My Interview with Bill Cardwell, Founder and Builder of C and C Custom Drums and Gladstone Drum Shells. He Hates “Sharped Dressed Man”.

In 2000, when I was still in college, I went to The Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth, TX to see a Vagrant Records tour which featured some of my favorite bands at the time (The Get Up Kids, Hot Rod Circuit and, (ahem) Dashboard Confessional). Having already been a life-long drummer, I couldnt help but be captivated by the dazzling silver sparkle kit that served as house kit for the entire touring lineup. Determined, I elbowed my way through the sea of little league t shirts and horned-rimmed kids up to the stage to try and make out what the killer looking and sounding kit was. I noticed the two crossed C’s on the kick head and immediately knew that was my future kit. As if seeing my young heroes all bashing the same kit wasn’t cool enough, I also was floored at how amazing the drums sounded. I surely thought it was some old type of Vintage kit I had never heard of. After some initial research, I started learning about the history of CandC drums. I learned that they were from (the then indie-rock hot bed) of Kansas City, I learned that they had been ushered to some success with the help of Ryan Pope, drummer of T.G.U.K. And, being fond of my creative roots handed down to me from my dad, I was stoked to learn that the two C’s symbolized a father and son team of Bill and Jake Cardwell. A few years later, when I was touring through KC with my old band, we had a tour stop at The Record Bar in Kansas City (a fine establishment). After our show and apparently impressed by my drumming, a couple guys (one which I recognized to be Ryan Pope, one of my drumming heroes) started feeding me shots of Chartreuse. Through a lavender tasting haze of spirits only the monks could create, I quickly realized that I was throwing them back, also, with Jake Cardwell, one of the two C’s of CandC drums. A quick and real friendship was quickly born. Long story longer and cut to today, I now am a proud member of the CandC drum family, and have been for 5 years. I’ve got 3 kits with them and a new one on the way.

me and one of my C and C Letterman

The crafstmanship and attention to detail that the guys put into every single handmade drum, doesnt go unnoticed in visual or aural quality. They are complete pieces of art, handbuilt one at a time, in a shop in Gladstone, MO. They are the Vintage Corvette/Rolls Royce of drums, yet with a cutting edge detail and attention to the future. In every essence, their motto “Modern Vintage” is true. You can hardly turn on a late night Talk show or televised concert without seeing CandC drums adorning the stage, with some of the biggest drummers in music using them. AND EACH DRUM IS HANDMADE!!!

With me this week, is Bill Cardwell, the founder and master builder of C and C Drums, and of the new, built from scratch, Gladstone Drum Shells. He’s also a good pal. Read below and be inspired. I know that I was! I’ve yet to forgive his son, Jake, for the Chartreuse, however.

1) Do you have the ability to create on a consistent basis, or do you find that most ideas come in those rare ‘flashes of genius’?

Bill: There are so many things I want to do that time and financial limitation inhibit. Making dreams a reality sometimes can be a frustrating and slow process. At this point in my career, I am able to create some things on a consistent basis. Others are still only dreams and visions. Having the drum shell molds opened up a whole new world of creative desires that thus far have been consistent. Financial limitations keep things from moving more quickly. We (C&C and Gladstone shells) have our own creative desires that have only scratched the surface (in the area of drum shell innovation). Sometimes it gets so hectic just trying to get the next kit out the door that these desires get placed on the back burner. I am still the guy cutting every bearing edge for every drum shell. Doing every snare bed, And about 60% of the paint jobs and all the abalone work. Still…I have a head full of desires.

Flashes of genius, I have to admit, have been largely mistakes or accidents. That is what’s so great about building drums. Very often we have to take someone else’s idea and make it a reality. Get into their head and recreate what they are seeing and hearing. Sometimes visually doing this can be a difficult process to figure out. More than once I have thought someone’s idea to death and finally had to give up on making it happen. Only then, when I had given up, did the way to fulfill their request “dropped into my head” or given to me like a gift. I always view them as a gift from God. God knows I was not smart enough to figure it out on my own. So much of our creativity has been sparked by our customer base. The cool ideas we have then taken and ran with.

Funny you should ask this question because you have been responsible for a couple of them as an example. First was the old remake of the center lug kit.

That was something we had not done and were thrilled to get to make one. That was several years ago. And it was something that we did not jump on and start making a lot of after your kit. Now it seems as though 1/3 of the kits we are currently building are this old club date style. You did not get the credit for bringing it back, but you were the catalyst behind the idea.

the center lug kit Bill speaks of...

Now we are going to be able to make an entire line of drums that sound great, are more affordable, and will open our drums up to people who could not afford them before all because of the first one we built. Same with the pink champagne sparkle paint job. I thought that damn thing to death. I could not figure it out until I quit trying to do so. I knew we did it right when the Sabian Cymbal rep Chris S texted me from your LA show and said, “Jordan’s kit sounds and looks great.” After the show I guess chris came up and saw your kit close up. He texted me back and said, “this kit is a paint job?” it is not an acrylic wrap?! In which I replied, I know you dumb ass, I painted it, haha (we are buddies I can say those things to him) Chris’s reply was screw the drums….move to LA and paint cars and motorcycles and you’ll get rich!

the champagne paint job Bill speaks of

The point is their are 100 other stories just like these that are the motivation for the creativity. To fulfill the desire of the customer or artist. I sited these 2 examples because you are the one who ask the question. Both had spin off that have had a very get affect in the direction our company has been able to take things. As has many other guys desires and wishes.
Flashes of genius. No. Creative artist roster, dumb luck, and gifts from God. Plus a desire to recreate many of the old shells from the past but in a manner with stricter tolerances that will allow for a more constant sounding kit for a very long time.

2) Further, how do you maintain motivation to stay hungry and create? What notion drives you to see an idea through?

Bill: Honestly, I do not stay hungry and wish to create all the time. Sometimes I do not want to even look at another drum (be careful what you wish for…). Luckily, those times are at a minimum. We generally have 6 to 8 projects (kits) in the works at all times. That helps because certain days I feel like painting. Some days I like prepping and working shells. Some times I like doing cool wrap jobs…I like having the ability to do all aspects of the building process and I get to run the shop. I do what I feel like doing. There is always a part of the building process I am up for.
Also, I seem to work better under pressure. Meeting a sudden deadline motivates me, and my focus intensifies.

3) What other creative avenue or area would you most want to work in that’s not your main focus? (ie: You may be an accomplished xylophone player, but deep down you really just want to sculpt busts)

Bill: You know, I actually used to get to “play” the drums in a band. Since I opened my first retail drum store in 1990 there hasn’t really been an opportunity to play the very instruments I build. So deep down I would love to be able to play in a band again. Problem is, guys my age are playing in cover band doing “Sharp Dressed Man”, Old Time Rock n Roll” and shit like that. I have no real desire. Those guys are not into the music I am into now.
My dream would be to put together and Elliott Smith cover band and play the either/or record front to back, with “Last Call, “Waltz #2” and “Ms Misery” thrown in. Heck I could call the band Either/Or and do just one show. haha. Also, I would love to do a 60’s soul review show groove oriented. a la blues brothers with a little more depth.

4) To me, the best music should either make you want to dance, or make you want to cry. What’s your favorite song to move to? What song makes you sob?

Bill: Okay. I am 55 years old. Music has been a part of my life for way too many years. I was 7 when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. And I remember every second of it.
Back in the day I saw the Who, Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Grand Funk, Booker T and the MG’s, the Barkays, CSNY etc etc.

Thanks to my job I have been blessed in a way most 55 year old guys have not.
I also have had the opportunity to see Modest Mouse, the National, the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, TV on the Radio etc, and know and love their music as much as I did the music of my youth.

I am a word guy. If the drums shine in a song, even better, but I am a word guy.
The people I listen to have to speak to me on a spiritual level. My favorites are Elliott Smith, Jeff Tweedy, and Isaac Brock.
Since I can’t dance it would have to be a head shaker.
My favorite head shaker currently is “Sipping Venom” by Modest Mouse.

I also love “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos and “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead (possibly my favorite song depending on my mood)
I had a HUGE obsession with Wilco over the past year. In a 6 month period I listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 164 times. But “She’s a Jar” from the ‘Summer Teeth’ record makes me want to cry.

It is best if I never meet Jeff Tweedy because I would have to shake his hand and walk away because I could turn into “that guy” easily.
My latest obsession is Elliot Smith. ‘Either/Or’ is a masterpiece. “Say Yes” evokes so much emotion at times I can not even listen to it all the way through. “Picture of Me” and “Ballad of Big Nothing”. Shit. The whole record…Over time the song that has been able to evoke emotion from me the most is “I want You (She’s So Heavy) Abbey Road album (great drum part too).

5) What’s been the album you’ve most consistently listened to in your adult life?

Bill: In my 50’s, it’s a tie between ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘Either/Or’.

6) Does Steely Dan creep you out?
Bill: hahahahahaha….. You know, they can do that, but I LOVE “Deacon Blues”, and “THE FEZ” (NOW THAT IS AN ASS SHAKER)

7) What’s the one thing no teacher would’ve ever taught you in school, but you wish they would’ve?

Bill: IMPOSSIBLE. My 6th grade homeroom teacher taught me the greatest lesson I could have ever learned and he did not say a word. It was a Thursday. April 5th 1968. I lived out in the country in rural Northeast Arkansas (40 miles north of memphis TN) and rode the school bus into town. My school was the first drop-off so I was always a half hour early for school each day. So it was always me and Mr Strickland for at least 15 minutes each morning hanging out. Mr Strickland was a young black man living in the south in the 60’s teaching 6th grade science and math. A father of 2 young boys and a great man. On april 4th Martin Luther King Jr had been shot and killed in Memphis, TN. My father was a country preacher and we always had midweek prayer meeting on Wednesday night. I remember the news flash on our black and white tv that Wednesday before church and running in to my mom and dad’s bedroom and telling them MLK had been killed in memphis. I remember walking in church that night and this idiot woman who was sitting in front of me saying to another “lady” “well, I am glad the n*gger is dead, he was nothing but a troublemaker”.
Til the day I die I will never forget the look on Mr Strickland’s face as I walked into my classroom the next morning. This young black man was numb. He could only stare at his desk. He taught me right then and there what hate was. Not the hate he had. But the hate that had killed MLK. He taught the effects of hate. And I was ashamed to be white. I decided that very minute, the first chance I got, I would get the hell of out of the south. Til the day I die. That man taught me the greatest lesson of all: What the outcome of hate is.

8) The world is a super scary place. Are you optimistic about the future of it?

Bill: NO. I think we have made such a mess of this world listening and trusting dumb politicians who talk bullshit during campaigns, then go back to status quo, post election. Some new face. Same shit, Nothing changes. Only the faces change. We have pretty much destroyed the world we live in. It appears to me we are suffering the consequences for doing so. Payday will come someday if we don’t change our ways.

9) What happens after we die?

Bill: And you think I am the one to answer this question? The best analogy I can give is when I started first grade I had never been in a school in my life. I had a preconceived notion of what school would be like. Guess what? I had it all wrong. I assume the afterlife will be the same way. Much different then I believed.
As I might have mentioned, my father was the town drunk (pop 10,000) but also owned a very successful insurance agency. Eventually the booze won and he pretty much lost it all. So Dad decided to become a baptist minister. He was very good one. I grew up in church every time the door opened. and stayed pretty into it until I discovered the “ganja plant” and that became my focus of attention for about 10 years. Finally I decided that I was going to decide what I really believed in. I will refrain from theology, but the God and Jesus written of in the bible is not the God and Jesus the church has turned them into in our American civilization. Sorry, but if that book is right, we are all screwed up. God is not an American. I do believe there is a plan and purpose for my life and it is my task to communicate with God to figure what it is so I can simply follow that plan. I ain’t there yet. So I am going to focus on the now. Be the person I am supposed to be. And have the faith that God knows what he is doing. You should read the book. It would amaze you the craziness going on in there. I will assure you it is not this americo-crap preached in the sunday morning sermon. Man is a spirit. He has a soul and he lives in a body. The body dies but the spirit and soul live on.

10) Tell me something.

Bill: I promise when I answer this question you must read with no guns around. It is crazy beyond belief. And I will answer it in totality.

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