Dave Simmons Biography

DAVE SIMMONS & THE SIMMONS STORY

Like many mothers, mine insisted on my learning piano. My father worked on wartime aircraft avionics. Music, electronics and aviation — themes that would dominate my life.

I was born in Dartford, Kent, England in the same year Queen Elizabeth was crowned. I didn’t have a spectacular education; I went to a comprehensive school and didn’t go to University. Dad was a charge engineer traveling around fixing the generators in coal fired power stations. We didn’t stay in one place for long.

I was interested in science, art, music and flight. Although I wanted to play football, I was stuck practicing classical piano, stumbling through Mozart and Beethoven to grade 7.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

I embarked on an ONC in electronic engineering while I was working for Tektronix in the early 70s. My job was to test, calibrate, fault find and fix a range of oscilloscopes and other test equipment on the production line, while in the evening I had fun in a band writing original material. The name of the band tells you all you need to know about the style of music. Thankfully none of the masterpieces penned from ‘The Despair of Hieronymus Bosch’, a four-piece ensemble with my self on reed organ, survive.

I have an older brother Paul. And we built and flew model aircraft, experimenting and crashing the early crude radio controlled models. A flight in a Super Cub at Clacton airfield would plant the seed for a life long interest in aviation and a dream to fly.

Following an equipment upgrade from reed organ to Hammond L102 and Vox amplification, my interest in ‘The Band’ became an obsession. Life-long friendships based around endless rehearsals of 20-minute opuses endure to this day, and the desire to get a day job involving music and electronics was key motivation.

Enter the famous London manufacturer of brass instruments: Boosey and Hawkes in Edgeware. They decided to move with the times and started an Electronics Division, supplying ARP synthesizers to the dealer network in the UK. These dealers were totally unprepared to understand how these things worked, let alone how to fix them when they went wrong. Thus, Boosey advertised for a technician to help them clear the workshop crammed full of ‘faulty’ synthesizers. It was the perfect job for me.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

During the day, I was working on the ARP Odyssey, ARP2600, ARP Pro-soloist, Laney Amplifiers, Ampeg SVT bass rigs, Diamond Organs, Solina String Synthesizers, Tape Echoes and more. Next door at Colindale Avenue was Hammond organs and Leslie speakers. I had found the perfect marriage of technology, electronics and music, and over the few years I steadily built a clientele anxious to keep equipment running and to enhance and modify.

I was in contact with many top musicians in the UK offering a custom service for keyboards and other equipment. I continued to spend endless hours writing and rehearsing, doing the occasional studio session and gig, the only notable one being a performance of David Bedford’s “Odyssey” at the Royal Albert Hall, where I played synthesizer alongside such heroes as Mike Ratledge, Mike Oldfield and Jon Lord.

And then the “Electrics Division” closed.

But it was the spur I needed to start my own business to make the first drum synthesizer.

It started with Baz Watts (who subsequently played drums for Paul Young, Q-Tips, Adam Ant and Jon Foxx). He was the drummer in our former band, and he wanted something different. Bolting together parts from an ARP odyssey into a radical arrangement of ‘trigger pads’ on a cut down piece of tubular bell, the first instrument was born. In my new company, I was busy modifying ARP2600’s, Solina string Synths, Hammonds and all sorts of other equipment for folks in headlining bands, it was through this list of contacts that I met Richard Burgess of a band named Landscape.

Landscape was to play a pivotal role in the success of the early drum kits in 1981, but at that time I knew of them through our distribution of the Lyricon —- a wind synthesizer we were selling in the UK. The bits and pieces I’d bolted together for Baz in the band had morphed into the SDS3, a 4-channel synthesizer that we’d managed to put into short production runs in the garden shed. We’d make five, sell five, make 10, sell 10, etc.

The SDS3 although it had a drum head, a piece of foam and a pickup (something that Roland would patent for their V-Drums 16 years later), it could make some particularly ‘drummy’ sounds. Unfortunately, most people used it to mimic the high-pitched ‘doooo doooo’ sound of the Syndrum — the USA-produced equivalent to the SDS3 — which eventually drove everyone nuts.

With help from drummer and music producer Richard Burgess and musician Dave Lawson, I took the best bits from the SDS3, combining two channels to produce an electronic facsimile of the acoustic counterpart which was punchy and powerful. Adding pre-settable memories, making the system modular, and tweaking the modules to make the Kick Snare and Tom variants helped to complete the design. The drum kit was shown at the British Music Fair in London and was offered with three variations of pad design; Batwing, Hearts and Hexagons. The Hexagon won.

To promote the product, I commissioned a design for the pad from local sculptor Colman Saunders, who produced two clay models of heads, one for the kick drum and another for toms and snare. This was the kit that was used alongside the Lyricon on Landscape’s hit single “Einstien a Go Go” in 1981. The head kit featured on their appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’, the UK’s premier music TV program at the time.

The newly formed Simmons Electronics was inundated with enquiries for electronic drums. Up until then, I had done pretty much all the product development work myself, including research and development, circuit design, PCB layout, mechanical design, front panel artwork etc. Things were about to change as the company grew and attracted some extremely talented people. The next few years would see the introduction and adoption of MIDI, the move from analogue to digital, and from digital to computers.

The company grew. In three years we went from 5 people to 60 and peaked somewhere in excess of 100. Sibi Siebert took the drums to Germany, while Glyn Thomas took them to California and introduced them to Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

The R&D team at Simmons grew and we worked on all sorts of projects such as the SDS6 step sequencer, the SDS9, which won the NAMM award for most innovative product in 1986, the SDS8, 800, 400, 200, the Clap Trap, the EPB sampler, the SDS7 Digital / analogue kit, the Silicon Mallet, the SDS1000 kit and SDE FM Synthesis expander, TMI and MTM trigger to Midi converters, the Trixer and Portakit, and finally the SDX. This was a time when the first Macintosh appeared and the GUI (Graphic User Interface) was born. It was a bold move to develop the SDX, but the whole company was behind the project. There were countless times where leaving the factory at 8pm, with the darkened rooms of the software lab humming with the latest code compilation running, I would say goodnight to Martin, Julian or Jim only to find them still there in the morning following a complier crash in the night.

The SDX had a ‘massive’ 8 meg of memory, had an in-built 16-bit sampler and sample editor, a 20mg hard drive, a 9” CTR screen, 16 x 16 bit sample replay channels, top quality VCA and VCF audio path, multichannel real time sequencer and high resolution FSR positional pads triggering multi-layer samples. It took 6 computers to run and it took every penny the company had to develop, but its core features are yet to be reproduced by any electronic drum kit to date. We made 250 SDX’s and they were used by some of the biggest names in the industry and appeared on many records of the day.

By the end of the 80’s the tide had turned against electronics in a big way, and for electronic drums in particular. The inability to reproduce the subtleties of the drummer’s art, the complexities and the reliability of these complex systems drove drummers away. Electronic drums slowly evolved over the next 20 years. As technology improved and prices of computers, memory and hard drives dropped through the floor, they morphed into the practice kits we see today. Now though, slowly, as music changes we can see more and more electronics alongside the acoustic kits on stage, alongside experimental DJ’s and in bedroom studios across the world.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

I was out of the electronic drum business in the mid 90’s, and started on an invention path in a completely different industry. Obtaining a patent for the ‘Nail Trainer’ in 1997, we went on to create a completely new way of training nail technicians. Instead of practicing on live models to obtain competency, students work on the ‘Nail Trainer’, a prosthetic hand with removable practice nails. Having control of the training process cuts time to competency from 6 months to 6 weeks, allows us to assess student’s work from anywhere in the world and gets them trained to a high standard and into work faster. We have remotely trained over 3000 technicians a year for the last 12 years.

During this period I was able to pursue my passion for flying. Having obtained my Pilots License in 1983, I set about creating an airstrip and hanger at my house in Suffolk. I took 2 years to build a light aircraft that I now fly from my back door.

Then, suddenly, you can image my surprise when I discovered my name being used on a variety of electronic drum kits manufactured by Guitar Center. It took a few years to sort out, but Guitar Center’s management came to London and I found them to be sincerely interested in making superior musical instruments. We agreed to work together to pick up where the SDX left off, embarking upon a long-term development plan for electronic drums and percussion. The SD2000 is the first fruits of that co-operation and the first step to creating a series of extraordinary instruments to put maximum ‘control under the stick’ for the drummer.

I believe that there still is space to produce new ways of controlling sound that will be relevant to the performing musician and if you give them new, relevant and accessible forms of control, the talent will produce something new from it. That is my only interest.

I want to put the Simmons brand at the top for innovation, quality, value for money and customer care. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to shape the brand again going forward, for myself and for the people that created the products with me all those years ago.

I believe we can develop products that give us a market-shifting opportunity to change the current format and ethos of electronic drums. I strongly believe we need fresh ideas and strong design statements referencing the icons of the past, but using the technology of the future. Products that will offer an enhanced visual impact and a unique, superior playing experience. Products that stand out in a crowded market.

There are drummers venturing into that area all the time. They cobble together pieces of equipment that allow them to make now noises that gives them the edge, it makes them different; for example KJ Swaka (Destroid), Endre – eNerd video.

It’s drummers crossing over into DJ territory and visa-versa. Except the control has to be ‘under the stick’, not pre-programmed and not twiddling knobs. Control has to be instant, obvious, musical, connected, extending, visual and exciting. The drummer should have a good idea what sort of sound he’s likely to make if he hits a pad (after all he knows this with acoustic drums). I believe that color should be used as an indication of function.

I believe that once the goal of the perfect acoustic replicant is reached and the playing differences between e-drums and a-drums become irrelevant, then more and more bedroom drummers will stick with e-drums, simply because they offer more. They will play e-drums through choice, because a drums will not deliver the playing experience or the rhythmic soundscapes or control possibilities they need to play the music of their generation.

E-drums is having some blue sky thinking. We’ll produce products that will take drumming into a new area. A radical area. New inventions using new materials and techniques should make for amazing instruments.

DAVE SIMMONS
& THE SIMMONS STORY

Like many mothers, mine insisted on my learning piano. My father worked on wartime aircraft avionics. Music, electronics and aviation — themes that would dominate my life.

I was born in Dartford, Kent, England in the same year Queen Elizabeth was crowned. I didn’t have a spectacular education; I went to a comprehensive school and didn’t go to University. Dad was a charge engineer traveling around fixing the generators in coal fired power stations. We didn’t stay in one place for long.

I was interested in science, art, music and flight. Although I wanted to play football, I was stuck practicing classical piano, stumbling through Mozart and Beethoven to grade 7.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

I embarked on an ONC in electronic engineering while I was working for Tektronix in the early 70s. My job was to test, calibrate, fault find and fix a range of oscilloscopes and other test equipment on the production line, while in the evening I had fun in a band writing original material. The name of the band tells you all you need to know about the style of music. Thankfully none of the masterpieces penned from ‘The Despair of Hieronymus Bosch’, a four-piece ensemble with my self on reed organ, survive.

I have an older brother Paul. And we built and flew model aircraft, experimenting and crashing the early crude radio controlled models. A flight in a Super Cub at Clacton airfield would plant the seed for a life long interest in aviation and a dream to fly.

Following an equipment upgrade from reed organ to Hammond L102 and Vox amplification, my interest in ‘The Band’ became an obsession. Life-long friendships based around endless rehearsals of 20-minute opuses endure to this day, and the desire to get a day job involving music and electronics was key motivation.

Enter the famous London manufacturer of brass instruments: Boosey and Hawkes in Edgeware. They decided to move with the times and started an Electronics Division, supplying ARP synthesizers to the dealer network in the UK. These dealers were totally unprepared to understand how these things worked, let alone how to fix them when they went wrong. Thus, Boosey advertised for a technician to help them clear the workshop crammed full of ‘faulty’ synthesizers. It was the perfect job for me.

During the day, I was working on the ARP Odyssey, ARP2600, ARP Pro-soloist, Laney Amplifiers, Ampeg SVT bass rigs, Diamond Organs, Solina String Synthesizers, Tape Echoes and more. Next door at Colindale Avenue was Hammond organs and Leslie speakers. I had found the perfect marriage of technology, electronics and music, and over the few years I steadily built a clientele anxious to keep equipment running and to enhance and modify.

I was in contact with many top musicians in the UK offering a custom service for keyboards and other equipment. I continued to spend endless hours writing and rehearsing, doing the occasional studio session and gig, the only notable one being a performance of David Bedford’s “Odyssey” at the Royal Albert Hall, where I played synthesizer alongside such heroes as Mike Ratledge, Mike Oldfield and Jon Lord.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

And then the “Electrics Division” closed.

But it was the spur I needed to start my own business to make the first drum synthesizer.

It started with Baz Watts (who subsequently played drums for Paul Young, Q-Tips, Adam Ant and Jon Foxx). He was the drummer in our former band, and he wanted something different. Bolting together parts from an ARP odyssey into a radical arrangement of ‘trigger pads’ on a cut down piece of tubular bell, the first instrument was born. In my new company, I was busy modifying ARP2600’s, Solina string Synths, Hammonds and all sorts of other equipment for folks in headlining bands, it was through this list of contacts that I met Richard Burgess of a band named Landscape.

Landscape was to play a pivotal role in the success of the early drum kits in 1981, but at that time I knew of them through our distribution of the Lyricon —- a wind synthesizer we were selling in the UK. The bits and pieces I’d bolted together for Baz in the band had morphed into the SDS3, a 4-channel synthesizer that we’d managed to put into short production runs in the garden shed. We’d make five, sell five, make 10, sell 10, etc.

The SDS3 although it had a drum head, a piece of foam and a pickup (something that Roland would patent for their V-Drums 16 years later), it could make some particularly ‘drummy’ sounds. Unfortunately, most people used it to mimic the high-pitched ‘doooo doooo’ sound of the Syndrum — the USA-produced equivalent to the SDS3 — which eventually drove everyone nuts.

With help from drummer and music producer Richard Burgess and musician Dave Lawson, I took the best bits from the SDS3, combining two channels to produce an electronic facsimile of the acoustic counterpart which was punchy and powerful. Adding pre-settable memories, making the system modular, and tweaking the modules to make the Kick Snare and Tom variants helped to complete the design. The drum kit was shown at the British Music Fair in London and was offered with three variations of pad design; Batwing, Hearts and Hexagons. The Hexagon won.

To promote the product, I commissioned a design for the pad from local sculptor Colman Saunders, who produced two clay models of heads, one for the kick drum and another for toms and snare. This was the kit that was used alongside the Lyricon on Landscape’s hit single “Einstien a Go Go” in 1981. The head kit featured on their appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’, the UK’s premier music TV program at the time.

The newly formed Simmons Electronics was inundated with enquiries for electronic drums. Up until then, I had done pretty much all the product development work myself, including research and development, circuit design, PCB layout, mechanical design, front panel artwork etc. Things were about to change as the company grew and attracted some extremely talented people. The next few years would see the introduction and adoption of MIDI, the move from analogue to digital, and from digital to computers.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

The company grew. In three years we went from 5 people to 60 and peaked somewhere in excess of 100. Sibi Siebert took the drums to Germany, while Glyn Thomas took them to California and introduced them to Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.

The R&D team at Simmons grew and we worked on all sorts of projects such as the SDS6 step sequencer, the SDS9, which won the NAMM award for most innovative product in 1986, the SDS8, 800, 400, 200, the Clap Trap, the EPB sampler, the SDS7 Digital / analogue kit, the Silicon Mallet, the SDS1000 kit and SDE FM Synthesis expander, TMI and MTM trigger to Midi converters, the Trixer and Portakit, and finally the SDX. This was a time when the first Macintosh appeared and the GUI (Graphic User Interface) was born. It was a bold move to develop the SDX, but the whole company was behind the project. There were countless times where leaving the factory at 8pm, with the darkened rooms of the software lab humming with the latest code compilation running, I would say goodnight to Martin, Julian or Jim only to find them still there in the morning following a complier crash in the night.

The SDX had a ‘massive’ 8 meg of memory, had an in-built 16-bit sampler and sample editor, a 20mg hard drive, a 9” CTR screen, 16 x 16 bit sample replay channels, top quality VCA and VCF audio path, multichannel real time sequencer and high resolution FSR positional pads triggering multi-layer samples. It took 6 computers to run and it took every penny the company had to develop, but its core features are yet to be reproduced by any electronic drum kit to date. We made 250 SDX’s and they were used by some of the biggest names in the industry and appeared on many records of the day.

By the end of the 80’s the tide had turned against electronics in a big way, and for electronic drums in particular. The inability to reproduce the subtleties of the drummer’s art, the complexities and the reliability of these complex systems drove drummers away. Electronic drums slowly evolved over the next 20 years. As technology improved and prices of computers, memory and hard drives dropped through the floor, they morphed into the practice kits we see today. Now though, slowly, as music changes we can see more and more electronics alongside the acoustic kits on stage, alongside experimental DJ’s and in bedroom studios across the world.

I was out of the electronic drum business in the mid 90’s, and started on an invention path in a completely different industry. Obtaining a patent for the ‘Nail Trainer’ in 1997, we went on to create a completely new way of training nail technicians. Instead of practicing on live models to obtain competency, students work on the ‘Nail Trainer’, a prosthetic hand with removable practice nails. Having control of the training process cuts time to competency from 6 months to 6 weeks, allows us to assess student’s work from anywhere in the world and gets them trained to a high standard and into work faster. We have remotely trained over 3000 technicians a year for the last 12 years.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

During this period I was able to pursue my passion for flying. Having obtained my Pilots License in 1983, I set about creating an airstrip and hanger at my house in Suffolk. I took 2 years to build a light aircraft that I now fly from my back door.

Then, suddenly, you can image my surprise when I discovered my name being used on a variety of electronic drum kits manufactured by Guitar Center. It took a few years to sort out, but Guitar Center’s management came to London and I found them to be sincerely interested in making superior musical instruments. We agreed to work together to pick up where the SDX left off, embarking upon a long-term development plan for electronic drums and percussion. The SD2000 is the first fruits of that co-operation and the first step to creating a series of extraordinary instruments to put maximum ‘control under the stick’ for the drummer.

I believe that there still is space to produce new ways of controlling sound that will be relevant to the performing musician and if you give them new, relevant and accessible forms of control, the talent will produce something new from it. That is my only interest.

I want to put the Simmons brand at the top for innovation, quality, value for money and customer care. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to shape the brand again going forward, for myself and for the people that created the products with me all those years ago.

I believe we can develop products that give us a market-shifting opportunity to change the current format and ethos of electronic drums. I strongly believe we need fresh ideas and strong design statements referencing the icons of the past, but using the technology of the future. Products that will offer an enhanced visual impact and a unique, superior playing experience. Products that stand out in a crowded market.

There are drummers venturing into that area all the time. They cobble together pieces of equipment that allow them to make now noises that gives them the edge, it makes them different; for example KJ Swaka (Destroid), Endre – eNerd video.

It’s drummers crossing over into DJ territory and visa-versa. Except the control has to be ‘under the stick’, not pre-programmed and not twiddling knobs. Control has to be instant, obvious, musical, connected, extending, visual and exciting. The drummer should have a good idea what sort of sound he’s likely to make if he hits a pad (after all he knows this with acoustic drums). I believe that color should be used as an indication of function.

I believe that once the goal of the perfect acoustic replicant is reached and the playing differences between e-drums and a-drums become irrelevant, then more and more bedroom drummers will stick with e-drums, simply because they offer more. They will play e-drums through choice, because a drums will not deliver the playing experience or the rhythmic soundscapes or control possibilities they need to play the music of their generation.

E-drums is having some blue sky thinking. We’ll produce products that will take drumming into a new area. A radical area. New inventions using new materials and techniques should make for amazing instruments.