local 802 newspaper. Spagnardi’s ad copy was pretty basic, something like: Interested in subscribing to a new quarterly magazine exclusively for drummers? Send $10 to: Modern Drummer, 47 Harrison St, Nutley, NJ. (I don’t remember the exact amount for a subscription.)

These ads were Ron testing the waters. He told me he had a separate bank account for subscriber’s money. If at least 2,000 people subscribed, Ron said, he could afford to publish the magazine. He didn’t know what he was doing was illegal. Without a Modern Drummer product, soliciting paid subscriptions was a no-no.

Spagnardi’s said his plan was, “If I don’t get at least 2,000 subscribers, I’ll send back their money.”

I was excited to subscribe to this new magazine for drummers. More than 1,999 other drummers and drum enthusiasts felt the same. Ron’s next task was figuring out how to publish a magazine — which he did.

Fish and Spagnardi crossed paths about a year later after Ron published an in-house ad seeking drummers interested in freelance writing for MD.

I submitted my letter and resume and — to my surprise and joy — was hired as a freelancer. Ron told me later he received plenty of requests from drummers with no writing experience, and writers with no drumming experience. I was the magic combination of drummer/writer.

Freelancing for MD opened for me a door to meet my drum heroes face-to-face. It was an opportunity far beyond seeing drum heroes in concert, asking them a question or two at drum clinics. I felt as if I was holding the key to a treasure chest. And in many ways I was.

My March 8, 2015 blog entry describes my first in-person meeting with Ron.

“I first met…Ron Spagnardi probably in the summer of 1978. MD‘s office was the basement of the Spagnardi home…. MD was still a quarterly publication. Nothing fancy about the basement. I remember it as an unfinished basement with desks, tables, and lighting sufficient to produce and ship a magazine. MD Features Editor Karen Larcombe was there. Ron’s father, Leo Spagnardi, handling shipping and receiving. Carol Padner and Jean Mazza were responsible for MD‘s circulation.”

By then, Ron had published my first two freelance MD interviews, using my Carmine Appice interview as MD’s October 1978 cover story.

“Ron seemed a bit apprehensive about what I might be thinking of MD‘s office/basement. But, I thought it was all great and exciting,” I wrote in my blog.

My first freelance MD drummer interview with Mel Lewis turned inside out everything I believed about becoming a pro drummer. It literally prompted a total reassessment of my lifelong goal. Depressing, frightening, and necessary.

In October 1980 Ron Spagnardi’s hired me as MD’s Managing Editor.

The job was fun, full of opportunities, lousy pay, living in a rooming house. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

I left MD, October 1983, having written 48-percent of MD’s feature stories plus my managing editor tasks. And MD grew to 12 issues a year, from 9 issues when I was hired.

Ron, I think, would say I earned my keep. We remained friends. I am forever grateful to Ron Spagnardi, for taking two chances: One on publishing a drummer magazine, and one on hiring me to help him.

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