Episode 11: John DeChristopher formerly of Zildjian, DW, and Simmons

John DeChristopher helped build early-stage Simmons and Drum Workshop drum companies before landing at Zildjian, where he spent 24 years leading Artist Relations. John semi-retired in 2013 and has returned to his roots as a player, as well as creating a limited stable of representation for some of the world’s top drummers.

Born outside Boston, John DeChristopher’s journey started playing in bands and working at the noted E.U. Wurlitzer music store across the street from Berklee College of Music.

He grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, and by extension, Charlie Watts, who got him into drumming. To John, Charlie’s unique approach, time, and sound were magical. Charlie’s musicality, taste, and orchestration helped John understand how a mature drummer serves the song. Whereas on Jumpin’ Jack Flash from “Hot Rocks,” Charlie never plays a fill, John describes Charlie’s playing on Monkey Man on “Let it Bleed,” as being “like an orchestra.” We talk about the difference between the way drummers approach the drums and the way non-native drummers, such as Stevie Wonder, play the drums, like a producer; and that Ringo might be underrated for his part composition.

In 1985, John moved to Los Angeles to play drums professionally, with a job at Simmons Electronic Drums as his backup plan. That fallback became a career, in which he was promoted quickly and met many of LA’s top drummers.

He was recruited by Drum Workshop founder Don Lombardi prior to the launch of the company’s drums. John played a key role in establishing DW as a premier drum maker though his Sales and Artist Relations efforts. Did you know: John shares stories about LA players bringing their other-brand drums to have bearing edges cleaned up by DW’s John Good?

In 1989, John returned to New England, joining the Avedis Zildjian Company, handpicked by Armand Zildjian himself to be the company’s Artist Relations Manager. During his 24-year Zildjian career, he ascended to VP Artist Relations & Event Marketing Worldwide. From new product introductions including A. Custom, K. Constantinople, K. Custom Hybrid, Zildjian drumsticks and more, John’s time with Zildjian was quite noteworthy.

A few people John mentions in the Zildjian section that are worth clarifying: Armand Zildjian was the immediate predecessor (and father) to current CEO, Craigie Zildjian. Armand was the charismatic face of Zildjian’s 20th century success. Lennie DiMuzio was John’s predecessor as Zildjian Artist relations manager, and in many ways invented the concept of artist relations in musical instrument. His tell-all book is a must-read! Colin Schofield is best known for his 20-year run as Zildjian Marketing Director, which he followed with leadership positions at Premier and Gretsch. Paul Francis is approaching 30 years of service at Zildjian, having worked his way up from an operator in the factory to head of R&D.

Keiko Jones is the widow, partner, manager, and much more, of Elvin Jones.

In the ’60s, new to America from Japan, Keiko lugged his drums downtown to clubs on the subway. She kept him alive and his affairs in order. She composed and arranged tunes, booked gigs, hired musicians and managed four decades of tours. And four weeks ago, in what can only be described as a supreme act of love and understanding, Keiko brought Elvin to Yoshi’s. She knew what was most important: that Elvin play. That he spend his final days, if that was what they were to be, as he had spent the last 60-plus years of his life: spreading love.

John left Zildjian in 2013 to semi-retire and since has rekindled his passion for drumming himself. He’s playing vintage Gretsch drums and he detailed his lineup of mainly one-of-a-kind cymbals including: some of the redesigned A. series 16″ and 18″ Thin Crashes given to him without coating or logos by Paul Francis; as well as an 18″ A. Medium Thin Crash, a pair of 15″ Avedis Hi-Hats, a prototype set of 15″ A. Custom Hi-Hats, a 20″ A. Cie Ride, and even an old Paiste 20″ Giant Beat and a pair of 602 hats! (No, this was not forbidden in his contract!)

Do cymbals need to be broken in, or age? John seems to think so. We talk about new versus old, aged gear, burying cymbals, cleaning cymbals, and more.

John now provides a limited range of representation for drumming legends Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine and Rick Marotta and Danny Seraphine. During his career John has served as President of the Percussion Marketing Council (PMC), has been the recipient of the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) President’s Industry Award and currently sits on the Board Of Directors for Drummers Collective in New York.

John and I had a lengthy discussion about the state of the music products industry and why he decided to leave. He discussed the way we make music had been changing for years, and that the industry is in the process of readjusting to its new reality. It’s a time of consolidation and contraction for some incumbents, and it’s a time that is presenting new opportunities for new companies and niches to emerge.

For example, some new drum companies are choosing to sell their drums direct-to-consumer so they can forger a closer relationship with drummers. We heard this in Josh Allen’s strategy for INDe. Other examples are new segments being discovered, such as A&F’s luxury drums approach. New accessory companies including Big Fat Snare Drum, Tackle Instrument Supply, Morfbeats, and others are opening up new methods of expression and sound. John also gives a shout out to Fred Beato of Beato Bags too.

What is the future for the drum set and how has it been influenced by hip-hop drummers, producers, and beat makers? How will our instrument evolve?

And Zildjian, in my humble opinion, is back! The new cymbals introduced over the last few years, under Paul Francis’s leadership, have been excellent. From the redesigned A. Zildjians to the Avedis line, to the Keropes, they’re wonderful instruments.

John is working on two other projects we discussed. He’s writing a column for a new UK-based drumming magazine, Vintage Drums, Legendary Sounds. And just about to debut is a new web video series called The Inside Track, whose first episode features Gregg Bissonette. It’s a project partnering John with his former Zildjian colleague Bob DiLorenzo and Rob Wallace of Hudson Music.

You can connect with John at his public Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter. And if you’re in the Boston area, go see him with Grand Theft Audio!

Listen to Drum Showroom Episode 11 here, and please subscribe and leave a review if you like what I’m doing. It would really mean a lot.

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