Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Menza Credenza and Ghost Pedals

Ghost Phantom
Peeler and Ramsey
The Galloping Ghost
By David Owens

Back when I was supporting myself as a starving artist and university student I worked for a company called Ghost Pedal Company. It was owned by Bob Ramsey in Springfield, Oregon. I got on my 10-speed and fast-pedaled from Eugene down the busy Franklin Boulevard to the facility. I got to roll springs and machine metal parts and assemble  metal bass drum pedals.

Not just any pedals, but the fastest bass pedals in the world.  They were invented by Bob Ramsey back in WWII when he served on the USS Enterprise,  "The Gallopin' Ghost of Oahu," thus the future name of his drum pedal. Bob played drums and there was not a fast-acting bass pedal to his liking on the market. Most pedals were not smooth inaction and were constantly breaking. He figured out an opposing-spring movement and sturdy construction and patented it after the war. Ghost was a small company with less than a dozen people including Bob and his wife.
USS Enterprise, The Galloping Ghost

Word spread from drummer to drummer about the fast smooth Ghost pedal. Jazz drummers such as Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson got on board. When they toured near the area they would stop by and try out pedals and take a few away. Bob enjoyed meeting these extraordinary drummers.. Their autographed pictures and letters were on the office wall.

Bob figured out how to mount two beaters on his pedal. that meant a drummer could play two beats with one tap of the foot.   A fast drum roll on the bass drum was now possible.
That got the rock drummers excited. Some wanted four beaters on their pedals and played two pedals, one for each foot. The driving roar of thunder blasted from the bass drums equipped with Bob Ramsey's Ghost Drum Pedal.

Ludwig Ghost
It was a privilege to know Bob and his niche in the musical world.   Apparently Ludwig of Chicago was jealous of the smooth action and reputation of Bob's pedals and they introduced their own Speed King pedal with smaller opposing springs. Bob had to go to court to defend his patent against the industry gorillas. In the end Ludwig decided to buy out Bob and his patents and he retired. Roy Peeler, the plant manager moved to Chicago with the tools and I never worked on a Ghost Pedal again.

There was quite an art to torching spring steel and rolling springs on a  lathe. I like to think the Ghosts I worked on in the 70's were the best ever made. Steel, zinc and aluminum. The key to a quiet smooth action was a well-formed spring.

The Ludwig Ghost was an iconic bass drum pedal  manufactured by the Ludwig company from 1975 to  1981 based on the design by Bob Ramsey from1942.   The Ghost has become a much-sought-after pedal. They are still in use today and there is even an online Ghost Pedal museum by Billy Rhythm at http://www.billyrhythm.com/drums/ghost/index.html

It's funny how things get connected in life. I was lead to Ghost Drum Pedals by interest in Buddy Rich, and that was driven by an interest in Don Menza, and that was driven by interest in jazz and horns ...

This story was begun to spread some admiration for Don Menza and especially his work with Buddy Rich. I have digressed to tell about a forgotten chapter in drummer history -- without regret!

Don Menza 2010
Menza Credenza! 
How about Don Menza? He is quite an amazing jazz player. The first time I heard the Channel One Suite I was in high school. Jazz greats were experimenting with many different rhythms and time signatures. 5 beats, 7 beats alternating 3/4 beats .. I listened as Walt Wilson, the high school jazz band instructor, told us we would learn this tune and take it on tour to Canada! That was scary and exciting at the same time. I studied with "Dr. John" Metcaf and Steve Wolf, two sax talents woodshedding with Gene Aitken's Lab Bands at LCC, the best jazz bands in the region. That was cool!

One of the my fondest musical memories.was emulating the amazing Saxophone player Don Menza. His credenza on Channel One Suite with the Buddy Rich Band is on of the great moments in contemporary  saxophone jazz and the peice was wildly popular among jazz educators. It is fondly called  "The Menza Credenza" by sax players. The long driving drum solos of Buddy Rich are legendary.

 There is nothing like having the band simmer down and open up the musical stage for your entrance... spine tingling and inspirational. Do or die, you are alive and it is your moment. We had a feedback-prone Shure PA sytem and it blasted my notes in auditoriums up and down the coast. In my memory -- somewhat romanticized over time -- we were good, very good, and I held my own with my version of the Menza Credenza. I have never heard a recording to temper or expand those memories, though I am sure one exists somewhere. Jazz is meant to be live and in the moment, then it is gone, but a field of notes and staccato drifting by. A memory riding on a breeze and though our soul. Mmm. Allow me my sweet memories.

What do you think? Listen to the Channel One Suite from Buddy Rich's 1968 album, "Mercy, Mercy!" There are many creative musical innovations in those years and their work remains inspirational.




http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK_xMCsYtBI


Nice! Don't you love how Jazz players don't watch the clock and they play as long as they have something to say and stop when they are finished! No two-minute commercial radio tunes here!

I believe this is the recording with Paul Keen on the Bass Trombone playing a soli ... those low "blats" are a treat to hear. Paul is a  fine musician now teaching low brass in Michigan. Paul was also a musical director for Disney on Ice and later we worked together launching the Fresno Bee online, of all places!

Life does move in undulating waves and circles. I love it!

If you'd like to see what these guys looked like, here is another version in three parts from the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1984.
Buddy does some incredible drum work. Can you see a Ghost Drum Pedal?

Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 1
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984


Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 2
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984


Buddy Rich Channel One Suite part 3
Berlin Jazz Festival 1984




Keep those old Jazz vinyls! They keep going up in value!

2 comments:

  1. Hello, I would like to learn more about the Ghost pedal. My drummer has 2 and one needs some work. I can be reached at divorcedone@gmail.com

    Thank you,
    Dan

    ReplyDelete
  2. The photo you show of the USS Enterprise is NOT the photo of the ENterprise from WWII that was the "The Gallopin' Ghost of The Oahu Coast".

    ReplyDelete