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OBITUARIES : William F. Ludwig II, 1916 - 2008

Son of founder of Ludwig Drum Co. built set for Ringo

April 07, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

Ringo Starr was so proud to play a Ludwig drum set during the Beatles' first televised appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964 that he asked William F. Ludwig II to build a special set for him with the company name printed in bold letters at the top of the bass drumhead.

Naturally, Ludwig obliged.

"I remember my dad watching them on TV and saying, 'Who knows? Maybe these kids will be big someday,' " said his son, William Ludwig III. "The next day our phone was ringing off the hook."

Family members said the resulting demand for Ludwig drums prompted the Chicago-based company to build a 100,000-square-foot addition to its factory and add a night shift.

"It was hard keeping up with all the orders," his son said.

After a concert at Chicago's International Amphitheatre several months later, Ludwig met with Starr, who over the years remained a loyal customer. The two visited again backstage in 2006 after Starr performed with his band at the Rosemont Theatre in Chicago.

"It was as if nothing had changed," his son said. "They still had so much respect and appreciation for each other."

Ludwig, the son of the founder of Ludwig Drum Co. and its former president, died of natural causes March 22, in his home in Chicago. He was 91.

Ludwig Drum Co., originally called Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Co. after its founders, William Ludwig Sr. and his brother, Theobald, was founded in Chicago in 1909. It was built around the bass drum pedal the brothers -- drummers themselves -- invented to meet the needs of professional drummers worldwide.

By the 1920s, the company had become the world's largest drum company, family members said.

As a young man, Ludwig saw the fortunes of the American drum industry rise and fall through his father's business. Because of the Depression and talking movies, which put theater drummers out of work, his family sold their business to Conn Co., an Elkhart, Ind.-based music business, in 1930.

Seven years later, Ludwig and his father became the co-owners of another drum company they named WFL because lawyers for Conn made it clear that they could no longer use their family name. In 1955, Conn left the drum business and sold the Ludwig name back to Ludwig, who was president of Ludwig Drum Co. from the early 1960s until the company was again sold in 1981.

"He hung on as long as he could, but competition from foreign markets made it harder and harder to keep the business going," his son said.

Born in 1916 in Evanston, Ill., Ludwig grew up in Oak Park, Ill., and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

During World War II, he served in the Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Station, where he became a chief petty officer and taught the art of military drumming. Thousands of soldiers learned to march to the beat of drummers he had trained, family members said.

In his retirement, Ludwig enjoyed traveling around the country and giving lectures on the history of drumming in America.

In 1985, Ludwig was enshrined in Guitar Center's RockWalk on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, along with other influential manufacturers and inventors, including guitarist Les Paul, synthesizer inventor Robert Moog and Jim Marshall of Marshall amplifiers.

In addition to his son, Ludwig's survivors include a daughter, Brooke Crowden, and four grandchildren. Ludwig's wife of 54 years, Marguerite, died in 2002.

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