At Franks Drum Shop in Chicago in the Sixties, Every Instrument Imaginable was Available for Rent or Purchase
Percussionists have always made their own instruments. This post talks about Franks Drum Shop, Maurie Lishon and his son, Chuck, and some of the custom percussion instruments made in its “Goodie Room,” as reported in a 1967 Chicago Sun-Times article by Abra Prentice.
FRANKS DRUM SHOP, a place musicians in Chicago called “Percussion Central” in the sixties, was owned by Harry Brabec’s old pal, Maurie Lishon (1914-2000). Conveniently located on Wabash Avenue, the drum shop drew a steady crowd of both local and out-of-town percussionists, offering every instrument imaginable for rent or purchase. Anything it didn’t have, it could make to order, and most of those custom percussion instruments were truly unique.
When Franks Drum Shop shop went bankrupt in 1984, the name was bought by Bill Crowden, who owned a competitive drum shop next door called Drums Unlimited. (See “A Tale of Two Drum Shops” article. His shop thrived until Chicago’s changing music scene prompted him to close in 1991.)
These two drum shops, now just a part of Chicago’s interesting music history, are featured on this website, which honors the memory of one of the percussionists who spent many an enjoyable hour in both of these historic shops.
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THERE’S A STORY behind this picture, but the details have been lost to me. Apparently, for a gag, Harry used to stand behind Maurie and then they’d both play an instrument together. They did make an interesting pair when they were in ham-it-up mode.
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Harry’s scrapbook included a January 19, 1967 Chicago Sun-Times article by Abra Prentice titled “The Big Sound of Chaos,” an article that has apparently never made it to the Web. Following are a few clips from this very lengthy feature article that speak about the unusual nature of Franks Drum Shop and the unique custom percussion instruments that could be rented in those days. It was Chuck Lishon, Maurie’s son, who was being interviewed for this article, in which he said, “The whole world has become oriented to sound.” His pride and joy of the shop was what he and his father affectionately called “the goodie room.”
Excerpts from “The Big Sound of Chaos,” by Abra Prentice
“Crammed into what looks like an over-sized closet at the back of the shop were hundreds of exotic instruments and novelties capable of producing any sound from rain falling on a tin roof to a chorus of cuckoos in mating season,” Prentice wrote.
“Many of the items in this drum museum are more than 50 years old and belonged to the former owner, Frank Gault. They are mainly for rental, though a few are for sale.
“Chuck claims he gets the strangest requests for particular and peculiar sounds from all over the country. Symphony orchestras, movie studios and jingle writers are among favorite customers.
“The other day an ad agency wanted to duplicate the sound of someone tapping on a washing machine for a commercial. With the help of Clarence Williams, the house ‘doctor and chief fix-it man,’ a contraption of metal shelving was set up, which when struck, produced the desired sound. ‘I call it the Norge rap-tap simulator,’ Chuck joked.
“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently presented ‘Sinfonia India,’ which required a string of deer hoofs, a yaqui metal rattle and water gourd for its percussion section.
“‘They usually want everything yesterday,’ said Chuck. ‘It makes it hard when you’ve never heard of some of the things.’ “The yaqui metal rattle, for example, ended up being a toilet float with shot in it.”
Prentice concluded her lengthy article with this charming note:
“The world inside this showroom of $3,000 gongs and 5-cent rubber crutch tips for drum stands is way out. One small boy on his maiden voyage caught the flavor of the place immediately. He asked Mrs. Lishon for some water as soon as he got off the elevator. ‘Why?’ she asked.
” ‘Because I just swallowed my gum,’ he said.”
[End of Article Excerpt]
Dick Schory popularized percussion music in the late fifties and early sixties and paved the way for an entire movement in pop music that lasted through 1969. In 1960, he said this about unusual percussion instruments:
“There are no limits when it comes to instrumentation in the amazing new field of percussion ensembles. Everything from auto brake drums, inverted rice bowls, and even a manifold from a ’46 Chevrolet are included with surprisingly good musical results. “If it can be struck and can be classified as a percussion instrument, someone, somewhere has scored for it.”