Gene Krupa Radio King Snare Drum
Gene Krupa's Slingerland Radio King Snare Drum.
Call Steve at 630-865-6849 to inquire about purchasding this extremely rare, historic instrument.
History: This drum is a 6.5x14 white marine pearl Slingerland Radio King snare drum built for Gene Krupa. The drum dates back to the pre-1938 Radio King era, which coincides closely with the years during which Krupa performed with Benny Goodman (35-38). Also, this drum’s date of manufacture can be further pinpointed as follows:
- The thumbwheel adjustments on both the strainer side and butt side snare extension brackets were used from the inception of the Radio King snare drum (1936) until 1938, after which the thumbwheel adjustments were discontinued at some point in 1938.
- Radio King snare drums were introduced in 1936, but on those first drums the lugs did not utilize threaded inserts. Instead, the tension rods threaded directly into the casting of the lug itself. This was a poor design because the lugs tended to strip out over time and as a result, this lug was eliminated in the 1937-38 time frame in favor of the lugs with the threaded insert. This drum has threaded inserts, and as a result, it would have been manufactured no earlier than 1937.
Based on the data above, we can say with relative certainty that this drum was built in the period of 1937-1938.
The last two owners of this drum are well known to me, and I assisted in the transaction that resulted in the sale to the most recent owner, so I am very familiar with the drum. In fact, the most recent owner is a very prominent collector and long time customer of mine. Although there is no definitive documentation to track ownership and usage of this drum directly to Krupa, the drum is designed in a manner that Slingerland utilized only for special drums built for Krupa, who was their premier endorsement artist. Key identifying features include the following:
- In addition to the standard Slingerland vent hole badge this drum has two other badges, both of which were used for Krupa’s special personal drums. One of these badges is engraved with Krupa’s name and the words “king of swing”. The other badge reads “Slingerland Radio King, Chicago, Illinois”. Slingerland used these two other badges on special drums built for Krupa. In fact, this very drum was used as the drum for illustrating these three badges on page 147 of the second edition of Rob Cook’s book titled “The Slingerland Book”. I personally confirmed this with Rob Cook.
- The interior of the drum was finished with great attention to detail. In contrast to what is normally seen on Radio King shell interiors, the interior of this drum is very smooth and the shell is the nicest Radio King shell we have ever seen. Slingerland paid close attention to the drums they built for Krupa, and this drum is evidence of that commitment. The extra attention to detail also supports the fact that this was a special drum for Gene, perhaps built by Slingerland to commemorate the formation of his own band after leaving Goodman in 1938.
Dr Carl Wenk is a noted Slingerland expert and has done much research over the years on Slingerland drums. His input is consistent with our findings. Below are excerpts from Carl’s input to us on this item.
From the construction and features this drum was made no earlier than 1937 and not likely
later than 1939. Actually I think there is at least a chance that Slingerland made this drum for
Gene in celebration of the occasion of him forming his own band in 1938 after leaving Benny
Goodman earlier that year.
Gene already had plenty of Radio Kings at the time this drum was made circa
1938, including many in this model, which had been the flagship Gene Krupa
Radio King signature Slingerland snare drum since 1936. Mr. Krupa was not one to ask for
lots of new drums from Slingerland, it was simply not his style. On the
contrary, he was well known for keeping his drums going for a long time,
making repairs until the road simply wore them out. Krupa also tended to
get a bit attached to particular drums. In fact Slingerland often would ask
him to please take some new drums because they did not want people to see
Slingerland drums with so much road wear. So the fact that this particular drum is so
clearly adorned with the name plate, extra badge and non-standard location of the tone
control and primary badge would really point to some special occasion. This drum was
special, it wasn't just another player for Krupa. Typically Krupa's player drums were
right out of the catalog.
The two-pad tone control, six-hole Radio King brackets and routed lip in the
reinforcing rings puts the drum past 1936. The green felt on the tone
control was mostly used earlier than 1940. All the other features are
consistent with late 1930s. The cloud badges with Radio King on them were
mostly used by Slingerland on practice pads, on cases and for adornment.
Slingerland often reversed this badge to make an engraved nameplate for an
endorsee, such as looks to be the case here.
Krupa took care of his equipment, but even so it does not appear this drum
has seen a lot of road time.
All hardware is nickel plated. The three point snare strainer and butt plate are the period-correct, original pieces complete with the “thumbwheel” adjusters on both the strainer and butt side extension brackets. The snare strainer is the correct version for the period. The internal muffler is the correct version for the period. Tension rods are all original and correct. Double flanged rims are all original and correct, with the appropriate “Slingerland Radio King” engraving on the top rim. Bottom calf head may or may not be the original. Top calf head is a replacement. Snare wires are replacements. The overall condition of this drum is truly excellent. The white marine pearl covering is fully intact and the color has “mellowed” pleasantly. The nickel hardware has taken on the patina that is common for nickel plating from this era. All parts work smoothly and the drum sounds wonderful. We have done nothing to this drum other than to remove the top head for the photos of the interior.
Statement of Authenticity:
Our opinion is that this drum is authentic and was built for Gene Krupa by Slingerland between 1937-1938. Based on this range of dates it is at least a possibility that this drum was used by Gene with Goodman. While it may not be possible to absolutely determine this fact, it is certainly possible that this was the case since the drum was built during the time that Krupa was featured with Goodman. It is also possible that the drum was built for Gene by Slingerland to commemorate the formation of his own band in 1938 just after leaving Benny Goodman. The importance of Krupa’s contribution to the drumming world and to the jazz music world in general is well known. And, while Gene had a long career many would argue that the 1930s era, especially when Gene performed with Benny Goodman and then left to form his own band, represents the most significant era for Krupa. Excellent original examples of instruments owned by Gene rarely come to market, and while any instrument owned by Gene is highly desirable, in our opinion an instrument of his from the 1930s era is especially desirable. This drum represents a unique opportunity to own a piece of jazz drumming history.
Background on Gene Krupa:
Gene Krupa was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 15, 1909 and was the youngest of Bartley and Ann Krupa's nine children. His father died when Gene was very young and his mother worked as a milliner to support the family. All of the children had to start working while young, Gene at age eleven. His brother Pete worked at "Brown Music Company", and got Gene a job as chore boy. Gene started out playing sax in grade school but took up drums at age 11 since they were the cheapest item in the music store where he and his brother worked. "I used to look in their wholesale catalog for a musical instrument - piano, trombone, cornet - I didn't care what it was as long as it was an instrument. The cheapest item was the drums, 16 beans, I think, for a set of Japanese drums; a great high, wide bass drum, with a brass cymbal on it, a wood block and a snare drum.
Gene’s parents were very religious and had groomed him for the priesthood. He spent his grammar school days at various parochial schools and upon graduation went to St. Joseph's College for a brief year. Gene's drive to drum was too strong and he gave up the idea of becoming a priest. In 1921, while still in grammar school, Gene joined his first band "The Frivolians." He obtained the drumming seat as a fluke when the regular drummer was sick. The band played during summers in Madison, Wisconsin.
Upon entering high school in 1923, Gene became buddies with the "Austin High Gang", which included many musicians which would be on Gene's first recording session; Jimmy McPartland, Jimmy Lannigan, Bud Freeman and Frank Teschemacher. In 1925, Gene began his percussion studies with Roy Knapp, Al Silverman & Ed Straight. Under advice from others, he decided to join the musicians union. "The guy said, 'Make a roll. That's it. Give us 50 bucks. You're In.'" Krupa started his first "legit" playing with Joe Kayser, Thelma Terry and the Benson Orchestra among other commercial bands. A popular hangout for musicians was "The Three Deuces." Many of the musicians playing in bands would gravitate here after hours and jam till early in the morning. Gene was able to hone and develop his style playing with other jazz players such as Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke and Benny Goodman in these local dives. Krupa's big influences during this time were Tubby Hall and Zutty Singleton. The drummer who probably had the greatest influence on Gene in this period was the great Baby Dodds. Dodds' use of press rolls was highly reflected in Gene's playing. Drummers usually had been strictly time-keepers, but Krupa interacted with the other musicians and introduced the extended drum solo into jazz. His goal was to support the other musicians while creating his own role within the group. Gene is also considered the father of the modern drumset since he convinced H.H. Slingerland, of Slingerland Drums, to make tunable tom-toms. Tom-toms up to that point had "tacked" heads, which left little ability to change the sound. The new drum design was introduced in 1936 and was termed "Separate Tension Tunable Tom-Toms." Gene was a loyal endorser of Slingerland Drums from 1936 until his death. Krupa was called on by Avedis Zildjian to help with developing the modern hi-hat cymbals. The original hi-hat was called a "low-boy" which was a floor level cymbal setup which was played with the foot. This arrangement made it nearly impossible for stick playing.
Gene's first recording session was a historical one. It occurred in December of 1927 when he is noted to be the first drummer to record with a bass drum. Krupa, along with rest of the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans were scheduled to record at OKeh Records in Chicago. OKeh's Tommy Rockwell was apprehensive to record Gene's drums but gave in. Rockwell said "All right, but I'm afraid the bass drum and those tom-toms will knock the needle off the wax and into the street."
Gene moved to New York in 1929 and was recruited by Red Nichols. He, along with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, performed in the pit band of the new George Gershwin play "Strike Up the Band." Gene had never learned to read music and "faked" his parts during rehearsals. Glenn Miller assisted him by humming the drum parts until Gene got them down. After "Strike Up the Band" completed in January 1930, Hoagy Carmichael gathered several great musicians together for many historical sessions. Gene played on some legendary "jazz" recordings with Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini and Joe Venuti. Krupa played in one more pit band with Red Nichols for Gershwin's "Girl Crazy." He then joined Russ Columbo's band in which indirectly led to his joining Benny Goodman's group.
Benny Goodman urged Gene to join his band with the promise that it would be a real jazz band. After joining, Benny soon became discouraged with the idea of having a successful jazz group. The band was relegated to playing dance music and Benny was considering packing it in. Upon the band's engagement at the Palomar, Benny decided to go for broke and play their own arrangements. The audience went wild and the band took off. The Goodman group featured Gene prominently in the full orchestra and with the groundbreaking Goodman Trio and Quartet. The Trio is possibly the first working small group which featured black and white musicians. On January 16, 1938, the band was the first "jazz" act to play New York's Carnegie Hall. Gene's classic performance on "Sing Sing Sing" has been heralded as the first extended drum solo in jazz. After the Carnegie Hall performance, tension began to surface between Gene and Benny. Audiences were demanding that Gene be featured in every number and Benny didn't want to lose the spotlight to a sideman. Gene departed on March 3, 1938 and less than 2 months later formed his own orchestra. His band was an instant success upon it's opening at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City during April of 1938. His band went through several incarnations during it's existence and at one point even featured a string section with 30 to 40 members. During this time Krupa authored his own book titled "The Gene Krupa Drum Method"(1938) and began an annual Drum Contest (1941).
The contest attracted thousands of contestants each year and saw future drum legend Louie Bellson as the first year's winner. Gene appeared in several motion pictures including "Some Like it Hot" & "Beat the Band", becoming a sort of matinee idol. His noted likeness to Tyrone Power and musical fame were a magical combination in the eyes of Hollywood.
In the summer of 1943, Krupa was arrested in San Francisco and was charged with possession of marijuana. Gene was sentenced to 90 days in jail, of which 84 were served. During this time, Roy Eldridge led Gene's band and eventually had to break up the group. After Gene got out of jail, he briefly joined up with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before re-forming his own band. Krupa's groups of the early 1940's were often criticized as being too commercial but Gene's big band was one of the first in the mid-forties to introduce Bop arrangements with the help of Gerry Mulligan and the playing of trumpeter Red Rodney. Gene managed to keep the full band together until December of 1950, when most big bands had already fallen apart. He kept a smaller version of the big band together through 1951.
After breaking up his big band, Gene wasn't sure which direction to take. He had led small groups within his big band during the 40's, and thought this was once again a logical choice with the growing popularity of be-bop. The Gene Krupa Trio was one of the first acts recruited by Norman Granz for his "Jazz At The Philharmonic" concerts (due to contractual reasons, Gene was first billed as "The Chicago Flash."). The JATP dates introduced the famous "Drum Battles" with Buddy Rich in October of 1952 and the subsequent studio recordings on the LP "Krupa and Rich" in 1955. Some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time were the result of the "All-Star" jams at JATP. The alumni of these dates included Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich and of course, Gene. Along with Cozy Cole, Gene formed the Krupa-Cole Drum School in New York City in March of 1954. He also began studying tympani with the New York Philharmonic's Saul Goodman (1951). In 1959, actor Sal Mineo portrayed Gene in the motion picture "The Gene Krupa Story." The film was very loose in the facts of Gene's career but did feature an excellent soundtrack recorded by Krupa himself. Gene's huge resurgence in popularity eventually led to his departing the teaching role he had at the Drum School.
By the late fifties Krupa was prompted to slow down due to increasing back problems. He had a heart attack in 1960 which forced him into a retirement for many months. After recuperating, his ever-changing small group continued to perform and record, and they regularly appeared at New York's Metropole. The Goodman Quartet reunited and played several live dates. Gene led a hectic schedule with through the early and mid-sixties, performing throughout the US and abroad. His health once again became a problem and his second marriage fell apart. He retired in 1967 proclaiming that "I feel too lousy to play and I know I must sound lousy." During his hiatus, Krupa practiced and coached his baseball team. In 1969, Gene began a series of anti-drug lectures and clinics for Slingerland Drums. He officially came out of retirement in the spring of 1970, re-formed the small group and was featured at Hotel Plaza in New York. Gene's last commercial recording was in November of 1972, titled "Jazz At the New School" with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison. Gene's final public performance was with a reunion of the old Goodman Quartet on August 18, 1973.
His soloing ability was greatly diminished as his health declined, but his overall playing had become more modern sounding than ever. Gene died October 16, 1973 of a heart attack. He had also been plagued by leukemia and emphysema. He was laid to rest at the Holy Cross Cemetary in Calumet City, Illinois.
Gene Krupa will forever be known as the man who made drums a solo instrument. He single-handedly made the Slingerland Drum Company a success and inspired millions to become drummers. He also demonstrated a level of showmanship which has not been equaled. Buddy Rich once said that Gene was the "beginning and the end of all jazz drummers." Louie Bellson said of Gene, "He was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. He is still a household name."
Gene was loved by many people; fans and fellow musicians alike. In 1973 when Krupa’s health was failing significantly, some of Gene’s best friends organized a testimonial dinner for him in New York. Papa Jo Jones presented Gene with the first Gene Krupa
Award from Frank Ippolito’s Professional Percussion center in New York. Louis Bellson and Buddy Rich, both the primary organizers of the testimonial, were in attendance, with Buddy canceling two important dates in order to be at the event. The testimonial was held on August 15, 1973 and Gene passed away two month later.
Here in Chicago, Barrett Deems was a long time friend of Gene’s and was in fact a pall bearer at Gene’s funeral. When I came to Chicago in the mid 70s I got to know Barrett very well. Barrett was close friends with Gene’s surviving brother Julius (known as Jules). Barrett didn’t drive a car, and Jules was too old to drive as well, so I would drive Barrett and Jules down to Holy Cross Cemetary in Calumet City so that they could regularly visit Gene’s grave.
I hope this information, and the accompanying photos, will be helpful to you in your assessment of this extreme rarity. For more information please contact Steve Maxwell at 630-865-6849, or by email at email@example.com