Row-Loff Productions 30th Anniversary: Three Decades of Fun with Drums

Mike Lawson • Features • November 1, 2019

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If you’ve ever been to the Texas MEA show, or Midwest Band Clinic, or other of the bigger state MEA tradeshow floors, odds are good you’ve seen, from across the room, the Row-Loff Productions booth and its founders, the two Chris’s, Chris “Brooksie” Brooks and Chris “Crock” Crockarell.

They are typically dressed in a new custom set of suits for each show, from whatever whacky print fabric they’ve found, as they show off their bestselling and latest titles for teaching percussion. Their fashion sense of humor translates well to pretty much everything they do, from catalog covers over three decades, to pun-intended book titles and marketing materials. It’s genuine, they happen to be two talented, affable, funny guys, on a mission to publish awesome percussion literature.

Brooks started working as a drummer when he was 16. His first real gig was at the now-defunct Opryland USA, and he eventually became a free-lancer in Nashville, doing studio work, playing gigs, playing shows, and whatever would come along. Crockarell was heavy into rudimental playing and drum corps when he was young. He went to North Texas State University from high school and in-between marched a couple of years with the Madison Scouts. From college, he got the gig playing drums with the Ice Capades and then Louise Mandrell, as well as doing a little society work (gigs) in Nashville. By the way, the first girl Crock met when joining the Ice Capades is now his wife!

On how they met, said Crockarell, “Brooksie played in a rock/horn band with my brother at McGavock High School in Nashville back in the early 1970’s. They would occasionally practice in our front yard. I’m talking amps and everything! It was like a Woodstock in Donelson, Tennessee! As a kid, I spent a lot of time climbing trees and we had these two big Maples out front. During one of their afternoon rehearsals, I climbed down out of the tree and Brooksie said, “Hey kid, come here, watch this!”, and preceded to play a two-fingered buzz roll on his snare drum. That was probably my first introduction to the drums. I started taking lessons from him in the 5th grade and pretty much through high school took [lessons] from him. After that, we stayed in touch a bit, here and there.” I had a chance to speak to both of them, to get more info to help celebrate this three-decade milestone, and the distribution of millions of units during that period. It was a fun conversation, to say the least. These guys crack me up.

SBO: Why start a publishing company? Where did the name Row-Loff originate?

Brooks: Starting Row-Loff was all due to the success of Arrangers’ Publishing Company, that was started by Jay Dawson, my assistant high school band director and music theory teacher. APC was wildly successful and in addition to marching band charts they sold drumline features. We asked one day on a session how many of the drum features they sold, and the numbers were astounding as to the sales. It was at that point we decided to get into the publishing game. As for the name Row-Loff, that was Crock’s idea. He drew the beginnings of the logo on a napkin and it’s never changed. As far as other publishers, none of the big dogs seemed to take publishing percussion literature seriously.

Crockarell: I remember being in high school and the percussion section had two or three concert ensembles that we would rotate every year. I remember them not being very attention grabbing for a 15-year-old. Jump forward to the late ‘80s and Brooksie and I end up programming marching percussion for Hal Leonard and then with our good friends, Jay Dawson and Jeff Hearington at Arranger’s Publishing Co. This came about via my rudimental drum corps knowledge and his technical expertise. We were able to put together some fairly impressive sounds and programming nuances that had yet to hit the marketplace. The APC boys would publish two or three marching features every year from guys like Ralph Hardimon and Glen Carter. This was back in the day when a marching show would have a minute to a minute and a half designated marching percussion feature! When we found out how many of these features they sold every year, we were amazed! So, we thought we would jump on the bandwagon and give it a try. Our first year was 1990. Brooks had a producer friend that owed him some studio time, so we went in with our engineer, Kent Madison, and recorded nine marching features. While we were in there, we thought, “Band directors get inundated with marching promo cassette tapes every year!

How can we make this different?” So, we added some sound effects before the feature for comedy effect. From then on, we started making it a full-blown comedy show. The recording and construction of the comedy began taking up as much time as the music creating. It was a blast and the directors and kids loved it! Around our third year we introduced the concert percussion side of Row-Loff, and things really began taking off. We really focused on publishing material that the kids would find entertaining, yet musically stimulating, to perform and the audiences would enjoy listening to. Jumping into the stomp/novelty side of pieces didn’t hurt the old bank account, either! I came up with “Row-Loff” just driving back to my house from lunch one day. I remember the exact spot on the street where I was driving. It was basically a play on the spelling of roll-off, a drum cadence intro before a band parade tune.

What was the first Row-Loff title and when was it released?

Brooks: We released our first project in October of 1990. There were nine features on that project and most times our easiest offering is the first in the group. Not much rocket science to it.

Crockarell: I think my first title was Peanut Brittle and Brooksie’s was Toy Soldiers. At one point, years ago when we were refurbishing an office, we took those two titles and “time-capsuled” them into the wall!

What are your bestsellers?

Crockarell: We move most of the easier to medium level pieces. I think there may be a slight persona of RLP being more of a percussion publishing co. for beginners. I think we have quite a few in the advanced category that would give some colleges a run for their paradiddles! A friend told me a few weeks ago he saw on social media someone commenting that RLP is to percussion publishing what Papa Johns is to pizza! Marketing-wise, I take that as a deep compliment! Percussion music (both marching & concert) has definitely changed over the last 30 years. One thing hasn’t changed, when you’ve finished listening to a percussion ensemble piece, deep down, it’s either entertained you or musically moved you (maybe both) or it hasn’t. We like to feel we’re still cranking out quality material that’s enjoyed at the end of the last bar.

How were you distributed in the beginning?

Brooks: All direct sales via an 800 number. Crockarell: We sent cassette tapes to three states in 1990. From there we grew to sending two 25,000-piece mailings a year for marching and concert seasons.

How has your distribution changed over 30 years?

Brooks: We do a majority of our business now with dealers & distributors. At times we send pallets to JW Pepper. That’s a lot of drum solos. We also have dealers all over the world.

Crockarell: Now it’s pretty much website, social media, e-blasts and dealer networking. Which is unfortunate. I miss the comedy shows. I’d like to start a Netflix reality show around RLP. From what I’ve seen, there’s plenty of room for quality, comedic shows! I think we could supply that!

Do you publish more organic commissioned ideas and find writers, or from proposals submitted?

Brooks: I’d say it’s about equal for both. What’s been typical on a project is that we’ll decide what we want to put on the docket, see what we have from the writer’s stable, contact some writers that have been consistent go to guys over the years, and then Crock & I fill in the blanks for whatever is left over.

Crockarell: If a piece is being performed/commissioned for a trade show performance, we’ll try to take it on, if we like it. We have a certain format for a project. A balance of generic, novelty, holiday, levels, body count, etc.

How should a writer best propose a title?

Brooks: We typically ask for print and some kind of recording. With me, I have to listen and see if it grabs me. I always tell a potential writer that an original composition is what will be most profitable. If it’s a good composition, it’ll likely get on state solo & ensemble lists and sell for years.

Crockarell: We are always looking for new blood! Basically, a pdf and clean mp3 or live recording helps. A sweet YouTube performance always tickles the fancy, as well.

How have your release formats evolved over the years (print, digital, audio delivery, video, etc)? Where do you see those formats heading?

Brooks: We started with cassette tapes, moved to CD’s coupled with our website, and now it’s all done via the website. As for print, I still don’t see it going all digital. At this point, you can’t very easily copy protect a file, and I don’t think most folks want to spend a morning making parts for their kids. As well, with books, there’s still nothing more practical than a book for a kid to throw in their backpack.

Crockarell: We’re still hard copying it. There are a lot of people that wait to the last minute and scream for digital. I see how easy it would be to have that option available. We’ll see where the market swings us.

What are three titles you’re excited about releasing next and why?

Brooks: First, Inspirations for Mallets, a new mallet solo book by Julie Davila. Her first book, Impressions on Wood has done very well, so we think this book will be an instant hit. Second, Poppedsicles, the 10th title in our ‘Sicles library. Eight iconic pop hits written for percussion ensemble. Great stuff. Third, Through the Solstice, a beautiful mallet ensemble written by Tyler Wetsel, a student in Texas. This one is going to be a standard.

What does your company try to do to make the instructor and the student both more successful with percussion education and performance?

Brooks: We have a simple mantra: Make the ensembles fun to play, educational, and audience friendly. Before we were out there, perc ensemble literature was almost always ethereal, and not very listener friendly. Our goal is to put a big smile on the face of the listener, especially the band parent/non-percussionist.

Crockarell: We try to give as much info, whether by text or video tutorial/performance of RLP literature as we can. Our main goal continues to be publishing and promoting entertaining, educationally sound, musically stimulating pieces. There is so much info on YouTube and social media. These can be wonderful avenues for instruction, but you have to be careful with that. Sometimes a paradiddle IS RLRR, LRLL and not something else.

What is the origin of the colorful suits seen at your exhibits? Have you ever strongly disagreed about a choice of suit, and if so, what was it?

Brooks: First convention we went to was Midwest in 1990. We wanted to do something to get attention (we were in the last booth on the last isle), so we wore pink Hawaiian shirts and pink hi top tennis shoes. It worked. We’ve been wearing the crazy clothes ever since. Things have evolved, we’ve worn angel wings and tights a few times in Texas when the show encompasses Valentine’s Day, we’ve been swamis, Superman & Batman, and even wore clown outfits one year at PASIC when we were there on Halloween just to name a few. The suits have become the norm for us in the past few years, they’re a lot easier than tights and elf suits. Don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on much of anything.

What’s year 31 look like?

Brooks: That’s hard to predict, we seem to get our best ideas from talking to band directors at the state MEA’s. We’ll see after convention season is over.

Crockarell: Great! We have some new ideas in the pipeline and are hoping to have some uplifting submission prospects. I’m a space guy and have always wanted to compose an ensemble based on the early space program. Maybe with some video content in the background.

Where do you see Row Loff by its 35th year, or even 40th?

Brooks: At some point, we’re hoping to pass the RLP torch to someone else that has the same passion for what we do as a young Crock & Brooks did 30 years ago. We believe we kind of broke the mold for percussion literature. 10 years from now, will hope it’s still running like a freight train and continues to lead the industry.

Crockarell: Four words… MORE TRASH CAN ENSEMBLES!

In a cage match drum-off, two drummers enter, one drummer leaves… which one of you prevails?

Brooks: At this point, it’d have to be Crock, he has a power shake every morning and makes an active attempt to stay healthy. Me, after 50 years of slamming rock ’n roll, stamina is no longer my strong suit. However, I’d still get him with my sledgehammer backbeat… at least for a couple of minutes.

Crockarell: I would prevail! No doubt! Brooksie plays more than I do now but his cage fighting mask is too tight, so it cuts off his brain circulation. It’s like hitting one of those Bozo bounce-back punching bags we had when we were kids! Boing-boing!


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