15. Learning the Piano and Drums and Getting Close to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

I have played the piano ever since I was six years old. Lessons cost twenty-five cents each and my mother and I would ride the bus from our house in Montrose, California to Glendale. My teacher was Mrs. Henniger. Mrs. Henniger was a great big lady who taught me rhythm and started to teach me how to read music. I loved the piano but I didn’t like practicing my reading. My teacher told me that I had a lot of talent but if I didn’t practice I wouldn’t get better. She told my mother that I had an abundance of “natural” talent but I must practice. Mrs. Henniger finally made a deal with me. If I would practice, she would give my twenty-five cents back to me every week. It had to be a secret and so I started practicing. After my lesson I would give her the twenty-five cents for my lesson and she would either keep it because I didn’t practice, or, give it back to me. I had to be careful not to let my mother see the quarter or she would question where I got it.

Mr. Fox and “Immature Lips” Make Me A Drummer

As I started school, I kept taking piano lessons every Saturday. When I finished my lesson, my mother and I would walk to the Orange Julius stand and get a yummy drink and a hot dog. In the 3rd grade, we had a school music teacher who would come to each class to recruit kids who wanted to play an instrument. You could borrow the instrument from the teacher. I wanted to play the clarinet but the music teacher, who was named Mr. Fox, said that my lips were not “mature enough” (whatever that meant????) and that I could play the violin if I liked. I didn’t like it. But I tried the violin and after the first year, I quit. Mr. Fox said I could play the drums if I liked. I had never thought of the drums. My Dad got me a drum pad and I started but Mr. Fox was not a very good drum teacher. He didn’t know how to play the drums himself. I used to get in trouble in music class when he would come once a week. I often got in trouble because I wouldn’t stay quiet – because there was nothing for the drums to play. Mr. Fox was more of an orchestra teacher than a band teacher. I stayed with drums and got a drum teacher named Mr. Dixon. He taught all the instruments. He wasn’t that proficient in any of the instruments but he knew a lot more than I knew – and, he had a four-piece piece drum set in his teaching room. At school, Mr. Fox would only teach me on a practice pad or a snare drum. The snare drum was very loud and my family and neighbors had to get used to it. Soon, I would get a drum set.

I lived upstairs in a big house and my drumming would resonate against the mountains. Luckily, I was not a horrible drummer and most of my neighbors actually liked my drumming, most of the time. That wasn’t the case for Billy, across the street, who tried to play the trumpet but who had no talent. None of the neighbors liked to hear him practice. However, he did become a great baseball player. So, he had a different kind of talent. That was the first time I learned this little quirk of human nature: We are all good at different things. The trick is finding them.

My Drum Solo & Our Jazz Band, 1965

When I graduated to junior high school, I signed up for both band and orchestra and who do you suppose was the teacher? That’s right, the dreaded Mr. Fox. Being in orchestra was the worst for a drummer. In most of the songs we played the drums had very little to play. So we would have to rest (not play) and they would have a thick black bar on the music with the word “tacit”. That means “don’t play for so many measures”. As I’ve said, very often the drums might not play for a painfully long period of measures. For most instruments it might say “tacit 5 measures” – for the drums it could be “tacit eighty-five measures”. That meant that you had to count each measure like 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, 5-2-3-4, etc. until you reached the measure eight-five! Then you could play. I can’t tell you how many times I would faithfully be counting my measures and we’d get to measure eighty-four when Mr. Fox would stop the orchestra and say “Let’s go back to measure two again.” Again, I would have to count eight-four measures without playing a single note. Many weeks I wouldn’t play for several days.

My Nemesis, Tom Fox

The Strange Upside of Mr. Fox – Seeing Our Cowboy Heroes

When I got in seventh grade Mr. Fox would say,” Mr. Kimber, I said no talking. That will be another demerit.” I think three demerits meant you had to stay after school and write some sentences, over and over, on the chalk board. One more thing I need to tell you about Mr.Fox: He lived around the corner from my house. He was only about a block away. I could see him pull into his driveway as I rode my bike around the neighborhood. My two brothers and I would always be riding our bikes. We thought of those bikes as our horses, and, we were cowboys.

If it was before your time, you have to understand that in the late 50’s and early 60’s most kids were kind of obsessed with being cowboys – and we were no exceptions. Television was still a fairly new invention and a lot of the most popular television shows were about cowboys. Cowboys were really the big stars of this new medium. The “Lone Ranger”, “Maverick”, “Gunsmoke”, “The Rifleman” and on and on – they all were full of these fascinating, cowboy heroes. Every one of my friends watched the same cowboy shows and those cowboys were our idols. It seemed like seven out of ten of the most popular shows featured cowboys. So, like so many other kids we wanted to be cowboys, too. The only star to rival those cowboy heroes, maybe, was Mickey Mantle. If we were playing baseball, we might be Mickey Mantle on the baseball diamond – but most of the time, we were all cowboys.

The Kimber Brothers

And back in the early days of television there really weren’t any interview shows where you could see your favorite stars out of costume, like you can today. You might see a couple of your cowboy stars riding a horse in The Rose Parade on January 1st – that was about it. So what happened next in the story was truly a miracle in the life of myself and my brothers.

One Sunday I was riding my bike after Sunday School and I happened to drive by Mr. Fox’s house and a strange station wagon just pulled up in Mr. Fox’s driveway. It was strange because I had never seen this car, before, in our neighborhood. It had pulled into Mr Fox’s driveway and stopped. There were two people in the front seat and the guy who was driving was wearing a cowboy hat. He looked familiar but I could only see the side or his face. I stopped my bike and hid behind a bush so I could see better. As this tall man got out of the car, I saw his whole face and I was flabbergasted. It was Roy Rogers and the lady sitting next to him was his equally famous wife, Dale Evans. They had one of the most popular western shows on television. Everybody knew Roy and Dale and even his horse, the famous, Trigger. I hopped back on my bike and rode home, as fast as I could, to tell my two brothers of this amazing sighting. I might as well have been telling them I’d just seen a space ship, parked down the block. Of course, they didn’t believe me. So we all rode back to Mr. Fox’s house to see these stars.

Unbelievable – Roy and Dale Right in Front Of Us!

Okay – none of this made any sense. Why were these famous stars at Mr. Fox’s house? And Roy and Dale were kissing Mr. Fox like he was their long lost son. I can’t recall where I learned it, but, I learned that Tom Fox really was their son! This was quite a shocker, and, at first it didn’t seem to make sense because Tom Fox looked absolutely nothing like Roy Rogers. Well, I eventually learned that Dale was Tom’s real mother and Roy was his stepfather. It turns out that Roy and Dale were very family oriented and, in fact, had adopted many kids during their marriage. I didn’t find this out until many years later (remember, this was long before the Internet).

Anyway, my brothers and I were very impressed. You would have thought this fact would have made me a nicer, more well-behaved music student but Tom Fox was not cool to me – and he couldn’t have cared less about drummers. So, for various reasons, Mr, Fox was very happy to see me go to high school and not be in any of his music classes. When he saw the name “Kimber” in his class the following year he wasn’t very happy. He looked at my younger brother, Danny (also a drummer), and said “Please, tell me you are not related to Dave Kimber”. Danny said, “Yes, he’s my brother”…and Mr. Fox put his head down in both of his hands and said, “God, help me!”

The Right Teacher Can Make All The Difference

I had a terrific music teacher in high school. His name was Mr.Jensen and he loved big band jazz music and drum solos. I excelled for the next three years (what a difference the right teacher can make). Our high school jazz band was in the Battle of the Bands final at the Hollywood Bowl. We won third place.. out of three bands in the finals. I also changed private teachers and I started taking drum lessons from Hack O’Brien. He was a jazz drummer and he was also the father of Cubby O’Brien of the Mouseketeers. Cubby had a big drum set with two bass drums. I saw him play it on the TV show and he had his name painted on each bass drum. Cubby was a hero of mine. I really wanted to be on that Mouseketeers show. Hack, my teacher, told my dad that Cubby was selling that set and getting another one. He asked if I would like to buy it. My father bought it and we drove out to Cubby’s home and he played a drum solo for me. What a thrill! My dad had my name painted on the bass drum heads and we moved the whole set upstairs. I woke up the next morning and thought that it had all been a dream. I looked in my room and there was my nice drum set. The color was pink champagne. I was thrilled. I think Cubby O’Brien is a music director in Las Vegas, now.

Cubby O’Brien

Mr. Jensen was not only a great teacher but he became a great friend, too. My new drum set came with a dilemma. Most drum sets have only one bass drum and one high hat pedal. But my set had two bass drums and one high hat pedal. So you needed three legs to play them all at the same time. Mr. Jensen had a solution. In Hollywood, at that time, there were many jazz night clubs. One of them was owned by a famous drummer named Shelly Mann. His club was called “Shelly’s Man-Hole” and he had many great jazz stars at the club. One jazz great who often played at the club was world famous drummer Louis Bellson. He was married to the very famous black singer, Pearl Bailey. One night Mr. Jensen took me to the club and introduced me to Louis Bellson who turned out to be not only a fantastic drummer but also a really nice person. Louis Bellson also had one of the first drum sets with two bass drums. Mr. Jensen, my teacher, told Louis that I just got a double bass drum set and he said, “Well, David, come on up here and let me show you some stuff.” And, he did. He spent his whole half-hour break showing me how to use my new set. He also took me to his dressing room to meet his wife… the wonderful, Pearl Bailey. She got up with Louis’ band and sang a song for me. It was a special night. At that same club, on another night, Mr. Jensen took me to see something very really cool. They called it “drum night” at the club. I got to see a drum duel between two of the greatest drummers in the world…Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. They were both great but Buddy Rich was faster. I was never into getting stars autographs but that night Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa both signed my menu. I have only ever gotten three other autographs in my life.

Louie Bellson & his wife, Pearl Bailey

A Chance Meeting and an Apology to Mr. Fox

By chance, there was kind of an interesting ending to the whole Tom Fox, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans portion of this tale. Tom Fox had been forced to endure my brother and I as his students. Forty-some years later I was playing music in Australia and my brother, Dan Kimber was co-writing a book with Leo Buscalia and was a columnist for the L.A. Times. One day my brother called me and told me that he was asked to attend a dinner and be on a panel with noted people in Los Angeles. And, of all people, his table partner was going to be Dale Evans…after all those years!

He called me afterwards and I asked him about Dale. My brother said he asked her if she had a son named Tom Fox. She said, “Why yes, how did you know that?” Danny said that Mr. Fox was his music teacher in junior high school. Dale said, “Oh you must have gone to Rosemont Jr. High”, and my brother said, “Yes, I did.” She said she was going to see Tom and her grandchildren as soon as the dinner was over. Danny asked her if she could possibly deliver a message to her son from the Kimber brothers, which was long overdue. She said, “Well, of course. What’s the message?” My brother said, “Just please tell him that the Kimber brothers are very sorry.”

Final “Notes”: The Kind Mr. Jensen and Playing “Chopsticks” with Duke Ellington!

A wonderful evening I’ll never forget: One night Disneyland had a “Big Bands Night” and Mr. Jensen took me to see a group of incredibly famous, fabulous players and conductors. Mr. Jensen introduced me to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Pearl Bailey (who remembered me from “Shelly’s Man-Hole”). I actually got to sit at the piano with Duke Ellington and play a duet – we played, of all things, “Chopsticks”, together. I never heard it played so well! And, apart from their incredible talents, all of the musical giants I met were really nice people…real gentlemen – well, except for Benny Goodman. He was a fantastic clarinet player but, unlike the others, he was very arrogant and not very friendly at all. Oh well – he really was the rare exception. As I’ve said, most of the musical icons I met were not just great musicians – they were really great, kind people, too. And they helped make my journey through music especially wonderful. The kindness of those talented people have made my musical career a very unique blessing – and I thank them, all, for so many wonderful memories.

Two Legends: Duke Ellington & Count Basie

9 thoughts on “15. Learning the Piano and Drums and Getting Close to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

    1. Great story! It brought back a lot of memories. Mr. Fox was my flute teacher (apparently he was better with flute than drums). My dad was friends with Roy and Dale from working with them on ABC. I remember them from coming to orchestra concerts at Rosemont because their granddaughters were in orchestra with me.

  1. Great as usual .. a memory like that can never be duplicated.. you should write a book and go on a book signing tour … with musical tidbits thrown in

  2. What did Tom Fox have against the Kimber Brothers? Fess up! It will be an interesting chapter in your reminiscing. The bit with the piano teacher and the quarter reminds me of a Steven Wright Joke. His grandmother called him over to her side and said, “Here’s ten dollars…. and don’t tell your mother.” Wright replied, “It’s gonna cost you more than that ” Keep ’em coming. At least Tom Fox didn’t pencil in a double fermata over the tacit marking.

  3. Fascinating stories. Absolutely Love reading them. Big fan of Roy & Dale as a kid. Got to see Krupa play in 1966 and chat a bit.

  4. These stories just get better and better. I’m curious if Mr. Jensen also taught an English class. I have vague memories of a Mr. Jensen at CV reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Telltale Heart” in a very dramatic way.

  5. Dave I’m loving your stories, have only just started on them. Sorry to hear that Benny Goodman wasn’t as good a man as a player. My dad was a huge fan. P.S don’t recall you ever telling me that you knew my namesake!!! xxx

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