Classic: 1970s Rogers “Skinny” Satellite Drum

Rogers "Skinny" Satellite Drum

rogers satellite drum

The now-defunct Rogers Drum Company was a major influence in American drum manufacture for a short period of time. The original progenitor of the company, Joseph P. Rogers, actually began in business by selling his calfskin drumheads to other American manufacturers. He had learned his trade as a young man serving as an apprentice mule skinner and hide tucker in the parchment yards of Dublin, Ireland. Eventually he moved to the U.S. and found his own niche. Starting with the sales of calf drumheads to other companies, the Rogers Drum Company eventually began the manufacture and production of their own drums, which were introduced into the American market somewhere around the 1920-’30s. Their ideas and products were generally unremarkable, as they borrowed both intellectually and materially from other drum companies, principally Gretsch. Rogers remained a second-class company that was really no factor in the American market until approximately 1955.

In the early 1950s the last remaining Rogers successor (Cleveland Rogers) was barren of heirs and sold his business to Grossman Music. During their reign, Rogers drums were to elevate to the status of arguably the class act of American drum craftsmanship. Although the Rogers company was more low-key and less publicly recognized during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s than Ludwig and Gretsch, their overall quality and innovative hardware designs made them a “drummer’s drum” of qualitative distinction. We know how the endorsement game works these days, but things were different earlier on. At disparate points of time, various Rogers players included Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Cozy Cole, Roy Burns, Hal Blaine, Dave Clark (Dave Clark 5, major early rivals to the Beatles), Dino Danelli (The Young Rascals) and Jerry Edmonton (Steppenwolf).

There are lots of stories about why and how Rogers did its thing, but from the beginning of the Grossman dynasty in the ’50s, the good news about Rogers stuff was attributed to the foresight of owner Henry Grossman, designer “nuts and bolts” guy Joe Thompson and the shmoozer and marketing whiz Ben Strauss. Together, they came up with ideas and products such as the ultra-utilitarian “Swivomatic” hardware and the “Dynasonic” snare that earned the respect and money of many, many people.

In 1966, the Grossman Co. sold the Rogers drum division to CBS, who had been busily buying up other musical lines, including the Fender Guitar Co. In 1969, a patent application was submitted for the drum pictured in the photograph above. It was subsequently granted to CBS in 1970 after Thompson’s death.

Although Rogers had a reputation for being a “pro’s” drum, the company wasn’t making much progress in the lucrative student/educational market. A former schoolteacher by trade, Don Canady was brought in to supervise this area of operation and promotion. He determined that this same drum designed by Joe Thompson would fulfill a particular need in the student market. Since Rogers/CBS already owned the patent, the drum was put into production.

The 13" x 2.5" Rogers “Skinny” or Satellite TCD drum (these names were used interchangeably and in conjunction in advertisements) was introduced nationally in 1972 and was heavily featured in the Rogers 1973-’74 catalog. The drum was advertised as a “student “ drum best suited for the nebulous purposes as defined by Rogers print promo hype:

“Now your entire beginning percussion class can play and still not overpower the Ensemble because the Satellite TCD gives a high ratio of snare sound to drum sound.”

“Beginning students hear percussion intonation more easily because of improved sensitivity.” [Author’s note: This is an expression that I thought was reserved for condom ads.]

“The sopranino voice provides sound color for so many of today’s percussion requirements.”

For whatever justification, the “Skinny” drum as a loner cost $67.50 or $111.50 complete with case, sticks, stand and instruction book. If this drum was marketed today, it would be sold as a whip-cracking piccolo snare to be used as an extra funk, fusion or Latin/Brazilian voice for drum kit, orchestral or percussion setups that would probably sell for about $400.00, which is what a clean vintage specimen would sell for today.

It is a fact, however, that clean, vintage specimens are rather hard to find. Rogers did not make many of these drums because the results were less than spectacular in terms of performance and public response. Although the drum had a very lightweight cast aluminum shell, it was too strange looking for most music teachers or seventh grade band students to embrace in any kind of demonstrable way. Cosmetic considerations aside, the drum had several inherent design flaws that literally did it in and may have kept the actual production-run numbers down into the hundreds.

A junior high schooler’s wanking along on the drum with a 2B or 2S had the tendency to throw off the throw-off at inappropriate times. But the drum had a much bigger problem that killed it in the end. If we were still in junior high, we would probably remember that choose-up game of “scissors cuts paper-which covers rock-that smashes scissors.” Well, in the case of the Rogers Satellite drum, the solid aluminum shell had cast flanges in which holes were drilled to receive the tension screws that tighten down the heads. The problem is that cast aluminum is very soft compared to stainless steel tension rods. Steel rips aluminum. There were no protective inserts provided to safeguard the structural integrity of the grooves in the receiving channels. The rationale for this was that students would have a visual aid in tuning, as the tension rod ends would not be obscured by anything like protective lug insulators. Well ... uh, I guess they knew what they were doing.

In a short period of time, both unsure students and seasoned professionals alike were stripping out the tension rod receiving holes cast into the shell at a level that made further production of the drum unfeasible. It only made sense to continue to produce the drum with protective lug inserts, but increased production costs coupled with very little demand spelled “D-E-M-I-S-E” for this particular line.

Occasionally one may run across one of these drums today. Invariably the drum has a stripped lug and/or one or more of the lug holes have been redrilled out by some enterprising soul to accept a stainless-steel lug insert.

This drum was produced a bit ahead of its time, yet had a potential for greatness instead of being an unreliable curiosity. Fortunately, such a poor marketing plan and even poorer design will not be remembered as Joe Thompson’s greatest contribution to the Rogers Drum Company.

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