One inspirational night with Barrett Deems
by John M. Carrington, M.D.
I was a college student working at my nightly part time job—a bank job—as I pursued pre-medical training in Shreveport, Louisiana. At my breaktime, I read that the Dukes of Dixieland were playing only a block away at the Elks Club. Being an ardent drummer, drum enthusiast and fan of the great players since my early childhood in New Orleans, I just had to take my break and chance a listen to this venerable group from my earliest years.
As I approached the ballroom in that old building, I recognized the unmistakable triplet patterns of Barrett Deems as he traded fours with the group. Confused because I thought he was with Louis Armstrong, I walked in to see his bass head signage—Barrett Deems with the Dukes... exclusively on Premier Drums.
He played a long and grand solo as the group went on break—himself alone on stage. At the conclusion, as he came off to applause, I approached him and told him what a fan I was. He graciously took me by the hand and sat no less than thirty minutes with me, answering all my questions and enthralling me with stories—stories that the night before, he'd given his tarnished Zildjians away to different tables receiving the new gleaming Zildjians in a shipment that day—stories of his tours with Louis in Asia.
He lit my cigarettes with a Zippo engraved with a date and then "Japan," and "to Barrett from Gene". I was entranced. He talked to me of Gene Krupa, his good friend.
To top off this night, he then took me to the band's table, seated me and introduced me as a drummer to the members—some of whom were member's of the original Assunto family.
My earliest childhood memories are marked by listening and copying solos from records by the Dukes and by Louis Armstrong and the Brubeck quartet. I idolized these people and all the grand drummers—Barrett, Gene, and Joe Morello. I took this experience, this generous experience given to me by a very kind idol, and have held it to my heart ever since. I grew to appreciate bebop. When I solo, sometimes those triplet patterns come very naturally.
Thank you Barrett... I'll never forget.
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