November 1997

Barrett Deems

Chicago drummer Barrett Deems recorded Deemus in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in 1978, too long ago for the 84-year-old musician to recall details about the sessionthat has been reissued on CD by Delmark Records.

“People loved it,” says Deems. The CD matches content with the original limited pressing, which sold out. Eight toe-tapping standards allow Deems to show off the talents that earned him the title of “the world’s fastest drummer,” especially on the sprinting pleaser, “Get Happy.”

Everyone excels on this session, but Wisconsin clarinetist Chuck Hedges adds buoyancy to “Deed I Do,” authenticity to “New Orleans,” and sparks other tunes. Touting Hedges’ talents, Deems says, “He’s probably one of the best clarinet players in the country.”

Vibraphonist Don DeMichael and lead guitarist Bobby Roberts are deceased, but Deems still performs regular Saturday nights with pianist Steve Behr, and works with rhythm guitarist John Defauw, now in his 70’s. Junior Buckewalter has replaced DeMichael and Deems is searching for just the right guitar player. Bassist Wilson McKindra lives in Galesburg, IL.

Deems exhibits hard-swinging, tasty tempos, the real stuff, learned on his own and on the road since the 1930s in the bands of Paul Ash, Joe Venuti, Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Louis Armstrong. Three nights a week, Deems plays different Chicago clubs, if not with his small group, then with his 18-piece big band or his ten-piece ensemble.

“The only time I’m happy is when I’m playing,” claims Deems. “If I live to be 100, I’m going to do it and you’ll be there watching,” he says, coaxing this writer to come to Chicago. “The music makes me high. I never had a drink in my life, or drugs or pills or nothing. That’s why I can still play like this. The Man Upstairs, he takes good care of me. He’s got enough drummers up there.”

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