Culture Magazine

The Drummer Speaks — Memoirs by William “Buddy” Deppenschmidt III

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

On Thursday, March 25, I read, with heavy heart, guitarist and bandleader Ken Avis' sad notice and jazz writer David Adler's detailed obituary about my close friend, jazz drummer William "Buddy" Deppenschmidt III's passing on March 20, 2021, of complications due to COVID-19.

I knew Buddy well, we talked often on the phone together.

At first, way back in 2004, I wrote a somewhat disparaging piece about him, entitled "Damn the Drummer, Where's the Composer," about his claim to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing the classic Jazz Samba album on Verve to light, and (most importantly) the music of Brazilian bossa nova to the U.S.

Later - to be exact, seven years later, in 2011 - after receiving Buddy's letter, I contacted him via email and landline. We became fast friends. The unusual aspect of all this was that it took him seven years to respond. Imagine, seven years! That's how patient the man was. I asked him why he took so long to write. His response: "Because I was busy teaching and playing." It was only after some of his students brought my piece to his attention that, after letting his initial reaction simmer for seven years, he finally decided to write back.

The funny thing was that he understood where I was coming from (and told me so, many times). He even sent me a lengthy printout of his curriculum vitae, but the best thing was that I ultimately came around to take up and champion his cause (well supported by the facts) that he, along with Keter Betts, the bassist, and Charlie Byrd, the great jazz guitarist, were THE key figures in that 1961 U.S. State Department visit to Latin America that brought the Brazilian bossa nova beat to American ears. Much later in our relationship, Buddy sent me his original itinerary for that trip, which I'm glad I made a photocopy of and will treasure as a personal keepsake. Of course, I mailed the original back to Buddy. It meant so much to him. It surprised me, too, that he still kept it, but that was Buddy. His seemingly rough exterior was only a cover for what I ascertained to be a sentimental streak. You loved him more for that.

I had the utmost pleasure and fun in meeting and interviewing Buddy at the Strathmore Music Festival for the JAZZ SAMBA SYMPOSIUM, held there in June 2014. Afterward, we went to lunch together, where we were joined by famed audio engineer Ed Greene. We remained close friends afterward, and corresponded with each other via snail mail (Buddy hated computers) and frequent telephone calls. And, Ken Avis - by the way, Buddy's response to Chuck Redd's question about why jazz musicians were wearing tuxedos was a classic retort. What Buddy actually said was, "Because we were a class act!" That left the audience in attendance laughing their heads off. But, again, that was classic Buddy. He had an answer for every occasion, no matter the subject.

He was a REAL gentleman, too. And why was that? Didn't he hobnob with some rough sorts (and heaven knows, some jazz giants could be really obnoxious)? Not Buddy. He treated everyone he met with the same deference and respect he gave Brazil's music and musicians. And his love was genuine. I should know. I am Brazilian born. I've written about Brazil. I lived and worked in the country. My parents were Brazilian. All my relatives are Brazilian or have Brazilian blood flowing in their veins. I could sense that Buddy was not the type to put on airs. He was curious about Brazil, but most especially about the sensuous and beguiling music that would charm and seduce the world. And he was right.

This is why words cannot express my sense of loss for such an estimable artist and friend as Buddy Deppenschmidt.

In his last years (from about 2017 to 2020), Buddy had come down with a debilitating cough that, no matter how hard he tried, was simply unable to shake. The loss of his home in Bucks County really set the man back, more than most people can imagine. I will not go into the particulars at this stage, mostly out of respect for our friendship. Perhaps one day, I or someone with a knack for putting down Buddy's eventful life onto paper, will take up the daunting task of documenting his life story. It's a story worth telling.

Yet, despite his travails, Buddy never lost his sense of humor. He came from a musical family - he even gave me a treasure trove of self-made CDs and much, much music from his dad, Buddy Sr., and fabulous stories about his Danish-born grandmother who loved to listen to opera and famed Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior (also of Danish descent), whom grandma went to see often. Buddy told me a story that, when he was very young, he would sit on the floor in his living room and listen, all afternoon long, to big band music and classical music recordings - but especially jazz.

A few years ago, before Buddy was relocated to a nursing home in Doylestown, PA, he tried, at my urging, to write down his memoirs. You have to understand something about Buddy: He was a simple high school kid. He never attended college or had advanced degrees. What credentials he had were earned on the street. That may sound like a cliché, but it was pure Buddy. That's who he was, and that's how he expressed himself: rough, ready, stinging at times, but truthful and to the point. I never let his cantankerous nature get in the way of our relationship. And, boy, could he get cantankerous! And cranky, too. Still, I treated him as if he were a second father: with love, with kindness, with understanding, patience, and with respect.

In closing, here, for the first time, is the sum total of Buddy's "memoirs," just as he wrote it. In his voice, in his tone. It's fitting that he should have the last word. It's also fitting that he ended his reverie with that long-ago trip to Brazil. And you know something.... although he would never admit it, I think Buddy was a Brazilian at heart.

Rest in peace, old friend....

The Drummer Speaks - Memoirs by William "Buddy" Deppenschmidt III

I was born on February 16, 1936, in Philadelphia and lived there until [I was] four years old. At age four my mother and father divorced and she and I moved back to my mother's hometown of Richmond, Virginia. She had met my father there while he was playing tenor sax with the Johnny Brown Orchestra at Tantilla Gardens, a famous ballroom in Richmond and where I would, many years later, play with the Newton Thomas Trio. Life is so unpredictable!

At any rate, I went to Westhampton Junior High School where at age ten and in the fifth grade I joined the band. They came to my homeroom and asked, "Who would like to get in the band?" I raised my hand! The next question was, "What instrument do you play?" Well, I didn't play any instrument and I didn't know what to say. So I turned to the guy sitting next to me, who had said he was in the band and, coincidentally, whose name was also "Buddy" - Buddy Tyler - and said, "What instrument do you play?" He said, "Drums," so I said "I play drums." That's how much serious thought went into that serious career choice (smile).

Anyway, I gave it my all. Buddy Tyler and I used to march around our neighborhood with our parade drums slung on our drum slings playing our marching beats and, believe it or not, no one complained. Guess we were in a very tolerant neighborhood.

I got my first drum set when I was in my second year of high school because I had been offered an opportunity to play in a small Dixieland band called the Sophocats. Their drummer was going off to college and they thought I had talent. Well, we played for school dances and many university fraternity parties, etc., and I learned to play the drum set "on the job."

I had an endless library of phonograph records at home (classical, big band, Dixie, jazz, ragtime, boogie woogie), you name it, we had it! So I was always listening to music. As soon as I got home from high school I'd lie down on the floor with my head in front of the speaker and listen and analyze the music.

My dad said, "If your mother says you've been practicing, I will get you a really good drum set next year." Well, I didn't need a calendar! And he kept his promise! He got me a beautiful 1950s Gretsch set and it sounded great!!! That's the set I took to South America, Central America and Mexico (not to mention all over the United States!) and recorded on it, too. You hear it on The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd and I think it's the best drum sound I have ever heard and I've listened to a lot of records!

I am talking just the drum sound. I am surely not intending to brag about my playing, although I thought it was pretty good for having been with the band only four days! Check it out - on the Riverside label owned by Fantasy in California. They bought all of Riverside's masters when Riverside went out of business.

Back in Richmond, I was getting quite a lot of work and listening to a local Latin radio station [where] the D.J. spoke in Spanish. I didn't understand a word but the music was terrific. After countless hours of listening to those Latin rhythms, I started playing all those Latin beats pretty well and as a result I started to get gigs from the Arthur Murray Dance School since I was one of the few drummers in town who could play a good rumba, samba, tango, mambo, etc. It was great experience and a lot better than working in some "fast food joint."

I continued to stay busy in Richmond. Soon after high school, I went on the road with the Ronnie Bartley Band, a territory band that toured the mid- and Southwest United States. Upon returning to Richmond, I began playing with the Newton Thomas Trio. Newton was an amazing self-taught jazz piano player that played all the tunes in any key even though he couldn't read a note of music. If we were backing up a vocalist and she said, "That key's too high for me," he would take it down a half tone or a whole tone or whatever. I don't know how he did it! And he was a country music D.J. at one of the local radio stations as a "day gig." What a guy!

Anyway, we were playing the Virginia Beach Jazz Festival and we surprised everyone, to say the least, even Dave Brubeck and Charlie Byrd, who were also on the bill. No one expected us to bring down the house, but we did! Two nights later, Charlie Byrd, his drummer and his wife, and Charlie's wife [Ginny] came into the club where Newt and I were working and offered me a job. The rest is history which I will explain later.

Shortly after that I moved to D.C. from Oceanview, VA, and joined Charlie Byrd's Trio which included bassist Keter Betts and after being with him only four days we had a recording date. Charlie said, "Have you ever recorded?" And I said, "Oh yes, I've made tapes." He said, "I mean a commercial recording." And I said, "Oh, no." He said, "Well, we have a recording date on Saturday." That was just four days away! And it went very well! In fact, Charlie called the record "Charlie's Choice" because he thought it was his (to date). It later was reissued and the name changed to The Guitar Artistry.

Well, it was about six months later that we got the State Department tour of eighteen South American, Central American countries and Mexico City (three months) in 1961, March to early June. Needless to say, it was an education, a vacation and I also got paid for doing what I loved to do! I guess it doesn't get better than that!! I felt truly blessed.

We started in Caracas, Venezuela. And after our first concert we were asked to do a command performance at the president's palace. I was taking my shoes off (as I always did when I played drums) and someone said it was wrong to do so in the president's palace, and I said to her, "If you played piano, would you do it with gloves on?" I think she got the message! (Smile)

From Venezuela we went to Brazil, which was my favorite country. We went to all of the major cities except Rio. It was there that I fell in love with the music and the people of Brazil. We were in Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador da Bahia, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Porto Alegre. I made several friends in Brazil.

Copyright © 2021 by Josmar F. Lopes

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