Charlie Benante: My First Drum Set
Notorious for crushing double-bass cannonades on his enormous Tama kit with Anthrax and S.O.D., Charlie Benante actually got his start at the age of five on a comparatively conservative four-piece Gretsch kit.
“Where I grew up in the Bronx, it was one of those neighborhoods where everybody knew each other on the street,” he explains. “Right across from us was a family with three daughters. Each played an instrument, and they had a little band – you’d hear them playing on the weekends. Then the eldest, who was the drummer, she was going away to school and her drums were just sitting there, so my dad talked to her father, and he said, ’Yeah, just give me something for it and you can have it.’”
Benante’s Gretsch kit was practically brand new, with a 22" bass drum, 13" tom, 16" floor tom, and 14" x 5" matching snare, finished in a painted Duco finish that faded from bluish purple to silver and back to purple. The kit came with a set of Zildjian cymbals – including 15" hi-hats “just like Ringo’s” – a couple straight cymbal stands, and a ride-cymbal stand mounted to the bass drum.
Then there was his Gretsch strap-drive bass pedal. “The strap would always break, because it was worn in,” he laughs. “I remember one time using a dog collar, and just screwed it onto the pedal board, and it was as good as new. Hey, when you’re five to ten years old, you don’t have much money, so you’ve got to MacGyver it.”
And as long as we’re alluding to television reruns, that isn’t a photo of a young Fred Savage taken from the set of The Wonder Years. That’s a shot of Benante at his very first gig – a school recital. Don’t the drums look enormous next to Benante? “I had to be propped up, and then – boom! – I was off and running.”
Okay. Read ’em and weep – if his kit were in impeccable condition today it would be worth as much as $1,500 (not including cymbals and hardware). Benante’s dad paid under $100. So where are they now? “The kit got moved into the garage and then I don’t know what happened to it,” Benante grumbles. “I think my mother gave it to somebody. That subject’s still kind of touchy.”