By Chet Williamson
Imagine jazz drumming without the hi-hat. Did you know it was invented in
? It was created by Bernard
“Bernie” Walberg, a one-time trombonist who made it his life’s work to help
other musicians by inventing devices to deal with their mechanical issues. His
company, Walberg & Auge, has been called “the biggest unknown name in the
history of twentieth-century American percussion.” Worcester
The legend of the hi-hat dates back to the mid-1920s. As Harry Cangany and Rick Van Horn tell it in their book, The Great American Drums: And the Companies That Made Them, “Walberg, president of the company, created the first hi-hat by modifying a low-boy. (A low-boy was a pedal-operated mechanism that brought two cymbals together. The mechanism sat low to the ground, hence the name.)
“Walberg fitted a low-boy with a long tube to elevate the cymbals, and the modern hi-hat was born. Every company bought the Walberg hi-hats – generally in nickel plating with variations only in the footboard. The typical name for Walberg products was Perfection, so the Perfection Hi-hat was shown in a number of catalogs.”
|Downtown Worcester at the turn of the 20th century|
Of course, every creation is met with others who also claimed to have invented such an item. Hugo Pinksterboer in The Cymbal Book said, “Things were looking up when the low-hat, low-sock, or low-boy was introduced. According to legend, this device was conceived around 1925 by drummer Vic Berton. The low-sock, as it was produced by the
company Walberg & Auge, showed
remarkable similarity to the hi-hat, yet it was only 15 inches high.” Massachusetts
|Percussionist Vic Berton|
Geoff Nichols, Miki Slingsby and Tony Iacon in The Drum Book ask: “Who actually developed the hi-hat? Probably a lot of folks.
Jo Jones, in a Modern Drummer interview in 1984 said, ‘It was through necessity that I went and got a pipe. I couldn’t go down their and play the sock cymbal on the floor …. So I had a great big stand up drum (stand). I had a cymbal holder that I made from a coat hanger and put that on there. That’s how the sock cymbal came to be.
|Papa Jo Jones|
“Whether Papa Jo invented the hi-hat is uncertain, but once it reached the manufacturing stage, the transition from low-boy was rapid. Somewhere in the mid-thirties, the hi-hat gained favor in the drumming community and the low boy was relegated to history."
By far the favorite hi-hat stand in this era was thee Walberg & Auge model #502, also known as the original Krupa model Slingerland Hi-hat. The #502 remained popular well into the late 50s, when drum manufactures began making their own hi-hat stands, pedals and hardware.”
Drum making in
reaches back before the Civil War when Isaac Fiske manufactured
band instruments for the U.S. Army. According a 1947 article in the Worcester Telegram, Fiske sold the
business in 1880s to C.G. Conn of Worcester . “Two repairmen, A. L. Auge and
J.R.S. Taylor continued to repair instruments after Elkhart Indiana discontinued the local plant in
1898. Conn later sold out and Bernard E. Walberg took a half
interest in 1903.” Taylor
Walberg was born in
He is the son of Eric and Augusta (Tengdelius) Walberg. He came to this country
when he was five and was educated in public schools. According to the Telegram, “After only a few years of
schooling he went to work as an apprentice at an organ factory. Impelled by an
early interest in music, he began to spend his spare time studying the
“For years he was a professional musician, playing trombone in orchestras and bands, among them
’s Battery B. Band, the Chicago
Marine Band, and Liberatti’s Band at Worcester He was a pit musician in the
original ‘Poli’s Front Street Theater, which later became known as the Plaza.
While playing at the theater he entered the manufacturing business by making
cuckoos – hollow wooden whistles which simulated the call of the cuckoo bird.” Ashbury Park, N.J.
In the book, History of Worcester and its People by Charles Nutt, he stated that Walberg bought a half interest in the business of Taylor & Auge, of which A.L. Auge was then sole proprietor,
1, 1903. “The
place of business was at the time in the Crompton building, No. 13 Mechanic Street. No help was employed and the
business was confined to repairing and dealing in musical instruments. After
Mr. Walberg entered the firm, the manufacture of drums and other instruments
|The neighborhood where Walberg & Auge was first located|
The business was later moved to the
at Bigelow Building 86 Mechanic Street. It occupied two and a half
floors and employed 16 people. When Auge died in 1910, Walberg became sole
proprietor, but kept the name Walberg & Auge.
|W&A worker assembling a bass drum|
Nutt stated that, “a number of inventions and improvements on drums and appliances for which letters patent have been granted and instrumental in building up the business, which is now the largest of its kind in the East.”
As mentioned, Walberg had an inventive streak, which led to the development of many musical innovations. According to the Telegram, among them, “were the first carry – all bass drum – large drums which split in the middle to serve as carrying cases for the smaller drums in the musician’s drum set. His development of the folding foot pedal for the big bass drum led to the introduction of the ‘drummer’s throne,’ a high, three-legged seat that played an important part in bringing drummers up from their comparative orchestra obscurity and into the limelight in which they have basked in recent years.
|Early Walberg drum kit|
“During the era of the silent movies, in which the theater drummer had to make all the sounds, he worked busily, inventing horns, whistles, and bird and animal imitations. Pioneering in the field, he made scores of such devices on a production basis to entertain the nation, inventing sound effects that simulated everything from the wailing of a baby or the roaring of a lion to the sibilant thunder of surf pounding on the shore.”
In the opinion of authors, Harry Cangany and Rick Van Horn, the really important W&A product was “the shell-mount tom-tom holder that eventually came to be used by all the companies. Prior to the late 1930s most tom-tom had ‘link’ holders that connected to brass drum hoops, to rails mounted on the shell of the bass drum, or to the consoles.
“Some time in the late 1930s a New York Slingerland dealer named Bill Mather designed a new type of mount, and Walberg built it. At first only Slingerland had the Mather mount, which they dubbed the Ray McKinley Shell Monunt Holder. But Walberg eventually sold it to all the other companies, who one by one either copied it or switched to an updated holder. Gretsch was the last company to stop using the shell-mount system.”
When Walberg died on
July 21, 1958, the manufacturer left the firm
to the 35 employees of his company. “The
yesterday in the Registry of Probate," stated in the Telegram, "left the business including the real
estate to Clarence Wahlberg, nephew, and Andrew E. Soderberg as trustees under
and agreement of trust dated April 1937. The trust agreement, according to
Atty. Russell W. Anderson, provides that the business is to be turned over to
the employees. It is now being operated temporarily by Worcester County Trust
Co. as executor and trustee of the Walberg estate. The value of the business is
undetermined although called in lucrative.” Anderson
Clarence Walberg was born in
and after graduating from Worcester in 1921 went to work for his
uncle at Walberg & Auge. He help to run the company until it was finally
sold in 1975. South High School
Cangany and Van Horn recall his managerial style: “Ben Strauss of Rogers [drum company] remembers that Clarence had his office near an elevator. When Ben would call Clarence to order stands, Clarence would yell down the shaft to his chief engineer, ‘Ben’s on the phone. How many Buck Rogers stands do we have?’ Because W&A sold hardware to everyone, it was a constant battle for each company to get what it needed.
let Walberg make the first year’s
production of Swiv-o-Matic hi-hats, but moved the production in-house for the
obvious ‘constant battle’ reason.” Rogers
The authors also state that, “the catalogs of almost every manufacturer featured products built by this
company, but most of us never put
together the clues. In reality, no American company made all of its hardware.
Lug casings, pedal parts, stands, etc., were ‘farmed out.’ Walberg & Auge,
W&A, or just Walberg, as it is sometimes known, was a music store that
became a manufacturer. Drums were made before 1910, but that eventually gave
way to hardware manufacturing with only occasional drum output.” Worcester Massachusetts
In a feature titled, City is Center for Drum Making 1960, Worcester Evening Gazette writer Joseph H. Gauthier interview Clarence Walberg who was heading to the Music Industry Show in
“Few people know that
is the center of the drum-making
business,” Walberg said. “There isn’t a drummer of any worth in this country
who isn’t using our drums. Chances are he bought them from one of our
distributors, who had them made especially for him at the plant.” Worcester
Gauthier reported that by the 1960s, Walberg & Auge was also supplying more schools with rhythm instruments than any other manufacturer. “In addition to its national reputation as a maker of drums, the company is also known for its castanets, tom-toms, cymbals, rhythm sticks, rhythm bells, song bells name-the-tone bars, and other orchestra and band instruments. Its school business is also nationwide, mainly through its own mail order department. It is also a retail store,” he said.
World-renowned drummer Frank Capp, who has recorded with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to the Beach Boys, had a long relationship with the
drum company. Worcester
“My uncle, who used to work in Walberg and Auge,” he said. “I actually had two uncles that worked there, but my uncle George brought home a pair of drumsticks for me. I was probably five or six.”
The impact of both parties on the world of jazz cannot be overestimated. Walberg was no ordinary drum shop and Capp was an extraordinary talent from his first downbeat.
In a recent interview with the
WPI Jazz Lab, Capp noted that he became good friends with
Charles Walberg. In fact, in the 1970s the two friends traveled cross country
together. See: WPI interview listed in resources below.
|Neighborhood location of W&A before urban renewal|
After nearly 60 years in its location at
86 Mechanics Street in downtown Worcester the company
was forced to move. In a July 11, 1967 issue of the Telegram, under the headline of New site
of Walberg & Auge Company in Auburn, it was reported that, “Walberg
& Auge, Worcester’s only manufacturer of musical instruments, is moving
into this new plant at the corner of Route 20 and New Millbury Street in Auburn
this month. The company has to move out of its plant at Worcester 86 Mechanics Street after 64 years because the
Worcester Redevelopment Authority has taken the existing building. The company,
which employs 32 persons, will have more room in the new plant, according to
Clarence E. Walberg, trustee and chief executive of the firm.”
In an interview with Louis Salome of the Worcester Evening Gazette, it was reported that, “although the company is being forced to move because the Worcester Redevelopment Authority is taking the existing building, the move is expected to benefit the company in many ways.
Clarence Walberg said the new building will combine all phases of manufacturing, assembly, storage, and retail operation on one floor. He also said efficiency should be increased markedly, because more space will be available and each department will fit better into the over-all picture. Problems such as parking and loading will be solved.”
|Classic Walberg kit of the period|
Although the move painted a rosy picture, not all was well with the company. Salome reported that W&A was also beset by employment problems. “We just can’t get the help,” Walberg asserted, “because we can’t pay the price workers can get elsewhere at bigger plants.”
|1970s Walberg kit|
Clarence Walberg sold the company to Granger Norwood in 1975 and retired to
where he died on Ormond Beach, Florida Nov.
moved the company back to Norwood to Worcester 49 Union Street. He said his decision to return
to the city was made after the announcement of the $14.9 million civic center
was approved. “I think a great deal is
going to happen in downtown and that we can benefit from it
At the time,
said that W&A was grossing up to $500,000 per year.
Sixty percent came from the manufacturing of instruments, 30 from retail and 10
from rentals and repairs. Norwood
By 1979, the local company with a national reputation was done. In January 29th of that year, Frank E. Magiera, in the Telegram reported that, Walberg & Auge Co., had been taken over by Mechanics Bank as a result of default according to Marvin S. Silver, the bank’s lawyer.
“The company,” Magiera stated, “has been closed since Dec. 24 when the bank took possession. Silver said the bank has seized the company’s inventory, equipment and machinery. He said the officers and directors of the company had concluded that the operation was financially unsound.
“Granger W. Norwood, a principal of Walberg & Auge, said the disposition of the company is in the process of negotiation. He said the company was considering several alternatives.”
Gene Krupa (scene opens with
trumpeter Don Fagerquist) Worcester
Millbury born Nick Fatool
Papa Jo Jones
Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich
The Cymbal Book by Hugo Pinksterboer
History of Worcester and its People by Charles Nutt http://books.google.com/books?id=p3VKAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA677&dq=drummer+Walberg+%26+Auge&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bZU-Ufq7JbHy0QGm0YDIDQ&ved=0CEQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=drummer%20Walberg%20%26%20Auge&f=false
Guide to Vintage Drums by John Aldridge
The Drum Book by Geoff Nichols, Miki Slingsby and Tony Iacon