9/07: We just learned that Charlie Donnelly, one of the world's most knowledgeable vintage drum experts, has passed away. Charlie was in his 90s. Many of you with a deep love for vintage drums know Charlie's name very well. He had what seemed to be a never ending knowledge of vintage drums and their history, and he had a true willingness to share information with others. Charlie was very important to me because he was the person responsible for jump-starting me down the path of vintage drums.
For many years Charlie operated a small drum shop in Newington, CT. I first met Charlie in 1974. Back then I was 21 years old, lived in Rhode Island, and was working with a traveling band. Our singer knew that I had a fondness for vintage drums, and one day she told me that she lived near Newington and there was this "old guy" who had a drum shop with lots of old drums. I was really excited by this because you have to remember that back in 1974 the whole concept of vintage drums wasn't really developed. Most stores only carried new drums, and most people didn't really focus much on the vintage aspects of the drums of the 20s, 30s, etc. To most people these were just, "old drums". So, it was hard to get information about these drums, and harder still to even see them. When I heard about Charlie's shop I immediately drove down there. That was truly one of the best trips I ever made. Charlie was very personable and also very willing to share information. And, he had wonderful drums. I remember a rose marine pearl solid shell 20s Slingerland snare; many Ludwig black beauties; many Radio Kings, Camco drums and lots more. Of course, back then I had no money, but the information and the chance just to see these drums was enough for me. I stayed in touch with Charlie for many years and eventually was able to acquire several snares from him. Over time, those snares eventually found their way from my collection to other collections, but I still have one item from Charlie that I never sold: At one time Charlie had been thinking of trying to build a snare with a stainless steel shell. For various reason he didn't pursue it, but he did send me the prototype shell and I still have it to this day as a rememberance of Charlie.
Unfortunately, time and geographic distance kept me out of touch with Charlie as years went by. However, I last spoke to him 4 years ago. We had opened our shop a year earlier, and I wanted to call Charlie to catch up a bit, and to let him know that we had opened the shop and that we were carrying on the tradition that he had started. In fact, on my wesite I have a "dedication" to Charlie, Maurie Lishon, Frank Ippolito, Jo Jones, and Al Duffy. These were the people who inspired me to start my business, and I always remembered the way they were willing to share information and to help educate, and we always want to carry on with that tradition. Anyhow, Charlie was glad to get the call, and we talked for quite awhile. It felt good to touch base with him, and it felt even better to realize that he was still sharp. I closed by jokingly "blaming" him by saying "Charlie, this is all you fault! You started me down this path in 1974 and I can't get off it!" After which I quickly followed up with a big "thank you"!
I will miss Charlie, and I know many others will miss him as well. Below is the text from the dedication on my website, updated to reflect Charlie's passing. This dedication has been on the website since the day we opened the shop, and it will always be there.
There are a few people who had a profound effect on my love of vintage and custom drums. These people were also owners of drum shops that were truly magical. Their shops were a welcome haven for all drummers, and they offered everything a drummer could ever want: friendship, camaraderie, access to knowledge, access to other drummers and, of course, wonderful drums. These people deserve special recognition: Frank Ippolito, Al Duffy and Papa Jo Jones: To Frank, owner of Frank Ippolito's Pro Percussion in NYC, which was an institution in the drum world, and the Land of Oz for me in the early 70s. To Al Duffy, the industry's first true custom drum builder whose corner of Frank's shop was a sight to behold, and whose work was inspirational for others who followed. To Papa Jo Jones: My teacher, who taught me more in our "sessions" at Frank's than I can possibly say. Charlie Donnelly: To whom I owe a never-ending debt of gratitude for starting me down the path of appreciation of fine vintage drums way back in 1975. Charlie's small shop in Connecticut was a treasure chest of fine vintage drums. Charlie was a wealth of knowledge. He had forgotten more about vintage drums than I will ever know. Maurie Lishon, owner of Frank's Drum Shop here in Chicago. Maurie's shop was well known to drummers far and wide. When the elevators stopped and the door opened, you walked straight into his shop, and the effect was the equivalent of being a kid in a candy store. All of these people truly made a difference in the world of drums that we love so much. Unfortunately, Charlie, Frank, Maurie, Al and Papa Jo are gone, and their shops are only a memory. Our goal is to continue what these folks started. We'll support up and coming custom builders who are making a difference; we'll support high quality products from a select group of today's manufacturers; we'll continue to support the vintage drum market by carrying a large inventory of the finest vintage drums available; and we'll continue to build our museum collection in order to allow drummers to experience some of the history of their chosen instrument. All I can hope is that this shop can bring back even just a portion of the magic generated by the Charlie, Frank, Al, Maurie and Papa Jo.