Jack’s Drum shop

Jack’s Drum shop

There was always a surrealistic-looking metalflake or pearl drumkit in the window on the left and a line of shiny, chrome-plated, slick-looking guitars in the one on the right. What rock ‘n’ roller wouldn’t have wanted to work at Jack’s Drum Shop in the ‘70s? I sure did. Afterall, since opening around 1945, it had become one of Boston’s most legendary musical institutions.

There was Jack’s and there was E.U. Wurlitzer – opened in 1890 and known as “Wurley’s” – in the venerable part of town called “Piano Row.” Basically, there were only two cool places for a musician to be in Boston if they weren’t in a recording studio or playing a show, regardless of whether they were a wannabe, a hired gun, a local rocker or big-gigger: our store or theirs. Don’t think I harbor any bitterness toward Wurley’s; I don’t. That statement’s just a testimony to the loyalty I felt for Jack’s and the friendly rivalry that existed between the two places for decades. In the fall of 1971 (September, I think), an Englishman named Jimmy Page walked out of Jack’s with a gold-top Les Paul that had been tweaked by Jeff Baxter (who wasn’t known as “Skunk” at the time), but Wurley’s had local favorites Aerosmith among its customers and had provided gear to The Rolling Stones when they played two nights at Boston Garden in July 1972.

None of this seemed to faze Jack’s owner, Jack Adams, a local drummer of some notoriety whose grandson Alan and Fred Maichele (Alan’s brother’s godfather) began making drumsticks inside Jack’s in 1956 (which led to the founding of Vater Percussion and its shop in the Boston suburb of Norwood in the ‘70s). Make your own sticks, then sell them in your own retail store. Simple brilliance. Add to that being the exclusive distributor for Gretsch drums in the area and you get a formula for practically guaranteed success. I remember Jack as a sweet, soft-spoken, “all business” sort of guy who was constantly busy, though he always had a kind word and a warm, sincere smile for his staff (even for a part-time grunt like I was). His office was at 252 Boylston Street, overlooking Boston Public Garden.

The sales floor at Jack’s was always electric, alive with all kinds of crazy types. From bourbon-belting jazz cats to stoned-out rock-guitar gods, we had ‘em all. Glass cases filled with guitars and brass instruments lined the walls for your approval. Drums were slung just about everywhere. There was barely room to hoist a foot up to support a vintage axe as you tried it out on an early Marshall amp. As was the norm in that era, the walls were decorated with 8×10 glossies (in cheap frames) from “whomever” promo packs. All were signed, some by big names, but most by folks who were still unknown at the time. I remember plenty of days when lots of the hard-partying staff – not me, since I was still underage at the time – were in sad shape from a previous night of booze-fueled revelry, since the store was located in what was called the “Playboy Club” district, with Boston’s infamous Combat Zone only blocks away (and the stripper/transvestite bar Venus just around the corner in Park Square). This was long before the Four Seasons hotel and the pedestrian mall became part of the area.

Time takes its toll on everyone and everything and Jack’s was no exception. In the late ‘60s, Jack’s moved from its original location on Stuart Street to the opposite end of Boylston Street in order to be closer to Berklee College of Music (which was the sensible the thing to do since Piano Row’s decline was becoming more and more noticeable with the rise of instrument stores in the suburbs). In 1975, after Jack’s death, former Jack’s manager Ken Yetman took ownership of the shop and in 1988 he established a satellite  branch in Hyannis on Cape Cod. In 2008, nine years after E.U. Wurlitzer closed, he shuttered the Boylston Street shop and moved the entire operation to Hyannis, where it remains today as the last vestige of the iconic retailer.

While driving past Jack’s Boylston Street location in the summer of 2012, about four years after it had been closed, I noticed that the storefront was still vacant, waiting for a new tenant to take on the lease. Sad. I miss you, Jack’s Drum Shop in Boston, and the generations that went with you.

(by Brina Healey)

Brina Healey worked at Jack’s Drum Shop from 1971 to 1973.

Published On: June 11, 2024