My first exposure to the Les Parks grip method was through my friend, Dave Moyer, a talented former snare drummer with the Colts Drum & Bugle Corps (Dubuque, Iowa, the late 1970s.) I noticed his traditional left-hand grip was unique. He kept his little finger curled under the ring finger; I asked him about it, and he explained its advantages.
My next exposure to the Parks technique was through my friend, Dave Nicholas. Also, an excellent former Colts snare drummer (early 1970s.) I noticed that Nicholas used the same unusual grip technique as Moyer. I asked him about it, and he explained it the same way.
Moyer and Nicholas never mentioned any connection between their grip method with Parks or Thompson. “That’s just how we did it in the Colts” is all they knew of its history. At that point, I assumed that it must have been something unique to the Dubuque Colts.
Years later, I discovered photos on-line of elite drummer Steve Gadd demonstrating the curled finger grip and read comments attributing the technique to Bobby Thompson.
I followed up by searching for more information about Thompson. I quickly learned that he had been a member of The Sons of Liberty F&D with Les Parks, Jay Tuomey, Bob Redican, and a bass drummer named Nick Attanasio.
Mr. Attanasio’s innovative and ground-breaking bass drum playing style during the 1950s earned him induction honors in the American Patriots Rudimental Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the World’s Drummers Hall of Fame, and the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.1
I often discussed drumming with my cousin, Mike Flack, who had grown up playing in drum corps. I mentioned to Mike what I had been learning about the Sons of Liberty.
By a remarkable coincidence, Mike told me that he had recently been in contact with Nick Attanasio.
Mike was promoting his custom-designed reed-style brush drum sticks called “Flack Wackers.” He had been reaching out to various contacts. Modern Drummer Magazine featured a brief review of his product in the April 2013 issue.
During Mike’s marketing efforts, he came in contact with Attanasio. They hit it off well and talked several times by phone, sometimes to discuss drumming and sometimes just to “shoot the breeze.”
Mike was a deeply empathetic person and a good listener. Nick was comfortable talking with Mike and opened up to him about his grief over recently losing his son.
Mike gave me Nick’s phone number and arranged an introduction so I could talk with him. On October 24, 2013, I picked up the phone and called him.
Mr. Attanasio was happy to take my call and to answer my questions. I found him to be entirely amicable and very eager to talk about his drumming experiences.
He told me that Parks was “the leader of the Sons,” and the style they all played, including Bobby Thompson, was “directed by Les Parks.” He told me to play snare drum with the Sons, “You had to adopt the Parks method. All snare drummers used the same grip and techniques.”
According to Attanasio, Parks directed a playing position with the elbows closer to the body, enabling the right wrist to bend slightly to the outside (ulnar deviation.) Both hands were positioned low, just above the drumhead level.
That adjustment aligns the drumstick as an extension of the forearm. From that orientation, the right stick can be raised and lowered by bending the wrist in a hinge-like fashion (flexion and extension.)
At one point in our conversation, I ignorantly asked Nick if he knew Earl Sturtze and how his teaching compares with the Parks’ method. There was a cold silence on his end of the line; then, he told me that there had been “No love lost between Parks and Sturtze.”
Apparently, at some point, Earl Sturtze said words to the effect of “All the best drummers are from Connecticut.” The Sons of Liberty were from Brooklyn, NY. Earl’s comments did not sit well with them. Not well at all.
Nick Attanasio died on November 5, 2018. He was 96 years old.2 I am very grateful for the honor of speaking with one of the iconic figures of traditional American drumming. I wish I had the presence of mind to ask him more about some of the other great drummers he knew.
I have fully embraced the Les Parks grip method. Initially, it was challenging. It takes a concentrated effort to keep the little finger cocked back. With persistence and resolve, it soon became ingrained to the point where not curling the little finger now feels unnatural to me. I’m glad I learned it.
Ed Flack, 2020.
1. “Attanasio, Nicholas.” WDCHOF, March 21, 2018. https://www.wdchof.org/members/attanasio-nicholas/; “Apples for the Teachers.” Drum Corps International: Marching Music`s Major League. Accessed May 9, 2020. https://www.dci.org/news/apples-for-the-teachers.
2. “Obituary for Nicholas C. Attanasio at Joseph V. Leahy Funeral Home, Inc.” n.d. Www.Jvleahyfh.Com. Accessed July 26, 2020. https://www.jvleahyfh.com/obituary/nicholas-attanasio.