Remembering Bill Faust, the king of Milwaukee’s Drum Center
“I’ve been with Buddy Rich. I’ve been with Gene Krupa. I’ve been with Max Roach. I don’t care about your bullshit rock ’n’ roll band!”
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I first met William Regalado, a.k.a. Bill Faust, on a Saturday afternoon in 2003. I needed a new cymbal and stand before a show my band was playing that night, and having no inclination to hit the suburbs, decided to make my first visit to Faust Music, a.k.a. “Milwaukee’s Drum Center,” on KK in Bay View. My girlfriend and my guitar player tagged along as we knocked on the door and, after passing a visual inspection, were admitted into what Five Card Studs drummer Matt Liban likes to call “The World According to Faust.” On that day, the cash I pulled from a nearby ATM (because he wouldn’t take plastic—three-percent user fee, after all) paid for not only the gear I needed, but also a 45-minute lecture on the evils of the United Nations, the superiority of the European work ethic, and some choice views on the female gender. Mr. Faust also scolded my guitarist’s choice of guitar, loudly condemning his “toy” while pointing out that his guitar section was 100-percent Gibson.
Bill Faust passed away earlier this month at the age of 83, leaving behind years of stories like mine. Most everyone who knows a musician in Milwaukee has heard a different Faust story—many that probably aren’t appropriate this soon after his passing. Still, The A.V. Club grabbed some choice cuts from some of the area’s Faust faithful.
Daniel DuChaine, Rush Mor Records
I was doing a show at the Legion Post down the street and I needed a new bass drum head. Rockhaus was out of the one I needed and there was a blizzard that day, so there was no leaving Bay View. I called Faust because I had to, which was fine because I work on KK and the show that night was also on KK. He greeted me kindly at the door and welcomed me in, at first, but once entering he immediately locked the door behind, I think, with a screwdriver in the eyelet of the door itself.
I was holding the broken drumhead in my hands but he began a diatribe about how all the great drummers of the world dealt and still dealt with him to that day. He produced a photo album with promo shots of all these killer drummers. Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Alphonse Mouzon, Billy Cobham, Bill Bruford. Those kind of guys. I expressed how I had no interest in “yesterday’s heroes” and how I just wanted to buy my drumhead and go, but he continued with how no one knew these guys anymore and how music was dead.
All of the sudden, he snatched the drumhead out of my hands and asked what I was looking for. We began the transaction, but upon handing him the money for the purchase he asked me, “What kind of drum set are you playing?” I said, “Tama!” And in return he handed my money back and said he wouldn’t sell me what I needed.
Ultimately, he finally sold me what I needed, begrudgingly, and attempted to keep my broken drum head that he said he could repair. I noticed a bottle of red wine and a little stack of cups behind the counter and mentioned that he could keep the head if he’d share that wine with me. He had no problem with that at all.
Jay Tiller, Couch Flambeau/Die Kreuzen
When I was 15 years old, I went to Faust Music to re-finish my Majestic Japanese drum kit that I had since I was five years old. Mr. Faust and my father settled on a price for the job, and then Mr. Faust brought out two pairs of pliers and a screwdriver. My dad and I looked at him quizzically. Mr. Faust said, “You can start taking them apart now.” “Huh?” “Oh, you take the drums apart before I re-cover them. Here you go.” It took forever, but we toiled away until the heads, lugs, and screws were all off the shells.
We were driving home, and I got really mad. I told my father “Forget this, I'm going to save for a new drum set. And not buy it at Faust.” I told my dad to turn around, where I collected the dismantled kit from a flabbergasted Faust and took it home.
Matt Liban, Five Card Studs
Mr. Faust was acutely aware of the dollar’s fluctuating value. He’d hold up a dollar bill and ask me what it was. I’d say “A dollar.” He’d say “No, it’s a quarter, that’s all it’s worth.”
I dropped in during the early ’90s and handed him $600. I explained that I wanted a 1940s Slingerland Radio King drum set with a 24-ince bass drum, 13-inch mounted tom, and a 16-inch floor tom in White Marine Pearl finish. I knew he had them somewhere. Weeks would go by and I’d receive a call from him saying that he’d found a piece. This went on for months—one piece at a time—but he did come through with the entire thing. No one could or would do that anymore!
He offered me this incredible one-of-a-kind three-quarter-inch-thick solid Gretsch drum shell. A total anomaly. They’re known to be very thin. He told me $400 cash. I told him I had to go to the ATM. I came back and he told me it was no longer for sale. Ugh.
Jon Phillip, Trapper Schoepp And The Shades
About two-and-a-half years ago, I brought my 1980s Slingerland snare drum in to get the throw off fixed. I called in advance and he told me to “throw it away” over the phone. Then I explained to him that it was just the throw off and that I heard he had older parts in the store to remedy such problems. He changed his mind and told me to bring it in. When I got to the store, I had to knock and show him the snare in my hand. He did the classic “remove the screwdriver from the door, let me in, and put the screwdriver back in the door” trick. He apologized for such measures and said “This neighborhood has changed.”
He gave me the business for having a 42-strand snare on the bottom. He said, “Why do you have all these on here? All you need is a 16-strand snare. That’s ridiculous.” I told him I bought a Sonor drum kit off of him in the late ’90s. He immediately changed his mood and shook my hand, saying that he appreciated the business, asked my name, and called me Mr. Phillip the rest of the visit. He even recalled me coming in with my dad back in the day and that I was from the north side. He had a crazy memory.
He fixed the throw off in two minutes like MacGyver. Whacked it with a stick and said, “Those strands sound pretty good don’t they, you like that bubblegum sound don’t ya?” He showed me some other tricks on how to fix snare drums and told me not to tell anyone. He then said I needed to take better care of my drums and clean them regularly. “These are like beautiful pieces of furniture.” Because of him, I take better care of my drums and have more honor in my profession. I’m really going to miss occasionally running into Mr. Faust and getting yelled at by him.
Damian Strigens, Testa Rosa/ex-Field Report
Walked up to the Faust door on a rainy day. Door locked. I start to walk away. Faust peeks through blinds and opens door. Doesn’t ask “How can I help you?” It was more of a “What to you want?” He lets me into the shop. I walk around for about 15 seconds and as I look up on the upper shelf at a cool, dusty old Ludwig four-piece kit, he asks me the question: “Have you ever heard of a guy by the name of Ringo Starr?” My answer: “Why yes, sure, of course.” He responds: “Well, I sold him one of those kits, and as a matter of fact, after I sold him that kit, I sold one of those kits every week back in the late ’60s. A legend.”
My favorite line from Bill was “If I had to do it all over again, I would not be selling any of this garbage. Think about how many homes are in Milwaukee, yet alone within a 10-mile radius of this store. Now think about how many homes within that 10 miles have a drum set in them. Now, I want you to think about how many homes have carpeting, or tile floors. Think about how many new homes are being built. That’s the biz I would be in now.”
On a cold November afternoon in 2001 we visited Faust, whereupon our arrival was met with a scolding from Bill about how we failed to ring the doorbell to get in. (The door, strangely, was locked during business hours.) This scolding served to set the tone for an hour-long lecture we then received from this man we’d never met before, covering every conceivable topic imaginable from female labor policies to war to Carlos Santana, the man would not stop. He even alluded to some rather suspicious activities he was involved in that we were unable to decipher.
Our only break came when we were “allowed” to check out the store, with my colleague checking out guitars and my gaze shifting towards the massive collection of drum kits, cymbals, and other miscellaneous equipment from floor to ceiling. This exploration, however, was short-lived, as the lecture soon resumed following another brief scolding due to yours truly handling a cymbal incorrectly. Now the topics covered issues like my apparently poor posture and even religion. With a mood that shifted from somewhat placid to downright angry, to watch/hear Bill was truly an experience. Thankfully, another customer soon arrived at the door, at which point we were “allowed” to leave. In case you’re wondering, we were locked inside the store the whole time.
Seeing a Faust Music sticker or stamp on the interior of a used drum will always bring a smile to my face, will always make me take care of that drum with a little more attention, and will always somehow make that drum sound better.
Joe Wong, ex-Akarso, Parts And Labor, etc.
Bill loved women (according to his obit, he possibly had two girlfriends), but he claimed that the decline of the international standing of the U.S. was largely caused “50/50”—the concept that women are capable of working in a man’s world and that couples should share domestic and financial responsibilities. I remember seeing his face turn red with rage and his fist slamming down on the display counter as he instructed me that, “Women belong in the kitchen!”
He had a story about Charlie Watts: “One time some guy pulled up to the store in a limousine. He thought I would give him special treatment because he was in the Rolling Stones. I told him, ‘I’ve been with Buddy Rich. I’ve been with Gene Krupa. I’ve been with Max Roach. I don’t care about your bullshit rock ’n’ roll band!”
John Gleisner, Northless
I had heard that he had a huge selection of vintage drums that were basically still sitting there since the ’60s-’70s, so as a vintage Ludwig guy, I thought I’d go in and see if he had a part that I’d lost (a rail consolette from my ’59s that I misplaced long ago). So I go in there, just humble and doing a lot of bowing and scraping, because I didn’t want to do anything to provoke his legendary ire. I made sure I had cash if I needed to actually buy anything, and was just hoping that he wasn’t going to light me up.
I started talking to him about the stuff he had in the showroom, and I think I was asking whether he had any silver sparkle 18-inch Slingerland floor toms before I actually manned up and asked him if he had a rail consolette setup for a ’59 Ludwig.
“You know, ever since the internet came around, you got all these guys who think they can learn about vintage drums, coming in here for parts for these old kits. I don’t sell parts. I don’t do that. You’d have to go online and look somewhere else.” Just super gruff and cranky, as I expected.
I made sure I told him my name was John Gleisner, and that I really was impressed by the sheer number of older kits he had in there. I think we got to talking about a set of Rogers snares that he had that were signed, I think, by Louie Bellson back in the ’50s. And then out of nowhere: “You said your name was Gleisner? That’s a good German name. What was it you were looking for? A rail consolette? Let me see if I’ve got anything in the back like that.” He rolled into his warehouse for a few minutes before returning empty handed. He was super kind and apologetic and generally seemed happy to be talking to me. I found him to be much nicer than I’d heard, but to this day I couldn’t tell you if it was because I was respectful and deferential or because I was of German descent.
Mike Kasprzak, Faust Music employee
I have seen every room in his building. I helped tar his roof. He worked me to the bone when he was 80! I couldn’t keep up! There was one room up until five years ago that I never saw the inside of. It was off limits. Above the plywood and boxes in front of the door, I could see sparkling “candy,” as he would call it. When I asked why I couldn’t see it, his response was, “I don't want drool over everything.” Finally, one day he called me over and said, “Go in the back room. Second door on the left is a shelf. On the second shelf is a violin case. Grab the case and bring it here.” I went into the hallowed room unattended, which was odd. I climbed over oodles of merchandise untouched from the late ’60s and early ’70s—brand new old stock. I managed to contain my drool and found the violin case he was speaking of. I brought it to him and he lit up. He opened it slowly and I was expecting some treasured Stradivarius violin, but in this case was a 40-year-old bottle of Korbel brandy! He found two shot glasses and we sipped. After a few hours of sharing life stories and adventures, he gave me the case and the bottle. Mr. Faust never gave me many things free of charge, except stories and knowledge.
A memorial service for Bill Faust will be held Saturday at Heritage Funeral Home, 3801 S. Howell Ave.