Last Christmas Eve saw the closing of yet another one of San Francisco's best loved musical emporiums, Sam Adato's Drum Shop at 9th and Folsom. Adato's Drum Shop was a mecca for Bay Area drummers and percussionists for nearly 20 years. I actually bought a beautiful rosewood, 6 piece Gretsch kit from Sam back in 2003, and countless more drum parts and pieces over the next 10 years. A master drummer, Adato arrived from Santa Cruz and opened amid the musical heyday of the '90s. Adato survived the arrival of Guitar Center; the sudden appearance of a new, trendy competitor that actually opened across the street from him a few years ago and just as quickly went out of business; and a car that actually crashed through his shop window that fortunately took out very little of his merchandise.
Adato cites the internet; ebay and Craig's List, as well as the skyrocketing rents and guerrilla meter maids as the culprits in his decision to relocate to Eugene, Oregon, and I don't doubt him. Adato also lamented that "Parents don't come in to buy their kids a new drum set for Christmas anymore."
Adato is something of a purist; a rocker equally at home with the drumming of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, Carmine Appice of the famed Vanilla Fudge, or the jazz of the late, great of Louie Bellson. When he wasn't at his shop, he'd be recording or gigging at the Warfield or the Fillmore with his band, The Bridge. You wouldn't find any electronics at Adato's drum shop, he was all acoustic percussion, all the time. Needed a part or repair? You went to Sam's. If he didn't have it, he'd get it for you.
Adato didn't mention it specifically, but there may be yet another culprit. For better or worse, we now live in a new, musical world of electronic V-drums, digital DJs, beat boxes and a host of other realities that compete for the hearts and minds of tomorrow's young percussionists and have changed the face of the modern drummer. Adato's recent closure is part of a trend that knows no abating.
Lecturing at a college in Sweden last year, retired drummer Bill Bruford, known for his work with the groups Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and his jazz combo Earthworks, spoke about his musical past, the challenges for the creative musician in today's market, as well as speculating on the future of the modern drummer. No stranger to the industry, its demands and limitations, Bruford noted the rise of technology; the ability to make an album in one's living room; the advent of the sampler, the laptop and the lonely world of "having an orchestra in a box" to work with. The music industry has changed; the good ol' days are gone and there will be no putting that genie back in the bottle.
There are still conservatories, "percussion institutes", and lessons one can take, even on line, but in a world where technology, video and audio also compete for the modern musician, the drum set is sadly becoming an option for fewer and fewer musicians. Nowadays you can buy software and pads, play through your stereo, pack up and head to the club, spinning your tunes and beats in real time. Coupled with the monetary reality of today's digital downloading world, the drummer, (already the butt of every band joke ever imagined), finds him or herself in increasingly smaller company.
Bruford hopes that the modern drummer will be something of a hybrid; part acoustic, part electric, sampling, looping and playing rhythms that challenge the listener more than the pedestrian 4/4 grooves that dominate the contemporary music scene today. He may well be right in the end and he should know; Bruford was part of the electronic drum revolution before it was fashionable or reliable. With reliability and quality an issue, he eschewed the electronics and returned to his first love- jazz.
I tend to agreed with Bruford; he cites the creative hotbed of Brooklyn, NY as the home of some the best young drummers to combine the hybrid approach, looping, sampling and yes, drumming in real time with a maturity beyond their years.
San Francisco's loss is Eugene, Oregon's gain. Ironically, Adato was able to benefit from the Bay Area's real estate market enough to find a new home and new shop there. Eugene, (home of the dreaded Oregon Ducks), is a fantastic college town that could provide the perfect setting for the next chapter in the life of one the best drummers and musical mentors San Francisco has ever had. Last month, the Board of Supervisors even honored Adato for his efforts at City Hall, and deservedly so.
They say all good things must come to an end… Here's to Sam Adato's new beginning, and to what Bruford called the "industry of human happiness"… Making spirits dance through music- and drumming.
E. "Doc" Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart and many others. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor for Beyond Chron and inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick.