Friday, March 29, 2013

World-renowned Walberg's of Worcester


By Chet Williamson

 Imagine jazz drumming without the hi-hat. Did you know it was invented in Worcester? 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.”

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.)

The low-boy

“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 Massachusetts company Walberg & Auge, showed remarkable similarity to the hi-hat, yet it was only 15 inches high.”

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 Worcester 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 Elkhart Indiana. “Two repairmen, A. L. Auge and J.R.S. Taylor continued to repair instruments after Conn discontinued the local plant in 1898. Taylor later sold out and Bernard E. Walberg took a half interest in 1903.”  


Walberg was born in Sweden April 19, 1877. 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 trombone.

“For years he was a professional musician, playing trombone in orchestras and bands, among them Worcester’s Battery B. Band, the Chicago Marine Band, and Liberatti’s Band at Ashbury Park, N.J. 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.”



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, October 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 was begun.”

The neighborhood where Walberg & Auge was first located 
The business was later moved to the Bigelow Building at 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.”

1920s advertisement
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.”

Ray McKinley
When Walberg died on July 21, 1958, the manufacturer left the firm to the 35 employees of his company.  “The will, filed 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 Anderson called in lucrative.”

Clarence Walberg
Clarence Walberg was born in Worcester and after graduating from South High School in 1921 went to work for his uncle at Walberg & Auge. He help to run the company until it was finally sold in 1975. 

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. Rogers 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.”

The authors also state that, “the catalogs of almost every manufacturer featured products built by this Worcester Massachusetts 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.”

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 Chicago.

“Few people know that Worcester 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.”


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 Worcester drum company.

“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 Worcester plant at 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 Ormond Beach, Florida where he died on Nov. 14, 1989.  

In 1978, Norwood moved the company back to Worcester to 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 Worcester and that we can benefit from it all.”



At the time, Norwood 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.

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.”

Resources

Video Clips

Gene Krupa (scene opens with Worcester trumpeter Don Fagerquist)

Millbury born Nick Fatool

Max Roach

Papa Jo Jones 

Louie Bellson

Buddy Rich

Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich

The Cymbal Book by Hugo Pinksterboer


Guide to Vintage Drums by John Aldridge

The Drum Book by Geoff Nichols, Miki Slingsby and Tony Iacon















8 comments:

  1. That last set (blue sparkle) belongs to my wife and me. I took that photo. (I assume you found the photo on one of the drum forums.). To give a little more background, the drum sets sold by W&A through the 60s and 70s (and maybe earlier) were assembled by W&A in Worcester (and later Auburn) of shells, lugs, and other hardware from multiple companies. W&A bartered their spurs, rail consolettes, hi-hats, and pedals to Gretsch, Rogers, and Slingerland in return for plain shells and lugs. The factory would create sets out of the pieces and sell via mail order or retail at the factory. The insides of the shells were initialed and dated by hand by "RGB". (W&A drummers know that either there was an "RGB" who worked there FOREVER and inspected EVERY piece, or "RGB" was a fictitious person and the RGB initials were used by multiple inspectors.) The set in that last photo is made of Gretsch Jasper maple shells, still has the original blue sparkle wrap (now faded to a blue-green), uses Gretsch hoops on the bass drum, with T-handle tension rods, and Rogers "beavertail" lugs. The straight legs on the floor tom are spring-loaded Ludwig legs with the mid-60s Ludwig logo on them. The tension rods on the toms and snare are hexagonal heads! Apparently, W&A often -- if not always -- used hex heads in the '60s. Since all modern drums use quad head tension rods, it's impossible to find a hex drum key now. The shells are all plain wood -- i.e. no finish, no stain, just naked wood -- inside and are initialled with "RGB 10-66" on all but the bass, which is dated "RGB 9-67". All of the badges say "Perfection - Walberg & Auge - Worcester, Mass", even the 9-67 drum, which, theoretically at least, should have an Auburn badge on it.

    I bought the kit in 1978 from a Worcester drummer who was the original owner. I used those drums from 1978 to 1988 in a couple of Worcester and Boston bands that will remain unnamed here, but if you were to search through photo archives from Ralph's, Sir Morgan's, the old Slattery's, Greendales, WPI fraternities, the old Goat's Head Pub at WPI, and various Knights of Columbus and Moose and VFW halls in the area, you'll see that kit pop up a few times. You can't miss it -- the little 20" kick and 4-pc Walberg set during the time of the monster 10-piece sets. No one else was playing a small 4-piece with just two cymbals and a hi-hat in those days!

    The kit as shown in that photo, which is probably from 2008, has all new hardware and (obviously) heads (although the bottom head of the floor tom is the original 1966 Remo with the Walberg & Auge label). The tom mount in the photo is a 1979 Ludwig, which has since been discarded in favor of using a snare stand to hold the tom. The cymbal stands, hi-hat, and kick pedal are all new. The original kick pedal was a Rogers logo manufactured by W&A, which my wife and I still have. We also still have the original W&A snare stand. The front spurs -- same as what Ringo used -- are still on it. All of the rubber feet -- on the bass drum spurs, the front spurs, and the floor tom legs have been replaced with modern "knobby" ones. The kit sounds terrific -- modern Remo heads on beautiful Gretsch maple shells. It's particularly great for recording, yet mikes up real nice for live club performances.

    The cymbals are a 20" late 1950s Zildjian ride, a 16" new Zildjian crash, and 14" Paiste hi-hats.

    Many thanks, Chet Williamson, for writing this article! Like so much of old Worcester, Walberg & Auge is gone and rapidly becoming forgotten.

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  2. Chris, So nice to meet you. I'm sorry, but I'm just now seeing this. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. And, thanks for the detailed writing about your experience with Walberg. It is a valued contribution to my piece. You may contact directly at: chromatic@charter.net

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  3. Thanks so much for putting this info together! W&A deserves its notoriety in the drum world. Not many know of the company... but many have used their hardware.
    I happen to be the proud owner of the early W&A drum set in this article. I restored it and it now a useable drum kit. Unfortunately I had to remove the pig skin bottom heads. They were to far gone to add any resonate value.
    Here are some pics of it. Enjoy!
    http://sdrv.ms/LVd6LJ
    Here are some pictures

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    Replies
    1. I have the same set as proud owner of w&a drum set in this article. 5 piece, everything there, shells pretty good, some hardware a little rough. my father bought it brand new and used it a lot. curious if you know the year, I'm guessing late 50s, early 60s. would you know the value? any information would be greatly appreciated.
      you can email me - scullybrats@aol.com

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    2. Did you ever get a response to your estimated date question? All the Walberg & Auge sets from the period you mention -- 1950s to 1970s -- are initialed on the inside of the shells. You should be able to find the initials "RGB" written in blue ink with a month and year, e.g. "RGB 10-66".

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    3. RGB was indeed a real person! My father, Robert George Bernard as well as my grandfather before him, George Francis Bernard, worked at Walberg & Auge manufacturing custom drums.

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  4. @Spencer Scully : Your W&A build date range from the late 30's - 40's. I have the same drum set in the same color. Let me know if/when you would like to sell it. I'd love to restore it. Thanks! Jeremy admin@walbergandauge.com

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  5. Walberg and Auge is back after 35 years and is now registered as a non-profit corporation for historical and educational purposes.

    Our mission:

    Preserve and restore the historical significance and musical instruments of America's most important and innovative drum and musical instrument company... W&A.

    Develop the Walberg and Auge book that documents the past and future of W&A.

    Continue the tradition of designing and building Walberg and Auge drum sets and snare drums with the details and perfection-level craftsmanship of W&A drums built from yester-year.

    For more info see: www.walbergandauge.com

    ReplyDelete