History - English Rogers Drums

In the early 60s there was import duty of 20% on American drums coming into the UK. Coupled with shipping costs, this made imported American drums expensive. An average Ajax kit at the time would have cost about £130, whereas, a Rogers kit from the USA, would have cost in the region of £440, a fortune at the time. Rogers had the idea of having their drums made under licence in the UK, thereby avoiding those expensive import duties and shipping fees, making the product far more accessible to the UK pocket.

Ajax drums had first appeared in 1927 made by Hawkes & Sons in London. In 1930 Hawkes merged with Boosey & Co to become Boosey & Hawkes. During the 50's and 60's in terms of endorsers and sales Ajax drums were second only to Premier in the UK. They were popular with jazz players and many of the new rock players. Most UK players by the early 60's were playing Premier.

Henry Grossman, Owner of Rogers USA,
with his Chief Engineer, Joe Thompson

The photo opposite came to me courtesy of American Rogers collector Gary Nelson, who was given permission to use it by Betty Ann Davis Glunz, who is Joe Thompson's niece. It is interesting to speculate on what could have been so important as to bring the owner of Rogers USA and his Chief Engineer to London together.

Certainly no Rogers drums were imported into the UK whilst Henry Grossman owned Rogers. Importation didn't take place until 1967 by which time CBS had taken over Rogers and were exporting to the UK via Ivor Arbiter.

Rogers USA had a history of applying their name to many instruments. Grossman Music was a large distributor of all kinds of musical instruments, much of it not being made by Rogers. This was the entrepreneurial spirit that was the backdrop to the B&H/Rogers deal. That being said it was a bold leap to have another company manufacture a whole range of drums and hardware and have them put your company name on them and distribute them in Europe and beyond. It should then come as no surprise that sanctioning of the deal would involve those at the highest level of the company, and as far as Rogers USA was concerned that would be the two gentlemen in this photograph.

Were then these gentlemen part of the team who visted Edgware to strike the deal?

Eddie Ryan remembers the idea for the B&H/Rogers USA deal coming from the USA side of the pond. A team from Rogers USA visted B&H's Sonorous Works in Edgware North London to cement the deal. Eddie recollects that it was a Rogers’ employee, who he remembers as being named Josh Rogers, who he believed was a member of the Rogers Family, who had made the journey to the UK in the first place to look for a manufacturer who was suitable for the job of producing Rogers drums.  On reaching the Edgware factory of the B&H in North London he was impressed by Ajax/B&H’s shells, and the quality of the metal and chrome used. It was decided that Rogers drums would be made by B&H using their drum making expertise and utilising birch as the main wood for the shells. A team from America followed up Josh’s visit to negotiate the Rogers/B&H licence deal. Josh returned to the factory periodically over the course of the agreement. It was the young Eddie who showed Josh around the Edgware factory, quite an honour for the young craftsman. Eddie met Josh several times, as he returned to the factory on a number of occasions during the 1960s.

Unfortunately it has been difficult to confirm these memories. It is generally accepted that the Rogers family line died out with Cleveland Rogers in 1952, and that was one of the reasons that he had sold the company to Henry Grossman, in that he had no family to pass the Rogers company on to. In his researches Gary Nelson has interviewed many ex-employees of Rogers USA and has found nobody who remembers a Josh Rogers.

There is however another candidate for the part of “Josh Rogers” in the English Rogers story. This is a Rogers’ employee named Jos. H Burger. He was related to Henry Grossman and so “part of the family” so to speak. He was Henry Grosman's nephew. Jos' son Richard has confirmed that his father did visit the UK, and other parts of Europe for Rogers USA. Richard Berger also found an English Rogers catalogue amongst his father’s papers after his death.

In the photo above Henry Grossman appears quite at ease with whoever is holding the camera. It would not be too surprising if this turned out to be his nephew Joseph Burger.

I have talked to Eddie about this and it has to be said that it is rather unfair to ask someone to remember things that happened 50 years ago in the detail that we would like them remembered. Maybe things did happen just as Eddie said they did, but being the great guy that he is he accepts that his recollections may not be 100% accurate.

For now this is perhaps as close as we can get.

 

The intention with English Rogers seems, naturally enough, to have been to produce drums that were indistinguishable from the USA product. In promotional material the drums were always referred to as “Rogers” drums. The term “English Rogers” was never used, it being coined at a later date. However, the company made no secret of the fact that the drums were produced in the UK. At the bottom of the front cover of the first catalogue, admittedly in small print, are the words, “Made in UK under licence”. Hardware, and the drums themselves were often stamped “Made in England”, and the first English Rogers newsletter clearly stated that the drums were “English made”. The thrust of the promotional material was that these were Rogers drums made in England. Despite this, many buyers still seem to have been under the impression that they were buying an American set, and this was not helped by the use of American Endorsers in the catalogue.

The first English Rogers catalogue has a price list dated August 1961. The sets in the first catalogue were “Holiday” model drums, which were all shown in the Mardi Gras wrap. However the photos are clearly all of American drums shown with Ajax stands (see catalogues), by which we can assume that the catalogue was prepared before the English product had become available. Eddie Ryan has confirmed that B&H took delivery of two Mardi Gras drum kits from Rogers USA. These were used to produce the catalogues and presumably were also useful to the production staff.

By the time English Rogers had hit the shops B&H had succeeded in sourcing from within the UK Rogers bread and butter lugs, and Swiv-o-matic hardware: notably collet plates, a tom arm, a disappearing cymbal holder and tilter, and bass drum spurs. However, knobby fittings did not make an appearance in the UK for some time, so B&H used their own floor tom legs during 1961 and most of 1962. It was fortunate that these were very similar to Rogers ”Statite” legs. The very early bass drums sported Ajax tension rods, the more Rogers-like "bow ties" appearing on sets in 1962. The pedals and stands were by Ajax, and the drums used Ajax wraps. The heads in the earlier days were stamped as Everplay Extra, which were made by Premier. Later, Everplay heads had a Rogers logo stamped on them.

English Rogers were not simply English drum shells with imported Rogers hardware as has been said so often elsewhere. The drums and hardware were entirely of UK manufacture with just a couple of small exceptions. The only American parts which are seen regularly are the snare strainer and butt plate, which appear from the beginning and throughout production to 1967/68.

From the 1961 catalogue
(click to view catalogue)

Eddie suggests that in the early days of production some parts were shipped over from the USA to be used in the manufacture of items for general sale, but if this was so, it must have been very short lived. I have never seen any sets with American parts come up for sale – although from a distance some of these would be hard to spot.

We don’t know how long Ajax had to prepare for English Rogers production but certainly their job was made easier by the using some Ajax fittings in the beginning. A recurring theme is that B&H appear to have attempted to copy as closely as they could the drums and fittings that were being produced in the USA in the early 1960s and continued to do so with little change up to 1967/68.

By the time of the second catalogue in 1964 the drums were pretty well indistinguishable from their American counterparts, the floor toms came with knobby legs, and there was the option to buy your set with USA Swiv-o-matic stands and pedals. The years 1963/4 probably represented the pinnacle of English Rogers production. The drums very closely resembled those from the USA. However, there is a trend through production to 1967 of English Rogers not keeping pace with their US cousins.
As early as 1961 Rogers USA switched to sharper edges on their Holiday drums. English Rogers made this change in 1962 but retained the deeper snare beds of the Holiday drums, as they did in the US for a time.  In early to mid 1963 the “Powertone” drums were introduced in the USA the main difference being shallower snare beds. English Rogers however appear never to have reduced the depth of their snare beds, and used deep snare beds on their wood shell snares right through to 1967 (with one single exception of a chrome-over-brass Powertone snare drum which can be seen in the snare drum section). In late 1963 Beavertail lugs were introduced in the US, and soon after, the tall hoops were reduced in height to the standard size hoop. In the UK however, changes were either slow in happening, or did not take place at all. The hoops remained tall through to the end of production in 1967. B&H did not update their Swiv-o-matic tom arm as happened in the USA around 1964. Lack of change became a recurring theme. From 1964 the sets retained a look, which to the American observer, would be a curious mixture of Holiday and Powertone models.
 
From the 1964 Catalogue
(click to view catalogue)
In the UK, Bread and Butter lugs changed to Beavertail lugs in early 1965 (evidenced by the drum’s serial number – see later), around 12 months later than in the US. This was possible because B&H sourced their own Bread and Butter lugs in the UK. Eddie Ryan says that the reason for this was simply that B&H had ordered so many B&B lugs that they kept fitting them to try and use them up. Eventually Rogers USA had to insist that B&H make the change to beavertail lugs. These too were sourced in the UK. The screw boss of the English beavertail lug is slightly larger diameter than its American counterpart and therefore will not fit on an American drum without enlargement of the holes in the shell.
The snare throws have “Made in USA” stamped on them and so we have to assume that they were. They are certainly indistinguishable from the American ones. As they came from the US the circular clockface throw changed to the elongated version at around the same time that this happened in the USA, about mid 1964. The “Made in USA” stamp on the snare throw has caused confusion to many an English Rogers buyer.
However, apart from changes to the lugs and strainer, there were precious few other changes.  It was perhaps because B&H just did not sell enough of the drums to warrant investing in updating their production? It has to be remembered that when they sold a set, part of the profit would presumable go to Rogers as part of the deal. Many forces were at work in the market at the time, including the importation of genuine American-made drums from various manufacturers into the UK.
Rogers USA could have been justified in feeling disappointed that they had tied themselves into a deal with B&H, because in 1962 Ivor Arbiter opened Drum City in London, and started importing Ludwig drums, opening the door to American drums into the UK. Within a couple of years of Rogers making their licence deal with B&H, Ludwig, Slingerland and Grestch drums were all being successfully imported into the UK. However Rogers stuck with their deal with B&H up until 1967/68 even asking Rogers endorser Roy Burns (see later) to tour Europe in 1965 to promote English-made Rogers drums.
From the 1965 Catalogue
(click to view catalogue)
 

It is to be expected that B&H would have asked for exclusivity for their English-made drums in the UK/European market place, which may be why Rogers (USA) drums were not imported into the UK until 1967/68 around the time that English Rogers ceased production. It was possibly not a coincidence that CBS had taken ownership of Rogers in 1966. Was it perhaps the new owners who pulled the plug on the B&H/Rogers deal?

From around the end of 1967 B&H gave up drum manufacture. Premier appear to have taken whatever parts B&H had left and made drum kits with them. There are therfore a number of late 60s kits, both English Rogers and Ajax, that turn up which have Premier parts or shells, which were clearly as they left the factory. B&H marketed Premier-made Beverley drums from around the same time.

 
From the 1967/8 Catalogue
(click to view catalogue)