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Drummers From Across The Country Help Gretsch Celebrate Bill Hagner’s 90th Birthday

This past July 13th marked the 90th birthday of Bill Hagner—a gentleman who figures highly in the history of Gretsch musical-instrument manufacturing. Bill started working at Gretsch’s Brooklyn factory as a clerk in 1941 and eventually rose to the position of plant manager. He held that job during the heady days of the 1950s and early ’60s, when jazz greats like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams—as well as future rock superstars Charlie Watts and Phil Collins—all graced the Gretsch roster.

When Gretsch was sold to Baldwin in 1967, Bill stayed on. He moved to Booneville, Arkansas when the drum factory was relocated there, and later transferred to Baldwin’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters as Sales Manager. Eventually he left Baldwin, and for a while he was out of the music business altogether. But when Fred Gretsch brought the Gretsch Company back to family ownership in 1985, who better to call on to help move drum-making operations out of Arkansas and into Ridgeland, South Carolina (where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today) than Bill Hagner? Bill’s help proved invaluable in getting the operation up and running in its new home.

All in all, Bill Hagner spent fifty-eight years associated with Gretsch. His contributions over that time are a significant part of the Gretsch legacy. So it was important to Fred Gretsch to do something special to mark Bill’s 90th birthday. To help him in this project, he turned to Rob Cook—producer of the Chicago Drum Show, noted drum historian, and author of the soon-to-be-released Gretsch Drum Book.

Rob picks up the story saying, “Fred advised me early last spring that Bill had this milestone birthday approaching. Fred was spreading the word in hopes that at least ninety people would send birthday cards to Bill. I immediately thought of all the drummers coming to the Chicago Drum Show in May who would want to send their best wishes. So we created a giant birthday card that could accommodate lots of signatures. And we definitely got them, from drummers across the country—including well-known artists Bun E. Carlos and Tommy Wells.”

Bill Hagner Birthday Card

This special card was created to mark Bill Hagner’s 90th birthday. It was signed by over ninety drummers at the Chicago Drum Show this past May.

After collecting all the signatures, Rob forwarded the card to Fred Gretsch. Fred and his wife (and Gretsch Company CFO) Dinah added their own congratulatory message, and then arranged to have the card presented to Bill Hagner in person. Fred and Dinah were to be in Nashville at the summer NAMM show on Bill’s birthday weekend, so they called on Ken “K.C.” Kramer—who lives in Florida not far from Bill’s home in Fort Myers—to make the presentation on their behalf. Ken is the son of Duke Kramer, who was himself a key figure in Gretsch operations for almost seventy years.

Bill Hagner and Ken KramerBill Hagner and Ken "KC" Kramer

Ken “K.C.”Kramer (right) presented the card to Bill Hagner on behalf of Fred and Dinah Gretsch and all the drummers who signed the card.

“Bill was extremely appreciative of the card and all the well wishes that came with it,” says Ken. “He enjoyed trying to read the names and figure out who he might know. In addition to the card, my wife Gail and I gave him ninety Florida lottery scratch-offs, just for fun. He told us that this was the best birthday he’s had in many years.”

Bill Hagner with Scratch Offs

Along with the card, Bill received ninety Florida lottery scratch-off sheets to commemorate his ninety years.

For more information on Bill Hagner’s contributions to Gretsch history, be sure to check out The Gretsch Book by Rob Cook with John Sheridan. The official release of this important new book will take place on August 3, 2013 in New York City as part of the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration. The event in Manhattan is being jointly hosted by Fred Gretsch, Joe Carducci, John Palmer, Steve Maxwell’s Vintage & Custom Drums, and Rudy’s Music. Additional information on the book and the release event is at gretschdrumbook.com.

The Gretsch Drum Book

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