Gene Krupa

He is perhaps the most famous drummer of all time; certainly the first to ever attain celebrity status. Born January 15, 1909 in Chicago, Gene Krupa took up drums in 1920 when he got a job in Brown’s music store. By the time he left school at 16, Krupa was sitting in with Chicago legends like Eddie Condon and drummer Dave Tough, and studying the New Orleans sound of Baby Dodds. In 1927 he made his first recordings on the Okeh label with a pulled-together group named Condon’s Chicagoans.

At the time it was common to use just cymbals and snare in order to protect fragile microphones, but Krupa wanted the whole kit. The result: the first recorded bass drum. From there Krupa moved to New York where, determined to hone his skills further, he hooked up with teacher Gus Moeller (the Moeller Method).

He played with various bands before signing on with Benny Goodman in 1935. They charted more than 30 Top Ten singles in 3 years and Krupa became a Swing Era star. His lifelong dedication to practice and relentless beat made him a peerless swing drummer, perhaps the single most influential player ever. Krupa died October 17, 1973.

—Phil Hood