Monday, March 25, 2013

The Nameless Craftsman

I'm thrilled beyond description that
I found pics of Sam and his shop on line!
Those of you who read this blog for a thrice-weekly dose of thought-provocation might be initially disappointed by what I am about to say, but, stick with me.

My drum cases are the single best purchase I have ever made. The story behind them is meaningful, though, so let's see if I can save myself, here.

When I went to get my first drum kit, at the age of fifteen, my dad took me to a small music/drum shop in South Philadelphia: Sam D'Amico's. Sam was a drummer who had played in bands with my dad when they were teenagers.

(We brought along the [wonderful] drummer  in my dad's band, Carl Mottola [hear him play and hear my dad's arrangments, here], a tall, gangly fellow with kind of an early Beatles haircut, even though he was primarily a swing/jazz player. Carl was of a particular kind of Philadelphia Italian guy: he gave me a dollar whenever he saw me, all the years I was growing up. He was also only one of two people who was allowed to call me "Chrissy" into my adult years -- the other having been my maternal grandmom.

Sam, in the shop -- in front of the same
type of cases he sold me so long ago. 
May Carl rest in peace, but he doesn't really figure into this little tale, outside of the fact that I owe him thanks for teaching me the ropes and helping me pick my first set.)

Anyway, in the early nineties, when it came time for my second set -- the step up to pro drums -- I went back to Sam. He was an earnest-looking fellow with a fringe of white hair. I remember him having eyes that somehow managed to be simultaneously intense and relaxed. He steered me right with the drums I play to this day. But, since we were playing a lot at the time, I also needed good cases.

At the time, people were coming out with very expensive cases of plastic and "space-age" foam and they were advertising that you could drop them, like, out of a plane and your drums would be fine. (One of my favorite ads from the era showed a snare drum case at the bottom of a stairwell with the quote: "The night my snare took a long roll without me...") I was looking at those newfangled, factory-made cases.

Sam looked at me. "Chris -- I'll sell you what you want, but let me show you these." He took me into another room and showed me a black set of cases with rivets around the outside. They looked hand-made. They were. He explained to me that a guy in the area -- somewhere in Philly -- made them. They were easily half the price of the other cases. "I could make more money off of the other ones, Chris, but these are what I use." He went on to explain to me that his cases had gone through a house fire and that the drums inside melted, but the cases were fine. "I'm telling you, Chris, you'll have these for the rest of your life." (Sam used  your name a lot.)

Twenty years old, at least.
Well, guess what? After more than two decades, these cases are still what I use. Not one rivet has come out. Not one strap has frayed. I can literally say that there is not one sign of discernible wear (outside of cosmetic -- and that is minimal) on these cases. My drums still look like a brand new set, despite years of rough treatment "on the road" and despite having been, at times, literally thrown into trucks by road crews. (One guy used to brag stridently, cigarette bobbing in his mouth, about how many road cases he had destroyed over the years.)

When I really look at it, it's a triumph for that nameless craftsman who made those cases. He didn't sign them; he put no logo on them; he didn't market them outside of dropping them off at Sam's when they were finished. And you know what ? -- these cases are truly the one time in my life that I can say I was steered one-hundred-percent right by a "salesman." They are the one product I have purchased that has delivered on every level -- and beyond.

And they weren't the result of years of scientific research by a panel of physicists; they weren't laser-cut and machine assembled and tested in wind tunnels. They were pieced together by Sam D'Amico's buddy -- probably a drummer -- in some earthy-smelling Philadelphia basement by daylight shining though block glass. They were made by a guy who used instinct, experience, good sense and pride to create a product that would keep the prized possessions of drummers all around the Philadelphia area as safe as houses for years on end.

I wish I knew his name.

And guess what? I'm looking for new drums now. The old ones are fine -- it is just time for a new sound. But I'll tell you this: the new drums will go into the old cases.

(Sadly, Sam's closed in 2008.)


  1. Sam D was one of the nicest people you could ever meet in the music business. He would do anything he could to help you out when in need. He ran a shop that stocked so many items and he was always fair with his price. I spent many dollars there and also had a great friend as well. I know he is upstairs with all the great musician friends who have passed. Thanks Sam !!! Art M.

    1. He was a gem, for sure, Art. Sad to hear that he passed away, but he sure left a lot of happy customers and his influence spread across the Philly area. A genuine good guy.