His interest in drumming began at the age of twelve. When World War II started and most of the pro drummers were drafted, Herb began getting calls to play ... for money! And, when he read about the Bobby Christian School of Percussion in Chicago, he enrolled.
Herb worked days as a busboy, and took lessons in the evening. Within a few weeks, he was teaching beginners and managing the Studio for Bobby. While in Chicago, Herb met Buddy Rich and formed a close friendship that lasted until Buddy's death. He recalls the events leading up to that first meeting. I had been hearing a lot about this 'hot' drummer named Buddy Rich, so when I read that he was performing in Chicago at the Regal Theatre, I had to check him out. The newspapers reported that Buddy had broken his arm and was playing with only one hand. I saw the first show he played after having the cast removed. To say the least, I was not impressed. Buddy made a few mistakes, throwing the band off occasionally. I remember thinking, 'This is something that an average drummer like me would do'. A few days later, a friend took me to Buddy's hotel where we were formally introduced. Buddy insisted we come to the show that evening. Backstage before the show, I looked at Buddy's drumset. It was an old discolored white pearl kit ... and the bass drum pedal had a single rusty spring and squeaked when I touched it! I thought, 'My set is a lot better than his!' We settled in for the show. Well, needless to say, after seeing that second show, I realized why he was so special.
After two years, Herb returned to Houston to resume his playing career and opened his own Houston School of Music. The operation of his school led him into the retail music business. While his teaching and playing career flourished, the retail store also grew. His customers could relate to him because they knew he was a professional player.
Herb has one recollection about his early career as a music dealer that few can match. Early in 1954, a friend told him about a young singer who was performing in the area and causing quite a stir. His name was Elvis Presley. I thought Elvis was just another country singer, says Herb. But one day, a few months later, a pink Cadillac pulled up in front of my drum shop. Elvis and his drummer, D.J. Fontana, came in to buy a drumset. They didn't like any that I had on display, but they did like my personal set of Gretsch drums ... which happened to have a calfskin front head on the bass drum with the hair still on. So, I sold them that set, and didn't think any more about it. He continues, A few months later, I saw a write-up in Life Magazine about Elvis' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and there was this two page photo showing Elvis, with D.J. playing my set of drums! By then Elvis was a big star-and maybe my drums helped him just a little bit! Oh, and D.J. still has that set of drums today!
Herb was operating his studio and retail shop when he got involved with drumsticks. I was still playing full-time, he says, getting the first call for shows that came to town plus a lot of TV work and commercials. I had bought six pairs of Japanese made drumsticks from a passing salesman. I didn't remember who sold them to me, and I didn't know what kind of wood they were made from. All I knew was that they were much better quality than domestic sticks.
I was playing with a big band one night, when a touring drummer who was passing through Houston sat in. At the time, the thing for drummers was getting a very defined, high-pitched 'ping' from your cymbals, and I knew my cymbals sounded great! So when this drummer played, I went out front to listen. My cymbals sounded muffled-like they had a handkerchief over them! I picked up the sticks the other drummer had been playing with and hit the cymbal. It sounded dull. I looked at the stick, and it was a domestic hickory stick. Then I picked up my Japanese sticks and hit the cymbal one time and got the bright 'ping' I was used to hearing. I said to myself, 'I don't know what kind of wood this is, but I love it.'
Herb began trying to find the source of these sticks. After several months, the factory was located. By the way, Herb interjects, the man from the Japanese trading company who helped me find that factory is Tat Kosaka. And we've been working together now for 38 years on a handshake.
Herb realized that if he was going to sell his own line of sticks, he needed a brand name. He chose Pro-Mark, meaning the mark of a professional. He started selling the sticks to his students, and to traveling drummers passing through Houston. Before long, he began getting calls from all over the country including one from the legendary Billy Gladstone. Billy ordered some 2B's, Herb recalls, and I got my first formal letter of endorsement from him ... unsolicited.
He continues, The physical designs of the original Japanese sticks were not suitable for the U.S. market. So I would send the factory various American-made models, along with instructions. I'd say, 'This is the general idea, but I want it thinner here, a thicker neck; a ball tip on this model, a larger acorn tip on this stick.' In a few weeks, they'd send some samples. That's how I designed my sticks in the beginning.
When Herb made his first trip to Japan to see the drumstick factory, he met with a startling revelation. We drove into a residential neighborhood and went into the front room of a house with sawdust and wood chips piled high. Two young guys were in there using hand tools to shape each stick. And the sticks they made with hand tools were actually more consistent than the sticks being made in America in the late 50's by the major drum companies.
It was that hand-made quality that got Pro-Mark sticks off the ground. Herb says, The product itself was what put Pro-Mark on the map.
Herb Brochstein's years as a professional drummer have given him a strong sense of advocacy for the drum-product consumer. This philosophy led him to establish the industry's first and only toll free hotline in 1990. He says, It enables us to speak directly with the people who use our products. Drummers often have extremely innovative ideas and we want to hear from them. And, you don't have to be a big name drummer for us to listen. We established 'Project X', a nation-wide group of drummers who test new products. One ad generated over 3,000 responses from people who wanted to be involved. They are sent products to test, then send us their evaluations. It's a tremendous way to communicate with the market.
He adds, My 35 years experience as a drumset player has been channeled directly into the creation of new drumstick designs, and it has given me a common language with which to talk to drummers about their own design ideas.
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