Bernie Stone's Time with Buddy Rich
It was 1986 and just a usual Saturday at work at The Percussion Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when I received a phone call from one of our customers, Roger Detrick, the president of the Local Musicians Union in Lima, Ohio. (Roger was also a friend who shared my love of vintage drums). Earlier in the week, he had told me that the legendary drummer Buddy Rich was coming to town and had asked me to come meet him, but I had put it out of my mind until then. "Are you coming over? Buddy's here and said he'd like to meet you!" said the voice on the other end of the line.
I was very excited to hear this, as Buddy Rich had been my idol for quite some time. I had first met him in 1974 at the age of 12, when my Grandpa spent a lot of money and took me to the Grandview Inn in Grandview, Ohio (an adults-only, old-time supper club) where Buddy Rich was playing at the time. When my Grandpa pointed me out to Buddy, telling him I was an aspiring drummer, Buddy said, "Tell him he's got 20 years to go - see 'ya, kid!"
So, after the phone call from my friend Roger, I knew I had to go meet Buddy Rich again. I was so excited that when I looked around the shop and didn't see any of my co-workers, I immediately left without telling anyone and drove straight to Lima (about an hour and a half away). I remember I was wearing a Rush concert T-shirt and dirty jeans. When I got to the Lima Civic Center, there was a bus that said the Buddy Rich Band on it. It was between 3 and 4 o'clock and I parked my car behind the bus. I immediately saw Roger, who was talking to Buddy Rich and introduced me by saying, "Bernie makes drums."
I was kind of afraid to meet him - because, sometimes your heroes that you've looked up to for so long disappoint you when you actually meet them. But that was not the case with Buddy. He looked over at me and extended his hand, so I shook it. "I bet you're a real cool cat with all that long hair!" Buddy said to me. I replied, "I'm as cool as I need to be; I just love to play drums!" Buddy chuckled at that, and asked me, "You like to play that other stuff, don't you?" (referring to rock music). I won his respect by replying, "I enjoy all music. I look up to you and those you look up to - guys like Baby Dodds and Chick Webb." I think Buddy was astounded that I knew those two drummers, because I was only 25 at the time and they were quite a bit older than me.
I also reminded Buddy I had first met him when I was only 12 years old and he had told me I had 20 years to go before I was ready to play drums, and he replied, "Yeah, see I was right!" After that initial conversation, we went in and sat on the bus - just three guys talking about drums and the drummers we liked - until it was time for the sound check. Buddy asked Roger and I to come with him into the Civic Center, and we watched from back stage. One of the things we witnessed was Buddy cursing at the musicians when he heard something he didn't like. I got to see every side of Buddy that day. He was truly a nice guy, but a tyrant with his band - expecting perfection.
After the sound check, Buddy invited us to share some on the refreshments that were set out for the band, and said he would return in a bit. The band goes into a room and Buddy starts swearing and cursing. After his tirade, he told them to get out of his sight and that he would see them at show time.
Then we were just three guys again, from three different generations - talking about drums, and Buddy asked me to come up to the stage, sit behind his drum set, and play. I remember it was a vintage Slingerland Radio King in white pearl that was refurbished by a craftsman named Joe MacSweeney. I sat down and played a polyrhythm that I had just learned, called "U.S. Drag" by Terry Bozzio. Buddy was really impressed and asked me to show him how I did that. I showed him how with a left-hand lead, and he thought it was really cool, but he probably didn't realize it took me a month to learn it.
Right before the band played, Buddy was playing a flute and he was very good at it. This was a man who obviously knew music well.
Roger and I enjoyed a wonderful concert from front row, center stage. Afterward, Buddy invited us to come on his tour bus and we went and talked again - us three guys about drumming - while Buddy smoked Camel non-filters one after another. We chatted until it was time for the bus to leave. Buddy invited me to come to future Buddy Rich shows with compliments of him and his band. He autographed drums for Roger and me. One year later, Buddy passed away, but I got to see him once more before he died, at a concert he gave in Columbus, Ohio.
No one would have ever believed my time with Buddy Rich that day, but I have the pictures to prove it. For me personally, this instance - besides the day I married my wife and witnessed the births of my two children - was probably the single most memorable time of my life - a day with just three guys talking about drums. My friend Roger passed away about 10 years ago, and I now own his drum that Buddy signed for him, along with my own autographed drum. That day with Roger and Buddy Rich is just one of the places my adventures have taken me during my drumming career that I know I will never forget.
About Buddy Rich: Bernard "Buddy" Rich, billed as "the world's greatest drummer," was known for his virtuosic technique, power, groove, and speed, according to Wikipedia. Born to vaudevillian parents on September 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, the American jazz drummer and bandleader started playing drums as a baby, at only 18 months of age. He was a child entertainer and first played jazz with a major group in 1937, with Joe Marsala and guitarist Jack Lemaire. Over the years, Rich performed with such greats as Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Carter, Harry James, Les Brown, and Charlie Ventura. He formed his own big band in 1966 and led it until his death on April 2, 1987. In addition to his legendary career in music, he was also known for his temper, mercurial attitude and imposing personality.