Nowadays, of course, it is standard practice for drum manufacturers to display their brand logos blazoned across the front of the bass head. Up until the early ’60s, that had never been done. That original idea, believe it or not, can be traced back to Ringo Starr. A Ludwig advertising sticker was affixed to the front of the Beatles’ first “drop-T” head at Ringo’s urging to emphasize his pride at owning his first set of Ludwig drums. Unfortunately, parts of the sticker kept flaking off due to the constant pounding of the drum. For this, the second head, Ringo wanted the Ludwig logo even larger and more prominent. Also, the decision was made this time to hand-paint the logo on so it would be more permanent. It was this head seen – by William F. Ludwig on the Sullivan show – for the first time with the Ludwig name on the bass head. From that night on, the requests poured in to Ludwig for the front displayed brand name. Although they weren’t geared up for such a demand at the time, quick adjustments were made and from that point on all drum kits that went out the door at Ludwig featured the brand name on the front head. A short time later this was standard practice industry-wide.
It was decided that the Beatles would travel to America as light as possible for their first visit. The decision was made that Ringo would travel without his drum kit. Only his snare drum and cymbals would make the trip along with the new front drum skin. A new set of drums would be purchased when they arrived in the States. The reason for this was that a second kit was going to be needed in any case. Once the Beatles returned from America, filming was going to commence on their first film, A Hard Days Night. One drum kit would be needed on the film set and, since the soundtrack was going to be recorded at the same time during breaks in the schedule, a second kit would be needed at Abbey Road. The powers that be concluded it was easier to pick up the new set in America, rather than carry the old one over.
After the Beatles’ two-week American visit was over, the skin went back to Abbey Road Studios where it was last seen in early 1964 before disappearing entirely, not to be publicly seen again until the 1984 auction.
The current overall condition of the Remo WeatherKing head is very good. It is a 20" coated Ambassador with very slight cracking in the joint where the Mylar film is fused to the aluminum ring, but nothing too serious. You can still see the faint pencil marks where a straight edge was used for letter alignment. None of the original pencil markings were ever erased off. The front of the head definitely shows some use. More so even than one would expect considering its short public tenure of two weeks. It exhibits the usual scuffs and scrapes of being packed and unpacked, and we know that most of these imperfections occurred during the actual first American visit because many of them show up in photos from the time. Most interesting would be a half-circle scrape starting at the top of the “B” and traversing through the “e” and into the “a.” If you complete this arch in full, you get a near perfect 14" circle. It appears that at some point when Beatles equipment manager Mal Evans was breaking down the kit, one of Ringo’s 14" hi-hat cymbals was laid on top of the flat lying bass drum, causing the scrape. This had to happen during the first Sullivan performance because the scrape shows up in the Washington Coliseum show photo I mentioned earlier.
When I took possession of the head in 1994, just the head itself was displayed in a sealed acrylic depth frame for hanging on a wall. It looked okay, but lacked the familiarity in your mind that you associate with the head on the Sullivan show. I thought it should be mounted on the front half of a Ludwig Oyster Black bass drum that would look as close as possible to the original drum that held it 30 years earlier. I called the Ludwig Drum Company to see if they could build such a drum for me. After speaking to Jim Catalano about the project, I was referred to renowned vintage drum restorer, Jack Lawton, of the Lawton Drum Company in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Lawton is quite familiar with the Oyster Black Pearl used by Ludwig back in the ’60s. In fact, Lawton had reintroduced that finish (now called Black Oyster) in 1992. The material stopped being made in the ’60s, so Lawton placed a call to the plastic’s original manufacturer in Italy and asked the company to reproduce the pearl, graying shade, and texture. They did and proceeded to sell him 400 pounds of the stuff for his own use. Ever since, companies like Ludwig have recognized Lawton as one of the nation’s finer restorers of classic drums.
The drum Lawton used was an old 20" x 14" Champagne Sparkle shell manufactured by Ludwig in the mid-’60s. The original finish was stripped off and the shell was then cut in half. The inside was sanded and painted white, and the outside was recovered in ’60s style Black Oyster Pearl. The original hardware was then cleaned up and reinstalled on the shell. A new black inlaid bass drum hoop now holds the vintage drumhead in place. Lawton was unaware of the price paid for the head when it came time to mount the skin on the shell. After a bit of a struggle, the tight fitting head finally went on. When Lawton was later told of its value (many times that now), he nearly went into cardiac arrest.
The Beatles’ Sullivan drumhead is an icon of our generation. It is the only Beatles logo drumhead to appear on any of their album covers (it can be seen on four) and, because of the Sullivan notoriety, is generally regarded as the most famous of the seven. It has been exhibited in Washington museums and on occasion at Jack Lawton’s annual Pennsylvania Drum Show. It recently completed a one-year stint at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and will no doubt be back at some point in the future.