Barrett Deems Centennial Celebration (2014 Edition)

One year ago today, I posted a two-part blowout for the centennial birthday of "The World's Fastest Drummer," Barrett Deems! However, I warned up front that, "At least, we think it is. Barrett seemed to believe it; throughout his entire life, he gave his birthday as March 1, 1913. But when he died, the mass card given out at his funeral said 1915! And if you do a quick Google search, you'll find the majority of websites go with 1914." Though the majority of websites went with 1914, I went with Barrett himself and posted the tribute because as I wrote, "Really, I've been looking for an excuse to celebrate one of my favorite drummers for a while now so selfishly, the sooner the better!" Well, now it is March 1, 1914 and if TODAY is the Deems centennial....well, let's celebrate him again! Thus, I've taken my two-part series from last year and have combined them in this re-post; if you know them well, you can skip them. But hey, we should celebrate Deems (and Louis) every day, so please, enjoy them--and especially Bernard Flegar's terrific contributions--all over again. Happy Birthday, Barrett!


Deems has long been a hero of mine because when I first got into Armstrong back as 15-year-old teenager, it was through the Columbia Recordings of the mid-50s: the Deems Era. To some, it might seem like Deems was with the band forever, but in actually, he joined in May 1954 and was gone by February 1958, lasting less than four years. Later in life, Barrett would talk about his EIGHT years with Louis! It might have felt that way because he really  came during an incredible period: Louis Plays W. C. Handy, Satch Plays Fats, Mack the Knife, Satchmo the Great, Ambassador Satch, Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography, High Society, the band with Edmond Hall....on and on I could go.

Of course, though Louis's popularity went through the roof in this period, these years are really when the jazz critics sharpened their knives and went after Louis and the All Stars, often holding a special contempt for Barrett Deems, the only white musician in the band during his first two years with them. He was too loud, too powerful, "heavily unswinging," you name it. I've never heard that and I've never met another musician who felt the same was. Was he light as a feather like Jo Jones or a creative giant like Big Sid Catlett? No, but he swung and had power and I think by the mid-50s, that's all Louis wanted. Music was changing and Louis had a heavy dose of early rhythm-and-blues in his private collection with those giant backbeats. Louis always thrived from a heavy two-and-four, dating back to the Hot Sevens, and I think Barrett (and later, Danny Barcelona) provided Louis with the kind of no frills support he wanted.

I can go on and on about Barrett--and I will, as I've put together some great quotes, videos and audio that I'll be sharing below. But before I took a turn, I wanted to let someone else speak for a change. Bernard Flegar is not only a fantastic drummer himself, but he befriended Barrett and got to know him fairly in the last years of Deems's life. When I was getting into the All Stars, I was to starstruck to even think about approaching a Deems or Arvell Shaw, even though I knew they were alive (much to my regret). Thankfully, Bernard--only three years older than me and living in Germany--seized the opportunity to get closer to his hero and we must thank him for that. I asked Bernard to remember his friend Barrett and this is the beautiful piece he wrote:

"First of all my greatest gratitude to Ricky for asking me to contribute a few words to celebrate Barrett’s special birthday. I met Barrett through a mutual friend, Chuck Hedges, one of the greatest swing clarinetists of all time – some say he could have blown Benny Goodman of the stage and that means something. Barrett, like Chuck, was a Chicago fixture. So, in 1995 I scratched some money together and flew to the Windy City to meet Barrett. After my arrival I called Chuck. He said he would get in touch with Barrett to let him know about this eighteen year old German visitor.

Chuck Hedges and Barrett Deems
"Later that day the phone in my motel room rang and it was Jane, Barrett’s wife. She told me that they would pick me up on their way to a jazz concert. So this old Chevy pulled up, Jane was driving, and in the passenger seat was this old, hyperactive hero of mine, Barrett Deems. We understood each other well from the first moment on and were friends until the day he died three years later. Despite his age, he still played magnificently and had only lost a little bit of steam since his days with Louis, Jack Teagarden or the Dukes Of Dixieland. He was leading a big band when I met him which appeared weekly. Barrett was small in stature,over eighty years old, had a bad back but the transition that took place whenever he sat down behind the drums and started belting the daylights out, swinging like mad, gives me goose pimples until this day. 

"Barrett wasn’t always an angel – who is?? – he drove many people nuts, me included, but he was a good guy who lived to swing a band. I also liked the fact that he loved animals. When I met him he had several dogs and cats. When he was much younger, Barrett watched a guy beat up a horse – Barrett broke the guy’s jaw. I guess the message came across.

"Outspokenness in addition to his drumming was something that Barrett was very good at. He would say anything anywhere anytime. I very vividly remember sitting with him and Jane in a Chicago restaurant when he commented loudly on the figure of a nearby sitting woman….that moment I simply wanted to vanish….Barrett loved fast food and took me to all of his favourite grease joints around town.

Bernard Flegar and Barrett Deems
I visited him again in 1996 and 1997 and also met many other great musicians in Chicago. When I was at home I’d call him about once a month. I can still hear his distinctive voice yelling on the other end of the line and his standby advice….”….hang up, kid, save your money!!” One time he was especially excited because George Avakian had come to visit. Mr Avakian was in town and remembered Barrett staying at the Croydon Hotel in the 1970s. Well, the Croydon was long gone, no sight of Barrett and so Mr Avakian looked him up in the phone book. Barrett was home and the two reminisced about old times. So, when I called, Barrett shouted…”guess who’s here, guess who’s here…” and after he told me, he handed the phone over to George Avakian. I will never forget this special moment."


And now it's time for some music! Like my other such tributes, I immediately thought about sharing audio of Deems's two big features, "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Mop Mop" and I will do that...on Tuesday. For now, though, something different.  On October 2, 1955, the All Stars--now featuring the new addition of Edmond Hall, plus  Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Barrett--played at Konserthuset in Stockholm, Sweden. Years later, ten tracks were released on an obscure Queen LP; finally, those ten plus one more were issued on the essential Storyville boxed set, Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia

I've always loved these performances because not only does it capture my favorite edition of the All Stars in peak form, but the sound quality is magnificent. On top of that, the drums are little loud in the mix; this might be seen as a detriment to some listeners but to me, it's always given me a deeper appreciation of just what Barrett was doing back there to drive the band along. If you've read my write-ups of various Musical Autobiography tracks, I've always complained about the "Barrett Deems Drum Machine 2000" because he just sticks to closed hi-hat all the time. But I'm quick to point out that's what the arrangements asked him to do--and he obeyed--but that's NOT what he did on a nightly basis. The Stockholm tracks should prove that if anyone out there doubts it.

Once again, I asked Bernard to give me his take on these tracks. He admitted that he didn't want to keep repeating himself so he refrained from commenting on a few selections; I've still included them because Deems's work speaks for itself. Let's listen, opening with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South":

Bernard says: "Barrett plays time on the hi hat, during Louis’ vocal he is on brushes, a master of the brushes he was and equally masterful were his rolls, as can be heard at the end of the tune."

Next up, a little "Back Home Again in Indiana":

Bernard says: "Obviously an effect of his overactiveness, Barrett often made some sort of noise between numbers. Listen right at the end of Louis’s anouncement. Like many swing drummers he played four to the bar on the bass drum as it is audible here. Barrett and Arvell Shaw locked in so well together. During his drum breaks towards the end it becomes clear why Barrett was called 'the world’s fastest drummer.'"

A favorite of Louis's from this period, here's "The Gypsy":

Bernard says: "Another prime example of good, clean, swinging, time keeping, another lesson in smooth brush playing and a nice, long roll during the cadenza. Barrett’s playing always contained a good measure of witt and irony, check Barrett hitting the splash cymbal at 01:33."

Up next, Louis and Billy Kyle's contrafact on "Perdido," "Pretty Little Missy":

Bernard says: "Things start nice and easy before gears are changed after Louis’ vocal when Trummy comes in. Barrett beautifully prepares the front line’s riffs in the last chorus."
Ricky says: Indeed, I love Deems's work on this one, especially with the riffs behind the vocal and during those "Hot Toddy" riffs at the end...a tight arrangement, really driving by Barrett!

Bernard chose not to comment on the next two, but I'm still going to share the audio. Personally, I love how Deems changes it up behind the soloists. He gets pegged a lot as just a backbeat player but he saves it mainly for Trummy and Louis, going lighter for Hall and using the closed hi-hat for the rhythm section solos. And on "The Saints," his opening is Deems 101, before swinging the band at the ideal tempo (Louis tried out many different tempos on that number of the years but this one is my favorite). Here's "Struttin' with Some Barbecue": 

And "When the Saints Go Marchin' In": 

After the saints, a little "Basin Street Blues":

Bernard says, "Barrett starts playing time on the half-open hi hat, a way of playing which seems to be mostly forgotten today, then switches to the cymbal. During Louis’ vocal he plays with brushes. He had a great sound with brushes (check out the original recording of Mack The Knife!). Then after Billy Kyle’s solo, Barrett intruduces the new tempo with an interlude featuring his trade mark triplet figures distributed around the set. After that he swings the band and kicks it in the behind, especially during the out chorus, yet always playing at the right volume and paying attention to what his cohorts are doing. After the drum tag comes something which always makes my day and something that Barretts’ fellow drummers in the band (whom I all admire) who played together with Trummy Young in the All Stars did not do, and that is locking in with Trummy during the very last four bars (not only on this number), emphasizing Trummy’s phrases, creating enormous excitement."

Once again, the next two tracks don't require further comments. On the slower-than-slow "Tin Roof Blues," I love how Deems approaches it with so much power. It's a dangerously slow tempo but he swings and is emphatic enough to add a layer of raunch to the proceedings. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is an Edmond Hall romp and Deems is with him all the way. Here's "Tin Roof Blues":

And "Sweet Georgia Brown":

And finally, an absolutely ass-kicking "St. Louis Blues":

Bernard says: "Barrett was a master in turning up the heat after subtle passages and on this track you will hear this very clearly. On the last chorus he uses the bass drum in addition to the snare drum and the cymbal to play the back beat and kick it out the park."

Amen, Brother Flegar! I mean, those last two choruses of "St. Louis Blues"....that's rock and roll, my friends! And nothing wrong with it. No wonder Dizzy Gillespie told Barrett that this edition of the band was the most exciting one he ever heard playing this style of music.

I want to thank Bernard again for these fabulous insights! As he told me, "To sum up Barrett’s playing in my humble opinion, Barrett did what the band needed and what Louis wanted; well chosen cymbals and drums, the drums tuned by a master who offered hefty, swinging drumming, with no prisoners taken." Thanks, Bernard!

(This was originally part two)

For this entry, I want to write a little more about Barrett's time with the All Stars and his pre and post-Louis career, as well as sharing some stories and one-liners of a man who was a true character. It's not hard to find tales of Deems; a simple Google search brings up a bunch and the Jazz Institute of Chicago's Website proved to be especially valuable in being a resource for memories of Deems.

We've established that Barrett was born in Springfield, Illinois on March 1, 1913 (or possibly 1914, which is why I'm going down this road again today!). His father was a projectionist who also played piano, accompanying silent movies. Deems was about 12 the first time his father let him play along. When he 14, he won a drumming contest at the Orpheum Theater (he didn't imbibe the prize-winning bottle of champagne and in fact, steered clear of alcohol and drugs as an adult, too).

His first big break was with the legendary jazz violinist, Joe Venuti, spending seven years with him, including time with his underappreciated big band. It was with this group that Deems made his first records, cleverly titled, "Flip," "Flop," "Something" and "Nothing." Deems makes his presence felt throughout, swinging the band and taking breaks and short solos. Here's "Flip":

And "Flop":

It was with Venuti, stationed in New York, that Deems got close to Gene Krupa, whom he'd call "my best show business friend." When Venuti disbanded in 1944, Deems formed his own combo. The 1944 Billboard Music Year Book, gave the "Barrett Deems Quintet" an entry and already mentioned that he was being billed as "the world's fastest drummer." He spent the ensuing years bouncing around in various big bands: the Dorseys (separately), Woody Herman, Red Norvo and Charlie Barnet (with whom he made his first trip to Europe).

But the days of a thriving big band scene were over, causing Deems to try his hand in the world of small group traditional jazz, doing stints with the likes of Muggsy Spanier and Wingy Manone. It was with Manone that Deems participated in the 1951 film, Rhythm Inn, a forgettable flick that gives us our greatest glimpse of Deems the showstopping drummer. He was given a featured solo and he made the most of his two minutes, standing up, playing around the drums, playing on the floor and eventually working over a chair. This is what he did nightly with Louis, but it was never filmed then so this is the best glimpse of what he did during his features in this period. There is a YouTube video of just the solo but I'm going to share the full clip from Daily Motion because it shows Deems in the full "Dixieland" setting:

Wingy Manone-Barrett Deems by boberwig

Deems was doing well in the early 50s and even started leading his own band. He might never have joined Louis if not for the destructive personality of Kenny John. Louis hired the young John to replace Cozy Cole in late 1953 but John's boozing and erratic behavior (once almost getting in a fight with Armstrong) was too much to handle. He was fired in May 1954 and immediately replaced with Deems. Glaser usually did the hiring in house from the Associated Booking roster but it's possible Louis knew his work from the many name bands he had been played with. Louis--and Glaser--always placed a value on showmanship, which Deems clearly had. More importantly, he didn't drink or do any drugs.

Deems told Dempsey Travis that when Glaser offered him the job, Deems told him he already had a band of his own.

"Well," Glaser said, "fire the whole band. Louis wants you to join his orchestra next week." Deems said he couldn't do that because he had a contract for two more weeks at a gig in Steiger, Illinois. "That doesn't make any difference," Glaser said. "How much are the musicians making?" "Three hundred a week," Deems replied. "Okay," Glaser snapped. "I'll send you a check. Pay them all off."

"He sent me a check for $1200 for four guys, and I paid them off and left Steiger," Deems told Travis. "The man who owned the joint was mad enough to kill me, but how often do you get an opportunity to work with the world's greatest trumpeter?"

Deems was nervous, but it all dissipated on the first night with the All Stars. He was given Cole's features of "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Mop Mop"...and they'd remain his until he left the band in 1958. On his second night, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm, telling Armstrong, "Jesus, playing with you is like being in another world. It's a natural ball!" Armstrong replied, "I'm glad you're aboard. I enjoy your playing. You do a nice job with those skins."

Soon after, Armstrong did a radio interview where he praised Deems and said of the All Stars, "My current about the greatest. Without them, I don't know what I'd do." Two months later, they were in Chicago recording the seminal Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy for George Avakian at Columbia. During the sessions, Armstrong told Avakian that Deems was "the best drummer I've ever worked with." Armstrong loved his rock solid beat, crowd-pleasing showmanship and clean-living ways.

Of course, that was still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, when everything always seems too good to be true. And of course, it was. Before Deems joined, Louis complained on one of his private tapes about Kenny John and Zutty Singleton, saying of drummers in general, "They're all nuts
Barrett Deems and Trummy Young in 1954. Courtesy of Bernard Flegar.
motherfuckers. All of them." Well, it would turn out that Deems was a little nuts, too. Avakian remembers Deems constantly muttering to himself. Writer Steve Voce described him as "an abrasive man driven by a restless energy." Barney Bigard wrote, "[Deems] was a little crazy. Crazy in a nice way. He was really a nervous guy." Trummy Young agreed with Bigard and summed Deems up perfectly by saying, "Barrett was the swingingest drummer that I ever played with. . .a little bit crazy but in a nice way." Armstrong famously told him, "Barrett, you're the only guy in the world that makes coffee nervous."

Eventually, Deems's restless streak could turn up in his playing. Armstrong himself admitted to Sinclair Traill in December 1956 that Deems had a tendency to rush. "With all respect to Deems, that's our biggest battle, watchin' that strict tempo," Louis said. "He's got that nervous streak so many drummers have." When bassist Jack Lesberg joined earlier in 1956, Joe Glaser warned him that Deems "rushes like hell." Apparently, it used to drive pianist Billy Kyle crazy sometimes. (In Deems's defense, I never really heard it; there is a session tape for Satch Plays Fats where on one take of "I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby," the tempo speeds up noticably going into the rideout, but that's about it.)

And his abrasive nature could wear some down. A typical Deems-ism came when British writer Voce asked Deems what he thought about Europe during a 1956 tour of England. "They should clean it up, paint it and sell it," he replied. It's a great line, but that kind of restlessness and complaining could get wearying when traveling with the same group of guys 300 nights a year. Voce was told that more than once, musicians got together with Armstrong or Glaser and held meetings about his behavior.

"What's wrong with you?" Glaser would berate Deems. "Nothing," answered Deems. "I feel fine."

But in the end, Armstrong didn't pay attention to what happened offstage. "I don't care," he said, "as long as he goes ding-a-ding-a-ding-a-ding." If Armstrong wanted him fired, he would have been gone (see Kenny John). He clearly thrived off his playing and especially appreciated Deems's ability to work crowds into a frenzy. When the All Stars hit the Gold Coast of Africa (soon to be Ghana) in 1956, Louis realized that they were in "drumming country," as Deems put it, and set Barrett loose, almost causing a riot in the process. Deems was carried on the shoulders of the natives for the entire three-day tour.

Another example comes on the tremendous 1956 concert, Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, which put the All Stars on the end of a Jazz at the Philharmonic bill. The opening jam session featured a Buddy Rich explosion, while Ella Fitzgerald's set was swung by Louis Bellson on the skins. The All Stars only had about 50 minutes to make their mark. In that time, Louis pushed himself hard, then featured the All Stars on their individual specialties: Deems was the only man to get TWO features in such a short set, Louis confident that Deems could win the crowd over after they heard Rich and Bellson (and indeed, you can hear the audience hooting, hollering and laughing as Deems plays up and down the stage floor on "Mop Mop"). I know I've plugged it before, but I feel it's an essential purchase because the All Stars are at their peak...and sets by Ella, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and JATP don't hurt! Grab it here.

Of course, I wanted to share Deems's two features but I have so many different versions to choose from. In the end, I've opted for two unissued tracks from my favorite All Stars concert, live at Hinsdale High School in Hinsdale, Illinois, March 25, 1957. This was one in a string of a LONG string of one-nighters. David Halberstam spent some time traveling with the group only about two or three weeks before the Hinsdale show and captured a tired, muttering Deems, exhausted from the grind. "No damn sleep,"Deems complained. "No sleep the night before, none last night, and none tomorrow. At least we spent the night in Atlanta." Goodness knows the stuff Deems saw during these travels. "I remember once we were in Biloxi, Mississippi, and we couldn't find a hotel that would let us in," he told Steve Voce. "So here's Louis, who always had about $10,000 cash in his pocket, and the guy can't get a hotel room. The  whole band had to sleep in a gymnasium that night. Go figure it out."

So here's Deems, Louis and the rest of the All Stars on this same grueling tour, pulling into a high school gymnasium full of enthusiastic students. If you have my book, I included three wonderful photos from this night by Swiss photographer Milan Schijatschky, one of Louis warming up in the gym locker room. No one would have blamed them for going through the motions that night but instead, they put on a two-and-a-half hour show that is just one climax after another. Louis knew that the kids were responding to Deems so he let his drummer loose. Of all the versions in my iTunes, the ones of "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Mop Mop" from Hinsdale are the longest, "Savoy" pushing nine minutes with encore after encore. And at the Armstrong Archives, we have another Schijatschky photo of Deems in full flight, with students flocking the stage, standing in front, watching in awe.

Without further ado, here's "Stompin' at the Savoy":

And "Mop Mop"

Yeah! Hopefully, you can see what made Barrett so irresistible to fans around the world. Of course, as already alluded to, critics were merciless when it came to Deems, complaining about his features, complaining that he was too heavy, that he didn't swing.

Deems took those barbs for all four years with Louis but it's worth pointing out how much musicians loved him--and especially drummers. I already mentioned how Gene Krupa became Deems's closest "show business" friend. Buddy Rich also loved him him. According to Jim Beebe, "I drove Barrett and Polly Podewell out to see Buddy Rich once. Buddy was doing an outdoor concert in Oakbrook. It was very touching to see the genuine affection and respect that Buddy held for Barrett. Barrett worshipped Buddy and this meant a lot to him. Buddy introduced him from the bandstand and fawned all over him. Backstage the two of them jived each other and carried on in a wonderful fashion." John Miles remembered, "Buddy Rich's 'What It Is' bus had a seat with a sign on it that read, 'This seat is reserved for Barrett Deems' and God help the hapless musician that mistakenly sat in it."

Barrett with Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. From

Miles also remembered, "In hanging out with Barret and because of him, I met some of the biggest names in the jazz business. I found out that not only that I respected him for his talent, but a hell of lot of others did too for his incredible playing ability. I can remember the time we caught Max Roach one night and after a great solo performance by Max, the audience was just loving it and gave him a standup ovation. He announced that, '... if you thought this solo was great, it was nothing compared to what Barrett could do.'"

Something like that probably would make the hardened jazz fan/critic put their nose in the air, but I don't think someone would make it up. Just this weekend on the Louis Armstrong House Museum Facebook page, Keith Gubitz put up a this wonderful photo of Barrett and a beaming Max Roach at the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago.
And I've noticed on YouTube, some Rich acolytes get upset that Barrett was billed as the "World's Fastest Drummer," though again, courtesy of Facebook, John Nasshan wrote in to say, "I remember Barrett challenging Buddy to see who was faster. Barrett once looked at Buddy and said, 'C'mon Buddy, we'll see who's use a pad, I'll play on a pillow and I'll win!"

Anyway, I digress; back to Deems's time with Louis, I wanted to share a video of the two of them together.  Unfortunately, though there's dozens of hours of live audio from Deems's tenure with the All Stars, there's no videos of him doing one of his features. But again, Louis knew to unleash him when the world was watching, such as this televised version of "Blow Gabriel Blow" from a Cole Porter tribute in 1956. It's only two minutes and 17 seconds--and Deems only has a couple of short breaks--but my goodness is he fun to watch!

Fantastic, isn't it? He can also be seen going to town--and twirling his sticks slickly--in Satchmo the Great, but God knows if that will ever get released publicly.

On and on Deems went with the All Stars....and then he was out. It was not an abrupt termination and honestly, no one has ever pinpointed exactly what happened. There's speculation that Deems's temperament got the best of him. Trombonist Jim Beebe recalled, "Deems had become a pariah with his prickly personality and had caused scenes throughout Europe. Deems told me that Glaser made it very difficult for him if he wanted to stay with the band. He was never honest about getting fired--for years he maintained that he quit."

Earlier, you read Bernard Flegar's beautiful tribute to his friend Barrett. When I first "met" Bernard via e-mail in 2009, I asked him what he knew. Indeed, Barrett had told him something about quitting because of money, but Bernard added, "As you may or may not know, Barrett had a big, uncontrollable mouth and a terrible temper at times. He said what he wanted no matter if it was the right time and place or not. As much as I loved the old man, he could really drive you nuts if he wanted to. [Barrett's daughter] Mary Jane said that her mother had to go to Glaser's office and beg for his job numerous times after Barrett had managed to raise hell one way or the other...But I always had the feeling that Barrett would have loved to stay longer with the band and that he didn't want to come up with the real reason why he left the maybe he did screw something up. We'll never know for sure."

Like I said, it wasn't abrupt. On December 30, 1957, the All Stars played the first Timex All Star Jazz Show. That night, back home in Corona, Queens, Louis turned on his tape recorder and talked a bit about the show. When he gave the personnel of the All Stars, he got to Deems and said, "Deems, Barrett Deems, who also seems like the ax done hit him, but he's still with us. I don't know, I don't run Mr. Glaser's business. I just blow the horn."

So the ax had hit Deems by the end of December but he was allowed to stay a little longer until a replacement was lined up. That replacement was Danny Barcelona, who told me that when he got to New York, he was allowed to watch Louis record Louis and the Good Book in early February 1958...with Deems still on drums. When the last session ended on February 7, Deems was out and Barcelona was in.

Whatever the circumstances were, Deems showed no bitterness and always spoke glowingly of Armstrong. "He was the most beautiful man I ever worked for and the best entertainer in the world," he told Steve Voce. "He was constantly giving money away. Sometimes, if someone on the street asked him for 25 cents, he'd give them a $100 bill and tell them to buy some food and clothes and find a place to stay. A lot of people would ask him about me. 'Why do you have a white drummer?' "He'd just say, 'Because I like his playing.' Period."

Deems continued to stay busy after his All Stars tenure, first joining another fellow Pops sideman, Jack Teagarden. In the early 60s, he did a stint with the Dukes of Dixieland (missing Louis's sessions with the band by two years). And then it was back to Chicago, where he became a permanent fixture for the rest of his days.

Of course, he was happy to leave when a worthwhile project came along, such as Benny Goodman's tour of Eastern Europe. Deems got the call to play drums; a number of videos exist on YouTube of these performances, all of them swinging like crazy. Here's a medley of "Don't Be That Way" and "Stompin' at the Savoy":

Of course, All Stars reunions were prevalent in the 70s and 80s, especially groups organized by the trumpeter Keith Smith. Here's a pic of Smith with Dick Cary, Peanuts Hucko, Russell "Big Chief" Moore, Arvell Shaw and Barrett:
 And fortunately, this band was filmed a few times. Here he is with Smith, Johnny Mince, Bob Havens, Nat Pierce and Arvell Shaw, trading fours:

And to really see Deems in action, from the same concert, fast forward to 6:07 and see him as his speedy best, including standing up, playing around the set and indulging in a little "Big Noise from Winnetka"-esque action with Shaw:

 More great videos: Barrett backing Doc Cheatham on "Someday You'll Be Sorry" at the Chicago Jazz Fest in 1985:

And backing Bud Freeman from that same festival:

And here he is in Australia (with Chuck Hedges on clarinet) in 1989, 76-years-old (with a "12-year-old body"), playing and talking:

On and on he went, like an iron man, forming a big band and leading it for weekly gigs up until his death in 1998. I've had a ball with these two tributes to "Deemus" but as can be seen, my focus has been on his years with Louis. But already, people have been e-mailing and writing me on Facebook with Barrett stories and lines. Another great drummer, Brooks Teglar, sent along this wonderful Duncan Schiedt photo of himself flanked by Barrett and Butch Miles: 

Of the photo, he said, "That very evening was when Barrett and I had a conversation in the restaurant of the hotel (they stayed open ALL NIGHT during the Central Illinois Jazz Festival weekend...another thing of the past, sadly) about Louie, Gene, drummers in general, his career and so many other things that wound up going on until 3 or 4am. It was a deep, thoughtfully sensitive Barrett I spent that time with and I was so glad to have seen a side of him that few did. That night he drew for me a map to the Calumet City grave site of Gene's and that little piece of Original 'Deems' artwork sits in a place of high prominence in my mementos collection. I also cherish the 'Honorary Barrett Deems Duck Call' that he gave me in Manassass and can still hear him telling me when it should be put to use.....ha!"

Trumpet Phil Person wrote in to add, "I met Barrett in 1988 in Chicago when I was on the road with Dick Johnson and the Artie Shaw Orch. We did a gig at a new club and Barrett came to hear us. I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with him during the breaks. He also came out to our bus after the gig. He said, 'We traveled in one just like this with Louis.' About Louis he said, 'He could fart on the bus and it would swing,' and 'He had a heart as big as this earth and he played like it. God I miss him.'" Phil added, "So I was sitting at a table in the club with Barrett, his wife and several others. Every few minutes he'd tap me on the leg and say things. A few examples: 'F**kin' Louis, what a great player. God I miss him.' A Bird and Diz recording came on, the one with Monk and Buddy Rich: 'F**kin' Bird, he changed the whole thing around. Dizzy told me that the edition of Louis' All Stars I was in was the hardest swinging band of that style he ever heard."

That led Bernard to add this hysterical one-liner: "What Barrett said about this woman sitting next to us in a Chicago restaurant was....'...she was put together when meat was cheap...'"

A search of the internet found this anecdote from John Miles: "A few days before the Chicago Historical Society gig, Barrett, myself and another drum acquaintance of ours went up to Milwaukee to check out some music store that was closing up. On the trip up there, I mentioned I had recently heard Louis Armstrong's recording of 'King Of The Zulus,' which Barrett was on and he mentioned how he kept a beat to that tune. He said he would say, 'Eat Some Shit' in a slow tempo. So then throughout the CHS gig Barrett up on the stand was mouthing that same phrase while the band was playing. Bud was never the wiser. Barrett by the way did not mean any disrespect for Bud, he was just having his fun playing drums."

On and and on it goes...and I hope it keeps going. If you or someone you love has a Barrett Deems anecdote, do not hesitate to share them and maybe I'll have enough to write another tribute for his possible 2015 centennial! But for now, thanks to all who have contributed in making this what I hope was a very special tribute to a very special drummer. 


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