C&C Drum Company's Bill Cardwell doesn't just build sweet custom kits. He lets his heart beat, too.

A Drum Machine 

C&C Drum Company's Bill Cardwell doesn't just build sweet custom kits. He lets his heart beat, too.

In his dusty Gladstone workshop, Bill Cardwell, founder of C&C Drum Company, has a half-finished Christmas present for the girlfriend of someone named Isaac.

There's also a sample of the burnt-orange abalone wrap he created for Chris's drums. And tonight, at the Uptown Theater, he'll be hanging out backstage with Claud's girlfriend.

That is, Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse; Chris Gaylor of the All-American Rejects; and Claudio Sanchez, the wild-haired frontman of Coheed and Cambria.

Cardwell is also down with members of the Flaming Lips, Cursive, My Chemical Romance, Band of Horses and the Shins.

He's buddy-buddy with so many rock stars because he makes killer drum sets.

Last year, C&C Drum Company built about 1,800 custom kits. One was for Ringo Starr. "We literally shut the shop down for three weeks on that one," Cardwell says.

The otherwise unflappable craftsman admits to having been Starr-struck when he met his idol. Backstage at one of Starr's gigs in Chicago, Cardwell had to force himself to follow his own rule when it comes to fraternizing with celebrities — no pictures, no autographs.

After all, C&C exists because of Starr.

"He was the reason I played drums," Cardwell says.

Back when he was only 7, Cardwell saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and was changed forever. The son of a Baptist minister, he became so enamored of drums that he would go on to learn everything he could about them. Then he'd try to make them better.

Cardwell tinkered for years in the tiny back room of his retail music store in Glad­stone, slipping his own creations onto the showroom floor alongside Yamahas. His son, Jake, was the guinea pig, playing his dad's drums with his own bands.

Once Get Up Kids drummer Ryan Pope heard Jake play, the future of C&C Drum Company was set.

Pope demanded a custom kit. He took it on the road, and before long, Cardwell had orders from the drummers for Alkaline Trio, Hot Rod Circuit and Brand New.

Thanks to those four guys — and the next-night ravings of soundmen at the clubs they played — C&C gained a national reputation.

But the secret in the equipment isn't just the microphone-friendly drum edges and made-to-order finishes.

It's the old hillbilly himself.

Cardwell attended William Jewell College, but he grew up about 40 miles south of Memphis. He still retains the Tennessee accent and the Southern gentility.

"At the end of the day, you've got to build the drums right," Cardwell says. "But it became less about the drums and more about the people."

Here's an example.

"Growing up, my dad and I weren't very close," says Forecast drummer Tony Peck, whose band is based in Peoria, Illinois. "Then my dad passed away ... I have kind of always been looking for a father figure to fill that void."

Cardwell has become that guy for lots of musicians. "I don't get high and I don't drink booze," Cardwell says. "But I never condemn them. They know they can tell me anything."

As a businessman, Cardwell understands that his services are in vogue for a certain kind of drummer. "We ended up in the emo world real hot and heavy," he says. But he knows that can't last. "I feel one of these days, it's going to go the way of disco."

That's why he's reaching out to rockers of all stripes. Beck's drummer is among the newest converts. "We're just looking for guys who are going to be career musicians," Cardwell says.

Having introduced the drumming world to real abalone wraps and helped bring back the '40s- and '50s-style striped wraps, Cardwell is now experimenting with cocktail kits — a tall, skinny style of drums favored by old-school jazz drummers who had to take cabs from gig to gig. (That's what Isaac Brock's girlfriend is getting for Christmas.) C&C also recently started marketing road cases for drums and other rock instruments.

But Cardwell hints about something else on the horizon for C&C — something big. He won't share specifics, but the preparations have had him flying around the country more than usual lately.

We'll just have to keep listening.

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