The Drums Always Come First
As luck would have it, the drummer was drinking a bit too much and by the third set he literally fell over in my general direction and his sticks were just laying there. Friends started yelling at me to pick up the sticks and get up there and play the drums. For some reason I did just that, and played the rest of the night with the guys. Somehow I managed to keep the hi-hat and kick drum going while at the same time hit the snare on the back beat (songs were simpler in those days) with an occasional splash at the cymbal. No tom fills, however.... I wasn't completely stupid! And that, dear friends, was the very first experience I had at a trap kit.
By the end of the night the drummer was no where to be found, so I carefully broke down his champagne gold Slingerland kit and took it home. When I phoned him the next day to tell him that I had his drums, he told me he wasn't going to play drums any more with them and offered to let me use his kit for "a while". I kept them another two months before returning them to him as it was time for me to go to college. While at (then) Arkansas State College in Jonesboro during my freshman year I happened to drive by a music store which had a new Ludwig kit on display in the front window. Not just a Ludwig drum kit, but a brand new 1964 set of Super Classics in Oyster Black Pearl... Called the "Ringo Starr Set". It was love at first sight! I drove home that weekend and pleaded with my parents to let me buy that kit. After much begging and many promises on my part, they finally agreed to allow me to use my Selmer clarinet as a trade-in for the kit. Recently I found the original invoice for the drums (yes, I am a pack rat) and I will share what the proprietor wrote on that bill of sale, dated November 3, 1964, just two days after my 18th birthday:
Dear Mr. Ketchum,
Sunday afternoon your son picked up the drum set, and I don't believe there was a
happier boy on the campus that night. Along with the clarinet he gave me a check for
$125.00 to add to the down payment. We worked out his payments of $18.90 per
month. I will send the payment book to your son at the college.
Pat Richardson, owner
Arkansas Music Supply
Sunday afternoon your son picked up the drum set, and I don't believe there was a happier boy on the campus that night. Along with the clarinet he gave me a check for $125.00 to add to the down payment. We worked out his payments of $18.90 per month. I will send the payment book to your son at the college.
Setting them up !
(note the microphone)
The school year went by rather uneventfully, other than almost getting kicked out of the dorm for practicing my drums during finals week. In the summer of 1965, I again got together with my buddies from the previous summer. We called ourselves "The Vipers" and I immediately went out and payed a local sign-painter to boldly inscribe the band name on my kick drum head. Here is a Polaroid of the kit with it's fresh logo:
CLICK ON THE PICTURE ABOVE TO SEE MORE OF "THE VIPERS"
We rehearsed regularly in the basement of the guitar players house. How his parents could stand all that racket I'll never know. On "off" nights I would practice drumming along with Sandy Nelson's "Drums Are My Beat" lp in the basement of my parent's house. The downstairs den, located directly beneath my parent's bedroom, was not the best place to practice, so I eventually had to revise my self-tutoring to mid-afternoon sessions when dad was at work. July 4th, 1965, was sort a milestone for me, being a one-year anniversary of my first time as a drummer, and we played at the same Pavilion, probably in front of basically the same crowd. I was a lean, mean, drumming machine!
July 4th, 1965
A Drum Solo on "Bo Diddley"
The original "Vipers" lineup was Steve Tullgren (guitar), Joe Summers (vocals), Gary Shelton (bass), Bob Ahrens (organ), and myself.... The Drummer! Steve's mom worked for the local newspaper and arranged for the staff photographer to come and take a publicity photo and do an article on the band. The below photo is the result. The car was Steve's dad's "fix-up", a vintage Morgan.
The Vipers - 1966
They put ME behind the wheel !
The "Vipers" stayed together for nearly 4 years, finally going our separate ways due to "compulsory" college attendance (remember, it was during the military draft). In that time we "almost made it" more times than I care to recount. Once, we were "discovered" by music mogul Chips Moman of Memphis, who took us into his American Recording Studio to cut tracks, then changed his mind and (for some reason) decided to invest in a young girl by the name of Sandy Posey instead, who had a top-10 hit the following year. In 1967 we had another brush with fame when we were taken into the fold of Koplar Properties. Harold Koplar of St. Louis owned the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel and the Lodge of the Four Seasons and, as our manager, he decided that our image needed an update. He renamed us "The Harlequin Vipers" and put us in outrageous costumes and makeup and told the press we were from Sweden (!!?) . We were the opening act for the Lodge of the Four Seasons nightly entertainment concert venue, and opened for the likes of Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and many others. After the show we would come back out on stage and play a "teen dance party" for the guests and their teenage children.
The Harlequin Vipers - 1967
Waaaaaaaaay Before KISS
Well, as you can imagine, our brush with stardom left a bitter taste in our mouths (or was that the beer?) and we finally went our own ways after that fateful summer of '67. I moved to Little Rock and attended broadcasting school. Back in those days you needed an FCC-required 3rd Class Engineers Ticket to become a disk jockey, so I paid my dues and got into radio broadcasting full time, while playing drums in various bands along the way.
In 1970 I moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas to work in the radio market there. At the same time I started moonlighting as "wannabe" engineer and occasional session drummer for Mickey Moody at Ben Jack's Recording Studio. It was a 16-track studio with all the "name brand" gear that is associated with professional recording. It was there that I was in the right place at the right time, and got the opportunity to play as session drummer on the Freddy Fender hit "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights".
In the Studio
(note the Neumann mics)
During that five-year stint in Ft. Smith I played with many groups including "Rock Bottom" and "Whizz", which opened for most of the concert acts appearing at the municipal auditorium during that period of time. We opened for such notables as "Trapeze" (twice), "Black Oak Arkansas", "Mitch Ryder & Detroit", "Bloodrock", "The Grass Roots", "Sugarloaf", the "Ides of March", the "Boxtops", "The Gentrys", and "Styx".
The Wild Man!
During the "Whizz" Years
Finally, in June of 1976, I moved back home "to the hills" to build the recording studio of my dreams. It sure has taken a while to get here, and the studio is still growing each year. But I still have my original Ludwig set and it is still my main kit whenever I play live. It consists of the original 3-piece kit with the addition of a 1968 Super Classic 18" floor tom. Most of the original hardware has since been replaced with sturdier TAMA stands, but I still have and use the original 18" & 20" Zildjian ride cymbals and matched set of 16" (!) hi-hats. I have added onto the original cymbal set up with various types and brands of brass, and of course have made the transition to electronics and have several vintage as well as new electronic drum kits and pad set ups. But there's nothing quite like banging away at the good old vintage "Ringo" set!
Same ol' Bob... Same ol' kit