BY AJ DONAHUE
A haven for stars of all kinds, The Professional Drum Shop is a Los Angeles institution, a genuine mecca for drummers all over the world, and above all else, a family business. After nearly 60 successful years, the iconic outlet is still owned and operated by the same family that first opened its doors in 1959. We were lucky enough to catch up with Stan Keyawa, one of Pro Drum’s four current co-owners. He treated us to a taste of the shop’s fabled history, the family’s plan for the future, and of course, a few outstanding stories.
Back in 1955 or ’56, Bob Yeager worked at Drum City, which was the hippest place at that time. It was where all the cats went — movie stars, everybody. Eventually Bob and Chuck Molinari left to start their own store over here on Vine Street. It wasn’t long before everyone started coming. They followed Bob. Everybody loved him.
The Family Business
My mom, who was a bass player, met Bob at the shop and they hit it off. They got married in 1970, I believe. That’s how my brother Jerry and I became Bob’s stepsons. I was about 11 years old, and I was taking drum lessons on Saturdays and working there for a buck an hour cleaning drums. Bob had two young children in addition to my brother and me — Tom and Candy. e four of us now all own the same amount of the store. ere isn’t like a president or vice president here. We converse and make decisions together.
Secret To Success
It’s all in the way we treat people. We saw how Bob did it. We want to make sure everybody feels relaxed and at home. We don’t sell things. People buy things. It’s never been a pressure situation. And we don’t try to go toe-to-toe with competition. It doesn’t make sense to compete like that to make 50 cents. We try to bring in different products — different cymbals and weird stuff that you wouldn’t find at your normal music stores.
One of the biggest things that helped the shop grow was Howie Oliver making Hal Blaine’s monster kit with the fiberglass shells. at was the giant kit he used on all those recordings. We did lots of repairs back then, too. I used to do all the heads for the L.A. Philharmonic. We also did all the rentals for all the studios in the ’60s. ere were no electronic samples back then so you needed a wind machine or a drawbridge crank to get those sounds, so we sold all of that.
Internet sales have changed everything. The margin of profit has definitely gone down because of the competition. We had the biggest sales year we’ve ever had last year, which was great, but we also had the lowest profit margin we’ve had in a long time. We didn’t fight it, though. We have a website with over 6,000 products on it. We’re on Amazon. We grab a little bit of business from every part of the industry we can. We also don’t have Porsches parked out back. We all take a modest salary and pump it back into the business.
Elvin Jones was the greatest. He would always come in here and want to hang. He’d show up knocking on the door at 9:00 in the morning with a sixpack of Heineken and crunchy granola, and just want to sit on the counter and talk. He was a sweetheart of a guy.
The Biggest Names
Jim Keltner brought George Harrison in here in the ’80s. We had just started taking credit cards, and fraud was a really big deal back in those days. Bob would tell us that we had to call every card in, no matter who it was — no exceptions, you know? He was really adamant about it. So Harrison came in to buy some light-up sticks or something as a birthday present for Ringo. He handed Bob a credit card and we’re all waiting to see if he’s going to call that thing in, but he didn’t [laughs]. After that, he never gave us any grief about calling cards in.
More Than Musicians
Marlon Brando used to come in here regularly, believe it or not.He was a conga player. That was always weird because he was kind of a weird guy. My brother threw him out one time because he wanted some drumheads put on his congas and asked how much it would be, so Jerry told him to give us an autographed picture, and that would be that. Brando started shouting about how he wasn’t going to do it because we were just going to take it and sell it. en he started demanding that we give him free drums for the picture. Jerry asked him to leave and used some language when he did it [laughs]. He wound up calling back, and everybody was friendly again. We never did get the picture, though.
They’re Just People
Buddy Rich used to come in here all the time. I set up the last kit he ever played, actually. That’s the kit you see in all the pictures of the shop. He was always nice to everyone in here. He didn’t want to talk about drums, though. Whenever Steve Jordan comes in, it’s a big deal. Jim Keltner comes in a lot, and you get used to it. They’re just regular people. You don’t ask them how to hold a stick or whatever. You just talk to them. I think that’s what makes this place special.