A tribute to and scrapbook of Joe Amato, world-class drummer and respected teacher header image 1

Picture – Craig Abrahamson on the Champagne Ludwigs

May 21st, 2011 by Terry of Astoria · No Comments


→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: photos

A Picture of Joe Amato Instructing Tom Coryell ca. 1980

May 7th, 2010 by Terry of Astoria · 1 Comment


This picture was generously provided by Tom Coryell. It’s a nice photo of Joe at lesson time.

→ Discuss - 1 CommentTags: photos

A Musical History of Joe Amato (as told to, and documented by Jim Mattila in 1975.)

June 16th, 2008 by Jim Mattila · 7 Comments

Joe Amato STUDIED with the following teachers.

Rudy Schultz: snare drummer with John Phillip Sousa’sBand, the American Symphony, and instructor of field music at West Point.

George Hamilton Greene: world famous xylophonist.

Otto Kristufek: Tympanist with the Chicago Civic Opera, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the American Opera Company.

Portland Symphony

Percussion Section 1919-1925

Tympanist 1925-1957

Played under the following conductor’s
Carl Denton, James Sample, David Rose, Frank Black, Boris Sirpo, Igor Stravinsky, Werner Janssen, Theodore Bloomfield, J. Gershkovitch, W. Vanhoogstraten, Carmen Dragon, O. Klemperer, Paul Lemay, Eugene Fuerst, Jacque Singer, Charles Lautrup.

Performed with the following Guest Artists (Portland Symphony)

Singers: Jan Peerce, Jane Powell, Jan Padereskwi, Marian Anderson, Rose Colombi.

Arthur Rubenstein, Vlhadimer Horowitz,
Elena Gerhardt, Ignas Friedman, Alex
Templeton, Harold Bauer, Hans Kindler,
Efrem Kindler, Mishel Piastro, Yehdudi
Menuhim, Joseph Szijati, Spaulding, Mieha
Elman, Osipp Gabrilowitsch, Rudolf Serkin,
Kochanski, Lewis Persinger, Sophia
Braslore, Charles Thomas.


Ballet Russe, Portland Concert Band, Fox Theatre Orchestra, People Theatre Orchestra, De Monte Carlo, Stadium Phil. Orchestra, Harry
Linden’s All-star Orchestra. Ice Capades.

Stage Shows:
R.K.O Theatre, Capital Theatre, Liberty

Vaudeville Acts & Silent Movies:
Rivoli Theatre, Orpheum Theatre

Dance Bands:
Monte Brooks, Jackie Sounders,
Archie Loveland, Charles Lantrups
Staff musician for radio station KOIN and
KGW for the famous “Hoot Owl Orchestra
featuring Mel Blanc.

Broadway Shows:
Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma,
Sound of Music.


Jack Benny (5 weeks), Bob Hope, Mickey Roonie, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jimmie Durante, Sammy Davis Jr. Buddy “Little Traps”
Rich, Diana Shore, Ben Blue, Sophia Tucker, and Edger Bergman.

Joe DIRECTED the following:

The Portland Drum and Bugle Corp.
Joe Amato Orchestra (for the Portland Ice Arena, and the Portland Dog Races.)

Joe was also suppose to be in the original picture of the N.A.R.D. teachers in Chicago. He was ask to be in the picture, and was to demonstrate the Flam, which he could put into a “roll”. When the “historic” picture was taken, Joe was across town working with a Drum a Bugle Corp. and missed being in the picture. I still have a copy of his original NARD certificate, and he is one of the first 25 members in the organization.

Joe was born in 1902, which means he became a member of the Portland Symphony at age 17.

Joe was truly unique. He developed his technical facilities to a level of near perfection.

He was fascinated with Swiss Snare Drumming, and loved working on “crushing” his 5 stroke rolls, and mastering his Swiss Triplets.

I was lucky enough to hear many times his ability to produce a flam “roll”, which I still haven’t heard anyone else master.

He was a very demanding teacher, who had no time for you, if you didn’t practice, but on the other hand would spend hours with you if you had.

I took lessons from him for 7 years, and during that time he charged me $5.00 an hour.
Many, many times on Saturday I would stay for 3 or 4 hours, and he never charged me for the extra time.

The other remarkable skills he had were on Tympani (what a beautiful tone he could get out of the drums), and mallets (unbelievable chops).

When I first studied with him he had recently retired from the Portland Symphony, and had moved to a home off of Niagra Street in Astoria.

He would “gig” on Friday night at the Astoria Legion, and on Saturday at the Elks Club, also in Astoria. He played with his dear friend Lank Koskela (trumpet). The two of them had other musicians in their band, who came and went, but those two were the regulars for years.

When I was 11 or 12 years old my folks would drop me off at the Elks club, and Joe would let me sit in a very small chair next to him on the band stand, so I could listen to him play with other musicians. I loved that, and hated when my parents would come pick me up after the first set and make me go home to bed. Joe always had a cigar stashed somewhere in the Elk Club for him to smoke during the break. Sometimes they were hidden behind picture frames, or in the kitchen, or in the back room where the gambling took place.

I was also lucky enough to know both of Joe’s wives. His first wife fed me lunch many times when I studied with Joe on Saturday. After she passed away, Joe was in mourning, and
didn’t teach for quite a few months. Eventually lessons resumed and he met a retired librarian from Seaside named Peggy. They were later
married. Peggy owned a home in Seaside, on
the prom, and a place in Gearhardt, so they would spent Monday-Thursday in Seaside, and Saturday and Sunday in Astoria at Joe’s home so Joe could play his gigs, teach his students, and work in his garden.
I also have very fond memories of Joe’s dog. It was a Welsh Corgy. He was completely deaf, and would sometime sit by the bass drum, while we practiced the drum set. He also had his “favorite” chair in the basement that he wouldn’t let anyone sit in. If you did, he would jump up on the chair and nuzzle behind your back and squeeze in and literally push you out of the chair.

Joe and I both enjoyed digging and eating clams, and I have very fond memories of eating fried razor clams at his home in Seaside, and washing them down with one of his homemade wines (Dandelion, Blackberry were my favorites).
He also made a mean spaghetti sauce with his own picked and dried mushroom. He made a mean home-made horseradish sauce too.

I attended graduate school in music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I studied with George Gaber, the professor of percussion.
He told me he had played with Joe in Portland when he was traveling with the Ballet Rouge Orchestra. George played tympani, and Joe was hired on to read the percussion parts.
George told me that Joe was unbelievably good.
He said “he not only played the parts flawlessly, on the first reading, but he did it while smiling and smoking a cigar at the same time.” George said he begged him to play tympani with the Cleveland Orchestra, when an opening came up, but Joe didn’t want to leave Oregon, and so declined the job.

Pierce, thank you so much for starting this website. It was long overdue, and a great tribute to a man who is so deserving.

If I can be of any help to you in this undertaking, please feel free to send me an email.

→ Discuss - 7 CommentsTags: general · history

Tom Reuter

June 1st, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

Some time back Jim Mattila called to our attention that Tom Reuter should be added to the Roll Call. That got me attempting to recall what I could about Tom Reuter. The first thing that came to mind was his cheerful disposition. Then I remembered that he sat in with some old timers out at the Olney Grange (our old stomping ground) once or twice while in he was in high school. Next I remembered that there is a nice young fellow here in Sandpoint named John Reuter who I had heard was related to the Astoria Reuters. I saw him recently, stopped him on the street and asked him if he perhaps had an Uncle Tom Reuter. He told me Tom Reuter was his Dad and that Tom had died tragically in an automobile accident about 12 years ago when he was about 12. I was stunned, devastated, felt about 2 inches tall. John could see my quandary and sensed my sudden grief. John immediately jumped in and said he don’t take it too hard, it happened 12 years ago, I’ve learned to live with it. When I mentioned the website he was very interested and said, “Connect with me about it. I’ll be happy to talk to you about my dad and I’d love hear more about him from others, especially some dirt!” We both laughed. So I told him what I knew about Tom back in the late 1960’s, which was that he was a heck of a nice guy with a easy smile and a great sense of humor, I didn’t have any dirt on Tom other than he was against the Vietnam war. Of course John knew all that. Tom became an attorney in Lebanon Oregon and whenever he was sitting around and there was a lull in the activity he might start drumming on things with his bare hands or finger tips. Though he didn’t keep a kit around the house he very much considered himself a drummer. John Reuter would love to hear from you with stories about his dad Tom. John runs the Sandpoint Reader a weekly newspaper in Sandpoint Idaho, you can email him at john at He is very involved in the community, does a lot of volunteering and recently ran for a county commission seat. Pretty ambitious for a 24 year old. Tom would be proud.

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general


May 8th, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

Google the name Joe Amato and the hits come up – race car driver, poet, Sinatra impersonator, blues musician (guitar player) and comedian/actor, etc. Even when you add the keywords “drums” and “percussion”, the search fails to reveal anything about THE Joe Amato. Joe Amato Yearbook Photo The man who forever changed the face of percussion and drumming in the Columbia Pacific region. A big man who drew the bar high, set a sterling example of how to play and how to live. A man who played professionally all his life. A man who instructed many dozens if not hundreds of youngsters in the technique, rudiments and finer points of his art. After a long productive life Joe passed away twenty odd years ago. Personal computers were a rarity and the internet in its infancy. That is no doubt why his web presence was apparently nonexistent. It is the mission of this website to track down as many of Joe’s students, friends, fans and maybe some family if possible, encourage them to draw from their collective memory banks and contribute recollections of lessons learned, perfomances, contests, experiences, good times and stories. I have never tried anything like this and am bound to make some blunders, but perhaps with “a little help from my friends” we’ll get by.

One great thing about the internet, it’s practically free! We can start up a website like this using extra space and it doesn’t cost a dime, just time . Rest assured no one from this site will ever solicit any financial donations. We are however aiming for substantial contributions and deposits in the form of pictures, memories and stories about Joe, from and about his students, friends and family. IF YOU HAVE PICTURES PLEASE EMAIL THEM TO TERRY OF ASTORIA -HIS EMAIL IS Other info can go there too. We are working to make the site more spam resistant and hopefully more user friendly so that you can write a post, hang it up here and keep the energy flowing. Stay tuned and send in those pic scans and fond memories!

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general

How to Sound Like Ringo On Sargent Pepper..Or Not.

May 1st, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

I bucked bales and peeled cascara bark all summer to save enough money to buy my first kit. It was a used red sparkle rather generic imported 3 piece number and Denny Thiel let me have it for $100. The bass drum was about half full of shredded newspaper and sounded great! Denny said “Yeah it sounds good, Jim Mattila tuned it”



There isn’t a lot of leeway when you tune most instruments. It’s either in tune or it ain’t. Oh I know some bluegrass pickers will tune the bass strings on their guitar a cent or two flat to compensate for the tension required to fret a blazing wild wood riff. Conversely the high strings are tuned couple cents sharp, cause man it’s better to C sharp than to B flat. Likewise piano tuning requires subtle tempering to give a shot of shimmer to its voice. Is there anything more subjective than tuning a set of drums? How to achieve that particular sound you desire? Should you go for maple or birch shells? How many plys? How many lugs? Do you start with the snare and work down? Start with the bass and work up? Should the bottom heads be tighter than the top or vise versa. Tune the top head before the bottoms or the reverse? Maybe throw the bottom heads away or cut holes in them a couple inches from the rim? Should all the lugs be torqued identically? Should you buy a tension meter? A torque wrench? An electronic tuner to identify the note? Should you back off a couple side lugs 3/8 s of a turn for a funkier sound? What kind of head should you use? Ambassador? Diplomat? Emperor? Black dot, Silver dot? Hydraulic? Pinstripe? Clear? Coated? Synthetic calfskin? Real calfskin? Flavor of the month? Do you deaden the head with: The interior muffler? Weather stripping from the hardware store? Dead Ringers? I’ve seen and used all manner of methods of muffling. Lay your wallet on the floor tom? Not recommended in some clubs these days. Ever uses a strip of tee shirt under the head.? Duct tape? (Gawd I hate that) A pillow in the bass drum? What about the Aquarian I or II bass drum system? Tone rings? I have come to believe that a whole lot of money has been made selling products of rather dubious merit to those in search of that certain sound. Every set and every drummer is different. Great sounding drums are more fun to play, so how do you get a good sound out of your tubs?

I realize the whole process is made all the more complex by the number of pieces in the set. I recall a used Tama Imperial Star set with seven toms that came into the shop. I set it up and it sounded really good, but some of the heads were showing some wear and there were a mish-mash of brands represented. Long story short, I bought new heads but could never get the set to sound as good as when it came in. Damn that was frustrating. I have a lot better luck tuning 3 or 4 piece kits.

Nowadays I usually go with some sort of dead ringer on the bass and tone rings by Evans or Remo on the toms (forgoing the internal mufflers) and tune using “forth” as the interval between drums. The easy way to remember a forth is to sing the melody ” here comes the bride” the interval between “here” and “comes” is a forth. If I need to buy heads I’ll go for Remo Ambassadors. In addition I check all the shells for a smooth even surface on the edges and rims for warps. I tune the top heads first then the bottoms usually a little tighter than the tops. Those tone rings can cover up a multitude of sins and are the best thing to come along in ages at least for pop rock and country drumming. A jazz or funk set could be a different kettle of fish.

There are numerous websites on the topic of drum tuning, . I must confess that the tuning of drums other than the snare was something I never asked Joe about. He liked a pretty tight head on the snare so as to get a good bounce for double stroke work. The other thing about a snug snare head is that it keeps you honest. A loose head gives each stroke more sustain and can cover up “a dirty spark plug” in your double stroke roll. Another reason we probably didn’t discuss tuning so much was his set there in the basement studio had real skin heads on the toms. In fact the floor tom if I remember properly had a totally old school head that was tacked on They had a good sound, especially when he played them.

Click here.

The above is a web link for a blog post by Kathy Henning. Ostensibly about writing, it uses a really cool analogy incorporating the timely, dynamic and pitch sensitive Mark Goodenberger and some calfskin clad kettledrums. Here is a Mark quote from the piece:

“One of the challenges of playing percussion instruments in the classical music genre,” Mark continued, “is that you spend a great deal of time counting rests, play a few big notes, and then wait for the next entrance. It may seem easier than playing all the time, but I find it much more difficult to stay involved. I have a lot of mental games I play, and what I do most is sing along in my mind (or sometimes under my breath in the loud sections) with the parts I don’t play.

“The drums I was performing on are replicas of an 1803 kettledrum. Because we were playing a period performance, we tried to use the same kinds of instruments the original players in Bach’s time would have used. For me, that means playing on calfskin heads.

“Calfskin is very sensitive to weather and humidity fluctuations. If it begins to rain outside, the heads loosen and the pitch drops. If the rain stops, or the temperature in the room rises from body heat, the heads tighten and the pitch rises. Someone could even open a door at the back of the hall, and the draft would affect the heads. This goes for the other instruments as well, though it affects them differently. Because of this, I have to constantly adjust the heads to stay in tune. That is why I’m always working the tension posts. I put my ear next to the head so I can hear my pitch when I softly tap the skin. I also sing softly into the head, listening for the sympathetic vibration.”

After reading her post I emailed Mark and asking if Joe Amato and he had talked much about the art of playing on calfskin. Here’s what he said.

Joe didn’t say too much to me about timpani skins, though I expect that he helped me when we put them on the High School’s drums. Lee Stromquist always wanted us to
play on calf, because I think that the drums had been donated by Joe and he wanted to honor him. I had to relearn it when I put them on in more recent years.

From what I’ve read many prefer the sound of calfskin and the Viennese Ochestra will only use goatskin. Below are a couple websites that I thought looked fairly helpful in regards to tuning a kit.

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general · history

Cream of the Crop

April 20th, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

Anyone who visited Joe Amato wherever he lived could see he was a master gardener. In those days when Joe was busy, happily reaping what he had sown, the term “Master Gardener” was not yet part of the lexicon. Either you had a garden or you didn’t. If your family had a generational legacy of growing its own food and flowers, it showed. You didn’t need take a class, pass some tests and then get a certificate proclaiming you a “Master Gardener” with a hat and magazine subscription to match. (My apologies to any Master Gardeners who might read this) You knew the requirements for the overall garden, when to pile on the compost (not to mention how to prepare the compost) when and where to add lime, mink manure, fireplace ashes etc. When to till and how soon you could get your peas in. You knew what varietals to plant and if it was done by memorial day with a little weed hoeing and encouragement this or that here and there nature would take it’s course and your cornucopia would runneth over.
It seems to me an analogy can be made between Joe’s green thumb and his ability to teach percussion. With both, you want a good start, the right fertilizer and exposure and if anyone starts to droop, you provide a long cool mineral rich drink of inspiration from deep in the aquifer of your life experience. I never heard Joe make this analogy but I’m sure he talked to friends and peers about his new “crop” of budding percussionist a time or two.
I want to focus for a moment on one of the mid ’70’s “crop”, Mark Goodenberger, a truly wonderful human being with a river of exuberance that is swift but under control. I met Mark in the very early 1970’s when his Father became the pastor of the Presbyterian church my family attended. His mother played the harp, and I don’t mean harmonica. One of his sisters became an accomplished pianist who composes and performs sometimes in the Astoria area. (I can see fodder for another post here about musical ability and DNA) His other sister became a very busy mom with a growing family last I knew and his brother became a long distance runner, who worked with the AHS track team for decades and has parlayed his interest in Astoria history into an impressive career. Mark in 1971 was pretty young so we didn’t hang out together much but I remember hearing a few years later he was getting lessons from Joe. Later yet I heard he was tackling the marimba and doing well. I was impressed. I had purchased an old 3 octave Degan marimba at a second hand store. It didn’t take long to see that holding and controlling 2 or more mallets in each hand presented a different kind of challenge. Sometime after that I heard he was getting lessons in Portland, perusing and pursuing percussion at various institutions of higher learning. One day it was called to my attention that Mark Goodenberger had a percussion group called “The Wild Cheetahs” and they were slated for an Astoria performance. It was a great show, every kind of percussion you could imagine and it was colorful, dynamic, good clean fast moving fun with a strong musical root. Again I was impressed.
Today Mark is the Director of Percussion Studies at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA. He has worked with many of the big names in modern composition: Steve Reich, Libby Larsen, Chen Yi, Tomas Svoboda, George Crumb, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Mark Polishook, and Chinary Ung. Talk about balance though, Mark is also a specialist in baroque music, is Principle with the Portland Baroque Chamber Orchestra and composes pieces that draw from his wellspring of influences. Put Mark’s name into any search engine and you will be provided with pages of his activities, concerts and accomplishments. When I emailed him recently about using some of quotes from someone else’s writings, I didn’t have to wait long for a reply, he said “feel free” and that he shares his memories of Joe with his students on a daily basis. He also provided more names for the Roll Call, mentioned I should talk to Astoria conductor Lee Stromquist for some good stories and said he has pictures of Joe which I look forward to seeing. (I am saving those quotes for an upcoming post.) Mark is an amazing fellow, and living proof that nice guys don’t have to finish last. I hope to catch him in concert again sometime soon. Keep up the good work Mark, we’re all proud of and inspired by you.

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general

A Few First and Second Hand Tidbits About Joe

April 15th, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

As with many things, you’ve got to start somewhere. If you’re building a house you start with a strong, well footed foundation. If your starting a business, you want to do something you like and get a good location. If you want to play the drums, get a good instructor, teacher, mentor so you get it right the first time. This article is more like starting an algebra problem, we start with what we know and hope that others will add it. If we never complete the equation, thats alright. There is always more to know. What’s important is that we get started and add to it.

Joe told me one of his first regular gigs was playing a movie theater in Portland, in the 1920’s I think. Those were the days of silent films, but they weren’t really silent because each theater had an orchestra to play the musical soundtrack or score that accompanied each film. Important to the music score, a percussionist like our young Joe would supply a wide array of sound effects from his bag of tricks. The clip clop of a horse or horses, the tolling of a bell, a siren thunder from the timpani and so forth. He said he was making $50 a week on that gig. Great money in those days and a splendid opportunity to play every night and really get the old chops together. Of course he had to play every percussion instrument under the sun. Marimba, claves, trap set, timpani, bells, chimes, gongs, temple blocks ect. He would go down to the theater in mornings and rehearse, beginning with the rudiments and then on to his parts for the evenings performance. One day (Joe told me) a reviewer or reporter stopped by the theater and heard Joe warming up on his Swiss triplet, starting slow, closing it vigorously then gradually opening it up again as he had been taught. The critique was impressed enough to write a favorable review about Joe’s abilities in the newspaper saying something to the effect that Joe could play a Swiss triplet so smooth and fast you’d almost think it was a long roll.

There was a nice big professional publicity photograph of the “Hoot Owl Orchestra”
featuring Mel Blanc which performed on radio station KOIN and
KGW  in his basement studio which showed a youthful, smiling Joe Amato at the timpani. That photo looked to be from the 1940’s.

Joe had relatives in Portland that figured prominently in the produce business, supplying restaurants and so forth.

Joe’s brother owned the Amato Supper Club (see photo at in Astoria where JP Plumbing is today. The large band shell and evidence of the balcony booths remain. The club operated primarily during the WWII years when it was called “The Pearl of the Pacific” During the war years there were shortages of many items and rationing of things like food and gasoline. Even beer was hard to come by from time to time. I’ve heard old timers say that was never an issue at Amatos. Many big names played Amato’s. They would typically come down on the train after a Portland show, play one night in Astoria and the next in Seaside.

I have no idea how often Joe played at the Supper Club but some singers will travel around with just a few key players picking up sidemen and handing them the charts with the parts to play. Occasionally you might not even get much of a chart. Joe said if that ever happened to him he would make a quick copy of the lead trumpet part to clue him in on what to play on the ride cymbal.

Joe had a very nice home with a huge lot, tucked away off the north side of Niagara. Wonderfully secluded location at the top of the ridge over looking downtown Astoria and the mighty Columbia river. On top of the hill, he got nice sunlight and grew lots of vegetables in a large well kept garden.

Joe & Co. On the Trail of the Wild Porcini
There were some big spruce trees across the road from our house, one day in the early 1960’s us kids noticed a group of men park their truck, get out and begin searching the ground through the salal brush under those spruce. We ran up to the house to tell mom about the “treepassers”. She went down and inquired what they were doing It turns out it was Joe Amato with his Dad and brother and they showed her a paper bag full of nice big King Boletus or as the Italians call them Porcini mushrooms and told her they were a delicacy in various soups and sauces and if you sliced and dried them they will keep a long time. (Years later when I was taking lessons from Joe we got a look at his drying trays. They were massive.} He said he had been picking them for years and this was just one of several favorite spots to pick around Walluski Loop. Well next thing you know my mom who cannot resit free food, after all she grew up during the depression, decides to become a mushroom expert.  She’s checking books out of the library,  even purchasing her own copies, taking a college class and long walks in the surrounding forest in search of her elusive prey. Boleets, chantrells, cauliflower mushrooms, man on horseback ect. We started calling her Mushroom Meg. She still includes some dried King Boletus as part of an annual Christmas care package.  I thank Joe  for that too.

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general · history

Why You Should Never Let Another Guy Sit In On Your Gig

April 2nd, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

Especially if his name is Gene Krupa

Tough act to follow.

→ Discuss - no comments yetTags: general · history

Roll Call

March 30th, 2008 by Pierce · 2 Comments

We’ve moved the Roll Call list of students to a page of its own for continued ease of access. The new page is to be found at The comments here will stay for now. Pierce, please look to edit Roll Call under “Manage”-”Pages”.

→ Discuss - 2 CommentsTags: history