Well, it's hard to believe, but my Bleifuss drum kit turns twenty years old this year. I know plenty of musicians who play instruments far older than that, of course, but the age of my drums has special significance to me since I was there from their beginnings. Paul Bleifuss, who was a local musician and drum maker here in San Diego (specifically, La Mesa) until he passed away in 2007, made these drums for me all those years ago. The process was a special one, and though I was just a kid, my friend Paul involved me in every step of the process, and took my thoughts, requests, and feedback seriously.
After I spent two years banging away on my second-hand (or third, or fourth) Tama Royal Star kit, I knew I wanted a new instrument, but didn't know where to begin. My inspirational drum teacher at the time, Kirk Hoffman, referred me to Paul. I knew right away that Paul was a kindred spirit, and had a passion for drums and music that could only lead to something great. Though his reputation was nowhere near what it is now, I always felt certain he was the man to help me find the instrument that was right for me.
One of the major priorities for my instrument was that it was a versatile one, capable of handling several genres of music. Little did I know that twenty years later, I would have played it with and for artists as diverse as Michael Pellera, Lars Danielsson, Gary Wilson, Javier Escovedo, R. Stevie Moore, for Ramona, Two Wolves, Ryan Sinn, Jerry Bergonzi, Lady Dottie, Westside Inflection, Jim Gibson, Anders Kedhammar, and even the Navy band. Regardless of the situation, the drums Paul made for me have always ably met the challenge at hand.
Always working within the constraints of a tight financial and time budget, the process of discussing, choosing, and then actually making these drums was not a speedy one for us. It took several months for both the full kit and the small bass drum to be complete, but I treasured the time I spent with Paul, discussing and looking at not only my drums, but also those of other local drummers. Paul let me watch him work in his workshop, and we used to talk about the pluses and minuses of different sizes, old vs. new drums, and music in general. He always had a stack of CDs in his La Mesa workshop, at the ready for inspirational purposes, and we never tired of talking about music, drummers, and the instruments they played. Paul truly embodied the full-time, life-long musician for me, and that model remains with me today.
And now we no longer get to physically have Paul's talent and spirit here, of course. I can honestly say, however, that in twenty years, I've never played a gig on these drums without thinking of my friend Paul. I've played these drums in San Diego, New Orleans, New York, London, Stockholm, and so many other places. I've played them for American Presidents, and in legendary dive bars. And that's just twenty years...my estimate is that I have about fifty more years of gigs to log in with this beautiful instrument. Looks like it's time to schedule a twentieth birthday party gig on July 1st, 2015!
Though I usually adorn my bass drum with a band logo, I still have the original Bleifuss logo drum head for both of the bass drums Paul made for me.