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History resonates at Pro Drum Shop

By Aaron Blevins, 12/20/2012

Hollywood drum retailer is one of the last of its kind

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The walls at Professional Drum Shop do talk — albeit through photos, which speak to five decades of experience in supplying area musicians with anything and everything percussion-related.

Mirabelle Montgomery tests out the equipment at Professional Drum Shop, where professionals and novices alike can buy equipment and have their instruments serviced. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

The business, which is in its 54th year, held its annual holiday celebration last week, offering the supporters in attendance yet another opportunity to tell stories of the shop’s illustrious past.

“It was forty years ago, and remains so today, the drum shop in Los Angeles,” said Peter Erskine, former Weather Report drummer and USC Thornton School of Music professor. “It’s a place to find any pro gear [and] also the place to convene and be with other drummers. There’s almost always someone here that you know.”

The stories flow freely, and many center on the drum shop’s founder, the late Bob Yeager, who passed away in 1987 from lymphoma — like the time Stan and Jerry Keyawa, Yeager’s stepsons, talked him into getting a credit card machine. After an issue with a previous credit card sale, Yeager insisted that the boys verify the next credit card number, despite the fact that the customer turned out to be Neil Diamond.

When George Harrison of The Beatles entered Professional Drum Shop a short time later and handed Yeager a credit card to purchase a gift for Ringo Starr, Yeager did not call in the credit card number, and his stepsons never heard another word about the credit card machine.

A native of Ohio, Yeager first encountered Los Angeles as a member of Tex Beneke’s band. After their gig, he opted to move to Southern California, saying, “If you’re going to starve playing drums, you might as well starve warm.”

Yeager worked at Drum City on Santa Monica Boulevard, where he met Chuck Molinari, who would eventually help him establish Professional Drum Shop on Vine Street, directly across the street from Professional Musicians Local 47. On June 1, 1959, the shop opened.

Yeager was known for being aggressive and bold with manufacturers in order to get the best deal for his customers. Over the years, he befriended many of those company CEOs and presidents. The shop also raised awareness of its products by hosting clinics with the likes of Joe Morello, Elvin Jones, Louie Bellson, Max Roach and others.

According to those who knew him best, Yeager was coarse on the outside, yet kind and empathetic at heart. His business reflected those characteristics.

“If you came in here and Bob insulted you, that was his way of saying, ‘You’re home. You made it.’ When you got your first insult from Bob Yeager, you knew you were made in L.A,” said former Wings drummer Denny Seiwell, who has frequented Professional Drum Shop since 1967.

Stan and Jerry marched to the beat of their late stepfather, who laid the foundation for a business that has withstood various industry changes — from big band music to rock ‘n’ roll. Stan began working at the shop at the age of 12 for $1.50 per hour.

He said Yeager enjoyed running the shop, and he treated people fairly. In return, Yeager garnered their respect — and their repeat business. Through his step-dad, Stan said he has learned the “ins and outs” of musicians and the “tough road” they travel daily.

“We just kind of evolved from there,” he said. “It’s just a little tougher now. We work a little harder. But we’re still stable and strong.”

Part of that stability can be attributed to Stan and Jerry’s mother, Dolores, who has owned Professional Drum Shop for the last 25 years. She said the business continues to stand by what it sells, something that Yeager instilled in the staff years ago.

While times have certainly changed, Professional Drum Shop remains one of the few “mom and pop” percussion stores in the world, Stan said. The shop cherishes its history, but Stan and Jerry stay current with the ever-changing business climate. Stan said the company is trying to “squeeze into the Amazon world.”

“In our case, we try to keep the old times still looking the same,” he said, adding that they can’t ignore modern technological advances. “It’s just the way it is, especially in California.”

It’s been a long, joyful road from mail-order catalogues to Internet sales, but the shop’s heart keeps beating — much like the generations of drummers it has supplied and serviced.

“Keep coming in and buying drums and drum sticks. If you have kids, teach them to play the drums,” Dolores said, smiling.

For information, visit www.prodrumshop.com.

 

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