Our friend Marshall Grossman has been kicking it behind too many Connecticut bands to mention for over 30 years. We thought we'd ask him about his experiences behind his trusty left-handed Gretsch kit, including the lifelong NRBQ fan's dream gig with the Spampinato Brothers. We owe him a good cigar for sharing his memories!
KT - Marshall, tell us a little about your background and who you've been playing with lately.
MG -Like so many of us in the drum community, I was smitten with the drums at an early age. I had the amazing good fortune that my dad was in the record business in the 60’s and 70’s. He was not a player, but was a huge music fan, swing in particular (he grew up in Brooklyn and had friends in Gene Krupa’s band). Anyway, he would bring me marching band records, which just blew me away with all that spirited drumming. And I’d check out my dad’s jazz records all the time. The first one that really got me was “Hang on Ramsey” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio (1965). I still play that record regularly!
My mom played piano. She taught me the boogie woogie I-IV-V progression, so it’s all her fault! She knew I loved the idea of becoming a drummer and put up with my primitive banging on the pots trying to accompany her.
I grew up in Bloomfield, CT, a small town with a ton of amazing musicians and lots of drum history. You’ll see the “Drummer Boy” statue on the town green; a tribute to one of Bloomfield’s first businesses, the Brown Drum Company. Fast forward a couple hundred years and you find Joe Montineri, master drum builder, living in Bloomfield…on Brown Street! And, of course, there’s the Porcaro family who lived in Bloomfield through the 60’s. The Porcaros lived next door to the girl who’d become my wife! She still has pics of the Porcaro brothers as the “Bloomfield Beatles”, replete with Beatle wigs and cardboard guitars. I had the pleasure to meet Jeff on an early Toto tour; he visited my dad’s record store before a show in Hartford. More recently, Jaimoe made Bloomfield his home town, so the Bloomfield drum connection continues.
I started taking lessons with my neighbor, Jules Moss (classmate of Joe Montineri). Jules was a monster player at an early age; you could hear him practicing day and night. Regret I didn’t stick with the weekly lessons very long (no pun intended). My drum education, instead, was fueled by listening to records, playing along and checking out the tons of bands that toured in the ‘70’s. Having a dad with a music store meant I could get on the guest list for pretty much any show. So I was seeing great bands a few nights a week and my focus always was the drummer. I did stick with guitar and bass lessons longer than my drum lessons, so that at least got me along to a point where I could figure out chord progressions, etc. which helped inform my drumming and sense of arranging.
Favorite drummers I got to see many times included Mick Fleetwood, Richie Hayward, Jeff Porcaro (of course), Elvin Jones, Marky Ramone, and then there must have been hundreds of NRBQ shows with the drummer I can never get enough of, the late/great Tom Ardolino. Tommy just cracked the code…his rock swings like nobody else, his swing rocks and his playing always has such a “giddy up” sense of pure joy. Earl Palmer meets Art Blakey meets Mickey Rooney!
Lately most of my playing is in the basement. My “day job” is pretty demanding; 60 hour weeks are typical and there’s a lot of travel, so, sadly, I can’t commit to a full-time gig. I love practicing, in any case. Most of my practices are on an E-kit, with headphones, so I’m not bothering my family or neighbors. Nothing compares to “real” drums, I know, but at least I get a workout.
So, my gigging currently is free-lance. My last steady thing was the good fortune to play with the Spampinato Brothers (Joey and Johnny from NRBQ) from 2011 through 2013. I still play gigs with them occasionally and that usually extends to pizza, a card game and often a fishing expedition, so that’s always a blast. If anyone needs a free-lance “brick and mortar” drummer in Southern New England, please find me on FB!
KT - Do you own any vintage drums? What are the pros and cons of playing out and/or recording with them?
MG - My most notable vintage kit is a ’39 Leedy set; black diamond oyster finish 24”, 13” and 6 ½”x 14” Broadway Parallel snare and my good friend/drum tech extraordinaire Liam Hogg found a similar vintage Leedy 16” floor and did a re-wrap to match the rest of the drums.
I’m not nearly the collector some of you are, but I’m happy to have a range of options in the collection. In addition to the Leedys, I’ve got my first kit; ’71 Slingerlands, an 80’s Gretsch kit, a Yamaha Hip Gig kit, and the first cocktail kit built by Joe Montineri. The one I regret selling was an early 70’s Rogers kit; I need a Rogers back in the stable.
The vintage drum I love for recording is the Leedy Broadway; without fail always a charming, fat sound.
KT – You've been playing a Gretsch kit for many years. What about it appeals to you ?
Yes, that’s my go-to gig kit. I guess you’d say the appeal is just the familiarity; it’s always packed and ready, reasonably easy to tune and I like red drums (these are stained cherry red, not sparkle),
KT - What would your dream kit or snare drum be?
I’ve got an ok assortment of snare drums, but I never leave the home without taking 2 snares from among my go-to three, all Ludwigs: either the 6 ½” or 5 ½” Supra depending on venue and my trusty Krusty Acrolite ["editors note": we hot-rodded an Acrolite for Marshall and are thrilled that he likes it so much!]. I still need a 6 ½” Black Beauty but I’m waiting for one to find me.
I dream about owning a Camco Aquamarine kit, not only because Camcos are great drums but more because that was the kit that started it for me, seeing Dennis Wilson bash that kit with the Beach Boys in 1965 (Bushnell, Hartford). That was the first time I witnessed a live rock and roll band and it was indeed a game changer. (Historical footnote: I’ve seen 12 Brian Wilson shows since he came out of exile back in ’99).
KT - Isn't your son a musician?
MG - Yes, Max is all-in; he’s studied drums, guitar, bass and more recently has created some very cool pieces in Ableton.
Speaking of family, my wife, Ginny is a trained pianist. We survive the winters working on our act “Ship Wreck”. She reads the music, I light the fire, fake the chords on guitar and make the Manhattans. When Max is home he’s been known to join in on bass and we change the name of the act to “All Hands On Deck”.
KT - What's been your best gig? The worst?
MG - Best gig had to be doing the 3 night “holiday” stand at the Iron Horse (Northampton, MA) with The Spampinato Brothers and Big Al Anderson (ex NRBQ guitarist), December, 2012. That was goosebumps! Al opened each night with an acoustic set backed by his amazing band: Jim Chapdelaine (guitar), Paul Kochanski (bass) and Lorne Entress (drums), so that was just an incredible hour of music right there, then a Spampinato Brothers set, then Al would join us for yet more NRBQ classics.
No worst gigs in hindsight. OK, there were “bad” gigs, but it’s still playing right? There was the night we left our roadie, Howard, behind on a bitter cold winter night at Castleton University, up near Rutland, Vermont. Fortunately we were staying at friend’s about an hour away and eventually figured out he was missing. Even more fortunately, he was rescued by campus security and provided a cot in a warm dorm for the night. I went back the next morning to pick him up.
Marshall live with The Spampinato Brothers
Paramount Theater ~ Springfield MA
Top - Beth Harrison
With Elvin Jones - Hilda Grossman
With Joey Spampinato and "drums du jour" - Tom Smith
Shop Talk is our forum for guest artists, curators and craftsmen to hang around the store and share their stories about inspirations, favorite drums and playing experiences. Our goal is to provide a unique view into the world of drumming as seen through the eyes of the people with the best seat in the house ~ drummers. Krusty Tubs proprietors Bob and Tom were both fortunate to grow up in musical families that exposed them to music and drums early in their childhoods that continue to inspire them today. If you'd like to contribute to Shop Talk, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.