Tribute to Bob Beals, Founder of Evans Drumheads, A Tbw Exclusive

Bob Beals and his wife Shirley, managers of Evans Drumheads

Bob and Shirley Beals in their livingroom

Bob Beals died in August, 2010. I didn’t meet him until he’d long retired and sold Evans Drumheads, the company he’d nurtured in Dodge City, Kansas, to J D’Addario & Company, a rapidly expanding Long Island, NY enterprise. Bob had fought the good fight for over 40 years. He’d purchased the company in 1959 from Chick Evans and, in typical selfless fashion,resisted notions to rename it Beals Drumheads. He sold Evans Drumheads in 1995.

Assisted by his wife Shirley, who was a key figure in development of the Evans company, Bob kept a lonely booth at NAMM through thick and thin. He watched stoically as Remo Belli, whom, Bob told me more than once, had threatened to wipe Evans off the face of the earth, triumphed in the plastic head market. Yet Bob persevered and occasionally beat Remo at its own game.

For example, you know those sacred Gretsch Permatone heads made exclusively by Remo? Actually, Evans was in there, too, Bob explained to me in 2003 when I visited the Beals in Bedford, Texas, where they’d moved upon retirement.

Oh yes, I sent them (Gretsch) thousands of Evans heads,” Bob stated adamantly. “Remo supplied them, too. They’d never place any orders in advance. We’d get a phone call and they’d need 500 or 1,000 heads shipped tomorrow. These were all composite hoops: that’s all we made then. They branded these with the Gretsch logo.”

That’s but one of the insights I gleaned from a few days and nights chatting with Bob in Texas. Although we conducted a couple of interview segments in noisy steak houses, most of our conversations took place in Bob’s office, surrounded by memorabilia, or in his living room in which Bob had hung proudly a heritage painting he’d received from a client in exchange for services. It was exciting for me to listen to Bob reminisce, especially about his old friend George Way, who acted as Bob’s adviser and copy writer. Bob handed me a few documents George Way had penned in addition to a real prize, an original Evans Dodge City note pad he’d seen me eyeing. I wonder if it’s kosher for me to reproduce it for you: I’m not sure of the copyright status.

Let the record show that although Bob Beals was initially hesitant to sell his company to D’Addario, a few months later he was relieved and grateful for the way in which the Long Island firm handled the transaction and perpetuated his work. Bob cited, in particular, Jim D’Addario, Steve Ettleson, John Roderick, and Mike Robinson, to name a few industry icons he held in high esteem. These men maintained a high standard of quality control and were like minded in their pursuit of the renegade, Dodge City ethic.

I’m glad I’ve found the hard copy of photos I announced months ago. I’ve scanned a couple. Here you see Bob and Shirley Beals in their Bedford living room in 2003. Hours earlier Bob had taken me for a drive in his sedan, which was fitted with something new to me: a GPS. Bob Beals was already restless with this confounded consumer device. It was novel, he explained to me, in that it could inform you what street you were on but it didn’t hone in close enough. Accordingly, Bob modified it to track his every step by accessing satellites nobody knew existed. He explained all this to me in his usual twinkle-of-an-eye manner. I remember distinctly thinking that despite the cold relationship that persisted between Bob and Remo Belli, they were remarkably similar in the diversity of their interests and their abilities to see worlds beyond a flat plain of plastic film.

I’m not sure if I’ll print my exclusive Bob Beals interview. Maybe if I get enough letters I’ll published an abridged version, already prepared for the client that flew me to Texas but changed its mind upon my return, my gain their loss, especially since all expenses were covered. And I got to meet Bob and Shirley.

I feel privileged to have been in their company for half a week. I learned about humility, patience, perseverance, and ingenuity.

Bob Beals died in August, 2010, a happy man, or, at least, that’s what he intimated to me. I’ll remember him when I cast an eye to the documents he bequeathed to me…and when I look back to those twinkling eyes, the eyes of the inventor, ever optimistic.