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Mr Drum City

February 15, 2013

Frank Gibson, Auckland’s top jazz drummer, tries out this new set of twin-bass drums which has just arrived from England Frank Gibson Snr AS 171254and is the first complete set of its kind to be imported to New Zealand. – Auckland Star, 17 December 1954

Drum City, Auckland’s specialist music instrument store, was given the perfect name when it was founded in 1976 by the man who laid down the backbeat in Auckland. Frank Gibson had a remarkably high profile, in a town full of great jazz drummers. His son Frank Gibson Jr carries the baton, playing his first gigs at the age of eight, in the same year that this photograph appeared.

In 2007, Frank Jr recalled that he spent his childhood in a house full of music – live music.  “Oh yeah, absolutely.  There were musicians coming round to play poker: Bobby Griffiths, Bob Ewing, Nolan Rafferty. We were in Balmoral.  They’d come on Sundays too and play the new albums, the new Woody Herman 78. Drummers were coming round all the time, like Don Branch, Barrie Simpson, who used to write me out little exercises, and I’d hum them to him. Those were the first lessons I had, other than a few with Dad. These people were totally encouraging to me when I was eight years old. Dad too, I was learning off him from the age of six.  I sat with my practice pad, and he sat with his practice pad, but there was no music involved, it was rote learning, he would spell the sticking out for me for a certain rhythm, and ‘play slowly and evenly’, that was always what he said, it was a very correct way to teach – but it was all by ear.”

On Sunday mornings, instead of church musicians would meet for the occasional jazz session. “There’s a story of my Dad calling up [bassist] Bob Ewing for a jam session on Sunday, and his mother said to Dad, ‘Oh Bob’s at church’. And Dad didn’t know he had any affiliations. But he then became ‘the Reverend Bob Ewing’, and later the Reverend Bob Spewing – true story. Bob told me that himself. They were jamming a lot. I went to some of them. There was no jamming going on in our household, there was just a lot of people listening and playing poker and drinking, hanging out.”

At his professional gigs, Frank Sr would often take the spotlight with a virtuosic display. “He played solos that I heard. Playing fast. Played a lot of rim shots on the snare drum, that always impressed people. I recall hearing ‘Chasing With Chase’, which was like a drum hit. ‘Topsy Part 1 and Part 2’ … Dad played things like that, but it was mainly solos in the form of a tune, like in a 32-bar song he’d play a chorus. But the crowd just loved him, he had a kind of charisma.”

While a dedicated jazz musician, and an inspiration and mentor to countless drummers, Frank Sr is also remembered for his role launching live rock’n’roll in New Zealand. A week after Rock Around the Clock opened on Queen Street in late September 1956, Gibson assembled his All Star Rock’n’Rollers from among his jazz musician friends to play a dance at the Yugoslav Hall. They would soon play an influential gig at the Auckland Town Hall, and star in a residency at the Jive Centre on Hobson Street – 18  months before Johnny Devlin’s debut there. Frank Jr recalled:

He made one comment many years later in a magazine, said when he heard ‘See You Later Alligator’ he gave up music and started playing rock’n’roll. People won’t say that today, but he was a straight arrow. He liked it, he cashed in on it, had the first rock’n’roll band, I remember it very well, he was also the first drummer in this country to play two bass drums.

From the age of eight, Frank Jr would be appearing in show-stopping duets with his father. He was always aware that his dad carried a lot of mana. “I knew that he was like a hero. New Zealand’s Gene Krupa, for sure. He was like a household name in this country as a musician. And that hadn’t happened before, particularly with that instrument. But he brought that kind of popularity to it.”

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