Louie Bellson’s career was remarkable for many reasons. In musical terms, few, if any drummers, could match his achievements. He began playing with Ted Fio Rito, and he replaced Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman’s band by the time he was seventeen years old. He performed and recorded with such jazz legends as Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, as well as with great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Mel Torme’, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, and Tony Bennett. Louie also led his own successful big bands and small groups for more than forty years.
Louie once recalled how his collaboration with Gretsch helped launch his original ideas for a double-bass drum kit and a revolving drum platform. It was around 1946 when he approached the Gretsch Drum Company with his idea for a double-bass drum set with multiple toms. The typical drum set of the day was a standard four-piece kit. After his idea was turned down by other drum companies, Louie showed the idea to Gretsch. Louie said, “I was criticized for my idea for a double bass set up. A lot of other companies weren’t too excited about constructing this kit. They said ‘What is this guy up to? What is that? He should go to the moon with Buck Rogers on that.’ Gretsch was with me all the way on it. They said ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll make it.’…”
Soon after Bellson began using the new double bass set-up he joined the Benny Goodman Band and later joined Tommy Dorsey. “When I joined Tommy Dorsey in 1947, he loved this set up. Plus we had a revolving platform that was my idea, too. When I’d play a drum solo, Tommy would push a button and turn me around.”
Louie was an innovator. His vision of what a drumset could be literally revolutionized the design of the instrument, blazing a trail that would be followed by generations of creative drummers.