Building a reputation

Building a reputation

Joe Garnett grew up here in town, and he played music with bassist Steve Riggs in junior high school. He took time off from playing the drums later in life, but he worked as a woodworker, and five years ago he decided to experiment making a set of drums.

Joe Garnett builds drums only as a hobby and at his own pace, and the quality shows in each set he makes.

Garnett’s mom, who was also a woodworker, left him a nice supply of rough-cut walnut when she passed away. He was familiar with making round pillars for houses, and he had studied how wood slats were put together to create the top on a rolltop desk. Using that technique, Garnett put together the first set of shells for a drum kit. He says that his first technique was not the best, but he has continued to improve. He mills and assembles the slats, holds them in place with duct tape, fills the grooves on the inside with glue and lets them set up. After that, he says, there is a “whole lot of sanding.”


Besides Riggs, the local champion for Garnett’s drums is Gary Taylor. Taylor, who was raised here and has been playing since he was 10, spent his 20s playing in jump blues band Tremendous Richard, “the second busiest band on that circuit in Boston.” They played five nights a week all over New England. Taylor says, “New England back then was a really good scene. Bands used to make really good money. And Charlottesville with the weekend parties was a mecca.”

Taylor moved back to town for a couple of years in his 30s and played with Mike Elswick, Dennis Guinan, and The Belligerent Brothers. He split town again for the Southwest, and he was living in Las Vegas when he got the call to play with the D.C.-based Potomac Jazz Project. He has been playing with the group for the past year and a half and living in the area.

“I had a small car, and I needed an 18" bass drum, so I asked Joe to make me one. He made me the prototype kit out of black walnut.”

Garnett had to put a lot of time into details. An 18" bass drum has a circumference of 17 3/4", for example, so that the drumhead fits snugly over the shell. Taylor took Garnett’s shells and customized all of the rims and lugs to his liking.

Taylor says, “One night my kit was sitting up in the window at Miller’s, and Aric Van Brocklin came by and saw them. He wanted a set, and Joe happened to be around the corner at Fellini’s.”

Taylor also keeps a set of Ayotte drums, but Garnett’s kit is the one that travels and gets played. “The vertical grain is gorgeous. I get guys in D.C. all the time who come up to me with their mouths agape about these drums. It was getting to a point where it was tying up 10 minutes every night.”

Garnett says that Taylor and Van Brocklin have been the inspiration to make more, and he has made drums of walnut and cherry. The drums do sound great and are beautiful to play. The set that I saw had gold rims and standard Evans heads, and sounded very good. Garnett works only as a hobby at his own pace, and currently does not even consider manufacturing beyond custom made. But for drummers interested in checking out a snare, or even an entire kit, you can reach Garnett at


If you want to catch two fine drummers, get out to Fellini’s on Saturday for a performance by The International Councilors. With percussionist Darrell Rose and drummer Matt Wyatt in the pocket, band members Matthew Willner, James Tolliver, Steven Norfleet get to explore world beat, reggae, West African, funk and a variety of other styles. Or as Rose puts it, “electric Miles Davis meets roots.”


Song Sharing’s ( Greg Allen got Billy Joel to autograph a donated Baldwin piano before the JPJ gig. Stay tuned to this column for details on how you might win this piano.


Gary Taylor’s R&B picks: “Tremendous Richard played Louis Jordan and Roy Brown, but the quintessential R&B record for me is the Ike Turner LP from the 1950s called I’m Tore Up.”

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